Gap of Nothingness

English: drawing for The New York Times
Drawing for The New York Times via Wikipedia

The Gap of Nothingness is an idea found in the existentialism of the French philosopher, J. P. Sartre.

In his Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology (L’Être et le néant : Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique) of 1948, Sartre talks about a ‘place’ or ‘no-place’ between stimulus (from the world of experience) and response (from the person).

For Sartre, this gap is the seat of human freedom that differentiates us from brutes. Animals apparently do not have the ability to choose their response to stimuli as do humans.

As most undergraduate professors in the humanities will tell you, an animal always eats when hungry, food is present, and environmental conditions are favorable. Humans, however, are (so it’s said) able to delay or deny this gratification through personal choice.

However, many thinkers and scientific researchers question the conjectural line that Sartre draws between the free will of humans and animals. Recent studies have shown that animals do, indeed, delay gratification for reasons often unknown to us.

In critique of Sartre’s idea, it’s a common mistake to assume that a human being can really know how an animal thinks (or doesn’t think). Moreover, to lump all animals together seems a ridiculous approach today, considering what we know about various brain capacities and complexities among species.

Despite all this, Sartre was a superstar in academic and literary circles during the 1960s.

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