Holes (Pretty Good Movie/Pretty Tough Ontological Question)

In this essay I argue that holes cannot exist.

This article was tagged with: Philosophy

There are 1190 words in this article, and it will probably take you less than 6 minutes to read it.

This article was published 2020-11-30 00:00:00 -0500, which makes this post and me old when I published it.


Holes are objects of great philosophical interest because although people talk of them as if they are material objects, it is not entirely clear prima facie what they are. For most people would say that a hole is an absence of material, which stands in opposition to how we normally define objects, which is by their material. The exigence for understanding the nature of holes is because if they are not material objects, what are they? We need to know what the nature of holes is because it would give us insight into how holes are created, destroyed, and maintain an identity over time. In this paper, I will first contrast two different types of holes and explore the concept of hole-lining as a potential definition of holes. Finally I will consider how hole-fillings affect the identity of holes, before ultimately arguing that holes cannot exist in reality, and instead discussions about holes are really about “quasi-holes”.

Consider the following two different examples of holes. Imagine someone has dug into the ground with a shovel, in other words a pit, where dirt was actually removed from the surrounding ground. Another slightly different example but with a similar principle is a straw, where the hole was formed around something, but no material was removed to make the hole. There seems to be something different about the two holes that were mentioned. On one hand, the pit that someone dug does not perforate completely through a surface, whereas the straw is a complete through-hole. This is interesting because it begs the question of whether a through-hole is one or two holes. To cover our pit we could place a tarp on it, and this is the only opening to the hole. However, in the case of the straw we could place a finger on either of the ends, and it would seem that a hole is still preserved. Is an opening a hole or is it something different? In order to define a hole, we need to get into the idea of hole-linings and how, if, they define holes.

The hole-lining is the material that surrounds the hole, so in the case of our pit, dirt, and for our straw, plastic (or paper depending on local legislation). The question then becomes if the hole-lining necessarily defines the hole, for each hole has a hole-lining, and each hole lining has a hole. This leads to interesting questions, such as if a straw were to be spun on a drill or something like that, would the hole be spinning, or just the hole-lining? I would say that it would be the hole-lining spinning, and not the actual hole. This makes it seem then that hole-linings and holes are separate entities. Additionally, if we were to dig into the language of describing hole-linings as holes, problems immediately arise. For as previously stated, a hole-lining is the material that surrounds a hole, but if the hole-lining is the hole, how can something surround itself? Additionally, this would lead to the phrase, “The straw’s hole is made of plastic” to be a potentially meaningful and true statement, which does not seem like something that we want as a consequence of our definition of a hole. Instead, that phrase should be interpreted only as saying, “The straw’s hole-lining is plastic,” nothing more and nothing less. A hole has volume, the amount of space that it does not take up, whereas the hole-lining does not have that kind of property. In this way, a hole-lining is not a hole, but it is an important criterion in order for something to be considered a hole.

So far we know that a hole must have a hole-lining, which is to say a material that surrounds it, and it must also have a volume of space that it does not take up. Naturally this means that we need to explore and define what constitutes a filled hole. In the previous examples, both the pit and the straw were filled with air, which still allows objects to freely move through the hole. Let us imagine a situation in which we fill the pit with the same dirt that was initially dug out of it. It would make sense to call that hole filled, and thus destroyed, since the ground/dirt has essentially returned back to its pre-hole state. But what if we did not have the original dirt, and instead used concrete to fill the hole, would we have destroyed the hole, or just filled it? I would say that it does destroy the hole because the hole no longer has the volume that it used to have. In a similar vein, let us imagine that we fill the pit with water, in other words, we have created a pool. The hole-lining is dirt, and the hole-filling is water. Initially the pit just had air in it when we were calling it a hole, but now it is filled with water. So far we have not questioned the legitimacy of a hole filled with air, but perhaps we should not count this as hole. Or would only a solid (as opposed to a liquid or gas) filling destroy the hole? Water is a liquid, whereas air is a gas which is more sparsely distributed, so if we can still pass through the hole, perhaps that is all the criteria that we need.

In order to tie up both previously discussed hypothetical examples, I argue that holes do not exist in any kind of real sense in the real world. This is because all holes are filled in one way or another, either by air or by some other material that may or may not differ from their hole-lining material. As previously discussed, when a hole is filled, the identity of that hole is destroyed, but more specifically in our examples, a hole never really existed because it was never completely empty. However, it is important to note the distinction that was made with the phrase “in the wild,” for it seems certainly possible that someone would be able to create a hole in a manufactured setting, i.e. a vacuum. This would be something like a flask container where there is an enclosed space where there is nothing, not even air. Unfortunately, it is impossible to create a true vacuum in a laboratory setting, for even if all matter particles were able to be removed, there would still be photons and gravitons, among other entities.

In conclusion, true holes cannot exist in reality because there cannot be a true vacuum created in a controlled environment where there is a hole-lining with no hole-filling. Instead, I take discussions of holes in everyday life to be about “quasi-holes” which are things where the hole-lining differs from the hole-filling, also given that the hole-filling is non-solid. Some examples of quasi-holes would be the pit, straw, pool, rooms, doors, and many other things. This is not entirely in line with what the layperson means when they speak about holes, but this is a definition that is more clearly defined in sorting out what is and is not a quasi-hole.


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