Nothing used to be intuitive.

I mean the concept of ‘nothing’. We used to be able to say things like ‘the vast nothingness of space” and have an idea of what that meant. But we know there is, in fact, lots of ‘things’ in between the regular ‘stuff’ in space. Dark matter, dark energy, virtual particles, the fabric of spacetime itself. These are things we cannot get rid of without stepping outside the known boundaries of our universe. The more we discover the more nothing recedes into abstraction and I really like when familiar concepts we take for granted are overturned upon scrutiny.

So why is there something rather than nothing? well, as fan fav. Laurence Krauss explains because of quantum fluctuations (the above mentioned virtual particles and fields) anytime you have nothing you end up with something. In other words you can’t not have something. It’s easier for the universe to be than not to be. The net energy in the universe is 0, which is the solution of how to get something from nothing. So the next time someone asks you why there is something rather than nothing (what? This doesn’t happen to you all the time?!) you can start your reply with “what the hell is nothing, anyhow?” and be safe in the knowledge that you can back up what on the surface might sound like the rambling questions of a person trying to dodge an argument through semantic hair-splitting.

Today’s comic might seem familiar if you remember this previous wonder-of-science episode. I’m encouraged* whenever I see young kids interested in the mechanics of reality and want to tell them not to ever stop questioning those who give them answers. But I don’t, ‘cuz that’s not my kid and I don’t need the trouble. I heard Neil Tyson give an interview where he mentioned how he had decided early on never to stop his children from exploring no matter how dirty they got or what they broke in the house. That curiosity for reality becomes so ephemeral during teen years that anything to cement it early on sounds to me like a good thing. That was partially the inspiration for the character. Well, that and kids with pot bellies and giant foreheads are funny.

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*encouraged not to avoid all kids like the plague, I mean.