Philosophical Interlude

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Eye in the Sky (ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team; CC BY 4.0 Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

Eye in the Sky (ESA/Hubble & NASA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-HST Team; CC BY 4.0 Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt)

Theoreticians are idealists who fight each other with their dreams. Do we believe our brain holds the key to uniting the infinitely large and the infinitely small? While some puzzles are better left to state-of-the-art computations, tucked away in a mathematical code, locked in geometrical patterns, poets attempt to keep a record of vanishing thoughts and translate the beat of those dreams into a common purpose. The abyss, Lucien Braun writes, between the expression of what is and what is left unexpressed, commands the “awkwardness” of thought. Beyond stating similarities and identifying connections, we hardly grasp all the nuances of meaning in one single concept. There exists a struggle in our brain with the verb to make it say the unspeakable. 


It would seem easier to transpose philosophical ideas into the field of science than the other way around. A “crucial part of developing scientific theories,” James Owen Weatherall writes, “is to take basic concepts and make them precise enough to support scientific inquiry. But adapting our intuitive ideas to the more rigorous demands of science can result in radical changes to our conception of reality.” If space and time can be curved even when there is nothing, can it be called nothingness


Voids appear to be the darkest energy-dominated regions in the cosmic web. If they are filled with that sort of vacuum energy free to interact with dark matter, shouldn’t it be part of the solution to find the beginning of time? Time is born in a void, lost in a black hole. Whether there exist patches of antimatter, dark energy puppeteers, shadows of dark matter halos, gushing white holes, and gobbling black holes, it all may make sense one day of time.


…the most likely scenario is that at present we have understood neither the full matter-energy content of the Universe nor the law of gravity that governs it

Elena Asencio, Indranil Banik and Pavel Kroupa

I struggle to imagine what it is like to be a space devoid of matter. Stillness, silence, and invisibility are its attributes. It is inconsistent, in my mind, with black holes drawing matter in and voids clearing it out. That which unites the infinitely large and the infinitely small emerges and builds up over time out of intemporal voids whose bodies shrink and expand. We don’t just live on the outside limit of the Local Void, but inside the perimeter of a large underdensity around the Local Group, known as the Keenan–Barger–Cowie Void. It implies the necessity for a radical change in our conception of reality, a void-centered view of our neck of the woods, a revolution in our frame of reference.


I pause and dwell a moment on the nature of light, the soul of the Universe, and the earthly things. Light passes towards our eyes through the air and other transparent bodies in the same way, Descartes writes, that the movement or the resistance of bodies, which a blind man meets, passes towards his hand, through his staff. Light, Maxwell argues, is an “electromagnetic phenomenon the laws of which can be deduced from those of electricity and magnetism, on the theory that all these phenomena are affections of one and the same medium.” We have favored all along a substance named luminiferous aether, the energy distribution of photons in cosmic lights. 


Shuttle Discovery With Moon (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Shuttle Discovery With Moon (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

We see farther by standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, by climbing invisible steps up into space and pulling strings attached to spacecrafts as far away as interstellar space. One must bear in mind the possibility, however, “that it might be the presence of a gravitational field that takes the description of a physical system out of the realm of pure quantum physics,” Roger Penrose writes. We have learned that astronomical bodies exert a gravitational force on one another and affect one another by changing the geometrical structure of space and time. Nothingness is the background of the gravitational field in which a photon-graviton conversion may occur through strong primordial magnetic fields.


Not only do we believe that primordial magnetic fields were generated through magnetogenesis during inflation and post-inflation,  but it is suggested that quantum magnetic monopoles were created during preinflation. Barbour writes that those magnetic monopoles might be today so widely spread out through the Universe that we cannot reasonably expect to observe any. Suppose they played a role as dark matter candidates through their connection with (hidden) dark sectors. In that case, I wonder how the study of dark matter and the investigation into the properties of primordial magnetic fields are related.


Mission drift describes the path taken by my wandering mind. In the search for an absolute vacuum, a perfect void, we are left to accept Descartes’ definition of an extension as the necessary existence of a substance. We realize that even voids and black holes have shapes and magnetic fields. While the essence of information on the origin, nature, and existence of matter travels at the speed of light, such a thing as nothingness is nowhere to be found in our four-dimensional reality. 


The unspeakable is what occurs behind a veil of darkness. Voids in our heads mirror voids in space. The elusive quality of timelessness creates images of a time void from which countless subjective experiences arise. If the Universe is a mismatch of past and future subsystems, the rear end of the arrow is born out of a nothingness hidden in the heart of a time void behind the moving walls of a void in space. 


Philosophical Interlude

Poets use images like walking sticks to help ease their mental and physical journey. Words are multidimensional. They change forms and transpose themselves from one field to the next. They are like point particles in which internal strings vibrate. How far can we reach collectively and individually? Our existence woven into the fabric of time conceals aspects we have yet to discover.

Philosophical Interlude

Lucien Braun, Paracelse

James Owen Weatherall, Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing

Descartes, Principes de la philosophie

The scientific papers of James Clerk Maxwell 

Barbour, The Janus Point

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