Into the Void

The void is an unimaginable place. Unimaginable because to imagine it is to negate its possible existence by creating a reference to it. One cannot paint it, write it, or put it in film. The empty space flung about the universe fails as a simile because it is filled to brim with districts of effect, like electromagnetic fields, strong and weak nuclear forces, quantum foam, dark energy and its like. Not so the void. It is a country without borders, contour lines, or designations–no measure can be made there to quantify (or qualify) its extent or content. It dances beyond the edge of knowing, I can talk about it, as I am now, but it does not bring it closer. I can only give suggestions and intimations; gestures that convey a general direction, but not its elevation from some base or its latitude or longitude. Does the void exist? What could that mean? Is it a transcendental thing like \pi or \infty ? Something whose existence can be used but cannot be found floating about in space, or hidden under rocks, or singing sad songs on the island of misfit toys? Nothing. No-thing. No thing. Nothing.

Does the void exist! Ha! You see the folly of the question. You see the trap laid out by trying to wrap some existential quantifiers around it as if a ‘there exists’ can capture a set so empty that the null set, \emptyset , is not even found there (for in every set, according to the wise priests of set theory, contains the empty set \forall A:\emptyset \subseteq A , (and note it is all _the_ same empty sent for: \exists! : \emptyset ) without which there is no way to add more sensible elements. As if the empty set holds open the possibility of a set until some element can slip its way inside. The void is such that even this little symbolic tittle is absent. The absence of absence. If every set contains this nothingness how do we remove what isn’t there to get to the void I seek? A void so complete it will collapse all our theory? It holds nothing open. It resides in no set and so those who want to hold open the left and right brackets so that an existential qualifier can be used to say, ‘There exists a set such that . . .’ No. The void of which I speak will allow no such promiscuity because even the null set is not there to allow a set to be formed. Alas.

If we cannot imagine it, or reference it, how is it that I am talking about it? Can we come to its border? Do the suburbs of the void contain enough real estate that we can climb to the uppermost chimney of one of the higher tract houses and attempt a glimpse of its true edge? Like the event horizon of a black hole, but within which is … there I am, at it again, ‘is?’ can I use a verb of the form ‘to be’ in a place in which makes no sense? I can hear you scoff. ‘Unicorns,’ you say, we can think lots of nonexistent things. Perhaps, you are more imaginative than I, and think the void when you are under anesthesia? You might be on to something. Because it may be that you do indeed enter within the realm of the voidish kingdom. There does seem something right about death as void, at least as it stands in relation to consciousness.

Ah, perhaps there is the hook we need, it may be that the way into the void (if you’ll pardon the expression) is through the techniques of negative theology. There does seem something right about divine aseity serving as a mirror into the void, for it too has an aseity of sorts–it seems to be something that is the cause of itself, self-existent, eternal, and causeless. The first uncause, if you will, which if you trace back through all the chains of uncauses on and on, will you find that beginning void of which all other voids partake? But something seems troubling about this move. It seems to talk about things that negate themselves in their very expression, not in the way voids negate all presence and being but a type of logical contradiction in trying to name negative properties of the void. They are emptier than the absence of nothing.

Are voids so envoided that not even negative properties can be assigned. Can they even be reached? Observe: \emptyset - \emptyset = \emptyset (using - as set removal) still leaves the null set floating around, by what operation do we remove the null set from our set? Again the possibility of even formal conversation seems to elude us. We can assign neither positive or negative properties. One can try certainly but the contradictions pile up so quickly that it all falls apart. But wait? Can we even be concerned with contradictions–that omniscient presence appearing from logic itself? When there is no middle, can it ever be excluded? If there is no x can the \neg x ever be framed? If there is neither ‘either’ nor ‘or’ and there is not an ‘and’ to be found snuggling with a ‘both’ why should the void participate in logical necessities at all? There is no logical constraint. No physical possibility or impossibility. What a frightening beast that knows no law nor restraint! What computer could cast a pointer its direction? What register could capture its lack of presence when every binary representation is incapable of the task.

It would seem we have a perverted type of \nexists floating free haunting us like a ghostly presence from the great beyond. Except like a floater detached from our retina whenever we try to get a glimpse it flees our gaze, never to be captured but always there to mock our attempts at its focus. Perhaps here we are truly left with Wittgenstein’s injunction: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

There is no terminology we can use. No set A = \emptyset where this monstrosity holds for {\rm I\!R}_1 : \forall \epsilon > 0 \ \exists \{U_n \} (A \subset \bigcup_1 ^\infty U_n \ \land \ \sum_1^\infty |U_n| < \epsilon ) Or sadly, for any {\rm I\!R}_2 or {\rm I\!R}_3 or on and on we go until \ldots {\rm I\!R}_\infty or why stick to math? We can go further and say there is no set of fluffy cats or non-existing unicorns that will let us recover the void we are looking for.

So we have no symbols. No representational devices will do. Our only access is death. Wait? What’s that? Death? That seems a bit of a cheat. Doesn’t it? Like in George Eliot’s novel Mill on the Floss in which the relations among the characters become so insoluble she gives up and unleashes the flood drowning the town lock, stock, and barrel. That will clean up the muddle. Throw them into the void ‘from which no traveler returns?’ eh? But in the void time is not, for what could change to mark it? And there is no space for what could move to define its extent? It defies all hope of getting a single hook into its domicile–so complete is its voidishness.

So let me ask a question. If the void as I have represented it (or rather not represented it) is such, then what is it? And here I make my boldest assertion. My claim flies in the face of all logic, ha, but what of it in a place where logic does not hold, where there is no contradiction because there is nothing to contradict. Where all relations fail because there is no thing, no idea Platonic or otherwise, with which to grasp some notion of an emptiness beyond emptiness. The question that has occupied the philosophers, and flummoxed the great thinkers of both antiquity and modernity is what is ‘Being’ as such. Is it not? Has that question not generated an industry of hand wringing and speculation with all of the writings of the great thinkers providing a Rorschach Test in which all may twist method and thought into whichever shape they wish to pursue. But what if the question is wrongheaded? What if the question, ‘Why is there something instead of nothing?’ is just a bad start? A lousy beginning. What if (and I hesitate to state it for I can hear your protestations already) what if the void is substance? What if the substance of the void is not modeled on empty space, but rather on a pure and undifferentiated substance? An empty ocean of something. Perhaps like the stuff of strings in string theory. What if at the heart of the void it is filled with the nothing of something so nothing that no difference between the two can be found? There would still be no relations to frame logic. There would still be no empty set to hold open a place to add elements. It would be undifferentiated, unseparable, un–whatever category of being you wish to add, for this substance of the void which I hypothesize has all all properties of nothing. And why cannot this sort of something be nothing? Or rather let me ask it another way how could you tell this void of something from nothing when they have identical properties? Certainly you cannot add anything to this something as nothing or nothing as something. You cannot cut it into smaller pieces. You cannot find a way into it? Can you give me one aspect of the void that cannot be filled with this substance identical with nothing in every respect? No, the ensubstanced void, is identical to the emptyish void. And as we might argue, if you will let me sneak in just a modicum of logic to things (or not things), those referents with all of the same properties, we might suspect that indeed they are the same thing. A void of substance of the right type and the void of emptiness are identical.

This is the final text on the void we have from Herr Professorin Heike Marquardt of the Max Plank Institute in Leipzig Germany. She vanished on September 20th, 1988. She, however, disappeared slowly. Not all at once. One might better say she faded. She, as it were, physically hesitated and lingered until poof, she was gone. That she became less and less substantial until at last like a shade haunting a graveyard as dawn approaches, she became more and more translucent until she finally blinked from our reality. She was last seen in Kyoto, Japan in the company of Keiji Nishitani, working on her theology of creation from nothing (not creation of existence ex nihilo, mind you, but creation of the divine from nothing), which involved her extensive work on the void. Our aim will be to examine her theology. To try to ferret out her work on a theology of nothingness that ties together Mormon theology and the work of the Kyoto school. (Interestingly, Much of Dr. Marquartdt’s work is best contextualized in the work of minimalist novelist Gilda Trillim, which we will examine in some detail as a new book on Trillim’s work is expected this spring.) However, for now we will be content explore a connection between the Book of Mormon passage in Mosiah 15:4, Nishitani, Meister Eckhart, and Marquardt’s work on the void of voids. Until next time. Think on these things. Or not.


  1. Grammar Volkspolizist says:

    That should be “Frau Professorin.”

  2. Marquardt has inspired some of my favorite science fiction short stories. So I first ran into some of her theology, as a teenager, after the blurb at the end of a story in a science fiction anthology that mentioned that the idea for the story came after a night struggling with “the void” as she explained it.

    Living in the Arctic, I have found that my connection to the idea of the void is not as intellectually strong as it used to be. The interconnection of all things, whether conscious woman is there to experience it, or not, is easier for me to find here. I will be fascinated to see where this series goes.

  3. Last Lemming says:

    I think you have been misinformed. Herr Professorin Heike Marquardt never existed in the first place. She was always Frau Professorin Heike Marquardt. However, her husband, Herr Professor Heiko Marquardt, ceased to exist in May 2013. He was scheduled to be transformed either into Herr Professorin Heiko Marquardt or Frau Professorin Heiko Marquardt, but because he couldn’t figure out which, simply faded away in a manner similar to which you attribute to his wife (but not in Japan–that was really her). To this day, she mourns him by contemplating Helaman 12:7–“O how great is the nothingness of the children of men..”

  4. Man, I love this stuff.

  5. Ah in Leipzig you can never be sure who is who.

  6. Bizarre, but fascinating.

  7. Should I be afraid? Or indifferent? Or just remain aloof.

  8. As someone who is currently in a discrete mathematical structures class, I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  9. Man, I love me some Steve Peck!

  10. Funny how Lawrence Krauss never credits Herr Professorin in his book, A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing. In his meisterwerk, he states: “we have discovered that all signs suggest a universe that could and plausibly did arise from a deeper nothing – involving the absence of space itself – and which may one day return to nothing via processes that may not only be comprehensible but also processes that do not require any external control or direction.” Of course when it came to anything of a religious nature, the two were like oil and water.

  11. For obvious reasons (see “Ed Kimball, thank you” elsewhere on BCC) my mind is drawn to death. Death and cremation and “ashes to ashes” of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and the thought registers that ashes, which are indubitably something but psychologically nothing, are for me a tiny peek into the void.

%d bloggers like this: