Hegel and the Ontological Implications of “Pure Thought” About What’s Not There
The Revelation of Contradiction Defining Apart Creation and Causation
Hegel believed that the height of thought was not found in our ability to think about the world, but in our ability to think about what wasn’t in the world. The Enlightenment praised rationality because of its capacity to help us “get at the world,” to understand what was out there and to help us access truth. Thinking then was beneficial because of its ability to “represent” and unveil “what was the case,” and certainly this is extremely important. But Hegel found himself attracted to a strange question: What did it mean that we could ponder what wasn’t in the world?
Thinking “about the world” is arguably thinking that only “responds” to the world: it’s cause and origin is arguably “the world” (simple enough). But thinking which “wasn’t about the world” — that misunderstood it, that was imaginative, that was completely abstract — didn’t strike Hegel as a “response” to the world, but its “own” cause and origin (thus, created and creative). It struck Hegel as erroneous to treat this second kind of thinking as identical to the first or to (worse yet) “bracket out” the second kind of thinking as error and irrelevant. This is arguably what most Enlightenment thinkers did, absolving themselves the responsibility to consider the implications of the second kind of thinking. Hegel, though, wouldn’t grant himself that luxury.
As always, my thinking on Hegel is deeply indebted to Cadell Last (if there is a better Hegel scholar out there, I would be shocked). The paper was stimulated thanks to a conversation with Cadell, Tim Adalin, and Alex Ebert called “Philosophy of Lack 2: Materialism,” and if this paper’s interpretation of Hegel is wrong or doesn’t align with Science of Logic, I still believe the ideas presented in this work stand. If I am wrong attributing them to Hegel, forgive me, but I am still in his debt, for the ideas were stimulated by — and wouldn’t exist without — the great genius. Rarely do I think well alone without a book and conversation partner.
Hegel explored the possibility of considering something that was “purely epistemological,” that was devoid of any “ontology” (please note he concludes eventually they are indivisible). Take “total nothingness,” for example: it doesn’t exist, and yet we can think about it (as brought up by Cadell and Ebert). How? It’s epistemological but not ontological, per se. The Enlightenment focused on what was epistemological and ontological, but the priority was on the ontological, with the epistemological simply “flowing from” the scientific and positivistic observation of the ontological. To put it another way, the epistemological couldn’t be its “own subject” (not to say it couldn’t be a “field of study” at a university, say in Logic 101); rather, the epistemological followed and observed the ontological: it was to be “looked through” but not “looked at” (without wasting time).
Hegel, on the other hand, considered what was only thought and epistemological (what could be called “Pure Thought,” meaning “what only existed in and thanks to thought”), and to consider the ontological implications that such entailed for us. While most peopled “looked through” thought, Hegel wanted to “look at” it and ask, “What does it mean that I can ‘look at’ thought (alone)?” It’s as if humanity for centuries wore glasses, but it wasn’t until Hegel that someone decided to take them off and study the glasses themselves. Of course, if we need glasses to see, taking the glasses off to look at them will prove contradictory, but that’s the point.¹ What does it say about us that we can try to see glasses that we need in order to see the glasses? What kind of being must we be?
What does it say “about us” that we can think what is only epistemological and not ontological? For Hegel, the most blatant example of something that was “only epistemological” was the “contradiction” (like “totally nothingness”), for there are no contradictions in reality (Ayn Rand was right). To deepen philosophical inquiry and possibility, Hegel focused on this extreme example of Pure Thought in the contradiction and “worked backwards” from it to us and our everyday lives (like a Moral Philosopher uses a thought experiment like the Trolly Problem and “works backwards” to more concrete situations). For Hegel, if contradiction was possible, then Pure Thought was possible (which I will also call “Creative Thought,” and it should be noted that “creativity” wouldn’t be possible if “contradiction” wasn’t possible, for it wouldn’t be possible to divide “ideas” from “things”). If Pure Thought was possible, we had “reason to think” that the world could be different than how the Enlightenment conceived it.
For the Enlightenment, thought was observant, but Hegel wondered if thought could also be compositional. Perhaps the world consisted of both being and thought, not just being that then thought only represented (“The Enlightenment”). This might sound crazy, but if for Hegel “thought” and “spirit” were at least very similar, don’t forget that humanity for most of history believed in the existence of “spirit” and the ability of spirit to shape, change, and influence material reality (in this way, “Panpsychism” isn’t New Age). So “working backwards” from the contradiction, though perhaps not a “Pure Thought” (100% epistemological), perhaps love, beauty, truth, and the like are ultimately 70% epistemological and 30% ontological, or 40% epistemology and 60% ontological, etc.? To use other words: perhaps beauty is 70% spirit and 30% matter, while truth is 50% spirit and 50% matter, etc.? For us, that could mean that only 70% of beauty could only be understood in conceptual and scientific terms, while 30% must ultimately be known by mindful practices, perception, participation, etc. I’m not saying that this is necessarily the case (these are just random numbers, after all), but I’m suggesting that this is the kind of world Hegel presented us with as possible, and though again it might sound crazy, I submit to you Hegel’s vision was extremely similar to the worldview of most (religious) people throughout history. For most, spirit is basically always compositional and active — Deism and it’s “clockmaker God” were never very popular.
If we can act in response to contradiction, then we can translate the “only epistemological” into “the ontological,” and Hegel found that extraordinary. If humans could create Pure Thought, then humans could act according and in response to Pure Thought, and that meant Pure Thought could shape and influence the world. Pure Thought could “enter into” the world through people — the “caused” could be (shaped by the) “created” — though rather this was good or bad, significant or insignificant, was a different question. For Hegel human/world history was created, while material/earth history was caused, and the two histories ended up blurring and shaping one another in a complex feedback loop that could take centuries to unravel (if ever) — two histories thus become one history to the point where it become nonsense to discuss “two histories.” Hegel saw the story of humanity as a gradual realization of “Creative History” through “Caused History,” which perhaps will ultimately manifest in technology and robots taking over (a “created god”). Hard to say, but please note we shouldn’t be quick to call Hegel a simple “Progressive.”²
Anyway, perhaps at the end of the day the Enlightenment was right and everything real is 100% ontological in its composition, but Hegel gave us reason to think that it’s not crazy to think that reality could be more compositionally complex (a mixture of “the created” and “the caused”). No, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that God Existed if thought was compositional, but it would mean that thought wasn’t just in the business of “reflecting” the real. And for Hegel, if thought did in fact somehow “create” the real, then if we treated thought as only “reflecting,” then we would indeed create thought that only reflected, and that would be the world we lived in (it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy). This would be the death of “spirit,” and Hegel wanted to force us to at least pause before we “killed God,” for we might find ourselves overwhelmed by being ‘the murders of all murders’ a little too late.³
For the Enlightenment, thinking was only “doing what it ought to do” when it was representative, for everything “real” was 100% ontological, and our job was just to think up ways of how to observe reality. Yes, this required thinking to figure out the best methods and mental models for “getting at” the real, but thinking was basically seen as a “means” that didn’t “participate in” the ontological “ends” of reality. Thinking, unto itself, was devoid of any ontological significance: “epistemology” and “ontology” were held apart as radically distinct and separate.
The thinking which the Enlightenment focused on was what we’ll call here “Representative Thinking” (RT) (or “Caused Thinking”), where the goal was to accurately “figure out” and “unveil” reality in order to accurately “represent it” to us and our minds. According to this standard, a “good thought” is one that accurately “stands in for” a phenomenon: the point of a thought is to be a “map” that is as similar as possible to its “territory.” Sure, perhaps thoughts can never be “perfect maps” (though Enlightenment thinkers could hope this was possible), but their goal is still to be “as perfect as possible,” and it follows from this that all our energy and focus as thinkers should be on realizing this goal. For the Enlightenment, thinking that didn’t “represent” wasted time, but perhaps Hegel believed “wasting time” could stop boredom.
Hegel explored what we could call “Creative Thinking” (CT), which would be thinking that didn’t seem to be “found in” the world once humans were “bracketed out.” We don’t see the world ontologically confusing cats with dogs (stuff remains “stable,” per se), but we see elders glancing out their windows and thinking they see a dog when it’s really a cat. Hegel never denied the importance of RT, but Hegel wasn’t sure if RT was the whole story. Dogs and cats seem to have something like RT going on for them too, after all: they wouldn’t survive if they couldn’t “represent the world” to themselves relatively accurately. Instincts, impressions, emotions — all of these struck Hegel as relating to RT in that they were “responses” and “reflections” to the world, and these are all found in the animal kingdom. This fact didn’t make them bad, no, but they also didn’t strike Hegel as notably and uniquely “human” (even if humans were uniquely good at RT): that honor went to CT.⁴
What is CT? Well, as already discussed, it’s “Pure Thought” — that which is only epistemological and not ontological at all — which means CT is created not caused. For Hegel, the necessity of this distinction is most evident in the contradiction, for the contradiction is what clearly doesn’t exist in the world, and thus the fact humans can contradict suggests there is something distinct going on in human beings. Perhaps not — perhaps at the end of the day somehow everything “created” can be explained in terms of “causation” — but I think Hegel is correct that “the uniqueness of contradiction” is worth some focus. Unfortunately, Enlightenment thinkers would generally have none of it: a contradiction was just outright nonsense and should be treated as such. But even if that was true, Hegel was curious what it meant that humans could create “outright nonsense.” The “ontology of the earth/materiality” didn’t generate contradictions, but “human ontology” did, so perhaps there was something “ontologically distinct” about humans?⁵ Hard to say: perhaps ultimately CT is always to some degree informed by RT, as everything “created” is always informed by “causation” — perhaps there is no “Pure Thought” out there, at the end of the day, because somehow contradictions are illusions — but even if there are only “degrees” of CT “in the world,” than CT still exists and worth time to consider.⁶ Also, if things somehow are contradictory (A/B) then this would suggest entities entail creative possibilities, and that means entities are to some degree free.
All thinking produces abstraction, and we can consider both non-contradiction and contradiction, so we have to be careful to claim that Hegel was particularly interested in “abstraction” (“abstraction” is just “the nature of thought,” which can both be in service of RT or CT). But that technical point aside, what’s notable is that we are capable of thinking about both “what’s there to respond to” and “what’s not there to respond to,” and even if “what’s not there” is somehow a combination of things we’ve experienced (say how a unicorn is a combination of “a horse” with “a horn”), that just means “the created” is influenced by “the caused” but perhaps cannot be reduced to “the caused.” Something unique seems to be going on when humans CT, but unfortunately in the Enlightenment focusing on RT while bracketing out CT as nonsense, this unique and special ability seems to have fallen out of focus.
Perhaps it’s debatable that a unicorn is “created” versus “caused” since the materials that compose a unicorn are found in the world to be “responded to,” but that’s why Hegel focused on contradiction and the ability to produce contradiction, for that is more clearly unique. Sure, the material of a contradiction can perhaps be found in the world (say “a cat” and “a tree” in the erroneous formulation “a cat is a tree”), but the form of the contradiction itself cannot be, which means contradiction entails a unique and created form which isn’t found in the world. If “x = y” is a “formula of contradiction,” per se, we could say that “x” and “y” could be found in materiality, but not (the act of (mis)applying a) “=.” And if we can add “=” or “forms” (A/B) to earth which aren’t in earth (A/A), then we are creating and not just causing. And so an ontological distinction thus arises between “world” and “earth” (not that I’ve always maintained this language), between “thought” and “being,” between subjects and objects, humans and animals, thinking and perceiving — on and on.⁷ And yet, as discussed throughout O.G. Rose, we often thrive to the degree we “try to close” these divides we cannot ultimately close. And so “Hegelian Dialectics” and their necessity arises — but that is a subject I will leave to other papers.
To avoid all this, the Enlightenment thinker could deny the existence of forms, suggesting that forms were in the head but not on the earth, but Hegel already addressed this argument. No, “forms” aren’t on the earth, as aren’t “contradictions,” because humans must create them. Humans have to “bring forth” and create the world inside their heads on and in the (caused) earth, and the moment they do so, their “forms” and ideas “appear in and as” materiality, which thus makes them seem “as if” they’re just materiality and caused. The manifestation of forms into “figures” always entails an instantaneous concealment that we cannot observe, which means that if we believe “the unobservable” is the unreal, then the concealment “can’t exist” to us.
Forms are “pure thoughts” that don’t negate and don’t have to stay as “pure thoughts”: they’re a “rung down” from contradiction on “The Ladder Toward Pure Thought” (I have “The Great Chain of Being” in mind regarding this phrase). Whereas a contradiction can never be realized into materiality as itself all at once, a form can be, and so though a form “starts as a pure thought” (created) it can become “a mixture of thought and material” (recall what we said about Panpsychism earlier).⁸ Forms are the “pure thoughts” that don’t negate, and so can be realized and, after their creation, brought into causation. The woman who imagines “the form of a bookcase” can then build one, bringing the created in(to) the caused. And so, yes, forms are on the earth (as is “the world”): they just always manifest and are “dressed” in causation, making it seem like “the form of a bookcase isn’t there,” just a bookcase. Neither contradictions nor forms can be observed as “pure thoughts,” but forms can come to be observed, which can make it seem like their “unobservable past” never existed. And so we can fall into error (as only humans can).
It would seem most things we care about are “created and caused,” not just caused.⁹ And yet we naturally tend to treat everything as “merely caused” — it’s very hard to “keep our eyes on the unseen,” especially when “the enlightened” don’t — and perhaps Hegel’s hope was that, by focusing on the uniqueness of contradiction for the sake of proving “Pure Thought,” he could save us from this mistake. Why was this important? Well, because then what Heidegger witnessed come to pass could be stopped: all wouldn’t become “merely material,” “subduable,” and susceptible to “technological thinking.” Being wouldn’t lose its wonder, and boredom wouldn’t rule the world.
For Hegel, “contradiction” was the best evidence that Pure Thought existed and that thus a distinction between CT and RT (“the created” and “the caused”) was needed. As “the Trolly Problem” is evidence that simple moral reasoning won’t always do (of assuming, for example, that “saving more lives is always better,” for what if the one person on the track is Einstein?), so contradiction is evidence that simple ontological reasoning may not always prove adequate. If Pure Thought existed, then perhaps mixtures of thought and non-thought also existed (forms), as perhaps also existed Pure Non-Thought; after all, if humans were capable of creating an “extreme case” like contradiction, then surely “form” would be easy (if we can run four miles, the ability to run two would follow). If Pure Thought didn’t exist, then the Enlightenment was probably right and there was only a single ontology (material composition) and the business of thought was to “reflect that” (RT). Perhaps ultimately that will prove to be the case, but Hegel was not ready to accept that outcome — contradiction was just too strange to him.
Everything in the world is caused, but contradiction is created.¹⁰ We don’t usually think about contradictions, errs, and paradoxes as created, because we tend to think of them as negating (the opposite of created), but Hegel realized we had to create these supposed “negations” so that they existed in our lives, because the world couldn’t cause them. This is key: non-contradictions, non-paradoxes, and the like (A/A) can be caused, but contradictions, paradoxes, and the like (A/B) can only be created (by us). And if contradiction could be “created,” how could we be so sure that only contradiction could be “created?” Why couldn’t there be “a little creation in everything?”
Perhaps the Enlightenment wanted to believe “contradiction” was merely “negation” in order to absolve itself a need to think about contradiction (after all, what “negates” is “gone,” “off the table”). And, indeed, I don’t think Hegel himself would deny that “contradiction itself” entailed negation, but Hegel notes that this doesn’t absolve us need to question our ability to “think about contradiction.” As discussed in “On Typography” by O.G. Rose, in the same way that Derrida deconstructing “ontological gaps” did not deconstruct the act of “apprehending” a thing itself, so negating contradiction does not negate the act which produced the contradiction. The ability to “think” contradiction still exists even if contradictions all negate, and that should grab our attention.
Humans can produce negations, and yet nothing in materiality negates. Yes, everything dies, but death is cessation in time, which is very ontologically different even if still significant. If we can think contradictions which are obviously not in materiality (and can’t be), then why is it so hard to believe that we could create less extreme thoughts like “forms” which could be “brought into” materiality and that “seem like” they are (partially) materiality? We obviously can “thoughtlessly cause” billiard balls to hit one another or for food to enter our stomachs (animalistically), but must it be that we can only “cause causal things” (materialize material things) and “create created things” (negating and irrelevant contradictions)? Is it so hard to believe that “creative/causal mixtures” could be possible? Must the incarnation be killed with dualism, Jesus buried alongside Descartes?
It would seem that “The Enlightenment” (still with us today) wants to believe it’s “all or nothing” either way, for that’s what their model seemingly requires for “observation” and “representation” to be the only roles for thought (which, do note, would be necessary if “autonomous rationality” were to be possible, as discussed in “Deconstructing Common Life” by O.G. Rose). If instead being is a “mixture,” then certainty becomes impossible and “incompleteness” inevitable (as discussed throughout O.G. Rose), and bias against that existentially terrifying possibility perhaps defines the Enlightenment. Why would incompleteness be our fate? Well, to answer generally (though hopefully other works by O.G. Rose fill in the blanks), it’s because we cannot control, observe, verify, or test “the nonmaterial,” and that means “uncertainty” will always be part of our models. Gödel will win, and after saying something respectful about him, we naturally don’t want anything to do with Gödel.
Anyway, if we can create negations, we are in a world that we don’t seem to be part of, because nothing else in the world creates negations. We are alone, and being alone is hard. We also become a giant question mark, because how can we be so different from everything else? No answer readily presents itself, but if we are “ontologically distinct,” then there are questions we need to answer. And so there is incentive to deny that we are “ontologically distinct” by erasing “the subject”: keeping the subject just opens too many existentially difficult doors. And here we can perhaps see why it’s become so popular to say “I don’t exist”: though it seems to be the furthest thing from the Enlightenment (as Eastern and New Age), the sentiment is actually perhaps a Child of the Enlightenment.
Though it’s true to a certain degree, the phrase “I don’t exist” can be an effort to say that it’s not merely that we produce contradiction, but that we are contradiction, which means we produce negations because we are negations, and that basically would solve the ontological mystery. Kinds produce their own kinds: we are nonsense and produce nonsense — there’s nothing there worth thinking about. Basically, some wiring is screwed up or “behind the times” (in need of updating), and this makes us susceptible to illusions (Daniel Dennett comes to mind here), and, as of 2021, we’re just starting to get ourselves straight (progress is being made). But this popular idea which effaces the subject is a mistake, as it’s similarly a mistake to say that because contradictions can efface we don’t need to consider why it is we are capable of contradiction in the first place (as it’s a mistake to believe that the existence of “uncrossable ontological gaps” renders all of metaphysics as meaningless, to allude to Derrida).
Alluding to “Homo Egeo” by O.G. Rose, even if it is the case that “the self” is a contradiction that negates itself (Homo Ego), there still must be an “I” who can produce that self/contradiction/negation (as there must be mirrors which face one another to cause the “infinite hall of mirrors” in them). Perhaps we could say “the self” is a contradiction/negation, the “I” is a/our form, while “the body” is a/our figure. Perhaps the “I” can only (erroneously) produce “the self” because it is indivisibly linked to the body; perhaps an unrealized “I” that stayed in “Pure Thought” would “practically be” an effacing contradiction and so irrelevant (and I guess that’s all obvious, because we have to be born to produce anything.) Thus, we are a I/body capable of a (problematic and negative) self, which is evidence that there is an “I” here with our bodies (as contradiction can be “stepped back from” into form). Perhaps in this way the “self” is needed for us to realize our “I,” as we perhaps need “contradiction” for “form” to become visible and plausible to us. The trick is just eventually “dying to self.”
The “I” is a form that is materialized, not a mere material that only develops. We exist even if we aren’t real: we are the form relative to which our figure formulates (to allude to Democritus, we are the “void” in which the “atoms” of our physicality move, hook together, and grow). Yes, if by “I don’t exist” we mean, “There is no self,” then this phrase is legitimate, but rarely do I encounter people using the phrase that way. Yes, the self is a contradiction that can negate, but we still produce selves and contradictions, and that deserves attention, for the ontological significance of that ability could be incredible.¹¹ It could mean that we are a “formulated figure,” an “I/body” — a “creative causation.”
In conclusion, to focus on contradiction is to focus on what humans can create which cannot be caused. It is to focus on the world instead of the earth, and if it is argued that we need to “study contradiction” (irony, paradox, etc.) to understand humans, it is to say we need to study what humans “uniquely” create. To make this effort fruitful, we should focus on things that are easiest to isolate as “created” or “creating” versus “a mixture of cause and creation.” As the scientist “isolates” subjects in a lab to “get a good reading on them,” we need to “isolate” “creation” from “causation” to “get a good reading” on human beings.
This is exactly what Hegel did in focusing on contradiction: he isolated “in the lab of the mind” a certain kind of thought in order to prove the possibility of Pure Thought. Generally, since all thinking manifests in abstractions and “feels similar,” we naturally believe that thinking about an apple and thinking about a contradiction are identical, but Hegel brilliantly realized that there was a difference between “a referential thought” and “a pure thought,” a difference that contradiction made vivid (as was perhaps necessary in order to overcome biases favoring the Enlightenment). By proving Pure Thought, Hegel proved the possibility and uniqueness of forms (or CT). Forms are always possibly materialized, and so not isolated enough to say with confidence that they are unique and creative versus material and caused. But by focusing on contradiction, plausibility is given to the case that forms might be creative, “in the world but not of it.” By extension, since we are capable of thinking and materializing forms, we too must be to some degree “in the world but not of it.” To what degree and in what way are the next questions worth pursuing.
Alright, how do we study Pure Thought? Reading Hegel, as I hope I’ve made clear. Fine, but what about “form” and our relation to it? What would be the field which tackled such subjects? Metaphysics, I think, which means we didn’t escape Hegel after all.
¹This also suggests why Hegel can be so hard to read.
²Please note that Hegel isn’t necessarily claiming that “Pure Thought” is better than “Representative Thought” — he’s describing more than prescribing. We’ve discussed elsewhere how “pure anything” is problematic, and Hegel seems to realize that himself, hence his stress on “dialectics.”
³Allusion to Nietzsche.
⁴Please note that animals could possess CT too (to some degree), but they don’t seem to have CT like humans, seeing as we lack any great works of music or mathematics from dolphins.
⁵If “the mind” emerged out of the soil of “the brain,” per se, then “the mind” should only produce A/A, for things of one kind only produce their kind. If the mind capable of A/B did emerge out of “A/A soil,” how was that Badiouan Event possible? Is the soil of the universe capable of Events? Are Events random and without warning? Why? Is “ontological speciation” possible just like “evolutionary speciation?”
⁶The distinction between “cause” and “created” is discussed throughout O.G. Rose, say in “Through (No)thing We Know.”
⁷With “On Thinking and Perceiving” by O.G. Rose in mind, we could say that “contradiction” is the “extreme point” which verifies the possibility of “Pure Thought,” as perhaps “thoughtless observation’ is the “extreme point” that verifies “Pure Materiality.” In considering these “extreme points of purity,” the need for the distinction between “thinking” and “perceiving” becomes clear, as does the “uncrossable” divide of the two.
⁸The Christian idea of “incarnation” comes to mind here: creation can “incarnate” in causation, spirit in matter (indivisible, not dualistic).
⁹Is God somehow “The Greatest Contradiction?” Negation that doesn’t negate?
¹⁰Contradictions exist but aren’t real, per se, and the fact humans can consider “unreal existence” is ontologically significant. Earth is real but entails no existence, so it would be strange to think that earth could generate existence (Pure Thought) in us (though of course it’s possible before an Event which caused an uncrossable and now invisible division). To suggest Heidegger, we seem capable of generating Being amongst being(s), and it’s hard to “observe” any evidence that being(s) could generate “a between Being/being(s)” (like us) who can generate Being. Perhaps “being(s)” has secrets we will one day discover, but even if it does — even if one day we discover that “atoms” and “void” somehow emerged from the same origin, to allude to Democritus — realizing that “explanation” will not be an adequate “address.”
With “Atoms and Void” by O.G. Rose in mind, please note that “Pure Thought” and materiality could be like “atoms” and “void” in that atoms and void can never merge and be the same thing. Contradictions can’t be materialized, and yet they can be thought about “in” us who are “inside” and composed of materiality (perhaps non-negating Pure Thought and/or forms are the “void” in which the “atoms” of science and figures move). And this leaves us with something strange: contradiction occurs “in” a being (us) which is “inside” materiality, but contradiction itself isn’t “inside” materiality. If “we” are materiality, then we could say contradiction is “in” us/materiality” and yet not “inside” us/materiality, which would then make it sound like (pure) ideas are aliens. Or perhaps ideas are babies. And we are all (m)others (who must also be midwives like Socrates).
(Please note that any logic we apply to contradiction also applies to “form”: it’s just that discussion about “contradiction’ makes the logic most “vivid” and visible.)
¹¹The fact we can think of “the self” might be as ontologically significant as thinking about “total nothingness.”