It appears that I am obsessed with zero. Or is it that I worry about nothing. But therein lies the question of the ages. Is it really nothing or is it not nothing? So, really ‘What is the Deal With Zero?’ Many ancient mathematicians wrung their hands in anguish; philosophers continue to debate about it; Popes and other prominent theologians were confused by it, even refusing to accept it.
I think I learnt my arithmetic fairly well so that I know that when you add a number to itself the sum is another number. For example 2 + 2 = 4. Similarly, 3 + 3 = 6. If zero is truly a number, then how does ZERO PLUS ZERO EQUAL ZERO? Such questions were truly baffling to the ancient mathematicians and philosophers.
According to Charles Seife (Zero, The Biography of a Dangerous Idea) this is a violation of the axiom of Archimedes , which says, “if you add something to itself enough times, it will exceed any other number in magnitude.” Not so with zero. Is that why the early Greeks and the Romans feared it?
It would seem that zero is really nothing because nothing plus nothing is nothing. I am truly confused. Is this the case with zero? Is it really nothing or is it perhaps the beginning of something. In fact, as a number, zero comes before one in our counting system. Therefore it is not just a lowly placeholder, it is truly a number in its own right.
As a concept it represents emptiness or the void. But there is never total emptiness. Is there? Oh yes!! The vacuum!! But physicists inform us that there is no such thing as absolute zero. Even the vacuum is not completely empty.
The truth is that the number zero is very often confused with the concept of nothing. The difference is that zero is a number in its own right. Although zero cannot stand alone, when added to the right of a number, it increases the value of that number. Add a zero to 5 and it becomes 50. (Fraudsters use this all the time. Add a zero to $50 on a check and it becomes $500.)
On the other hand, the concept of nothing refers to space, emptiness, or the void. Scientists claim that the universe came into being out of nothing. Before the big bang there was nothing. Philosophers and scholars call this creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing. They claim that something was created from nothing.
Many Christians hyperventilate when they hear this. Notwithstanding the fact that Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (King James Version). However, that debate is for a higher pay grade than mine!!
Finally, it is sufficient to say that according to modern thinking, the vacuum state (quantum vacuum) is not a simple empty space. It contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that continuously pop in and out of existence.
Blessings to Dr. David Fuys.