The Void (philosophy)

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The Void is the philosophical concept of nothingness manifested. The notion of The Void is closely affiliated, though not exclusive, to several realms of metaphysics, including agnosticism, existentialism, monoism, and nihilism.[1] The Void is also prevalent in numerous facets of psychology, notably logotherapy.[2]

The manifestation of nothingness is closely associated with the contemplation of emptiness, and with human attempts to identify and personify it. As such, the concept of The Void, and ideas similar to it, have a significant and historically evolving presence[3] in artistic[4] and creative expression, as well as in academic, scientific and philosophical debate surrounding the nature of the human condition.

Perhaps one of the central paradoxes of all concepts of the Void is that it is not possible to speak about emptiness using language. This is akin to Laozi's idea in the Tao Te Ching that the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao, or Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" in the Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of the human condition is, however, our perennial desire to discuss something (or rather, lack of something) that remains ultimately elusive and impossible to entirely encapsulate through the compartmentalising process implicit in words. Eckhart Tolle has alluded to this problem of language by suggesting that he uses words as signposts to point towards the 'something' (or 'nothing') that cannot be described by those words themselves.

In this sense, knowledge or experience of the Void could be said to actually be unknowing, given its inherent ineffability. In Western mystical traditions, it was often argued that the transcendent 'Ground of Being' could therefore be approached through aphairesis, a form of negation.[5]


The Void as a cognomen is not easily defined, as the word itself means "empty" or "without content." The concept of The Void has existed since the dawn of philosophy. Aristotle, in Book IV of Physica, denied its existence with his rejection of finite entities.[6]


Yves Klein, Le Vide (The Void)

The British philosopher Paul Brunton was one of the first Western philosophers to consider the notion of The Void as metaphysical fact.[7]

Peter Matthiessen in The Snow Leopard (1978) described an experience of sitting on rocks in the Himalayas as leading to an awareness of a Void at the centre, or the source, of phenomenal existence: "These hard rocks instruct my bones in what my brain could never grasp in the Heart Sutra, that 'form is emptiness and emptiness is form' – the Void, the emptiness of blue-black space, contained in everything."

Henry Kannberg in Uncertainty is Principal (2014) describes a void as the source of all being which cannot be described linguistically,[8] arguing that it is not knowable on an empirical basis, since the empirical involves the phenomenal world whose source is the mysterious entity or rather source of entities (perhaps called the 'noumenal' – which, according to Kant, we cannot know - or a host of other names, but again we cannot use language in this area according to Kannberg).

For Ken Wilber in Spectrum of Consciousness (1977), the Void is not mere nothingness, and is therefore distinct from something that can be subsumed into the category of nihilism, and is instead "Reality before we slice it up into conceptualism".[9] Here he explores the idea of Sunyata, which cannot be "called void or not void; or both or neither" but can be referred to as 'the Void' with, again, the proviso that it exists beyond the limit of language.

Stanislav Grof's distinction between holotropic and hylotropic experience is important here, with the former encapsulating experiences which connect to the Void.


Religious and spiritual conceptions[edit]

The Void is also an important concept in martial arts such as Aikido.[10]

Astronomy, math, and Science[edit]

Particle physics[edit]

Atomic physics, according to Brunton, has proven that the world has "derived from a mysterious No-thing."[11]

A similar line of argument is explored by Frank Close in The Void (2007) who discusses the concept of 'empty space' from Aristotle through to Newton, Mach, Einstein and beyond (including the idea of an 'aether' and current examinations of the Higgs field).[12]

There may be a problem of language here, however (one that Laozi or Henry Kannberg might identify) because what Close is exploring is in a sense perhaps still a presence, rather than a lack of it, and one involving a large amount of virtual particles and antiparticles that erupt spontaneously into being, with the possibility of hidden dimensions that we are previously unaware of. This may not, in fact, be the Void itself, but a layer of emptiness that perhaps points towards 'it' (or 'not-it'). After all, a domain in which there are both particles and anti-particles is one characterised by duality (for example, the duality of 'exists' and 'doesn't exist'), whereas an absolute or ultimate Void may rather be one characterised by non-duality.

Another interesting perspective on the matter from a scientific angle is the work of the physicist Lawrence Krauss, particularly his 2012 book A Universe from Nothing, in which he explores the idea of the universe having been derived from a quantum vacuum (which may or may not be the same as a philosophical concept of the nothingness of the Void, depending on how it is defined). A further consideration is the enigmatic nature of dark energy which may be seen as coterminous with the Void.[13]

For some people, science may never be able to help us understand the Void, because science is fundamentally empirical in its approach, and the Void is in some mysterious way separate from the empirical and phenomenal world (and is outside space, time and causality and not, therefore, knowable within those categories). For others, progressions and breakthroughs in science help us to understand the philosophical and metaphysical ideas of emptiness that have developed in numerous forms throughout human history.

In popular culture[edit]





  1. ^ James Leonard Park. "NOTHING (Philosophy)-CHAPTER 5 OF OUR EXISTENTIAL PREDICAMENT by JAMES PARK". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ "The Void - Nature of Mind". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  4. ^ "Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, Janos Kender: Leap into the Void (1992.5112) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". 2012-10-24. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  5. ^ Morley, Simon. "The Sublime Unknown". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "Continuity and the Void". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  7. ^ "The Void As Metaphysical Fact - Notebooks of Paul Brunton". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  8. ^ Kannberg, Henry. "Uncertainty is Principal". Scribd. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  9. ^ Wilber, Ken (2002). The Spectrum of Consciousness. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 59. ISBN 8120818482. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  10. ^ Matthews, Niall. "Emptiness, Space, Ma ai, Irimi, and the True Void". AikiWeb. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  11. ^ "Para #24203 - Notebooks of Paul Brunton". Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  12. ^ Close, Frank. The Void. Google Books (Oxford University Press). Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  13. ^ Siegel, Ethan. "Empty space has more energy than everything in the Universe, combined". Science Blogs. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  14. ^ "Marina Abramovic". Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "The Collection | Alberto Giacometti. Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object). 1934 (cast c. 1954-55)". MoMA. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  16. ^ "Yves Klein, Harry Shunk, Janos Kender: Leap into the Void (1992.5112) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". 2012-10-24. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  17. ^ "Lee Ufan". Retrieved 24 June 2014. 
  18. ^ Leviton, Richard (2006). Stars on the Earth: Domes and Stargates, and How To Interact with Them. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc. p. 348. ISBN 0595407811. Retrieved August 22, 2012. 

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