Nothing Could Be Something: A Parable of Sorts

by Robert L. Jones III

G. K. Chesterton once wrote that materialists address the easier questions posed by the universe, ignore the more difficult ones, and then retire to their tea. Accordingly, a particular individual of this persuasion discovered a problem inherent to his materialism. His conceptual universe consisted solely of matter, energy, and the forces that governed their operation, and it followed that his thoughts and his personality were nothing more than patterns of electrochemical impulses coursing along randomly evolved neural circuits. These explanations begged the questions of what all this really meant and from what it had originated. Accepted chemical and physical theory presented much for consideration.

#

Electromagnetic energy was made of photons which had no mass. Matter was composed of atoms which contained protons, neutrons, and electrons within spherical, mostly empty volumes. Protons and neutrons were combinations of quarks held together by gluons. Evidence existed that electrons, once thought fundamental, were divisible into spinions, orbitrons, and holons.

So everything consisted of particles of one kind or another arrayed in motion through empty space. Quantum effects allegedly produced the simplest of these from nothing, and this raised the disturbing possibility that everything had arisen from and was reducible to the same. Even the faithful have their doubts. Prone to introspection, the materialist examined his.

Mind was indistinguishable from body. Mentally as well as physically, he was a finite but ever-changing association of matter and energy, and this implied that he might be a manifestation of nothing. In arriving at this conclusion, he confronted his chief complaint against his materialism: nothingness was not enough.

Impenitent but searching for answers, he grasped for salvation through geometry. Euclid’s Elements became his nightly panacea, his “now I lay me down to sleep” before turning out the lights. The logic of this ancient work reassured him, for it reminded him of what he needed to believe, an inference both elegant and pure: nothing could be something. In light of this revelation, he considered the nature of pure geometric forms.

#

A point had no height, width, or depth. Being of no dimension, it was a position without volume or mass. It was the most elemental of geometric concepts.

A line was made of an infinite number of points. With length but not width, it occupied only one dimension.

A plane contained an infinite number of lines. Being flat, it possessed length, width, and area but no depth. From its infinite points, any two-dimensional geometric figure could be constructed. A circle, for example, consisted of infinite points, all at equal distances from a central point and all in the same plane. It had a radius, a diameter, and a circumference, and it encircled an area which was not intrinsic to its nature.

A sphere consisted of an infinite number of points at equal distances from a central point and all in an infinite number of planes, making it three-dimensional. It completely surrounded a volume but had no volume in itself.

Whether in one, two, or three dimensions, all of these forms and countless others were made of nothing and had no mass or energy, but they were real.

#

These considerations offered hope, and they culminated in a series of appearances.

#

At fifteen minutes before midnight, the materialist looked up from Euclid’s Elements. He rubbed his eyes, and there it was: a minute distortion in his field of vision. It reminded him of light passing through an imperfection in a pane of glass, and it appeared to be in the center of the room. He glanced in multiple directions. The visual distortion remained stationary, so it wasn’t in either eye. He blinked. The spot remained. He stood up, took a few steps forward, and passed his hand through it, but it was still there.

Geometric definitions flickered in his mind, and he suddenly realized what he was seeing: visual evidence of a perfect, geometric point. Because it had no dimension, only position, he wasn’t seeing the actual point. He was seeing an indication of where it was, somewhere within the tiny volume of altered wavelengths. This implied a disturbance of air molecules, a refraction of light, and it resurrected the spectre of nonmaterial causation.

The point began to move erratically but in a way that implied intelligence. Something had emerged into the air, and it evidently was assessing its environment. From whence had it come? Was it from an unknown universe, or had it arisen spontaneously, nothing from nothing but still something?

The point widened its apparent search. When it reached the far wall, it disappeared. The materialist sprang from his chair and ran into the next room to follow the peregrinations of his visitor. It had passed through the wall, which was not surprising given its absence of volume and mass. After careening about briefly, it disappeared through the ceiling.

#

Another visitation occurred the next night. Initially, the point didn’t move. Then it grew rapidly into a line resembling the seam between two fused pieces of glass. Reaching to and presumably through the walls, the line remained stationary and then shrank back to a point. Whatever was behind this activity seemed to be learning, and it had achieved extension and contraction in one dimension. Having completed this operation, the point vanished.

#

On the third night, the point reappeared, and it extended into a curved arc which quickly formed a complete circle. Motionless and resembling the margin of a lens without any housing, this figure hovered vertically in the approximate center of the room. The materialist stood up from his desk and walked slowly around the circle.

As he did so, the circle appeared to change into an oval, then a vertical line, and back to an oval. It was a circle again when he reached the back side, so it was stationary. The different shapes depended on his angle of observation. Again, he wasn’t seeing the circle directly. He was seeing only where it was, and the pure figure was invisible within that space. The entity behind its construction had achieved two dimensions.

The materialist moved back to view it from the side, but now it rotated on an invisible axis to follow him. This gave it a more ominous aspect. The roles of observer and subject ostensibly had been switched, and the circle reminded him of a hollow eye. He couldn’t explain why this bothered him as much as it did. Perhaps it was the sheer emptiness of the figure mixed with a sense of intent.

The circle didn’t collapse back into a point after this. Rather, it flattened into a horizontal line as if winking, and then it disappeared.

#

On the fourth night, the materialist woke with a start. It was not yet midnight. His room was dark and silent, but he knew he was not alone. Reluctant to turn on the light and afraid to leave it off, he wrestled with these options for several minutes. In a spasm of decision, he reached for the lamp on his nightstand and flipped the switch. Wavering on one elbow, he slowly turned his head.

The geometric eye was back, but it was larger. More than two meters across, the optical distortion filled the zone defined by its margin. It had become a circular plane with radius, diameter, circumference, and area. It reminded him of a colorless bicycle reflector, and its bottom was mere inches from the level of his bedroom floor. He abruptly pushed himself up into a sitting position and kicked off his covers.

The disk moved toward him and encompassed the foot of his bed. It moved across the mattress, reached his feet, and slowly began to pass through him. He slid backward but was stopped by the headboard of his bed. The bottom of the disk was obscured by his mattress, but he could see the top half moving up his legs and into his upright torso. It caused no pain, produced no pleasure. It neither injured nor invigorated, and its product was the absence of sensory effect.

Something unseen, something without a body, was experimenting. Beginning with none, it had achieved one and then two dimensions, and it had just finished examining a third. The next logical step would be for this nonmaterial intelligence to assume a three-dimensional form.

#

On the fifth night, the point grew into an arc and then a circle. The circle extended into a sphere. As the materialist walked around this newly created figure, the perfection of its form remained constant from multiple angles of observation.

#

On the sixth night, the point grew into a variety of two and three-dimensional figures, disappearing and reappearing between each new formation. These constructions became increasingly complex, and an idea occurred to the materialist as he watched. Was he being instructed? He wondered if ancient philosophers had invented geometry or if they simply had been shown.

#

On the seventh night, the point rested.

#

There were no further visitations. In their aftermath, the materialist often considered the phenomena he had observed, but the question of origins remained intractable to satisfying analysis. His interpretations repeatedly snagged on Plato’s ideal forms and Aristotle’s unmoved mover. This prompted him to wonder whether he was good enough for nothing, and whenever he engaged in these deliberations, he experienced a persistent craving for tea.

~

Bio:

Robert L. Jones III holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Indiana University, and he is Professor Emeritus of Biology at Cottey College in southwestern Missouri. His work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Star*Line, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and previously in Sci Phi Journal. Samples may be viewed at concentricity.org.

Philosophy Note:

Since the age of fifteen, I have been intrigued by the philosophical underpinnings of geometry. In this story, I have mixed this interest with the concepts of nonmaterial existence, nonmaterial causation, and the logical consequences of materialism.

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