Friday, 8 March 2013

Only an opinion about nothing . . .

Oxford Skeptics in the Pub had an unusually 'empty' talk this week, entitled "Why nothing matters".  An I'm not saying that the talk didn't happen but that it was full of nothing.

An audience of only about 30 heard Ronald Green speaking about "Why Nothing Matters", hawking his book and clearly expecting to be heckled.  Indeed his style was more-or-less confrontational while he told us that he had spent 5 years studying 'nothing' very seriously.  It is not quite clear where he was when he did that study, nor indeed which universities he has taught at in various continents, or exactly what post-graduate studies he participated in at Oxford University (or indeed which university in Oxford).  But maybe I am too skeptical in wondering about those questions.

Was it obvious that it is true that nothing matters?  You have to ask yourself how deep the following comments are.

"There has to be something around nothing, and there has to be nothing around something."

"Luke says 'nothing is impossible with God' ".

"Zero apples is not the same as zero oranges" and "there are different kinds of nothing".

"Really, nothing is the absence of everything, including ourselves"

Apparently 'silence' might be one kind of nothing [but I don't think the absence of sound is enough to count a real 'nothing']. But he claims that you can never actually have complete silence.  I venture to disagree with this particular claim on grounds of some physics.  If you were in a vacuum there definitely would be silence.  His claim that you hear yourself when it gets quiet enough and that there there is never silence is surely philosophically flawed, because the role of the observer is irrelevant.  If you were not alive and were in a vacuum there definitely would be silence and it doesn't matter a jot that you therefore don't know about it.

More interesting was the tale of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911. Apparently far more people queued to see where it had been stolen from than had wanted to see the painting itself. 

But my final point is that I prefer the approach taken by Peter Atkins in his recent talk and Lawrence Krauss in his "A Universe from Nothing".  Green claims that "even Krauss gets terribly mixed up about it".  I think I would ask whether it is overwhelmingly probable that that is true.  Ask who is more mixed up, and I think the answer seems obvious.

On the other hand I saw a review of his book . . .

[Unlike the talk] This is not a book to be dipped into or skimmed over a coffee break. Green writes very clearly and with a great deal of humour, but he is dealing with ideas that perhaps go to the very core of what it means to be human. That he can do so without the nihilistic melancholy of so many of the people he quotes is a tribute to his writing skills. Would I recommend this book? Yes, with the proviso that if you choose to read it you give the time and thought it deserves.

So maybe I misjudge him. 

No comments: