Nothing is more interesting than nothing, nothing is more puzzling than nothing, and nothing is more important than nothing. For mathematicians (not me), nothing is one of their favorite topics, a veritable Pandora’s box of curiosities and paradoxes. What lies at the heart of mathematics? You guessed it, nothing.
We have heard that when zero arrived in Europe it was treated with suspicion. We don’t think of the absence of sound as a type of sound, so why should the absence of numbers be a number, argued its detractors. It took centuries for zero to gain acceptance. It is certainly not like other numbers. Zero as a symbol is part of the wonderful invention of ‘place notation.’Early notations being Roman numerals. Try doing arithmetic with those. So the symbols were used to record numbers, while calculations were done using the abacus, piling up stones in rows in the sand or moving
All of this is of course way over my head. I appreciate Zero when it is added to other numbers in my checkbook. The more zeros, the better. Math and I, while not complete strangers, are hardly friends.
Word games are almost irresistible when you talk about nothing. Nothing is well, nothing. A void. A total absence of thingness. Zero, however is definitely a thing. It is a number. It is, in fact, the number you get when you count your oranges and you haven’t got any. Or you get to the check stand in the grocery store and find your wallet has nothing in it. Of course. like many things in life, zero needs the company of something to make it work. It’s like a marriage which started from the illusive nothing.
The Jerry Seinfeld sitcom, one of the most successful shows on TV was, in their own words, about nothing. From there, they showed that most of us lead perfectly normal lives about nothing. If you check the pages of the average diary, the day’s notations say something like “nothing happened today”.
Of course in the normal course of things, something happens every day. There is no void in Nature, no matter what the mathematicians say