Nothing And Everything


By the 10th Century the understanding of Shūnyam had degraded to the near irrecoverable in the region of its birth. It had gone East to China and taken on local forms. The Symbol ‘О’ headed West. And did the same.

The Symbol stops for a tour of Byzantine and Islamic Astronomy before finally docking in Venice around the 11th Century as the grounding expression of the Decimal Notation System [from the Sanskrit Das, for ‘Ten’].

The Clergy, users of the Abacus, were unimpressed. They saw something decidedly sinister in this immigrant ‘Infidel Symbol’. The Roman script at that time didn’t have a symbol for Nothing. More precisely, it didn’t carry a symbol for the absence of symbol.

The opening chapter of this expatriate life was penned by Leonardo Fibonacci who wrote his celebrated Liber Abaci on the Modus Indorum in 1202 CE. [Fibonacci’s statue still stands in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, an hour’s drive from where I spend many an unhurried Autumn.]

The Arabic: Sifr [‘Cypher’] becomes the Medieval Latin: Zephirum, in time to Zerum, to its settling in English as Zero. The symbol’s new life begins here.

Its acceptance had little to do with any fierce love of metaphysical or mathematical truth. The economy was booming. Zero-Balance Bookkeeping had just been discovered. And this new symbol just fit the bill of the emerging mercantile classes. It helped make money; or rather, keep track of it. A refreshingly sensible reason.

A single line divides a page in two. It just takes one cut to separate a Dot and a Dash, to create the couple ‘0,1’, which together can express all Information.

Wisdom may be inexpressible. But Information is eminently expressible. In fact, expressibility is what makes it ‘Information’. And this they say is the Age of Information. ‘Information’ is from the Latin: In form-atio. Knowledge which has: ‘taken form’, in other words, given name and dimension.

The Information Age was begat in the Binary System of Number Representation. The ability of the computer’s magnetic core to organize all information in hierarchical structures of dualistic-pairs in a coding of: ‘0,1’. ‘True: False’, as the Boolean Algebra folks like to say.

But how did you decide on the First-Divide?

If you are sure that: ‘True; False’ is itself a ‘True’ distinction you are a convert, no longer an inquirer to its truth. You stand, already divided.

So, as the Zen-Man would say, what then is your Original-Face before you were born to Male and Female?

The word ‘Empty’ [as does the better known ‘Emptiness’] is the preferred English translation of the Sanskrit word Shūnyam. It is less than 200 years old and has its origin in the vocabulary of Classical Logic [I’ve yet to meet a guru who is aware of the connection]. The inspired, deeply intuitive European translators, literary men, had found just the right note. Why so?

The Empty [or ‘Null’] set of Logic is the sole depository of all illegitimate expressions. The basement hovel of all things absurd, nonsensical, ridiculous and so on. The waste dump of Reductio ad Absurdum. [For the believing audience, this is reborn as ‘Mystical Literature’. I happen to be a fan of it.]

Absurdity, Nonsense, Contradiction and Tautology are the principle features of all authentic pointers to Shūnyam. Home to expressions like: ‘I don’t exist!’. Or Aristotle’s ‘Unmoved Mover’ [the great philosopher, the founder of Classical Logic as we know it, must be chuckling. See the posts on his Metaphysics].

Sensible people, as the Logician well knows, live in the zone between the Contradiction and the Tautology. However, a necessary condition for getting to Shūnyam is a cultivated taste for Nonsense and an acquired facility with the Absurd [Google Momonkan, literally ‘Gateless Gate’, a resident of the Null Class naturally, and check out any of the listed Zen Koans to get a feel for it].

Logic, as the ancient Philosophers [before Aristotle] knew and warned, begins in Ontology. If your ontological assumptions aren’t transparent and verified, the Logic will sooner or later buckle.

Logician’s, like Prophets and Politicians, have long cherished the idea of a mystical, divine origin for their calling. But the rules of Logic are not on stone-tablets nor have they fallen from the sky. They are rooted in a set of rarely reviewed, implicit and unstated ontological assumptions. 

The paradigmatic, foundational syllogism: ‘All Men are Mortal; Socrates is a Man; Socrates is Mortal’, begins with the unstated assumption that there ‘is’ an identifiable, stable entity called ‘Socrates’.

The rest of the inference is inevitable.

You can’t spot a Man holding the same pose twice in a lifetime. Take a snapshot of every moment of a Man’s life: no two will be identical [see the posts on Cratylus, Heraclytus et al].

The atoms in a Man’s body are in constant motion, continuous replenishment, day and night. His skin gets replaced about once every 30 days; his bones about every 6 months. Look in a mirror. Is this the same mug you saw last night? Of course it is: note the fine forehead, the graceful neckline.

Stability, you said? Oh, you mean something inside Socrates..

Just as with the word ‘Empty’, the translators reached into Classical Logic for another pivotal expression, the Sanskrit Namarupa, literally ‘Name and Shape’ [It appears most consequentially in a line in the Hṛdaya Sūtra]. And they chose the word ‘Form’.

‘Form’ as commonly used in Classical Logic is: ‘Something that is marked, has taken shape’. A line, a curve, a color, a smell, a melody, a scratch. Logic comes alive, is operative, only in the abstract, only in the world of Form.

[Note the similarity with the word ‘Sign’, the opening abstraction to the world of Language. And explore how semantics and syntax, terms themselves readily susceptible to submerged Self-Loops, shape Language and our world. Check first with a professor of semiotics, though. See: ‘Who Am I? [2]’]

Just as the influential Vedantins of the Dharmic Tradition, the prophets of the Biblical Tradition, the Logician makes the same claim, takes exactly the same leap of assumption. Wherefrom this ‘Unchanging Inner Substance’, wherefrom this ‘Immutable Transforming Center’? [See: ‘Who Am I? [4].]

Form originates in Plato’s ‘Theory of Forms’, an ideal archetype, which was once held synonymous with the word: ‘Idea’. Logical Form is what brings the world of analogy, abstraction and interpretation to life. And this entire structure began of the assumption that there lies an unchanging ‘Substance’ that kept changing its clothes, its ‘Form’, minute to minute.

The irony is luscious. For it is the Logicians who mock the Mystics the most; and yet, they are at heart the biggest Mystics.

The two most deceptively simple words in the English Language are the midgets: ‘Is’ and  ‘Not’. Existence and Absence. [Sanskrit, from the roots: as and na.]

I know of no word Logicians hate and mock as the word ‘Not’. As for ‘Is’, they never understood it. We shall get to the ‘Is’ later. [‘Being’; what Walt Whitman called: ‘The Puzzle of Puzzles’]. For now, the ‘Not’.

Not; Nothing; Nonsense; Never; Neither; Neutral. They all come from the same gene. One big mischievous joint-family. And here is how the mischief begins:

North America and South America together make up the Americas. But North America and Not-North America?

We are not quite sure what exactly is: ‘North America and Not-North America’.

‘Not quite sure?’ That’s right. Not quite sure. And not quite sure what exactly: ‘Not quite sure’ means.

Nor the above sentence.

In looking for ‘True Nothing’, you must remember to exclude any sensory, cognitive or affective representation of it as Object.’True Nothing’ is radically exclusive, hence inexpressible except as Self-Eating Expression, except as ‘0’.

In looking for ‘True Everything’, you must remember to include the Looking-Subject. ‘True Everything’ is radically inclusive and hence inexpressible except as Self-Eating Expression.

True Nothing Says: ‘You cannot have any kind of relationship with me’. You cannot see me, smell me, love me or hate me, grasp me or recoil from me. You cannot appraise me or comprehend me, give me features or properties or tendencies…’

Any and every name, attribute, aspect, feature, property, quality, you assign to True Nothing misdirects you from True Nothing. It is best to hold your tongue.

If you forget these overriding conditions, you will settle at the concepts of Nothing and Everything, altogether different animals [-1<0<+1; asymptotic convergence; ‘tending to infinity’, and so on].

The symbol ‘0’ has been around for a long time. But the symbol ‘∞’ for ‘Infinity’ however is relatively new, less than 500 years old. Its age overlaps with the period of rampant confusion that has characterized the use of this idea.

The early Dharmic and Athenian philosophers [party-poopers, all] didn’t like words such as ‘All, Always, Everything, Eternal, Forever, Infinite’ and such. It had to do with self-reference. [I’ll get to examples in the posts.]

If you unwind the self-referential loop all the way back, you will arrive at Shūnyam. If you Blink, Wink and recoil, you will settle at the Concept of Nothing and the Concept of Everything. Of ‘Self’ and ‘World’.

This is not a treatise on Logic or Mathematics. Except for situations when cross-referencing is helpful, the posts are in common-speak, with no appeal to a private vocabulary or privileged insight.

Importantly, there is no ‘Error’ here the binary label of ‘Accurate and Error ‘not being applicable to all things Shūnyam. If you want to get to the bottom of it, literally, you will have to reformulate it in the logical form of the Self-Eating Expression. It is erroneous to use the word ‘Erroneous’; and that assertion is erroneous; and that…[see the elaboration on: ‘All Words are Meaningless’ elsewhere].

If I am building a house, I darn well hope the architect I’ve hired knows his geometry. And the pilot on my next flight, his coordinates. And my surgeon, his straight line.

They are two different destinations. There is a Paris, France and a Paris, Arkansas. The error occurs only if you land in Arkansas and think it is France. You might be surprised how often that happens.