Does zero exist as material, immaterial or both?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Quantum Quack, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Zero [nothing] appears, to me, to be a fundamental paradox, as it both exists and non-exists simultaneously.
    Care to discuss?
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2013
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  3. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    It's a mathematical placeholder. It's not in itself something to exist or to not exist. The figure zero exists. It represents the lack of something. There is no paradox.
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  5. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    I would argue that "nothingness" [philosophy & physical phenomena] is a lot more than a mere placeholder...
    I would also argue that the mathematical non-value of zero is the most important mathematical object.
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  7. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    I don't think that's an accurate description.
    Zero has an exact mathematical meaning, and an exact value. It's an even number, but is neither positive nor negative (or it's both). It's the only number which does not divide any other number.

    Zero is not "nothingness", but rather is like a "place", with nothing in it. In linear algebra the zero vector has no magnitude and no direction, but you can define a mathematical object which is "like" a vector, which does have a direction but zero magnitude.
    Without zero the concept of a vacuum would be philosophically and physically undefinable.

    A message with nothing in it is still a message; it contains no information except that "a message has been received". Zero is a very useful number in fact.
  8. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Interesting thoughts..

    so are you saying that zero [what it represents] exists or doesn't exist?
    If so is it material or immaterial?
  9. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Suppose you have an n-bit register. In each place, write a zero (in order to do this, you need a representation of that value, conventionally "0"). What does the register contain? Is it a string of characters?
    In this example, a zero is just a symbol which is not the empty string.

    On the other hand, an empty string contains zero symbols. The empty string is well-defined: it's the concatenation of any number (up to infinity) of empty strings, like multiplying zero by itself (up to an infinite number of multiplications) or like adding zero to itself similarly.
  10. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Understandably in Mathematics it exists as immaterial [ a symbol ].
    Does the symbol represent anything that is material in the physical universe?
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2013
  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Mathematically speaking, there's magnitudes, I guess. These seem to have some kind of inherent existence in physical reality. Reality seems to possess many different kinds of objective magnitude, magnitudes that exist regardless of what humans think about the matter.

    Then there are the number systems that human beings invent to represent and model these observed magnitudes. The symbol 'zero' is an element in some of those number systems. As such, it would seem to have as much existence as any other number in that system, albeit with unusual properties.

    Turning from number systems to the realities they model, I'm inclined to think that absences can have physical reality. Donuts really do have holes. There certainly seem to be occasions in which some physical reality that we seek to measure is absent.

    A bucket with a hole in it has very different physical properties than an intact bucket, despite the hole arguably being an instance of the non-existence of something.

    The seeming physical reality of objects like holes creates difficulties for those who insist on stronger forms of the slogan 'non-existence doesn't exist'.
  12. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Remember also that zero plays a determinative role in the numbering sequence itself. A zero after one is 10. After two it's twenty. And so on past 100 to 10,000 and 100,000 etc etc. Likewise with .01, .001, and so on. For being nothing it certainly is crucial in determining quantities.
  13. someguy1 Registered Senior Member

    OP, can you first tell me this: Does the number 6 exist materially, immaterially, or both?

    To me, numbers are mental abstractions. They're real, but they're not physical.

    Or perhaps they're fictions, like Captain Ahab. Captain Ahab is a real character of fiction. He does't exist in the real world but he certainly exists in our collective mental world.

    How about laws? I agree to give you ten bucks for picking up my groceries. We have a written contract. You bring me the groceries and I refuse to give you the ten bucks. You can sue me and win. A contract represents an abstract mental agreement. But it's enforceable in the physical world because we have laws, courts, and enforcement mechanisms.

    Pretty much all of civilization is abstract. You stop at the red light. Is there something about that wavelength that makes your car stop? Of course not. It's just an abstract social agreement. But it's real by virtue of everyone believing in it.

    Numbers are sort of like that. Collective agreements to regard something as real when in fact that thing is not physically real. Mental abstractions are real. All of daily life depends on the reality of non-physical abstractions.

    Have a paper dollar (or any other paper currency) in your pocket? How real is that? Paper money is a collective agreement to regard an abstraction as real. If you follow the news you know that that particular abstraction, paper money, is in big trouble these days. Once people stop believing, it's no longer real. That's why groceries cost more every day. Food is physical. Paper money isn't. But paper money is real as long as people continue to believe in it. Belief in paper money is starting to weaken worldwide. Look up the Zimbabwe inflation to see what happens when everyone suddenly loses faith in paper money.

    Now, that's enough about human abstraction. The point is that the number 0 and the number 6 have exactly the same ontological status. They're both abstract yet real by virtue of everyone agreeing on their meaning and importance.

    But you seem to feel that 6 is more real than zero. How so?
  14. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    What a fascinating thread!

    In my understanding, I don't think the term "zero" is necessarily interchangeable with "nothingness." The concept of "nothing" has a whole host of abstract ideas that coincide with its meaning. But, zero and nothingness sometimes do intersect. Just a lay(woman's) take.

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  15. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    I guess the first question is to ask: "In philosophy what and how significant is the existence or non-existence of zero or "absolute nothingness" to the understanding of the big question philosophers seek to address?"

    From day one mankind appears to have been questioning the nature of the universe, spontaneously [ according to science] or deliberately [ according to some orthodox religious ideologies ] coming into existence from zero or nothingness. aka ex-nihilo.

    So the determining the nature of Zero [ nothingness ] is essential if one wishes to explore ex-nihilo type logic.

    Generally the field of Physics is focused on things that are material, that have mass and has problems when dealing with things that are immaterial [ have no mass ] IMO.

    Zero exists in a way that is I believe to be on the cusp of that vexation.

    For example: the Center of Gravity [COG] of any mass is incredibly important to the physics of a 4 dimensional universe. That center whilst being immaterial [ a zero point ] provides an incredibly significant material effect.
    Remembering that this is a philosophy forum, one can make co-relationships to other issues that plague philosophy such as "original causation" [divine or other] where effect only appears to be present for us to assess.
    Even subscribing to the Big bang model fails to address the nature of it's first cause.

    So all fields seem to point to the same issue. A common vexation that exists in all fields of human intellectual pursuits, and that is "What is zero?", is it real or unreal. Did it exist [non-exist] prior to the big bang and does it exist today after the big bang...etc etc..

    Further [from a perspective of "something-ness']:

    Does the logical fact that

    zero = (-)infinite energy + (+)infinite energy

    Have any significance in the discussion as to the materiality of zero or not?

    Philosophically yes.. 6, a quantify of masses or objects is in deed more real that a non-quantity. Yet the quantity of 6 is only made valid and constant as a 6 "of something" because zero holds true as a non-value.
    "I have six oranges more than zero oranges" sort of thing. ( 6 - 6 = 0, thus the number 6 is validated as six due to comparison with zero.)
  16. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Wegs can you expand on this a little?

    Is it really a matter of semantics as another poster in another thread has suggested?
  17. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    I would suggest that with out zero being a constant nothingness, determination of any value(s) would be impossible as the variables would have no way of attaining rational value.

    In fact zero could be considered as the ONLY constant, universally due to it's immutability. (materially and immaterially)

    example : a 6 with out zero as it's pivotal qualifier could equal anything.

    6 could equal 7.8905 for example and 7.8905 could equal an orange [ insanity, chaos, incoherence would prevail ]

    For something that doesn't exist it certainly has a profound effect.
  18. wegs Matter and Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

    More than a matter of semantics and here's why:

    "Zero" as others already commented, is a placeholder. It has value.

    "Nothingness" denotes no real value, it is a concept and often an abstract one.

    Now, if there is "nothing" in my grocery cart at the store, I could also claim that I have "zero" items in my cart. But, most people would merely state..."I have nothing in my cart."

    So, while the two terms sometimes intersect, they really aren't interchangeable as one denotes value and the other is a concept, with no value unto itself. (Value in this case being quantitative)

    Hope that better clarifies my point of view.

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  19. someguy1 Registered Senior Member

    Of course it's not possible to have nothing in your cart. You have air in your cart, which is full of bacteria and dust particles. You have a volume of spacetime in your cart. There's a lot of stuff in that!

    It's true that "zero is not nothing." Zero is a specific thing, a point on the number line, a quantity.

    And nothing is, well, nothingness. But it's difficult to imagine "nothing." The physicists tell us that completely empty space is full of quantum fluctuations.

    So not only is zero not nothing; but in the physical world, it's very difficult to imagine nothing.
  20. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    yet you achieve it as a physical state every time you become totally unconscious [dreamless sleep]
    to me the use of the words "quantity = zero" is an acceptable contradiction. The word quantity itself indicates a value greater than zero.

    A bit like asking the ridiculous:
    "How many nobody's does it take to change a light globe?"

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  21. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Yes thank you . You feel zero is an immaterial placeholder that is not directly related to nothingness.
    However I would ask:

    Is Nothingness related to zero?
  22. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Take the series of numbers +3,+2,+1,0,-1,-2,-3
    Zero is as important as any other number.

    If you say that zero does not exist, you must say the same for all the negative numbers.
  23. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Can negative numbers indicate something that is physically existent?

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