What Color is Nothing?

Article by: Alyssa Myers ’23

What color is nothing? Does nothing even have a color at all? This week, I turned to members of the Wheaton community asking the open-ended question: what color is nothing? I got varied responses ranging from nothingness is subjective, to the color of nothing is clear, to the claim that nothing is either black or white.  

First, I will present the argument that the color of nothing is clear or transparent. One attempt at making this claim that I found entertaining was from Guthrie Hartsfield ’23. He claimed that the color of nothing is “The little checkerboard pattern that you see on the back of transparent pictures on Google images.” I will give this response points for creativity because I cannot argue that he’s necessarily wrong. I just don’t believe that scientists would agree, but maybe a graphic designer would. 

Also in support of nothing being clear, Sarah Simkevitch ’22 argued that the color of nothing is “clear because we don’t know what ‘nothing’ looks like. Then when we figure out what ‘nothing’ looks like, then it’s like you’re looking through the glass and you’re never wrong.” What makes this argument interesting is that it acknowledges my largest counterargument to the claim that nothing is clear: “If nothing is clear, what is the color that you’re seeing through the clearness?” Simkevitch’s argument is saying that nothing is clear as a metaphorical placeholder for the time that human brains will be able to conceptualize the color of nothingness. If that is ever possible to define. 

Another argument in support of clear being the color of nothing was made by Nathan Ruel ’22, who said that nothing is “clear because [clear] seems like empty space that can be filled, which is a characteristic of nothingness.” Defining something, or in this case, nothing, by one of its characteristics alone is not the strongest way to argue a point, but nevertheless, I liked where Ruel’s argument was headed. 

Lastly, Sadie Woodward ’22 initially responded to my question by asking “Is clear a color?” Woodward was making the claim that if clear is in fact a color, then it is the color of nothing. Yet, she followed up by saying “also, if you see nothing, you see black, like if it’s dark out or if you’re staring into space, where there really is nothing, it looks black.” It seems that Woodward’s argument for nothing being black is far more developed and well thought out than her claim that nothing is clear if clear is a color. In fact, I found the claim about space very compelling, which brings me to my next point: the supporting arguments for the claim that the color of nothing is black. 

The first argument I will present in favor of black being the color of nothing was made by Maggie Tracey ’23. She said that “black [is the color of nothing] because the way we see things/color is through light but if there’s no light to be reflected off nothing, there’s just dark.” I like that this argument is concise and organized and I believe it supports the claim well. Tracey is scientifically correct too, in that when there’s no light reflected off of something, we see black. Another argument that was clear and concise came from Eliza Denham ’23, who said that “black is technically the absence of color so that’s [the reasoning] I’ll go with.” Black is the absence of light which makes it outside of the color spectrum since black absorbs light waves. Pure black can exist in nature without any light at all, which I believe is the point Denham was making in her argument. 

Next, I will present an argument I received in favor of the claim that the color of nothing is white. Katie Hubbard ’24 said that the color of nothing is “white, honestly because I just finished watching The Good Place and Janet’s void is white and it’s nothing.” All I have to say to this is the argument is automatically valid because The Good Place is an amazing show and I would recommend it to anyone. Janet is an iconic character, and her void of nothingness is in fact white. Since the show is based on moral philosophy, I will argue that perhaps white symbolically represents nothing in the world of moral philosophy but this may not be a valid answer scientifically. 

The last two arguments that I would like to present are: “Neil DeGrasse Tyson said that “nothing” is subjective. In that case, I have to say that every color is, therefore, something,” said James Sena ’22. To support this claim, I am going to agree with both James and Neil DeGrasse Tyson by saying that yes, nothing is subjective. Nearly everything is. Both the ideas that we have of color and nothingness are completely subjective and are merely a social construct just like everything else. 

The final response that I would like to present was made by Eva Danielson ’22. In disgust with the question, she said that “the absence of color is white. The absence of things, nothing, has no color because it’s not something you can see and color is only seen. Light reflects to create beautiful colors but light can’t bounce off nothing.” I found this response to be one of the most accurate responses and I also think that it falls under the argument of nothing being subjective without saying that outright. 

In the end, I will conclude that if nothing has to be defined by color then the best response is pure black. When there is nothing for light to reflect off of, like in parts of outer space, we see pure blackness. Since nothing is as subjective as the concept like color, the best conclusion leaves nothing colorless, with its definition open to our imagination.