Dietrich School looking into the depths of ‘nothingness’


The “Seinfeld” of science lectures will take place at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 when “Nothingness: So much to say!" is the subject of the series “Science Revealed.”

Pitt faculty from the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences will be joined by James Owen Weatherall, author of the book “Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing,” to discuss what might be out there in the expanse of space; what if there’s nothing at all; and what that could possibly mean.

Jon Rubin, coordinator of the Science Revealed lecture series and mathematics faculty member, notes that “there have been various views throughout history about what is out there, and it’s still not a settled matter. There is not even one right answer to that question.”

Is it true nothingness? Are energy and matter not necessarily distinct, “making this a more interesting and complicated question than it sounds in the first place?”

Several of the panelists teach the history and philosophy of science — Weatherall at the University of California–Irvine, Pitt’s Marian J. R. Gilton and the moderator, Edouard Machery, director of the Center for Philosophy of Science here — so the panel will focus as much on philosophical answers as those from the worlds of physics and math.

Rubin says that the panelists will be speaking so that “the general educated public can understand the key ideas for thinking about what’s out there — and what’s not there.”

“For me, it is an intellectual puzzle,” Machery says. “That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about the panel. There’s been a centuries-long puzzlement of how there could be nothing instead of something in the world.”

We have long ago discovered the radiation and atmosphere, along with the obvious light, that surrounds us on Earth. But if there are no molecules or radiation in space, how can we make sense of that? What does “nothing” even mean?

The other panelists include Kiumars Kaveh of the math department and Andrew Zentner of physics and astronomy.

“I’ll be learning from this panel too,” Rubin says. “It is also a fun opportunity to be able to ask questions.”

The free event is open to the public. Register here:

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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