Nothing comes from nothing

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Nothing comes from nothing (Latin: nihil fit ex nihilo) is a philosophical expression of a thesis first argued by Parmenides. It is associated with ancient Greek cosmology, such as is presented not just in the opus of Homer and Hesiod, but also in virtually every internal system – there is no break in between a world that did not exist and one that did, since it could not be created ex nihilo in the first place. Note that Greeks also believed that things cannot disappear into nothing, just as they cannot be created from nothing, but if they ceased to exist, they transform into some other form of being.[citation needed] We can trace this idea to the teaching of Empedocles. Today the idea is loosely associated with the laws of conservation of mass and energy.[citation needed]

De Rerum Natura[edit]

The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius expressed this principle in his first book of De Rerum Natura (eng. title On the Nature of Things)

Principium cuius hinc nobis exordia sumet,
nullam rem e nihilo gigni divinitus umquam.[1]

English translation:

But only Nature's aspect and her law,

Which, teaching us, hath this exordium:

Nothing from nothing ever yet was born.[2]

He then continues on discussing how matter is required to make matter and that objects cannot spring forth without reasonable cause.

Nam si de nihilo fierent, ex omnibus rebus

omne genus nasci posset, nil semine egeret.
e mare primum homines, e terra posset oriri

squamigerum genus et volucres erumpere caelo;[3]

English translation

Suppose all sprang from all things: any kind

Might take its origin from any thing,
No fixed seed required. Men from the sea
Might rise, and from the land the scaly breed,

And, fowl full fledged come bursting from the sky;[2]

English Translation - Ex nihilo nihil fit[edit]

Literally translated, this Latin phrase means, "out of nothing, nothing [be]comes." The Latin prefix 'ex', which the reader may recognize from English words such as, Exit, means 'out of'. 'Nihilo' is the ablative form of the Latin nominative 'Nihil' meaning 'Nothing'. And, 'fit' is the present indicative form of the Latin verb Fio meaning 'to become'.

Philosophical Assessment[edit]

For the purpose of this discussion, we shall define the concept of Nothing to be literally the absence of any 'thing'. To briefly labor this definition, nothing means the absence of any physical material (seen or unseen), non-physical material, boundaries, alternate realities, unseen entities, energy, spirits, powers, beings, time, philosophies, logic, nature, etc. It 'literally' means 'no' 'thing'.

If the reader would try to imagine a universe of nothing (which the discerning reader will immediately recognize as a self-contradiction for, by our own definition, we have agreed that a 'universe', which is a 'thing', cannot exist in 'nothing') then the reader will begin to understand the difficulties of our human minds grasping the idea of nothingness. Difficult though it may be, it is, nevertheless, achievable. Consider this vast and boundless nothing. Now consider what would have to occur in this vast nothing that would cause something, 'any' 'thing', to come into existence. Since there are no alternate realities, nor energies, nor spirits, nor powers, nor any thing in the nothingness, there are no means or materials from which any thing could come into existence. There is nothing to cause something to exist. Therefore, the logical conclusion is, there is 'nothing' that can [be]come from nothing[ness]. Ergo, 'Ex nihilo nihil fit'.

The corollary argument follows, if there was ever a time in the history of this universe in which nothing existed, then, according to Ex nihilo nihil fit, nothing could exist now. However, since something clearly does exist now, there can never have been a time when nothing existed. Therefore, logically speaking, there must be something that has always existed from the beginning of eternity. If we define the term eternal to mean that which has neither a beginning nor an end, then we can say that something must be eternal. The natural question, then, is, what is that eternal thing? Some have argued it is nature that is eternal. Some have argued it is Mankind or the soul of man that is eternal. Others have argued it is God that is eternal.

Modern physics[edit]

Some physicists, such as Lawrence Krauss, define nothing as an unstable quantum vacuum that contains no particles.[4] This is incompatible with the philosophical definition of nothing, since it can be defined by certain properties, and is governed by physical laws. Many philosophers criticize physical explanations of how the Universe arose from nothing, claiming that they merely beg the question.[5][6][7]

The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change. The zero-energy universe states that the total amount of energy in the Universe is exactly zero. That is the only kind of universe that could come from nothing, assuming such a zero-energy universe is, already, nothing.[8] Such a universe needs to be flat, a state which does not contradict current observations that the Universe is flat with a 0.5% margin of error.[9]

References in works of fiction[edit]

In William Shakespeare's King Lear, the king's daughter Cordelia is unable to put her love for him into words, saying, "my love’s More ponderous than my tongue" (Act 1.1). The king says, "Nothing will come of nothing", meaning that as long as she says nothing to flatter him, she will receive nothing from him.[10] Later, Lear nearly repeats the line, saying, "Nothing can be made out of nothing" (Act 1.1 and Act 1.4 respectively).

In Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music as Captain Von Trapp and Maria sing the song Something Good they both sing the line "Nothing comes from nothing nothing ever could" in reference to their childhood's influence on their relationship.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lucretius, Titus. "Book 1". De Rerum Natura (in Latin). Lines 149-50: PHI Latin Texts. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Lucretius, Titus; Leonard, William Ellery. "Book 1". De Rerum Natura. Internet Classics Archive. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  3. ^ Lucretius, Titus. "Book 1". De Rerum Natura (in Latin). Line 159: The Latin Library. Retrieved 20 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Krauss, Lawrence (2012). A Universe from Nothing. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4516-2445-8. 
  5. ^ Albert, David. "On the Origin of Everything". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  6. ^ Craig, William. "A Universe from Nothing". Reasonable Faith Podcast. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  7. ^ Gutting, Gary. "Can Physics and Philosophy Get Along". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "A Universe from Nothing". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 10 March 2010.  by Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff
  9. ^ "Will the Universe expand forever?". NASA. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  10. ^ Commentary on King Lear by Dr. Larry A. Brown, Professor of theater