The Coming Emptiness: On the Meaning of the Emptiness of the Universe in Natural Philosophy

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Gregor Schiemann

Subject: Arts & Humanities, Philosophy

Keywords: natural philosophy; cosmology; emptiness; vacuum; void; dark energy; space flight; exoplanet; big freeze; big crunch; everyday lifeworld

The cosmological relevance of emptiness—that is, space without bodies—is not yet sufficiently appreciated in natural philosophy. This paper addresses two aspects of cosmic emptiness from the perspective of natural philosophy: the distances to the stars in the closer cosmic environment and the expansion of space as a result of the accelerated expansion of the universe. Both aspects will be discussed from both a historical and a systematic perspective. Emptiness can be interpreted as “coming” in a two-fold sense: Whereas in the past knowledge of emptiness as it were came to human beings, in the future it is coming insofar as its relevance in the cosmos will increase.The longer and more closely emptiness was studied since the beginning of modernity, the larger became the spaces over which it was found to extend. From a systematic perspective, I will show with regard to the closer cosmic environment that the earth may be separated from the perhaps habitable planets of other stars by an emptiness that is inimical to life and cannot be traversed by humans. This assumption is a result of the discussion of the constraints and possibilities of interstellar space travel as defined by the known natural laws and technical means. With the accelerated expansion of the universe, the distances to other galaxies (outside of the so-called local group) are increasing. According to the current standard model of cosmology and assuming that the acceleration will remain constant, in the distant future this expansion will lead first to a substantial change in the epistemic conditions of cosmological knowledge and finally to the completion of the cosmic emptiness and of its relevance, respectively. Imagining the postulated completely empty last state leads human thought to the very limits of what is conceivable.


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