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Henric_Cronström

Few things are as important to understand as the concept of nothingness. Or, rather, the fact that there are always many levels of nothingness.

 

In physics, vacuum is the word used for nothingness. But whereas the best vacuum on earth contains billions of molecules per cubic meter, vacuum in outer space contains fewer than a dozen. So, these two vacua are completely different. And neither is really empty.

 

What if we find some space completely void of molecules? Would that represent nothingness? No, because the space would still be traversed by force fields, e.g., gravitation from distant stars. But space void of force fields, then? No, you would still have vacuum fluctuations, a quantum mechanical effect that can create particles from nothing. True nothingness may perhaps not exist. But one thing we know for sure is that there are levels of nothingness; one vacuum is not the same as the other.

 

In Lund there is a statue of Nothingness (Swedish: “Intighet”). There is nothing there, except the void of statue. But the statue’s existence is shown by a small plaque in the ground.

 

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To complicate matters, there is a second plaque some centimeters away that announces that the statue has been stolen. The two plaques illustrate both the sense of humor in the student city of Lund and the universal existence of different levels of nothingness.

 

In databases and in QlikView, NULL is the word used for nothingness. But this is not the only type of nothingness. Also here you have different levels:

 

  • The simplest representation of nothingness is the 0 (zero). But this is not true nothingness, since there is a numeric value in the field. The value will be used for calculations, e.g., it will affect both Count() and Avg(). So it is certainly not NULL.
  • Another level of nothingness is the empty string. This may not be as obvious, but also this is a field value that affects the calculation of Count(). Hence still not NULL.
  • The next level is the true NULL. This is when you have a record in the database, but there is no value for the specific field. This cell in the table is marked as NULL, meaning “a value is missing here.”
  • The final level is when the entire record is missing. An example is if you have a customer table and an order table and a specific customer has not placed any orders. Then the customer is not represented in the order table and there is no table cell that can be marked as NULL. These are called Missing values and are treated the same as NULL values – when possible.

 

If you want to present data in a correct way and at the same time enable the user to search for missing values, e.g., customers that have not bought a specific product, you need to understand the different cases of nothingness. Nothing could be more important.

 

HIC

 

More on nothingness:

NULL – The Invisible Nothing

Finding NULL

Excluding values in Set Analysis

Also, see more about this topic in this Technical Brief: NULL and Nothingness

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