[lit-ideas] Re: The nothing noths

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  • Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2015 10:06:31 -0500

In a message dated 2/17/2015 9:36:24 A.M.  Eastern Standard Time, 
omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx writes:
If anything, I would find  the argument more persuasive if it were claimed 
that we need to know classical  Greek in order to understand Heidegger. The 
difference between Greek of the 4.  century B:C.E. and modern Germanic 
languages is rather more likely to be  significant than the difference between 
contemporary English and contemporary  German. And of course it is the 
classical Greek way of thinking that Heidegger  is supposedly after, trying to 
reconstruct. Again, the assumption that the  classical Greek way of thinking is 
somehow more 'authentic' than the modern is a  problematic one, particularly 
considering how much the Greeks 'borrowed,'  usually without acknowledging 
it, from Egyptians and Middle Easterners. It  sounds very much like it is 
connected to the theories or 'Arian race' and  culture which we know who 

Well, the ONLY passage by Heidegger that Ayer cared to quote in his 1935  
book published by Victor Gollancz, was "The Nothing noths", and dwells on a  
favourite topic with the Greeks, indeed with the first Greek author EVER.
In what Lewis Carroll regarded as a logical sophisma in the Odyssey, we  
read that drunk and unwary, the giant cyclos Poliphemus asks Odysseus his 
name,  promising him a guest-gift if he answers. 
Odysseus tells him 
which means "no one".
Polyphemus then promises to eat this "Nobody" last of all. 
With that, he falls into a drunken sleep. 
Odysseus had meanwhile hardened a wooden stake in the fire and now drives  
it into Polyphemus' eye.
The moral comes, as usual, later: when Polyphemus shouts for help from his  
fellow giants, saying:
i. Nobody has hurt me.
they think [they never read Heidegger?] that Polyphemus is being afflicted  
by divine power and recommend prayer as the answer.
In other words, the paradoxes of 'Nothing', and 'No one' ("Οὖτις") were  
well-known by the Greeks, and it should be pointed that Heidegger's "The 
Nothing  noths" HAS been translated to Modern, if not Classical, Greek. 
The problem that Ayer saw was that 
"there is no place in the empirical world for many  of these  'entities'"
"a special non-empirical world is invoked to house them."
"To this error," Ayer goes on, "must be attributed ... the utterances of a  
Heidegger,  who bases his metaphysics on the assumption that 'Nothing' is a 
 name  which is used to denote something peculiarly 
But Ayer had studied the classics at All Souls (a posh college -- Grice,  
being a 'scholarship boy' had ended up at the House of Corpus Christi, for  
Midlands people -- 'having been born on the wrong side of the tracks').
Anyone who had studied classics at Oxford knew of the trouble sustaining  
multiple voids may push us to the most extreme answer to ‘Why is there 
something  rather than nothing?’, namely, ‘There must not only be something but 
there must  not be any emptiness at all!’.
More importantly, anyone in Oxford pursuing a Lit.Hum. -- as Ayer and Grice 
 did -- knew that Parmenides had maintained that it is self-defeating to 
say that  something does not exist. 
The linguistic rendering of this insight is the problem of negative  
existentials: ‘Atlantis does not exist’ is about Atlantis. 
A statement can be about something only if that something exists. No  
relation without relata! Therefore, ‘Atlantis does not exist’ cannot be true. 
Parmenides and his disciples elaborated conceptual difficulties with  
negation into an incredible metaphysical monolith.
The Parmenideans were opposed by the atomists. The atomists said that the  
world is constituted by simple, indivisible things moving in empty space. 
They  self-consciously endorsed the void to explain empirical phenomena such 
as  movement, compression, and absorption.
Parmenides's disciple, Zeno of Elea, had already amassed an amazing battery 
 of arguments to show motion is impossible. Since these imply that 
compression  and absorption are also impossible, Zeno rejects the data of the 
atomists just  as physicists reject the data of parapsychologists.
Less radical opponents of vacuums, such as Aristotle, re-explained the data 
 within a framework of plenism.
Although the universe is full, objects can move because other objects get  
out of the way. Compression and absorption can be accommodated by having 
things  pushed out of the way when other things jostle their way in.
In the "Timeaus", Aristotle's teacher Plato attempted to combine atomism  
with plenism as a “likely story”. 
The atoms are the Platonic solids (regular, convex polyhedra), each having  
a distinctive role in the composition of objects. Like an irreverently  
intelligent school boy, Aristotle objects that the Platonic solids cannot fill  
space. Every arrangement of Platonic solids yields the sort of gaps that 
one can  more readily predict in a universe composed solely of spherical atoms.
Aristotle agrees that atoms could fill space if they were all cubes. 
Pressing his luck, Aristotle goes on to claim that tetrahedra can also  
complete space. It is testament to Aristotle's subsequent authority that this  
claim was accepted for seventeen hundred years — despite being easily 
refutable  by anyone trying to snugly combine tetrahedral blocks. Almost any 
choice of  shapes guarantees interstitial vacua. This geometrical pressure for 
tiny vacua  creates a precedent for the cosmic void (which surrounds the 
material cosmos)  and the intermediate empty spaces that provide a promising 
explanation of how  motion is possible.
Yet Aristotle denied the void can explain how things move. 
Movement requires a mover that is pushing or pulling the object. An object  
in a vacuum is not in contact with anything else. If the object did move, 
there  would be nothing to impede its motion. Therefore, any motion in a 
vacuum would  be at an unlimited speed. This conflicts with the principle that 
no object can  be in two separate places at the same time.
Aristotle's refutation of the void persuaded most commentators.
There were two limited dissenters to his thesis that vacuums are  
The Stoics agreed that terrestrial vacuums are impossible but believed  
there must be a void surrounding the cosmos. 
Hero of Alexandria agreed that there are no naturally occuring vacuums but  
believed that they can be formed artificially. He cites pumps and siphons 
as  evidence that voids can be created. 
Hero believed that bodies have a natural horror of vacuums and struggle to  
prevent their formation. You can feel the antipathy by trying to open a 
bellows  that has had its air hole plugged. Try as you might, you cannot 
separate the  sides. However, unlike Aristotle, Hero thought that if you and 
bellows were  tremendously strong, you could separate the sides and create a 
Hero's views were much discussed.
The immediate motive behind this discussion was, oddly, to preserve God's  
omnipotence. God could have chosen to create the world in a different spot. 
He  could have made it bigger or smaller. God could have also chosen to make 
the  universe a different shape. This possibilities entail the possibility 
of a  vacuum.
A second motivation is a literal reading of Genesis 1:1. This opening  pas
sage of the Bible describes God as creating the world from nothing. Such a  
construction seems logically impossible. Commitment to an illogical miracle  
jeopardized an overarching commitment to avoid outright irrationality. If  
creation out of nothing were indeed a demonstrable impossibility, then faith  
would be forced to override an answer given by reason rather than merely 
answer  a question about which reason is silent.
All Greek philosophy had presupposed creation was from something more  
primitive, not nothing. 
Consistently, the Greeks assumed destruction was disassembly into more  
basic units. (If destruction into nothingness were possible, the process could  
be reversed to get creation from nothing.) 
Creation out of nothing presupposes the possibility of total nothingness.  
This in turn implies that there can be some nothingness. 
Scholars 7 proposed various recipes for creating vacuums.
One scheme was to freeze a sphere filled with water. After the water  
contracted into ice, a vacuum would form at the top. 
Aristotelians replied that the sphere would bend at its weakest point. When 
 the vacuists stipulated that the sphere was perfect, the rejoinder was 
that this  would simply prevent the water from turning into ice.
Neither side appears to have tried out the recipe. If either had, then they 
 would have discovered that freezing water expands rather than contracts. 
To contemporary thinkers, this dearth of empirical testing is bizarre. 
The puzzle is intensified by the fact that the medievals did empirically  
test many hypotheses, especially in optics -- (But Heidegger never wore  


Heath, P. L. 
Sorensen, Roy, "Nothingness", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy   
(Winter 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = 
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