I regularly mix up two philosophically distinct notions of a concept for which I then use three words , often interchangeably, to describe. The words I am talking about are darkness, nothingness, and emptiness. They are non-technical terms used synonymously to mean the absence of substance, discernible or not. Add vacuum, void, flux, dark energy to the list of similar, more refined applications of the concept used by physicists and cosmologists.
Of more immediate concern is the blurring of the philosophical lines though. If not acknowledged, I am afraid some readers may dismiss me as illogical or flighty. If it bothers you, I apologize now. I respect philosophy and even have good friends pursing degrees in it. The distinction can be important in those circles. But I also find conceptual fuzziness quite acceptable and even useful when thinking and writing about these and related topics. Plus, admit it… it’s like an evil never-ending game of ping-pong to try to keep the concepts separate!
If you are so inclined to consider the distinction, then here goes. One type of empti-dark-nothingness is ontological in nature; the other is epistemological. The later exists only in relation to human experience; the former is (in the abstract sense) independent of human experience. You can assume whenever I evoke metaphysics that ontological darkness is at the forefront of my mind — which is technically of no consequence (see what I mean).
The breadth of impact of the empti-dark-nothingness mesh concept is immense. Add to that the philosophical complexity underlying it and you are looking at one of the most confounding problems of intellectual origin faced by human-kind. Work-arounds are common, including in my humble opinion the most notorious of this century, the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Derived largely from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle it tries to solve all of quantum theory’s inconsistencies by specifying that reality is observer-dependent. Remember the age-old koan “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it does it make a sound?” Mandating its “solution” does not change the underlying reality, for which direct evidence of it being observer dependent is sorely lacking. Says more about human nature than about reality… where’s Galileo when we need him.
Another common work-around used by non-physicists forced to grapple with the philosophical inconsistency of questions of conceptual nothingness, cosmological void, etc. is to suggest that consciousness at its deepest level is somehow ontologically pure. If one assumes the barrier between epistomology and ontology can be removed through attuning one’s consciousness, the deeper mysteries of nothingness are absorbed into “mysteries of the mind.” This is a favorite of those leaning on neuroscience or modern Buddhism for their answers. Really it is simply an extension of the physicists’ shtick. Both, to me, are a terrible disservice. You will never hear me suggest such things on this site.