May 12, 2022
Scientific Questions Then and Now: Space

Milne Model

Milne Model. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Contact and Registration

The Lecture Series is open to all interested. If you would like to join a session please contact Anina Woischnig (awoischnig@mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de).

About This Series

How are scientific questions posed and answered by scientists, from premodern times until today? Despite radical changes in world views, the apparent persistence of certain recurrent questions in the history of science is striking: examples of such questions include “Where does the world come from?,” “What is it made of?,” “What is life?," “What is consciousness?,” or “Is the world knowable?”
Our speakers’ series “Scientific Questions Then and Now” seeks to understand the extent to which such recurrent questions have in fact remained “the same.” One key goal of this series will therefore be to determine whether there is, or is not, any core notion of science that remains constant from premodern times to the present, a core notion that would allow for meaningful discussion and communication among representatives of different historic traditions of science.

We will bring together contemporary scientists with historians of premodern philosophy, to ask whether some of these recurrent questions may still be relevant to contemporary scientific research and practice. 

2022-05-12T15:30:00SAVE IN I-CAL 2022-05-12 15:30:00 2022-05-12 20:00:00 Scientific Questions Then and Now: Space Milne Model. Source: Wikimedia Commons Abstracts Christoph Horn: Aristotle’s Discussion of Place (topos) in Physics IV In Physics IV 1-5, Aristotle provides an intense discussion of what it means, for an x, to be in a certain place (en topôi). He distinguishes between four possibilities (IV 4, 211b6-9) and then excludes that the place can mean (a) the form of x, (b) the matter of x, or (c) the interval between the limits of what contains x. Instead (d), he is favour of the following definition: topos is ‘the limit of the surrounding body (at which it is in contact with that which is surrounded)’ (212a5-7). Hence, a point cannot be a place for something (and it cannot be in a place). Place should also not be understood in the sense of the ‘void’ (ke- non) which Aristotle rejects explicitly (Physics IV 6-9). Locomotion, the change of place, through the void would be impossible. The place does not have length, width and height; it is not itself a body, and hence Aristotle can avoid the absurdities (i) that the place would be in a place (or even an infinite regress) and (ii) that two bodies could then be, simulta- neously, at the same place. Aristotle believes that topos should be understood like a ves- sel in which something is contained (cf. 208b3). Additionally, Aristotle defends the theory of a ‘natural place’ (oikeios topos) by which he wants to explain why the four elements have a tendency (if not stopped) to move to their own places, either above or below.  Christoph Helmig: Some Neoplatonists on Place (topos) Neoplatonic discussions on place (topos) basically start out from two ancient texts: Plato’s Timaeus and its notion of chôra (space, matter-space) and Aristotle’s Physics IV 1-5. Aristotle’s account of place (and time) is essentially descriptive in nature, in that he describes the phenomenon and its essential features. For him, the universe and time are eternal and the place of x is defined as the “first (i.e., innermost) motionless boundary of x” (IV 4, 212a20-21). Neoplatonists look at place from an entirely different perspective. They raise the question of how place (and time) come into being, and what their causes are. In Neoplatonic metaphysics, true causes transcend their effects. They are intelligible principles, i.e., Platonic Forms or so-called primary hypostases (the One, intellect, soul). Hence, the problem can be framed as follows: What are the intelligible principles of place (and time)? How do they come into being? Already in the Timaeus, Plato defined time as “the moving image of eternity” (37d). Regarding place (chôra, rather matter-space), however, no cause is mentioned, since chôra, together with being and becoming, is one of the three most fundamental principles of everything. Plotinus did much of the ground-work on the Neoplatonic notion of place, by connecting both time and place to the activities of soul / soul of the world (anima mundi). Despite their shared metaphysical framework, it is interesting to note how different the Neoplatonic theories of place in fact are. In my presentation, we shall look at theories of place developed by Proclus, Damascius / Simplicius and Philoponus, all of whom, despite their differences, reject Aristotle’s definition of place as innermost boundary. Europe/Berlin public