The End of the World Means Nothing (or: a lively unicorn debate)

Take a moment to look around you. You’re probably in your home, at school, maybe out in a coffee shop. There may even be people around you. Now imagine that just like that,

there is nothing.

(Sound effect courtesy of David Keller)

Now, the idea of nothing is vague. I’ll assume you imagined a large black space. A void, if you will. If you didn’t, go ahead and explode everything still left mentally until you have a large black void. I’ll wait a moment.

The concept of capital ‘N’ Nothing in philosophy was first discussed by Parmenides, who said that nothing could not exist because to be able to talk about something, it had to exist. Even though Parmenides’ theory on nothing has mostly been discredited or altered to make more sense, I liked it, if only because the concept assumes that ideas are things.

To explain, think of a unicorn.


You probably thought of something along the lines of this:

Rob Boudon, Unicorn - Full Speed

Rob Boudon, Unicorn – Full Speed ((A real photograph of an imaginary unicorn))

Obviously, unicorns don’t exist, yet you still imagined one. Parmenides said

For never shall this prevail, that things that are not are.

which, frankly, is more confusing than it has any right to be, but I digress. Parmenides meant that when you discuss something (unicorns), you aren’t actually talking about it—you are discussing the idea or concept of it. If a unicorn cannot be, then what must be is your thoughts, or the idea of a unicorn.

This is a roundabout way of saying that ideas are things. While they may not be tangible, they still are, in the same way that you are and a rhinoceros is and Pepsi Salty Watermelon is.

But Jess!, my imaginary version of you is saying. What about the concept earlier? When you discussed the fact that there was nothing!

Well, if you’re still somehow juggling thinking of unicorns, asking me questions, and thoughts on the void, you’ll remember that our concept of nothing was just a black void. If you’ve been keeping track, though (and even I have only barely been able to, so kudos) you may be thinking:

  1. Black is still a thing.
  2. The idea of void is something, because we just decided that ideas are things.

Well, voice in my head/audience, you’ve come to the crux of the issue. To me, nothing is a concept that we cannot fathom, if only because we cannot imagine it. Personally, even the idea that there is nothing is kind of absurd to me, if only because of the following thought, which I’ll walk through:


As the caption clearly states, this is our void. Let’s label it!


So this is our nothing, but if we assume that ideas are things, then would facts and concepts not also be things? As in, the very concept that there is nothing?


So if our lonely little concept, the very concept that there is nothing, is something, then doesn’t that mean that our nothing is now something?


So even if we assume that everything around us is real, then what remains is still that stubborn little concept. Descartes thoughts on nothing were that, instead of beginning with something, as we did earlier, we start with nothing and allow what can be proven to fill the void. The concept of solipsism assumes that you can only be sure that you exist, and everything else is unproven.

So if we do assume that there is at least something, then what does that mean?

It means that nothing is an impossibility. Even in the complete absence of something, there still remains the concept that there is something. So if the world were to end, right here and right now, and it somehow took everything along with it, that would mean absolutely, positively nothing something.