Segments in this Video

Meet the Panelists (02:08)


Debate moderator David Malone addresses the question of whether nothing is an illusion and introduces theoretical physicist Laura Mersini-Houghton, CERN physicist John Ellis, and physics philosopher James Ladyman.

Laura Mersini-Houghton: the Pitch (01:45)

Mersini-Houghton argues that the space-time vacuum is not an illusion; it is a rich realm of physics to explore. Some physicists believe that mathematics and the laws of nature came out of nothing. Others believe that only the universe came out of nothing.

John Ellis: the Pitch (02:51)

Ellis says that reality did not emerge from nothing. Physicists understand nothing as a vacuum or the lowest energy state of the system. Every particle exists virtually in the vacuum. Particle physicists are discussing whether our current vacuum will decay in the future.

James Ladyman: the Pitch (03:43)

Ladyman argues that "nothing" in physics is a misnomer. The vacuum is a structured quantum field. He provides Frege's definition of zero, used as a base for building natural numbers and argues that zero and the empty set are both things, and therefore not nothing.

Theme One: What is Nothing? - Part One (05:28)

Ellis says the physicist's vacuum and mathematician's empty set are comparable. He explains how the Higgs boson particle was produced out of "nothingness." Mersini-Houghton says dark energy makes the future of the universe unknown. Ladyman presents the philosophical argument that there is a net nothing.

What is Nothing? - Part Two (04:51)

Ladyman connects the Eastern idea of emptiness—that assumes everything is ephemeral—to physics concepts of the universe ending. He outlines the type and identity function theories and talks about Sartre's idea that consciousness has no physical entity. Mersini-Houghton cautions against connecting time to nothingness.

Theme Two: Where did Nothing Come From? - Part One (05:13)

Mersini-Houghton explains that as the universe expands, space stretches and increases out of nothing. Ellis argues that something existed before the universe came into being; our concepts of space and time are not applicable at the Big Bang. Mersini-Houghton promotes the multiverse theory to better understand how the universe originated.

Where did Nothing Come From? - Part Two (08:37)

Mersini-Houghton says that we lack mathematical and physical theories to determine whether the universe emerged from nothing. She argues that laws of nature and mathematics exist in separate realms from space-time. Ladyman discusses the etymology of "nothing" from philosophical and mathematical perspectives. He speculates whether God is possible.

Theme Three: Do we Need Nothing? (06:30)

Ellis says physicists operate between zero and infinity. Mersini-Houghton uses the Planck distance to illustrate how physicists perceive nothing; we need a yet undeveloped theory of quantum gravity to describe what nothing contains. Ladyman says physics relies on calculus to represent space, facilitated by real analysis of infinite zero dimensional points.

Credits: Everything and Nothing: Is Nothing an Illusion? (00:06)

Credits: Everything and Nothing: Is Nothing an Illusion?

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Everything and Nothing: Is Nothing an Illusion?

Part of the Series : Institute of Art and Ideas: Cutting Edge Debates and Talks from the World's Leading Thinkers
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Some claim it created the universe. Sartre argued it was central to our being. Yet Nothing turns out to be strangely elusive. Scientists can't find it or describe it. Bertrand Russell argued it was just a logical mistake. Is Nothing an illusion, a fictitious error? Or is it a vital key to our understanding of the universe and who we are?

The Panel

Multiverse cosmologist Laura Mersini-Houghton, CERN physicist John Ellis and philosopher of science and James Ladyman, author of "Every Thing Must Go".

Length: 42 minutes

Item#: BVL115742

ISBN: 978-1-63521-199-3

Copyright date: ©2015

Closed Captioned

Performance Rights

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Not available to Home Video customers.

Only available in USA and Canada.