By now you might have heard of Tyron Goldschmidt's paper “A Demonstration of the Causal Power of Absences” in which he aims to do just that. In case you have yet to see it, the paper tries to do so by having nothing more than a title: the body of the paper is entirely lacking in text.
The blank page appears to have had numerous causal effects, including that of causing a few written replies, which seems to demonstrate the point in question: namely, that the lack of written text, the absence of written words on the page, has the power to cause real change.
I like Goldschmidt’s paper and, contrary to what Nathan Wildman and Neil McDonnell say here and in the comments here, I think Goldschmidt’s paper does, in fact, demonstrate the causal power of absences.
Nathan and Neil suggest that Goldschmidt’s paper fails to demonstrate the causal power of absences. Their reasoning is simple: they claim that there is no absence here, only an actual positive property had by the paper in question, namely, the property of having no body text.
Unfortunately, Nathan and Neil have offered little reason to think that (a) this property actually exists and (b) is positively had by the paper. Notice, they claim that the property in question is that of having no body text. But, we can also truthfully claim that the paper does not have body text: the descriptive claim ‘not having body text’ does not suggest that there is a positive property that actually exists and that is had by the paper. Compare (1) the paper has no body text, with (2) the paper does not have body text. Arguably, the latter claim is made true by the very absence in question, i.e., the paper’s demonstrable absence of written text, not, pace Nathan and Neil, by its having of an actual positive property.
However, and crucial for those interested in causal powers, the demonstrable absence of text does not produce the relevant effects by itself. The causal power of this absence of text results from the simultaneous operation of multiple causal powers that are working together to produce an effect. Specifically, in this context a paper that is absent any written text has the power to cause real change, due to that very absence, by working together with our collective expectations. In particular, it is by thwarting those very real expectations that the absence of text causes real change. But, again, it does not do so because it has the actual positive property of having no body text. It does so by not having body text within a context where blank pages thwart our expectations.