Ask GeoMan...

What is the difference between space and nothing?

This is one of those questions which give many of us headaches, probably because there may be no way to come up with an answer which makes sense. My definitions would be as follows:

Space: those areas of what we call reality which are relatively empty of matter but can still be defined in both spatial and temporal terms (translation: we don't think there's much of anything there, but we're pretty sure we can define both where and when they are). This one kinda-sorta makes sense, and the main problem that most people have is confusing it with what exists between my ears.

Nothing: those areas of reality which are empty of matter and can not be defined in spatial and temporal terms (translation: we don't have a clue about where or when they are, and there probably isn't anything there anyway). This one isn't quite as obvious, but cuts right to the heart of our thoughts about the origin and evolution of the universe.

For example: Within the "boundaries" of the universe, there is both matter (stars, planets, gasses, and so forth), and space (what is in between the matter). But what about beyond the boundaries of the universe? What's out there, and how do we describe its location and time? Since there are no reference points outside of what we know, location and time cannot be described. Indeed, we really shouldn't even ask the question "where (or when) is it?" because any possible answer would be meaningless.

How about before the Big Bang? What time was it and where did it happen? How do we define spatial and temporal reality prior to the origin of spatial and temporal reality? Since the Astronomical Powers That Be assume that both space and time were created by the Big Bang event, neither could have existed before it happened. Therefore, since neither space nor time existed, there must have been no space or time. But who really cares... since matter as we understand it requires space to exist within, there couldn't have been anything there anyway.

According to Balin, my oldest son (GeoBoy?), Plato's definition of nothing is "That which rocks dream about." This certainly makes as much sense as mine, and has the added advantage of falling into the "5 words or less" category.


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