The Void (philosophy)

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The Void is the philosophical concept of nothingness manifested. The notion of the Void is relevant to several realms of metaphysics. The Void is also prevalent in numerous facets of psychology, notably logotherapy.[1]

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[2] in artistic[3] and creative expression, as well as in academic, scientific and philosophical debate surrounding the nature of the human condition.

In Western mystical traditions, it was often argued that the transcendent 'Ground of Being' could therefore be approached through aphairesis, a form of negation.[4]


Western philosophers have discussed the existence and nature of void since Parmenides suggested it did not exist and used this to argue for the non-existence of change, motion, differentiation, among other things.[5] In response to Parmenides, Democritus described the universe as only being composed of atoms and void.[6]

Aristotle, in Book IV of Physics, denied the existence of the Void (Greek: κενόν) with his rejection of finite entities.[7]

Stoic philosophers admitted the subsistence of four incorporeals among which they included void: "Outside of the world is diffused the infinite void, which is incorporeal. By incorporeal is meant that which, though capable of being occupied by body, is not so occupied. The world has no empty space within it, but forms one united whole. This is a necessary result of the sympathy and tension which binds together things in heaven and earth. Chrysippus discusses the void in his work On Void and in the first book of his Physical Sciences; so too Apollophanes in his Physics,[8] Apollodorus[9] , and Posidonius in his Physical Discourse, book ii."[10]

There were questions as to whether void was truly nothing or if it was in fact filled with other things, with theories of aether being suggested in the 18th century to fill the void.[11]


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."

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".[12] Here he explores the idea of Śūnyatā, 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.[13]

Particle physics[edit]

Atomic physics, according to Paul Brunton, has proven that the world "derives from a mysterious No-thing."[14]

A similar line of argument is explored in The Void (2007) by Frank Close, 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).[15]

Another 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.[16] His work has received sustained criticism from David Albert and others working in both philosophy and physics.

In popular culture[edit]




Video games[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2012. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "The Void - Nature of Mind". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ Morley, Simon. "The Sublime Unknown". Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  5. ^ DK fragment B 8.5–6, 8.22–24.
  6. ^ Diogenes Laërtius ix.72.
  7. ^ "Continuity and the Void". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  8. ^ Yonge, C. D.; Seddon, Keith (2007). A Summary of Stoic Philosophy: Zeno of Citium in Diogenes Laertius Book Seven (revised ed.). p. 142. Apollophanes of Antioch... discussed the void in his book on physics.
  9. ^ Donald J. Zeyl, ed. (1997). Encyclopedia of Classical Philosophy. Routledge (published 2013). p. 44. Apollodorus (2nd cent., B.C.E.), of cited for [asserting]... the cosmos is... surrounded by infinite void.
  10. ^ Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers(tr. R. Hicks), Book VII (140), tr. R. Hicks
  11. ^ Isaac Newton, The Third Book of Opticks (1718).
  12. ^ Wilber, Ken (2002). The Spectrum of Consciousness. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 59. ISBN 8120818482. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
  13. ^ Matthews, Niall. "Emptiness, Space, Ma ai, Irimi, and the True Void". AikiWeb. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  14. ^ "Para #24203 - Notebooks of Paul Brunton". Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  15. ^ Close, Frank (2007-10-25). The Void. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191607714. Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  16. ^ Siegel, Ethan. "Empty space has more energy than everything in the Universe, combined". Science Blogs. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  17. ^ "Marina Abramović". Retrieved 21 June 2014.
  18. ^ "The Collection | Alberto Giacometti. Hands Holding the Void (Invisible Object). 1934 (cast c. 1954-55)". MoMA. Retrieved 2012-11-06.
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ "Lee Ufan". Retrieved 24 June 2014.
  21. ^ 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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