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In the previous post, we discussed the deep philosophical question of whether the glass is half full or half empty or several other choices. This time we tackle a philosophical riddle:

When is nothing stronger than something?

Well, one answer is: when the nothing is something that isn’t there any more.

Consider for example something that is nearly nothing: Air. Imagine the amount of air in a decent sized balloon. It’s hard to appreciate how powerful that air is until you take it away. Thanks to gravity (that fundamental force that’s always getting us down) pulling on the little invisible air molecules, the Earth’s atmosphere weighs in at about 11 trillion-trillion pounds. At the surface, that’s about 14.7 pounds per square inch. That adds up, so that an open newspaper has a few tons of air pushing down on it.

Fortunately this air pressure pushes on things in all directions, so we don’t notice it so much until it gets removed. Suck the air out of a pop can and it would collapse from the surrounding pressure. But if you make a strong enough container that won’t collapse, you can earn a small place in the history books.

In the 1650’s the mayor of the German city of Magdeburg, one Otto von Guericke, figured out how to make a vacuum pump. With the flair of a modern-day infomercial producer, he sought a demonstration to dazzle the crowds with the power of the nothingness that his pump could produce.

He fashioned two bronze balloon-sized hollow hemispheres (about 1.5 ft across). When placed together, they could be easily separated. But with the air between them pumped out, the resulting vacuum held the two hemispheres tightly. So tightly that in various showings he was able to take 8 to 30 horses, split into two teams pulling the resulting sphere in opposite directions, without separation. Once the air was let back in, the hemispheres fell apart.

And so nothing proved to be stronger than at least several horses.

Nothing like Search Trivia

As you may know, searching in Google or Bing using “double quotes” forces the search engine to find the exact phrase, instead of variations that change the word order or may use less than all of the words. Before this post was posted, if you searched for “nothing is stronger than something” with those double quotes, Google gave only one hit (here) and Bing found zero matches. In the modern world, this is nearly impossible and means that this phrase must be Special. If you don’t use the double quotes, you’ll get hits for things like ‘nothing is stronger than love’ and other non-Special things like that.

Should we conclude that Bing has figured out the power of the vacuum since it had zero hits? Maybe. And if you know other cases of strong nothingness, please comment.

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