A Conference on Nothingness

Lilianfels, Katoomba, NSW, Australia (January 9th-11th, 2023)

Boris:
Something’s missing.
Doctor:
What?
Boris:
I don’t know, I feel a void at the center of my being.
Doctor:
What kind of void?
Boris:
Well… an empty void.
Doctor:
An empty void?
Boris:
Yes. I felt a full void about a month ago but it was just something I ate.

Woody Allen, Love and Death

As part of a Templeton Project [https://www.templeton.org/grant/wandering-mazes-lost-investigating-arguments-over-the-problem-of-existence], there will be a 3-day conference on the theme of Nothingness. An earlier conference took place at Milton Park, Bowral (April 19th-21st, 2022), on the subject of Being and Nothingness: https://wanderingmazes.com/conferences/. This conference aims to be far broader in one sense [in terms of a complete dissolution of disciplinary boundaries], while being more focused in its specific theme.

“Nothingness” strikes many as the opposite of existence. This is certainly the Western viewpoint. In physics we find it often associated with the void. Though these days we recognise that a completely void space, with zero energy, is not a possible scenario relative to current physics. In more Eastern thinking, nothingness is more akin to All existence, since it is the state underlying all manifested things, itself containing No Things. This state, of transcending Things and manifest reality, is often seen to be a goal of meditative practices of various kinds. This conference will seek to bring the East and West together, and explore what this state might be, how it relates to physical models of reality and mind, and whether either side can learn something new. Another key focus of the conference is precisely to make sense of what is meant by Innovation. Is the idea of creation, of something genuinely novel, possible? What does it demand of the world in order to be possible? How should it be thought of? There is also the psychological notion of void and nothingness that underpins existential thought. Again, we seek to make sense of this idea from a very broad perspective, with contributions crossing fields. Finally, there is the related notion of nothingness as annihilation, or existential extinction. While sought, in a sense [as an ego death], in Eastern thought, it is viewed with dread in Western thought. Again, can we bridge the divide in some way, preferably some way that will lead to a better world for all?

The conference will take place at Lilianfels Resort and Spa [https://www.lilianfels.com.au] in the Blue Mountains of NSW, from the 9th-11th of January, 2023. Funding is provided by the department of History and Philosophy of Science [thanks to Prof. Dominic Murphy] and the Science Faculty [thanks to Prof. Iain Young and the Provost] at the University of Sydney, as well as the Templeton Foundation.

Lilianfels Resort
  • 9th Jan
    1. 10:00-10:30 Introductions and welcome.
    2. 10:30-11:30 Dean Rickles (University of Sydney): “Quantum Existentialism and Creation from Nothing”
    3. 11:30-12:00 Tea break
    4. 12:00-1:00 James Heisig (Nanzan University) “Japanese Thinkers on Nothingness”
    5. 1:00-2:00 Lunch
    6. 2:00-3:00 Ruben Laukkonen (Southern Cross University) “How Meditation Induces a Cessation in Consciousness”
    7. 3:00-4:00 Leslie Stein (University of Sydney) ‘Who or What Experiences Nothingness?”
    8. 4:00-4:30 Tea break
    9. 4:30-6:00 Keynote: Graham Priest (CUNY Graduate Center) “Nothing is Something”
    10. 6:30-7:00 Drinks
    11. 7:00 Dinner
  • 10th Jan
    • Morning Hike etc.
    • 10:30-11:30 Harald Atmanspacher (Turing Centre and The NEW Institute) “Varieties of Experiencing Nothing”
    • 11:30-12:00 Tea break
    • 12:00-1:00 Paul Redding, “Hegel and Infinitesimals” (University of Sydney)
    • 1:00-2:00 Lunch
    • 2:00-3:00 David Chai (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) “Nothingness in Chinese Art”
    • 3:00-4:00 Jennifer Windt (Monash University) “Empty Minds in Sleep and Wakefulness, Cultivated and in the Wild”
    • 4:00-4:30 Tea break
    • 4:30-5:30 Nathan Wolski (Monash University) “Between Infinity and Being: Nothingness and Pre-being  in the Zohar and some reverberations in Yiddish Modernism.”
    • 6:30-7:00 Drinks
    • 7:00-9:00 Dinner
    • 9:00 Star gazing trip (possibly…)
  • 11th Jan
    • 9:30-10:30 Gerard Guiton (Monash University) “Nothingness and Divine Consciousness”
    • 10:30-11:30 Chris Letheby (University of Western Australia) “Nothingness and the Psychedelic Experience”
    • 11:30-12:00 Tea break
    • 12:00-1:00 Ken Parry (Macquarie University) “Apophaticism and Deification in Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa”
    • 1:00-2:00 Lunch
    • 2:00-3:00 Daniela Helbig (University of Sydney) “Nothingness: Martin Heidegger and Georges Perec”
    • 3:00-4:00 Aydogan Kars (Monash University) “Nothingness and Unsayability in Islamic Thought”
    • 4:00-4:30 Tea break
    • 4:30-5:30 Ian Durham (St Anselm College) TBD
    • 7:00 Dinner