Space as Non-reality: An Alternative to Kant
From Epistemics of Divine Reality (2007) by Domenic Marbaniang
The distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge that between analytical and synthetic judgments once established, Kant easily proceeded to show that the quality of a priori did not just belong to analytical judgments but to some synthetic judgments too. Since these synthetic judgments like “2+2=4”, “Every effect has a cause”, and “Bodies occupy space” contained, according to Kant, predicates not contained in the subject, they meant added information; in other words the possession of knowledge a priori. According to Kant, then, these a priori data formed the conditions according to which all other empirical data were interpreted and understood by the mind. The world as one sees or perceives as a result is nothing but what the mind determines it to look as. Space and time are not objective realities but subjective forms of intuition in which all data is arranged by the mind. Thus, the mind is not able to conceive of anything apart from space and time.
But what if space is not a form of intuition but a mere negation of objects? According to this view then, space would mean nothing. Consequently, once one knows what something is, then its negation becomes readily evident. This doesn’t require any a priori knowledge of the negation equaling a synthetic judgment. The negation, in accordance to the rational principle of the exclusive middle, is of analytical nature. Once it is known that A=A and not non-A it immediately follows that something is either A or non-A. In the same manner, once through experience something is known, its negation, namely, nothing also is known.
It can, consequently, be postulated that space is the negation of substance, of reality, of being; thus, space is nothing, unreality, non-being. Consequently, one does not see things in space but things alone and their negation, viz., space. Things do not occupy space. For then, what does space occupy? Things negate space, i.e. nothing. Thus, infinity may be predicated of space in the same manner that infinity is predicated of zero. Once this is established, the question whether the universe is finite or infinite becomes unnecessary; for it is empirically evident that it cannot be materially infinite though it may be spatially infinite. But to say space is infinite is not making a positive assertion of some existent thing but stating a negation. It simply means that things negate space and where there is no thing seen, there is nothing (i.e. space) seen. And nothing (zero) is intensively (by divisibility) and extensively (by multiplicity) infinite. Thus, space can be infinitely divided and multiplied; yet, it amounts to nothing for it is nothing.
In this manner, space ceases to be a subjective condition of perception. It is simply the apprehension of non-reality.
© Domenic Marbaniang, 2007
Also see "Space as Negation of Being"
Later Quotes & Entries
Nonbeing is one of the most difficult and most discussed concepts. Parmenides tried to remove it as a concept. But in order to do so he had to sacrifice life. Democritus re-stablished it and identified it with empty space, in order to make movement thinkable. (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, 32)
March 11, 2016. Excerpts from Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954), 360-377
It is indeed an exacting requirement to have at all to ascribe physical reality to space. and especially to empty space. Time and again since remotest times philosophers have resisted such a presumption. Descartes argued somewhat on these lines: space is identical with extension. but extension is connected with bodies; thus there is no space without bodies and hence no empty space. The weakness of this argument lies primarily in what follows. It is certainly true that the concept of extension owes its origin to our experiences of laying out or bringing into contact solid bodies. But from this it cannot be concluded that the concept of extension may not be justified in cases which have not themselves given rise to the formation of this concept. Such an enlargement of concepts can be justified indirectly by its value for the comprehension of empirical results. The assertion that extension is confined to bodies is therefore of itself certainly unfounded. We shall see later. however. that the general theory of relativity confirms Descartes' conception in a roundabout way. What brought Descartes to his seemingly odd view was certainly the feeling that, without compelling necessity, one ought not to ascribe reality to a thing like space, which is not capable of being "directly experienced."
When a smaller box s is situated, relatively at rest, inside the hollow space of a larger box S, then the hollow space of s is a part of the hollow space of S, and the same "space," which contains both of them, belongs to each of the boxes. When s is in motion with respect to S, however, the concept is less simple. One is then inclined to think that s encloses always the same space, but a variable part of the space S. It then becomes necessary to apportion to each box its particular space, not thought of as bounded, and to assume that these two spaces are in motion with respect to each other.
Before one has become aware of this complication, space appears as an unbounded medium or container in which material objects swim around. But it must now be remembered that there is an infinite number of spaces, which are in motion with respect to each other. The concept of space as something existing objectively and independent of things belongs to pre-scientific thought, but not so the idea of the existence of an infinite number of spaces in motion relatively to each other. This latter idea is indeed logically unavoidable, but is far from having played a considerable role even in scientific thought.
In the previous paragraphs we have attempted to describe how the concepts space, time, and event can be put psychologically into relation with experiences. Considered logically, they are free creations of the human intelligence, tools of thought, which are to serve the purpose of bringing experiences into relation with each other, so that in this way they can be better surveyed. The attempt to become conscious of the empirical sources of these fundamental concepts should show to what extent we are actually bound to these concepts. In this way we become aware of our freedom, of which, in case of necessity, it is always a difficult matter to make sensible use.
In accordance with classical mechanics and according to the special theory of relativity, space (space-time) has an existence independent of matter or field. In order to be able to describe at all that which fills up space and is dependent on the coordinates, space-time or the inertial system with its metrical properties must be thought of as existing to start with, for otherwise the description of "that which fills up space" would have no meaning." On the basis of the general theory of relativity, on the other hand, space as opposed to "what fills space," which is dependent on the coordinates, has no separate existence.
Thus Descartes was not so far from the truth when he believed he must exclude the existence of an empty space. The notion indeed appears absurd, as long as physical reality is seen exclusively in ponderable bodies. It requires the idea of the field as the representative of reality, in combination with the general principle of relativity, to show the true kernel of Descartes' idea; there exists no space "empty of field."