What is metaphysics? Rather than give a defintion of Metaphysics, Heidegger does some metaphysics by asking a metaphysical question: WHAT, EXACTLY, IS “NOTHING?”
Heidegger says that Nothing is, in fact, something, and not just pure negation or non-existence. He says that this Nothing can actually be encountered. But first he looks at a scientific point of view: Science doesn’t want to talk about “nothingness” or “non-existence.” Science just sees the question as self-contradiction. For science to ask, ‘What “IS” Nothing’ is to claim that Nothingness IS something, if only something to be negated. And this is a self-contradiction science cannot handle.
Heidegger next takes a tentative step: <…the Nothing IS the negation of the totality of beings; it IS non-being, pure and simple.> In an attempt to differentiate “negation” and “Nothingness,” Heidegger asks: What is more fundamental, “notness” [negation] or “Nothingness?” That is, How do we encounter Nothing? Heidegger says we encounter the Nothing in the mood of Profound Axiety. Not axiety about a particular situation, but rather Axiety in an existential sense–when the whole of beings–everything–recedes from us and we are left with the Oppressive Nothing. This may be a terrible feeling, or it may be heavy but calm. But however it is felt, this Nothing is felt as something very real. It’s thick. It’s palpable. It’s Absolute Nothingness pushing down on us…sometimes, to our dismay, crushing us.
Direct quotes, in pointed brackets < > , are taken from the essay by Martin Heidegger, “What is Metaphysics?” (Click Here For Essay)