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.

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 beginning:

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 preposition 'ex', which the reader may recognize from many English derivatives such as exit, means 'out of'. 'Nihilo' is the ablative form of the Latin noun 'nihilum' meaning 'Nothing'. 'Fit' is the present indicative form of the Latin verb fio meaning 'to become'.

Modern physics[edit]

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.[4] Such a universe would need to be flat, a state which does not contradict current observations that the universe is flat with a 0.5% margin of error.[5]

Some physicists, such as Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku, define nothing as an unstable quantum vacuum that contains no particles.[6][7][8] This is different from the philosophical conception of nothing, which has no inherent properties, and is not governed by physical laws.

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.[9] Later, Lear nearly repeats the line, saying, "Nothing can be made out of nothing" (Acts 1.1 and 1.4 respectively).

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. ^ "A Universe from Nothing". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 10 March 2010.  by Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff
  5. ^ "Will the Universe expand forever?". NASA. Retrieved 18 October 2011. 
  6. ^ Krauss, Lawrence (2012). A Universe from Nothing. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4516-2445-8. 
  7. ^ Hawking, Stephen; Mlodinow, Leonard (2010). The Grand Design. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-80537-1. 
  8. ^ "A Universe is a Free Lunch". Big Think. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Commentary on King Lear by Dr. Larry A. Brown, Professor of theater