COSMO-MASTER (5-year ERC project)

Philosophy of COSMOlogy: Matter And SpaceTime ERadicated

Our most basic, fundamental assumptions are often the ones that get scrutinised the least. This very much holds true for the primary ontological and conceptual distinction that underlies much of physics, philosophy of physics, and metaphysics: the idea that all entities and structures in our universe are to be categorised and conceptualized as either space (or, in modern physics, spacetime) or matter, never both, never neither. Everything must be either the “container” or the “contained”. Although this strict conceptual dichotomy did make a lot of sense in the context of our pre-20th-century worldview, the COSMO-MASTER project contends that it is no longer tenable, and even a hindrance to further progress. More precisely, each of the main ingredients—dark matter, inflation, dark energy, black holes, and general relativity—of our highly-successful and well-established standard model of cosmology that was developed over the course of the 20th century puts pressure on the outdated Newtonian idea that the space(time) and matter concepts can and should be strictly distinguished. A systematic interdisciplinary analysis of the extent to which this dichotomy breaks down will have profound consequences for various debates in the philosophy of physics and metaphysics (e.g. undermining the substantivalism-relationalism debate about the metaphysics of spacetime, and providing novel opportunities to reassess and advance debates regarding conventionalism, scientific realism, and scientific guiding principles) as well as for theory development and community interaction in cosmology, and physics more broadly. Far from being an unwelcome babel, a conceptual undoing, giving up the spacetime-matter distinction will provide guidance as to which traditional debates become moot and which novel avenues open up.

April '23 - March '28


Sanne Vergouwen (PhD), Antonios Papaioannou (Research Assistant), Niels Martens (PI) & Antonio Ferreiro de Aguiar (PostDoc)