Moving beyond the rigid, black-and-white dichotomy between space(time) and matter inherited from Democritus and Newton

The COSMO-MASTER project —"Philosophy of COSMOlogy: Matter And SpaceTime ERadicated"—is generously funded by the European Research Council via an ERC Starting Grant (101076402) with a value of 1.5 million euro. It explores the breakdown of the orthodox spacetime–matter distinction in the context of modern astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology, and analyses the far-reaching ramifications for both physics and philosophy. The project builds upon the Marie Curie project "PhilDarkEnergy" (101065772), and earlier work on the philosophy of dark matter (2020a, 2020b, 2022a, 2022b, 2023).

New ingredients of our universe could very well be a bit matter and a bit spacetime simultaneously

Project description

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standard model of cosmology that was developed over the course of the 20th century puts pressure on the outdated Newtonian idea that the space(time) and matter concepts can and should be strictly distinguished.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.

Project description in CORDIS
Sanne Vergouwen (PhD), Antonios Papaioannou (Research Assistant), Niels Martens (PI) & Antonio Ferreiro de Aguiar (PostDoc)
COSMO-MASTER work packages & case studies
COSMO-MASTER work packages & case studies

Events & Community Publications

The COSMO-MASTER team will be organising two international conferences, on the philosophy of cosmology and the spacetime–matter distinction, and four workshops, on dark energy, inflation, black holes and spin-2 gravity. In addition, we expect to edit a collected volume on philosophy of cosmology and a special journal issue on the spacetime–matter distinction.

Upcoming Events
Sanne Vergouwen presents the COSMO-MASTER project at the HPP-NL Workshop

We would like to thank the following people for invaluable help during the design, grant interview preparation and/or recruitment phase of the COSMO-MASTER project: Guido Bacciagaluppi, Nurida BoddenbergFlorian Boge, Jeremy Butterfield, Radin Dardashti, Juliusz Doboszewski, Jeroen van DongenJamee Elder, Marieke Gelderblom, Sophia Haude, Martin King, Dennis Lehmkuhl, Niels Linnemann, Michela Massimi, Tushar Menon, Abigail Nieves Delgado, Ulrike Pag, Antonios Papaioannou, Sophie Ritson, Christian Röken, Kian Salimkhani, Noah Stemeroff, Svenja Talv, Sjang ten Hagen and Alastair Wilson.