Nothing comes from nothing

Nothing comes from nothing (Greek: οὐδὲν ἐξ οὐδενός; Latin: ex nihilo nihil fit) is a philosophical dictum first argued by Parmenides. It is associated with ancient Greek cosmology, such as is presented not just in the works of Homer and Hesiod, but also in virtually every internal system: there is no break in-between a world that did not exist and one that did, since it could not be created ex nihilo in the first place.


The idea that "nothing comes from nothing", as articulated by Parmenides, first appears in Aristotle's Physics:

τί δ᾽ ἄν μιν καὶ χρέος ὦρσεν ὕστερον ἢ πρόσθεν, τοῦ μηδενὸς ἀρξάμενον, φῦν; οὕτως ἢ πάμπαν πελέναι χρεών ἐστιν ἢ οὐχί.

The above, in a translation based on the John Burnet translation,[2] appears as follows:

 Yet why would it be created later rather than sooner, if it came from nothing; so, it must either be created altogether or not [created at all].


The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius expressed this principle in his first book of De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things)

But by observing Nature and her laws. And this will lay
The warp out for us—her first principle: that nothing's brought
Forth by any supernatural power out of naught.
For certainly all men are in the clutches of a dread—
Beholding many things take place in heaven overhead
Or here on earth whose causes they can't fathom, they assign
The explanation for these happenings to powers divine.
Nothing can be made from nothing—once we see that's so,
Already we are on the way to what we want to know.[3]

He then continues on discussing how matter is required to make matter and that objects cannot spring forth without reasonable cause.

For if things were created out of nothing, any breed
Could be born from any other; nothing would require a seed.
People could pop out of the sea, the scaly tribes arise
Out of the earth, and winged birds could hatch right from the skies.
Born willy-nilly, every animal, both wild and tame,
Would inhabit cultivated land and wilderness the same.
The same tree would not always grow the same fruit—what might bear
An apple one time, might, the next, produce a quince or pear.
Since there would be no generating particles, then neither
Would certain things arise from only a certain kind of mother.
But since in fact each species rises from specific seeds,
Each thing springs from the source that has the matter that it needs,
The primary particles, and comes into the boundaries
Of light, and that's the reason every thing cannot give rise
To every other thing, because there is a separate power
In distinct things.[4]

Early modern literatureEdit

In Shakespeare's play King Lear Act 1 Scene 1, the title character says to his daughter Cordelia, "Nothing can come of nothing".[5]

Modern physicsEdit

The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system cannot change. The zero-energy universe hypothesis states that the amount of energy in the universe minus the amount of gravity is exactly zero. In this kind of universe, matter could be created from nothing through a vacuum fluctuation, assuming such a zero-energy universe already is nothing.[6] Such a universe would need to be flat, a state which does not contradict current observations that the universe is flat with a 0.5% margin of error.[7]

Some physicists—such as Lawrence Krauss, Stephen Hawking, and Michio Kaku—define or defined "nothing" as an unstable quantum vacuum that contains no particles.[8][9][10] Philosopher David Albert has criticised Krauss for this, pointing out that his definition of "nothing" presupposes the existence of quantum fields obeying particular laws of physics. According to Albert, Krauss has "nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story."[11] Krauss responded that he doesn't "give a damn about what 'nothing' means to philosophers; [he] care[s] about the 'nothing' of reality," and called Albert "a moronic philosopher."[12]

Quantum mechanics proposes that pairs of virtual particles are being created from quantum fluctuations in this "empty" space all the time. If these pairs do not mutually annihilate right away, they could be detected as real particles, for example if one falls into a black hole and its opposite is emitted as Hawking radiation.

Alexander Vilenkin defines "nothing" as "a state with no classical space time."[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Parmenides, Fragments 1-19". Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  2. ^ "Parmenides, Fragments 1-19". Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  3. ^ Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 1.148–156
  4. ^ Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, 1.159–173
  5. ^ Shakespeare, William (1603–1606). The Tragedy of King Lear – via Wikisource.
  6. ^ "A Universe from Nothing". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 10 March 2010. by Alexei V. Filippenko and Jay M. Pasachoff
  7. ^ "Will the Universe expand forever?". NASA. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  8. ^ Krauss, Lawrence (2012). A Universe from Nothing. New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1-4516-2445-8.
  9. ^ Hawking, Stephen; Mlodinow, Leonard (2010). The Grand Design. Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-80537-6.
  10. ^ "A Universe is a Free Lunch". Big Think. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 12 May 2015.
  11. ^ Albert, David (2012-03-23). "On the Origin of Everything". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  12. ^ Andersen, Ross (2012-04-23). "Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2022-04-29.
  13. ^ Vilenkin, Alexander (1985). "Quantum Origin of the Universe". Nuclear Physics B. 252: 141. Bibcode:1985NuPhB.252..141V. doi:10.1016/0550-3213(85)90430-4.

Further readingEdit

  • Lucretius. (2007). The Nature of Things. Trans. A. E. Stallings. New York: Penguin Classics.

External linksEdit