(In which I show my origins in continental philosophy.)
Nothing as a metaphysical entity–what is nothing? Is it as simple as saying it’s not a thing? But that which says it is not a thing is a thing, so the nothing can only be referred to by a thing, by an entity. Nothing only ‘exists’ in the horizon of being. Why even say nothing?
The animals don’t have a category for “nothing”.
Nothing is experienced as a lack, as a privation of that which should be there. This is only possible for rational willing beings. Something that I desire is not there. Nothing is there!
There’s an old joke about Jean-Paul Sartre going to the café and being told that there’s no cream. Would he like his coffee with no sugar instead?
Think of nothing as a lack, an absence, a void, something missing. In that sense, the nothing nothings. Forgive me for lapsing into Heidegerrian speech! The nothing nothings, in that it breaks into your life and causes despair. What’s wrong? Nothing!
A few years ago I was talking to Jonathon Sullivan, a former ER doctor who gave up his practice to start a gym. It was a daring and ultimately fulfilling move for him. I remember him saying to me, “It’s the most doctory thing I’ve ever done.” He had been frustrated for years that he could only see patients at the end of a long pattern of destructive behavior. If he could have gotten them into the gym, he could have kept them out of the hospital. The calling of a doctor is to heal, and he finds the gym to be a very good way to do what doctors are supposed to do.
I responded to his comment: “Coaching is the most teachery thing I’ve ever done.” I taught philosophy for more than twenty years in universities. There were times when it was very rewarding. I still remember one of my first classes, how excited the students were to talk about ideas. It was thrilling. But, for the most part, as the years went by the rewarding experiences became fewer. I don’t blame the students, but something happened to make them reticent, less likely to say what they really thought. Often they would spend the class on their phones.
I remember one incident during a metaphysics class. A student was thinking himself into the opinion that the universe actually did have structure and order, and that some things were better than others. He was discovering a hierarchy of being. I was not teaching him this; he was discovering it as a consequence of his own thinking. But just as he was about to reach a real conclusion, he stopped.
“Why did you stop?”
“I wouldn’t want to be incorrect.“
By “incorrect”, he meant that he didn’t want to say something that would offend others. Perhaps this is the reason why the students got so quiet over the twenty years. It’s either that or the cell phones.
Fortunately by that time I had stumbled on coaching as a profession. Standing in front of 30 non-responsive college students, I never knew if I was doing any good. I could teach you to squat, though. Give me a few hours and I can teach you the basic barbell lifts. If you let me coach you, I can take you from never having deadlifted to pulling 500 lbs. I’ve done it, and it’s great fun. I get to see concretely how much good I’ve done. Perhaps it’s better to say that I can see how much good the clients do for themselves with my help. As a teacher, towards the end I was never sure if I was doing any good. As a coach, I could measure it.
This is why coaching is the most teachery thing I’ve ever done.