Expanding the field of philosophy to make space for an entirely new field in philosophy is daunting. Creating via synthesizing the rich history of ontology, but using a fresh conceptual guide, I am both humbled and motivated by my role as a conduit, bringing nihology, the acute study of nothing/ness, into being within philosophy. Especially as this field interrogates, critiques and analyses what is uniquely ineffable, the humbling effect is, I can assure you, greater than the one motivating me. I take on this task more out of a perverse sense of reverence, if it can be called that, rather than an enthusiastic fervor. Hesitantly knowing that many cogitations have been written describing nothing/ness, I proceed.
Explicating this project closer, I must say, to be more exact, that I am not ushering in a new field of study within the field of philosophy, but rather creating a new field of philosophy that will contain a manifold of thoughts about nothing/ness already present in the world (e.g. Buddhist philosophy, the Kyoto School, especially Nishida Kitarō’s work, etc). Furthermore, I will respectfully take from these already existing philosophical systems and create matrices for analyzing nothing. As an aside, I am willing here to let my critics have the last word, I offer nothing and my work is, quite literally, not even good for nothing (for how can one be good for nothing?). Although, here I do strive to be good for nothing, as I do hope give it its due.
Nihology, like any other concept, requires what are sometimes called boundary conditions. These establish what a thing, field of study, or concept is and what it is not. Given that nihology is the systematized study of nothing/ness, its boundary conditions are difficult. What is nothing? What is the boundary between studying something and the absolute absence of everything? These are essential and fair questions that any reasonable reader must ask, and I intend to answer them throughout this journey. Boundary conditions for various concepts like apples differ greatly from boundary conditions for concepts like gravity, and often two (or more) concepts overlap (as with the fable of Newton’s head feeling the force of a falling apple, which lead to an epiphany, and later detailed, calculated discoveries of gravitational forces). Therefore, it is essential to speak of the primacy, or general rule of nihology, its main premise:
Being has been, and is, placed at the center of everyday life and philosophical reflection, and this has displaced the important and central role that nothing/ness can maintain, if sustained thoughtfully and methodically, for thought, action and speculation. Given that nothingness permeates, or haunts, being, as its absence is the presence of that which we call something, there are no boundary conditions to nihology, other than keeping mind of the continuous, historical, attentive and creative modes of thinking through nothing/ness.
What is nothing? Nothing is absolute absence. Nothing is not a void; nothing is not emptiness, nor is it a blank space, or even a negation; it is complete and total – absolute – absence. Throughout European and US philosophical traditions, too often nothing is given a kind of signification, or reduced to a negative, a less than being; more generously, it is thought of as some kind of negated being. Yet nothing has no relation to being, for nothing is only the absolute, complete and total absence of being. Therefore, there can be no interaction between nothing and being, between the realms of nihology and ontology, in terms of nothing. John-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness maintains, “Being simply is.” Sartre’s major contribution to ontology was his demystification of Being, and yet, Sartre still finds himself befuddled by nothing. He attempts to describe it as “curled in being like a worm.” To be fair, Sartre was describing nothingness, which is different than nothing. Nothing is absolute absence, whereas nothingness is a property of nothing. And the only property of nothing can be absence; nothingness is therefore a mediator, it is a relative absence not an absolute absence.
Since nothing has arisen without depending on something, there is nothing that is not empty. – Nāgārjuna
Nothing’s absolute absence allows for the totality of being and presence, and nothingness, being, by degrees, a property, the only property, of nothing, seeps into being and presence, allowing being to be multiple beings, separated from each other yet still engaged in thoroughgoing interaction. For if there was only being, then all would be one inert mass, the plenitude of being would end all objective motion, subjectivity, movement, etc. In this way nothing, as absolute absence allows for being and nothingness, and the ability for being to presence, or present, itself to its selves.
I look forward to continuing this analysis, and I hope that you too, whether through my fiction or philosophical works, will find these ideas illuminating. I am careful to not elide the already rich histories regarding the study of nothingness, especially from various Buddhist philosophical traditions and schools. And I am also aware of the fact that some scholars in the so-called Western philosophical canon have taken up the task of examining nothing. Sartre, in my opinion, has the keenest examination of nothing/ness I’ve read. I highly recommend that readers acquaint themselves with his book Being & Nothingness in order to understand what I see as a very accurate description of the subjective and inter-subjective phenomenological experience of nothingness, a partial property of absolute absence. However, I also aver that Sartre universalized the experience he and others in his milieu had as an ahistorical, subjectivity. Historical, physical, social and political conditions, as when one views the sun from the bottom of a swimming pool, or the night sky in a light-filled city, alters the fixity of a universal perspective. Yet, there is something out there and in here that remains haunting Being, and that is Absolute Absence. It’s ‘seen’ in different ways, through different mediums and in different times and locations, yet absolute absence remains to be seen. In remaining to be seen, it means that the observer is not alone is creating an idea of nothing, but that nothing, by its absolute absence, does indeed create the observer.
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*featured image, Still of Linda Lawson and Dennis Hopper in Night Tide (1961)