Nate Smith

The Nature of the Universe

154 posts in this topic

A while back I purchased David Harriman's taped lecture on space (which I can't recommend enough if you're interested in philosophy of science). I've listened to it over and over, but I'm stuck on some of his points.

One of the arguments he raises is from ancient Greece, the "javelin argument". Basically, the idea is that if a javelin is thrown, and it approaches the edge of the universe, it will not hit any sort of boundary. It will continue on. This argument is supposed to show that the universe is limitless, boundless and infinite.

But Harriman disagrees with this position and points out the argument's flaws. He states that the argument assumes that a finite universe must have some sort of edge or boundary. It follows then that it makes sense to talk of some region beyond the universe. Essentially, those arguing for the existence of space, or the void, presuppose its existence.

Harriman asserts that a finite universe has no outside and therefore no boundary. He doesn't mean that there's no physical boundary, he means that there's no boundary at all. There's no region beyond that which exists. This is what completely confuses me. It almost seems contradictory to say this.

I'll state my position as follows:

The universe is the the sum of that which exists.

That which exists has some particular arrangement. (My scattering of periods below is supposed to represent all existents, i.e. the universe.)

Now if I happen to be one of the objects one the edge (and by that I mean everything else is positioned on one side of me), then what happens if I take the javelin and throw it?

. ... . . . .... .

. ... .. . . .. . . . . Me > javelin

.... ... . . .... . .

Either there is a boundary, or the javelin could continue forever, thus changing the "shape" of the universe. This alternative seems inevitable.

I'm tempted to say that just because "space", that is, "places to be" may continue on and on, this doesn't imply the existence of any infinities. Harriman disallows this as well though.

Any thoughts on this topic? I'm stuck. Thanks.

Nate Smith

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...

I'll state my position as follows:

The universe is the the sum of that which exists.

That which exists has some particular arrangement.  (My scattering of periods below is supposed to represent all existents, i.e. the universe.)

Now if I happen to be one of the objects one the edge (and by that I mean everything else is positioned on one side of me), then what happens if I take the javelin and throw it?

                              . ... . . . .... .

                            . ... .. . . .. . . . . Me > javelin

                              .... ... . . .... . .

Either there is a boundary, or the javelin could continue forever, thus changing the "shape" of the universe.  This alternative seems inevitable.

I'm tempted to say that just because "space", that is, "places to be" may continue on and on, this doesn't imply the existence of any infinities.  Harriman disallows this as well though.

Any thoughts on this topic?  I'm stuck.  Thanks.

Nate Smith

Error: your example presupposes the void--"everything else is positioned on one side of me", which implies that to the other side of you NOTHING exists.

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A few years ago, I wrote an essay on this very issue that you may find helpful. To read this essay, click here.

The only (or at least the main) reason why people even entertain the idea that the universe has spatial boundaries is because they believe that the universe would have to be infinite without them. However, my essay is meant to show that the universe being spatially unbounded does not imply an "infinite size" of the universe, for the exact same reasons that the universe being temporally unbounded does not imply an "infinite age" of the universe.

I develop these ideas in my essay; if you read it, I think you will find it interesting.

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I have a related question. I don't think I clearly understand the argument against void. It seems obvious that there is no nothing which exists as a something. Nothing merely designates the lack of something. I have nothing in my pocket--as against a wallet, coins, keys, etc. So obviously, void cannot EXIST.

However, when someone says, for example, that it is impossible to drain a bottle of all its contents, since void does not exist; or that the universe cannot be expanding, since void does not exist for it to expand into, there seems to be an equivocation on the word "exist." We have gone from "There is no nothing which exists as something," to "There is no nothing which exists as a lack of everything." How does philosophy tell us that one cannot drain a bottle of everything inside it? One would have, as a result, a volume which does not contain anything: no air, no photons, no ether, etc. Nothing would exist within the bottle (but this would not mean that the nothing in the bottle is some "thing").

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However, when someone says, for example, that it is impossible to drain a bottle of all its contents, since void does not exist; or that the universe cannot be expanding, since void does not exist for it to expand into, there seems to be an equivocation on the word "exist." We have gone from "There is no nothing which exists as something," to "There is no nothing which exists as a lack of everything."

But a "lack of everything" is nothing; if it is lacking everything, then it is lacking existence. What would be left to exist if it lacked everything? I don't see how this is any different from positing the existence of a sheer nothing.

How does philosophy tell us that one cannot drain a bottle of everything inside it? One would have, as a result, a volume which does not contain anything: no air, no photons, no ether, etc. Nothing would exist within the bottle (but this would not mean that the nothing in the bottle is some "thing").

Again, I don't see how this is any different from positing the existence of a sheer nothing. If you really did "drain" everything from the bottle, how could there not be a sheer nothing in the bottle? I don't see the third alternative you're trying to carve out; could you elaborate?

From another perspective, I think this "bottle example" steals the concept of "location." Locations (e.g., "in the bottle") are not preexisting things that entities fit themselves into; rather, a location is a location of something. It's not clear to me how it is coherent to say, "I've taken everything away from here, but there is still a location here." If you drained the bottle of everything, you would drain the location right along with it.

P.S. - Dr. Binswanger explicitly addresses the philosophic arguments against the void in his fascinating two-tape lecture, "Selected Topics in the Philosophy of Science."

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But a "lack of everything" is nothing; if it is lacking everything, then it is lacking existence.  What would be left to exist if it lacked everything?  I don't see how this is any different from positing the existence of a sheer nothing.

Exactly.

I like what Parmenides said some 2500 years ago, in his only work, Peri Physeos:

"Nor is there any more of it here than there, to hinder it from holding together, nor any less of it, but it is all a plenum, full of what-is. Therefore, it is all continuous, for what-is touches what-is."

What a great expression: "full of what-is."

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We have gone from "There is no nothing which exists as something," to "There is no nothing which exists as a lack of everything."

There is a formulation that I should have pointed out in my prior post, but better late than never:

The law of identity states that to be is to be something. So, if you agree that nothing cannot exist "as something," then it immediately follows that nothing cannot exist at all.

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But a "lack of everything" is nothing; if it is lacking everything, then it is lacking existence.

This doesn't seem right. If it is lacking everything, then no existent exists within that region--and nothing exists there. This does not assert the existence of some new entity, but the existence of a region which lacks entities.

I don't know if that makes my question any clearer, but it's as clear as I can explain it.

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This doesn't seem right. If it is lacking everything, then no existent exists within that region--and nothing exists there.

If no existents exist, what does "that region" and "there" mean?

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How does philosophy tell us that one cannot drain a bottle of everything inside it? One would have, as a result, a volume which does not contain anything: no air, no photons, no ether, etc. Nothing would exist within the bottle (but this would not mean that the nothing in the bottle is some "thing").

Well, consider that if there is literally nothing in the bottle, then by the one and only meaning of "nothing", there is nothing separating the opposite sides from one another. You would in fact have a continuous piece of glass along any line through it, and you would be fancifully regarding it as a bottle with no enclosed volume.

Everywhere there are entities. For a "where" to exist, an entity (or whatever number of entities) is there. A nonexistent isn't a thing that forms a place. To have a place you must have an existent.

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I thought about this topic a long time ago.

I have a question for Alex and Mr. Speicher:

If atoms or quarks are the fundamental building blocks of existence(are they? is there something else of which I am not aware?), what do we call the region between the two existents we call atoms or quarks? Or, what do we call the region between the nucleus of an atom and that atom's electrons(assuming it has some)?

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If atoms or quarks are the fundamental building blocks of existence(are they? is there something else of which I am not aware?), what do we call the region between the two existents we call atoms or quarks?  Or, what do we call the region between the nucleus of an atom and that atom's electrons(assuming it has some)?

Since you are asking in the context of the standard theories, you should first be aware that quarks are an element of a huge integration known as the Standard Model (SM). The SM is concerned with a broad variety of particles interacting through fields. Quarks have not been observed, and the indirect evidence for their existence is highly dependent on various interpretations. So, it is not even clear that quarks are the SM version of the ultimate constituents.

In the standard theories, the vacuum is the notion you seek for that which is where nothing else is. One of the problems though is with ascribing properties to this vacuum, which is sometimes ignored and sometimes not. From certain theoretical perspectives, this vacuum is not necesarily something that has no particles, and not even something that necessarily is then least dense. There are ambiguities with these concepts because they are ill-defined and in some sense do not integrate well with other concepts. The "field" concept itself is an example of that, where variously the field is something in its own right, and then not. The mathematics of all this stuff works a lot better than what you get when you try to integrate all the theoretical concepts into a whole.

By contrast, note that in Lewis Little's Theory of Elementary Waves (of which I am a staunch supporter), the elementary waves are a sort of flux that fills all space (like the philosophical plenum) and they are real physical existents that integrate with mathematical frameworks similar to the standard theories (more simple, actually). But here there are no equivocations or contradictions; particles are real particles and waves are real waves, together composing all of physical existence.

(Note that our metaphysics is starting to spill over into physics. To some degree this is inevitable in these sort of discussions. However, if we start focusing here more on the physics than the metaphysics, then we might want to continue in the Science forums.)

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A few years ago, I wrote an essay on this very issue that you may find helpful.  To read this essay, click here.

The only (or at least the main) reason why people even entertain the idea that the universe has spatial boundaries is because they believe that the universe would have to be infinite without them.  However, my essay is meant to show that the universe being spatially unbounded does not imply an "infinite size" of the universe, for the exact same reasons that the universe being temporally unbounded does not imply an "infinite age" of the universe.

I develop these ideas in my essay; if you read it, I think you will find it interesting.

Thank you for this link. I found your essay very enlightening.

It is difficult to grasp the idea that the universe is boundless, but not infinite. I think that this is because everything in our experience is limited, be it space or time.

It is important to remember the difference between the metaphysical and the epistemological. The terms we use, be they concepts using words or concepts of number, are man-made (with all that entails), and are epistemological in nature. They are a the method by which we define the evidence of our senses in order to understand existence, but they are not existence qua existence. Concepts such as space and time are only valid within existence, i.e., they define certain phenomena of the universe. When they are improperly understood, and/or reified, we end up with astronomers talking about such things as the beginning of the universe, or the age of the universe. "Beginning" and "age" have no meaning outside the context of the universe. And there can be no context outside the universe, since the universe is everything that exists. There is no "outside of existence".

I am no philosopher, nor am I a scientist. This is the understanding I've been able to come to within the context of my knowledge. I very much appreciate those people who are philosophers and/or scientists who have done the heavy lifting and given us, shall we say, refined definitions. It really helps me to better understand my own notions about these matters.

It's also nice to know that I'm not completely off the mark. :angry:

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Either there is a boundary, or the javelin could continue forever, thus changing the "shape" of the universe.  This alternative seems inevitable.

I'm tempted to say that just because "space", that is, "places to be" may continue on and on, this doesn't imply the existence of any infinities.  Harriman disallows this as well though.

Any thoughts on this topic?

I would like to get your take on the following ideas of mine:

Is not talking about the shape of the universe a stolen concept? First there must be a space in which to have shapes.

Given your argument for finite space: Notice that the earth, being a sphere, has a finit area and the possibility of moving in one direction -- contextually by staying on the surface -- as long as you wish. If you say that the universe has 4 dimensions (or n+1 dimensions), then there exists a 3-dimensional (n dimensional) shape which has the same features as a sphere, namely an n-dimensional-sphere. Hence, if the universe is finite, it can be described in one higher dimesion as a shape, but the space in which the shape is, cannot be bounded.

But, space does not have 3 dimensions, the same way and for the same reasons the number pi=3.1415... does not exist in reality. Space may be modelled using 3 dimensions, and so perfectly. But asking what shape space has, is invalid.

I think the universe is unbound the same way and for the same reasons numbers are.

- martjoh

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Thank you for this link.  I found your essay very enlightening.

Thanks; I'm glad you found it helpful.

It's also nice to know that I'm not completely off the mark. :angry:

From the understanding that you displayed, it sounds to me like you've got that mark pretty much nailed. :o

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Tonight CoireFox and I discussed at great length this topic (we go to the same school). I found that when I simplified his argument I could quickly realize his mistake. I am posting the end of our discussion here as an aid for others having trouble with this idea.

Here is his argument:

On aspect of what is not is that one cannot define any spatial bounds within or about it.

If there existed a point with no pieces of matter we could no longer define any spatial bounds.

Therefore, if there is no matter there is nothing.

The mistake that Coire was making was that just because one cannot make any spatial bounds about something does not mean that it is not. The fact of the issue at hand is that what is has to “go on*”. This is because if it were to ever not “go on” then there would be nothing after it. Of course there cannot be nothing, so there must be something and hence why what is must “go on”.

* I hesitate to use the phrase “go on forever” because some might imply that it has an end the end being forever.

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Harriman asserts that a finite universe has no outside and therefore no boundary.  He doesn't mean that there's no physical boundary, he means that there's no boundary at all.  There's no region beyond that which exists.  This is what completely confuses me.

How do you distinguish or define a "region"? That's Binswanger's point.

...That which exists has some particular arrangement.  (My scattering of periods below is supposed to represent all existents, i.e. the universe.)

Your periods (even if you expand the abstraction to concretes) are each an existent; their "arrangement", i.e., position relative to each other, exists - That's _all_ that exists.

They each "locate", or "position" _each other_ - there is nothing else in existence to be _in position_ relative to another period.

There is no "edge" to all of this because "edge" is an attribute of any and all physical "periods" not applicable to a _sum_ , or collection of the periods.

What's _beyond_ the periods? What's beyond the _sum_ of the periods?

_Nothing_ is beyond the periods.

There _literally_and metaphysically_ is nothing existing "outside of" or "beyond" the periods. "Sum" is only the concept integrating the periods.

It's a hard concept to grasp, I know, but work on it.

You'll eventually (hopefully) grasp it.

There is no "space" beyond, around, or through which you can travel - there _is only_ you, your javelin and the rest of existence (i.e., existents).

The fallacious assumption is that there would be some "space" beyond you or the javelin - there isn't - all that exists is: the rest of the universe in relation to you and the javelin.

Further, you and the javelin - _being part of the universe_ - would not change it's "shape"; it's "shape" - if the concept could be applied, even metaphorically - would include the javelin and you. You could throw it into a (relative) void, and it would not matter metaphysically: "universe" includes _all_ that exists.

ELS

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I'm pretty sure I couldn't be more confused than I am right now. I've been reading all of these posts over and over, and instead of raising all of the questions that I have, I want to deal with the idea of "no empty spaces" again. That's where I keep getting stuck. Plus, I think this question is fundamental to most of my other problems.

I'm still not convinced that by saying that "there is nothing between objects A and B", I am asserting the existence of anything (the void). For example, if I say "there are no dogs in this house", it does not follow that I am asserting the existence of no-dogness. If I claim there is nothing in this jar, I don't mean to say that nothing IS.

Let me ask this question another way by proposing a theory of the universe different than what most of the people on this forum are proposing:

I begin with the objects I perceive. When I talk about location, I mean in relation to other objects. When I talk about the “shape” of the universe, I am referring to the arrangement of all existents. I am taking it as a given that the sum of that which exists must have some particular arrangement at any given point in time. I am also working off the premise that a finite group of existents must have some arrangement such that some of those existents must make up an outer border. For example, if I take a handful of sand and throw it on the ground, I can claim with certainty that some of the pieces of sand will form an “outer border”. I see the universe in the same way (except with 3-dimensions). Any number of finite objects must be arranged in some way such that some of them must be on the “outer edge”.

Now if I were to throw the javelin beyond the current edge, I don’t see any problems in saying that it could continue indefinitely. One consequence would be that the former shape or arrangement of the existents (i.e. the universe) would change, but it would still be finite, and always will be.

I would answer the Greek who originally proposed the javelin question by saying that the universe is finite, but the javelin could continue indefinitely. I would still be able to claim that the universe is finite, because the universe is just that which exists, and that will always be finite. I don’t have to worry about those claiming that I am proposing the existence of empty space, because it doesn’t exist. All that exists are other objects. Empty space isn’t something that exists.

Since I am stuck trying to figure out what most of you believe, I thought I'd lay out my thoughts, and let you all point out any problems you see.

Thanks for your patience.

Nate Smith

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I'm still not convinced that by saying that "there is nothing between objects A and B", I am asserting the existence of anything (the void).  For example, if I say "there are no dogs in this house", it does not follow that I am asserting the existence of no-dogness.

If, metaphysically speaking, you claim that there is literally nothing between A and B, then A and B would be immediately adjacent to each other, because there is nothing in between. But that is not what you are claiming. And, that is not the sense in which you say "there are no dogs in this house." Having no dogs in this house does not preclude having other things in the house..

Let me ask this question another way by proposing a theory of the universe different than what most of the people on this forum are proposing:

If your goal is understanding and communication, I would not suggest doing that. It is pointless to entertain complex scenarios when there are differences about more simple fundamentals. Focus on the basic issue, and when there is some agreement there, then move on.

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Martin, here are my initial thoughts on your post, for what it's worth. I just wrote a more detailed post on my own position. It will give you a better idea of where I am coming from.

Is not talking about the shape of the universe a stolen concept? First there must be a space in which to have shapes.

I just wrote a post describing how I use the word size. I don't believe I am stealing that concept. Perhaps I am though.

Given your argument for finite space: Notice that the earth, being a sphere, has a finit area and the possibility of moving in one direction -- contextually by staying on the surface -- as long as you wish. If you say that the universe has 4 dimensions (or n+1 dimensions), then there exists a 3-dimensional (n dimensional) shape which has the same features as a sphere, namely an n-dimensional-sphere. Hence, if the universe is finite, it can be described in one higher dimesion as a shape, but the space in which the shape is, cannot be bounded.

If I understand correctly, it sounds like you are making an anology to a sphere and applying it to the universe as a whole. Isn't this a stolen concept? Aren't you applying the properties of the sphere to space itself? I may be able continue indefinitely on a sphere (and return to the same position eventually), but If you apply that to the universe, aren't you asserting properties to space itself (i.e. curvature)? I think this would be dropping the context of the original idea and applying it to non-entities.

But, space does not have 3 dimensions, the same way and for the same reasons the number pi=3.1415... does not exist in reality. Space may be modelled using 3 dimensions, and so perfectly. But asking what shape space has, is invalid.  I think the universe is unbound the same way and for the same reasons numbers are.

I don't understand this last point.

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But, space does not have 3 dimensions, the same way and for the same reasons the number pi=3.1415... does not exist in reality. Space may be modelled using 3 dimensions, and so perfectly. But asking what shape space has, is invalid.  I think the universe is unbound the same way and for the same reasons numbers are.

I don't understand this last point.

It might help to clear up your thoughts by providing some insight into what we mean by certain terms we use. Please note that we use these words within a philosophical context.

Finite: This word refers to the concept of identity. If something is finite then it has an identity. If something has an identity then it exists. No more is implied.

Infinite: This word refers to the negation of the concept of identity. It refers to that which has no identity. Simply put this word refers to nothing. Again, no more is implied.

Bound: A bound refers to the relationship between certain existents.

When I say that the universe is finite, I do not mean that I think there are a countable number of existents that compose the universe. Nor am I pointing out that there is a bound where existence ends and after which there is not existence. All I am pointing out is that the universe has an identity and thus exists.

We can then see that since the universe is simply the sum of all existents, and that bounds are relationships between existents, no bounds apply to the universe. What other existent is outside of the universe with which to from a relationship? It cannot be nothing because nothing does not exist.

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I begin with the objects I perceive.  When I talk about location, I mean in relation to other objects.  When I talk about the “shape” of the universe, I am referring to the arrangement of all existents.  I am taking it as a given that the sum of that which exists must have some particular arrangement at any given point in time.

So far, so good. But, notice that "the sum of that which exists must have some particular arrangement" implies all of their "locations" in relation _to each other_.

Any "shape" of existents is _within_ the universe -- there can be no "shape", no arrangement or pattern from _outside_ it -- because there is _literally nothing_ "outside" them to define a "shape". Which leads to the next point...

I am also working off the premise that a finite group of existents must have some arrangement such that some of those existents must make up an outer border.  For example, if I take a handful of sand and throw it on the ground, I can claim with certainty that some of the pieces of sand will form an “outer border”.  I see the universe in the same way (except with 3-dimensions).  Any number of finite objects must be arranged in some way such that some of them must be on the “outer edge”.

THAT'S your error. There can be no "outer border" or "outer edge" because the universe is _not _like a sum of _some_ existents relative to others -- like "a handful of sand" relative to "the ground"-- but is the sum of all existents in relation _to nothing_, i.e., there _is_ nothing else _but themselves_ (the existents) to be in any relationship with. That's what each "locating" each other means; that's what "position" _is_.

Now if I were to throw the javelin beyond the current edge, I don’t see any problems in saying that it could continue indefinitely.  One consequence would be that the former shape or arrangement of the existents (i.e. the universe) would change, but it would still be finite, and always will be.

Again the erroneous premise of an "edge" -- with the consequent erroneous premise of "something" beyond the edge _from which you can distinguish_ that "edge". You can't distinguish anything beyond the sum of all that exists, because there _is_ nothing else _there_ to distinguish or to metaphysically (or physically) provide any "edge". Nothing (that-which-is-beyond-the-edge-of-all-that-exists) is _not_ a another kind of "something". It is a self-contradiction; just look at the premise: "that which exists -- where nothing exists". ??

I would answer the Greek who originally proposed the javelin question by saying that the universe is finite, but the javelin could continue indefinitely.

No; the javelin would still be relative to all the rest of existence, and a part of it, so it would continue to move _in relation to everything else_, no matter what distance (from eveything else) it traveled. That's not "indefinite"; it's _definitely_ in relation to everything else.

  I would still be able to claim that the universe is finite, because the universe is just that which exists, and that will always be finite.  I don’t have to worry about those claiming that I am proposing the existence of empty space, because it doesn’t exist.  All that exists are other objects.  Empty space isn’t something that exists.

Then why hold on to the idea that there is some edge or boundary to the universe -- which requires some concept like "space" to create, to distinguish an "edge"?

ELS

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I have a question about empty space.

Why can’t it exist? I may be wrong, but it seems like an error to confuse not-being with empty space. Not-being (non-existence, nothingness) cannot exist. Only existence exists. But empty space isn’t not-being. It’s a something which exits and has identity.

Some of the Pre-Socratics thought that being was matter and that not-being was empty space—vacuum. I think this is an error. Metaphysically, all we can properly say about everything which exists is that it possesses identity. We cannot say anything more specific about it, such as to specify that it must be material. Any form of being is metaphysically possible, provided it has identity. We cannot say that non-existence is equivalent to a vacuum, because this presupposes an erroneous concept of being, which assumes that to exist is to be material. Even if space is empty of matter, as long as the space has identity wouldn't it still be full of "what-is?"

My understanding of empty space is that it’s a three-dimensional "receptacle," so to speak, for material objects. I suspect that this conception is incorrect, and that space is actually some sort of relation between objects. But I’m convinced, either way, that it’s something and that it exists. I don’t think not-being and vacuum are synonymous. I don’t understand the objection to the existence of vacuum.

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