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There is nothing like Nothing

Blasphemy distracts me from an absolute state of rest on
Sunday.

By David Arthur Walters
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Doing absolutely nothing on Sunday can be akin to starting a diet after the next piece of cake.
Neither eternal peace nor a life without sweetness is really wanted. I thought I was fully
committed to a Sunday of absolute rest today, but no sooner had I started to do nothing than
I was distracted by the memory of the blasphemy I had encountered over my morning coffee.

Indeed, the distraction was blasphemy, and of the sort that might lead one to conclude that
life is really worth living after all whether or not one is eating cake. It was blasphemous in the
technical sense, that Nothing was used against Nothing to prove that Nothing does not exist,
which is absurd. I was also confronted with the absurd on Saturday, while making it perfectly
clear in my preparatory essay, 'How To Do Absolutely Nothing', that one must be Nothing in
order to do nothing, upon which it follows that Nothing indubitably exists.

I was unsuspectingly led into mortal sin against immortality by a mere book, namely
Professor R.B. Collingwood's AN ESSAY ON METAPHYSICS, the 'Revised Edition with The
Nature of Metaphysical Study, Function of Metaphysics in Civilization, Notes for an Essay on
Logic,' published by Clarendon Press in 1998 at Oxford.

Allow me explain why I had this heretical book in my possession. I had overheard gossip that
Professor Collingwood discovered something he called the “Four Forms of Experience.” Each
experiential form is a mistake corrected by its successors, in this order: Art, Religion, Science,
and History.

Now I had heard of all sorts of orders; I was not surprised that History came out on top for
him inasmuch as the professor was, first and foremost, a historian. For him, History was
everything. For us, well, we know that History is also a mistake, because nothing and only
nothing, i.e. Nothing, is perfect.

Besides the Four Forms, he had his Three Doctrines:

1. Mental creations must be studied historically, not psychologically;

2. Historical knowledge is attainable;

3. History and philosophy are a unity.

Our professor, may he rest in peace, was big on the Socratic or dialogic method of
ascertaining the truth, that is, of question and answer, and it is the questioning that has
priority since there are no answers without questions. Perhaps that is why the ancient Jewish
schoolmasters would whip the dull boy who did not question the Torah, and why the Jewish
casuists have managed to survive in conformity to laws eternally interpreted.

Now, then, if you want to understand someone’s answers, say, his philosophical doctrine, you
have to put yourself in his shoes and ask what his answers were answers to; that is, what
were his questions. And his questions would necessarily have been conditioned by the
circumstances of his place and time. You have present evidence of his past, say, in the way he
thought as represented by a certain document, and you can understand what he said because
your way of thinking is similar to his although different due to historical conditions, therefore
historical knowledge is attainable.

You understand Aristotle’s theory of duty but it is different than Kant’s theory of duty, or, for
that matter, your own theory of duty, because different theories are shaped by the practical
concerns of the places and times they are conceived - historical problems arise out of practical
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problems. Metaphysics, as originally conceived and as Professor Collingwood chose to
embrace it, is the general science that questions Nature and attempts to wean from Nature
her innermost secrets. Metaphysics attempts to understand that natural phenomena that is
the subject matter of the special sciences. Once the right metaphysical or universally
applicable tools were obtained and mastered, such as mathematics, her secrets were no
longer secrets but riddles to be solved.

So there is no correct or right theory of duty, or D, but there is D1, D2, D3, and so on.
Aristotle’s theory of duty is neither right nor wrong, but was simply what it was. There is no
such thing as a fixed, eternal philosophical answer that is always true. The only thing eternal
about philosophy and history is questioning. It is not a copy-and-past affair.

History is the history of thought, a mental creation, an interpretation of experience. The study
proper of philosophy is necessarily a study of the philosophy’s history. Interpretations are
philosophical inasmuch as wisdom about events is philosophy’s ultimate concern. He who
does not question the interpretations might be entitled to a slap upside the head, and he will
probably get one from his teacher or from nature because survival for human beings is a
question of continuous adaptation to changing circumstances.

We may beg to disagree with our pragmatic professor, and we should disagree with him at
least in part for the sake of our own intellectual development, because his philosophy was
conceived in opposition to the notion of the Realists of his own time, who thought that ancient
if not prehistoric Ideals were eternal realities. Now that civilization is apparently backsliding
down the slippery slope to doom, eternal ideals are wanted, not to cling to, but to strive for,
that we might pull our heads out of the muck we have made for ourselves to consume, that
we may stand upright once again, with heads in the heaven and feet on firm ground.

Still, history is a mistake, for nothing and only nothing, i.e. Nothing, is perfect. That is why
Hegel remarked that we ultimately learn nothing from it. My protest in favor of Nothing
appears below.

Our good professor, who died in 1943, invested nearly his entire professional life at Oxford,
where he was the only surviving disciple of the great Romano-British archeologist F.J.
Haverfield.

Professor Collingwood was a fine archeologist in his own right, highly respected for his ability
to interpret other people's excavations as well as his own. He succeeded where others
conformed; he was not afraid to make mistakes, to create hypotheses to be challenged,
knowing truth is often found sleeping with falsity.

From the bits and pieces I excavated from the conversations about him, I received the
impression that Professor Collingwood was a tolerant man who would read a book about
absolutely nothing to see if there was some truth in it.

“Well, to each his own,” I thought, as I read the philosophers’ gossip about him. One of them
said Professor Collingwood had confessed that his Four Forms of Experience were all
mistakes, yet there was a Fifth, comprehensive Form that was error-free although it had no
content of its own. My ears perked up at that! Could it be Nothing?

Someone rendered this remarkable hearsay:

"The truth is not some perfect system of philosophy: it is simply the way in which all systems,
however perfect, collapse into nothingness on the discovery that they are only systems."
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There it was again, I thought, Nothing! For, if systems collapse into nothingness, all
relationships disappear and nothing exists! I am nothing without something else besides. The
unsystematic philosophy of Nothing is the key to everything!

Therefore I eagerly scooped up the professor's Essay to peruse this morning over my one-
hundred percent Kona coffee. I opened it up to Chapter I, 'Aristotle's Metaphysics.' Professor
Collingwood proposed that, if we are to understand "metaphysics," then we must understand
its history; to understand its history we must understand Aristotle's motive for bringing it up.

What was metaphysics to Aristotle? Nothing. He did not even use the term. His editors used it
to identify certain treatises they placed after the ones on physics; "metaphysics" or “after
physics” is the name of that book. Aristotle addressed three obscurities in his book after
physics; we now refer to the study as the "science" of metaphysics.

By golly, here is yet another triad: Aristotle called what came to be our obscure science of
metaphysics by three different names: First Science, Wisdom, and Theology.

The First Science is the study of what is logically prior to all other sciences, the Science of
sciences. Although we work up to it from the bottom of the pyramid, it is first because it is the
apex, point, or principle of all lines below.

Wisdom is what all sciences search for within their respective disciplines.

Theology has the ultimate goal of what is logically presupposed in the First Science and is
therefore present as the principle of all sciences, namely, God, the First Cause for whom wise
men search.

All the divisions are really one science conducted under cover of three names. Science or
knowing has a structure; it is a functional system, symbolized in prehistoric times by
overlaying two triangles to make a six-pointed star. We reason from the particular to the
general and from general to particular in the inductive-deductive process. That is, we
generalize the details of our experience and act accordingly, correcting our mistakes as we
progress up the mountain, forming broader and broader generalizations that, in the deductive
process, are applied down the slopes, across the plains and to the circular horizon below and
even beyond to infinity. Naturally, the universal laws we discover on our ascent are presumed
to exist prior to our climb; otherwise, how could we find them? It is with the universals in
hand that Moses descended the mountain to enlighten his subjects. There is one pyramid of
universals. Thus metaphysics is considered to be the general science of universals, the
science of Pure Being or Light found at the summit. The crescent-horned Moses on Sinai, by
the way, is believed to be an incarnation of Sin, the moon god, also known as ‘Allah, “the
deity.”

Ah, how my heart leapt at this Aristotelian process of generalization paraphrased by Professor
Collingwood, whose paraphrasing I have paraphrased. Having led me to the summit, I felt he
would, in full faith, bear witness for his students and take the magnificent leap into Nothing!

Alas, was I ever disappointed. I had put on Richard Strauss' 'Also Sprach Zarathustra', refilled
my coffee mug, and turned the page to behold the professor's title to his second Roman-
numerated chapter, II:

'NO SCIENCE OF PURE BEING!" - I have added emphasis and exclamation-mark.

Good God, that should never be said on Sunday, my day to practice doing absolutely nothing.
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For Nothing is Pure Being. To say there is no science of Pure Being is to say Pure Being
cannot be known: what good is it to do absolutely nothing and not know it? And worse, if
there is no theoretical science there is no practical technology, so there is no way to do
absolutely nothing. Since it is necessary to be Nothing to do absolutely nothing, Nothing must
exist, therefore Nothing must be known by doing absolutely nothing. Surely he is pulling my
leg, so I went on to read:

"(Aristotle) was aware that when the process of abstraction is pushed home to the limiting
case and arrives at the summit of the pyramid, the thought which has effected this new
abstraction and might seem, therefore, to stand upon the threshold of a new science, the
science of pure being, stands in a situation not quite like the situations out of which ordinary
sciences arise. The situation in which it stands is in certain important ways unprecedented
and unique, and it is a debatable question how far and in what sense anything that arises out
of it ought to be called a science."

So, now, looking down on the dirty details from our lofty elevation, our teacher wants to cavil
instead of leaping into the Nothing, to pause and hold debates about the "facts", I suppose. He
steps back from the precipice to inform us that there are two conditions for a legitimate
science: 1) there must be orderly thinking; 2) there must be a definite subject-matter. He
claims that "the science of pure being would have a subject-matter entirely devoid of
peculiarities; a subject-matter, therefore, containing nothing to differentiate it from anything
else, or from nothing at all."

But there it is! Nothing! He fails to observe that Nothing is precisely the non-dimensional,
unique, all-encompassing pointless point, the very principle of the space-time continuum. He
fails to observe there is nothing like Nothing! Furthermore, Nothing is the perfectly
undifferentiated identity of the proposition [Nothing=Nothing], the equation that
simultaneously expresses absolutely minimal differentiation. Moreover, and this is as plain as
Day: Nothing is All abstracted from All rushing to All-fulfillment in the Vacuum not abhorred
but loved by All. But what does our Oxford man have to say about abstraction? This:

"Abstraction means taking out. But science investigates not what is taken out but what is left
in. To push abstraction to the limiting case is to take out everything; and when everything is
taken out there is nothing for science to investigate."

But he has missed the capital point entirely. There is not 'nothing' to investigate: there is
Nothing to investigate, and there is nothing like Nothing, for Nothing exists! He goes on to say:

"You may call this nothing by what name you like--pure being, or God, or anything else--but it
remains nothing, and contains no peculiarities for science to examine."

Well then, may the professor’s sordid "science" keep its dirty hands off Nothing!

At first I suspected the doctor of duplicitous ambiguity; perhaps intolerance was forcing
Oxford dons to resort to coded ambiguities to maintain tenure. But on further reading it does
not seem so, when he directly states:

"This is only a roundabout way of saying that there can be no such science. There is not even
a quasi-science of pure being: not even a thing which in certain ways resembles an ordinary
science and in certain ways differs from it....There is not even a pseudo-science of pure being:
not even a collection of what seems to be statements but are in fact only the record of
guesses, intellectual gropings or emotional reactions that take place within us when we
confront an object we do not understand."
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Now then, I hope I have not quoted at too great a length without authorization from
authorities; I do not believe so, for in order for blasphemy to be exposed, it must be quoted
freely for the Public Good.

I would go on to read Professor Collingwood's third chapter, 'III. Metaphysics Without
Ontology', where I presume he is going to throw the being of nothingness out of metaphysics,
but my CD has traversed the peaks with Zarathustra and gone through most of 'Ein
Heldenleben' (A Hero's Life) to that sweet pasture where I am starting to relax to the point
where I can do absolutely nothing without even trying.

Now that I have calmed down, I am beginning to think that Professor Collingwood really
meant Nothing when he said "nothing", otherwise he has employed Nothing against itself,
which is technically blasphemy of the worst sort. Surely he knows that ignorance is the
necessary precondition for all knowledge, that Nothing is the font of all that is, and that all his
statements about the science of Pure Being prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, since there is
nothing to obstruct the reason, that Nothing exists. Therefore as the music ends, I retire into
the Silence.

-X-