Nothingness: The Joke

“I wonder, why is it that we can’t stop laughing at the notion that none of us really exists, and that the walloping concreteness of all the hard facts to be faced is an energetic performance of nothingness?

The joke derives from the fact that, although Westerners speak of “conquering space,” they have a radical prejudice and a positive blind spot with respect to the importance of nothingness.  They balk at it as people used to balk at thinking of the world as round.  To them, nothingness is the awful-awful, the end, the demise which, we most fervently hope, is not to be the ultimate destiny of man and the universe.  Yet this is due to a freaky lapse in our logic which affects our theology, our science, our philosophy, and our most vivid emotions.  No one seems to have realized that you can’t have something without nothing. How can you know “is” without understanding “isn’t”?  Try to imagine a solid without any space through and around it.  Try to imagine space without any solid, including yourself, within it.  For if something implies nothing, then nothing–in turn– implies something.  To be or not to be is not the question, for reality, like electricity, is a pulsation of positive and negative energy.  The big bang with which this universe is supposed to have started was, as they say in Zen, “the void gnashing its teeth.”  Put in more scientific jargon:  Every approach to the limit of absolute inertia condenses by inversion into a departure from the limit of absolute energy.  Flip—total void equals big bang.

Stated in bare words this looks too simple.  Yet I regard it as my most important philosophical discovery, and if we could understand it thoroughly, we would no longer have the horrors about death, darkness, night, silence, and the unknown.  But the remaining question is how to get one’s feelings, those easy victims of habit, to recognize that it takes nothing to start something.”

-Alan Watts

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on June 30, 2009.

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