Much ado about the sounds of silence


The Easter Monday edition of ABC’s Q&A saw Cardinal George Pell (God corner) and Professor Richard Dawkins (non-God corner) square off  (1  million viewers tuned in so odds are you did see it).  Greg Sheridan, who is obviously well versed in theology and metaphysics as well as foreign affairs,  recounted one scene:

 When Dawkins explained that the universe had come from nothing, but that nothing was really very complex and, in fact, consisted of something, people laughed.  Dawkins was annoyed and, like a humourless school marm, peevishly scolded the audience: “Why is that funny?”

Yes, well, “nothing”certainly can be complex.  

The Buddhist notion of nirvana approximates “emptiness”  – gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā – which would seem to be like “nothingness” which must be close to “nothing”.  Engage a serious Buddhist on the nature of “you” and “you” (whoever or whatever “you” are, if “you” are anything at all) will come away thoroughly confused (if that is not “your” permanent state of “mind”, – if “you” have one, that is).

In 1935, near the end of a long affectionate letter to his son George in America, James Joyce wrote:

Here I conclude. My eyes are tired. For over half a century they have gazed into nullity, where they have found a lovely nothing.

This nicely segues to news that researchers at The Australian National University have developed the fastest random number generator in the world by listening to the sounds of silence.   The researchers  have tuned their very sensitive light detectors to listen to vacuum – a region of space that is empty.  Professor Ping Koy Lam says vacuum was once thought to be completely empty, dark and silent until the discovery of the modern quantum theory. Since then scientists have discovered that vacuum is an extent of space that has virtual sub-atomic particles spontaneously appearing and disappearing.  If you ever have need of a random number generator, you can download it here.

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