Space

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The form of contemplation, perception of representation of things, the main factor of higher, empirical experience; 2) the way of existence of the objective world, inseparable from time. Ancient philosophy and science did not know space as it is known to modern philosophy and science, namely as that “where” in which processes and movements occur, cognized with invariable accuracy and described mathematically. The Greek world outlook rejects the possibility of mathematical (geometrical) description of physical objects and phenomena, equating physicality only with transient, approximate and imaginary, like Plato, or using qualitative description of it, like Aristotle, or resorting to atomism language also alien to mathematical construction. For antiquity, therefore, space is not a geometric extension embodying geometrical relations immanent to it, but only a certain ‘where’ (ποῦ, ubi) in which physical events and things take place and happen.

Describing in the Timaeus the structure and the origin of the cosmos, Plato must acknowledge the existence of three irreducible genera of existing things: first, there is conceivable being, the form of existing things (εἶδος), an eternally existent pattern to which numbers also belong, second, the fluid image of existing things, the element of physical things, the emergent, which is only the object of opinion and, third, that in which emergent things occur (Timaeus 52 a-53 b). This latter is what Plato calls χώρα, a term commonly translated as ‘space’. In fact, “chora” is rather the refuge and abode of all that arises, its “nurturer and receptor”, itself, however, not arising and indestructible, hence, eternal. “‘Chora’, however, is not a being, but neither does it arise and therefore appears close to matter as a non-being, μὴ ὄν, in the indistinct concept of which the concept of space as three-dimensional is in no way contained (cf. Plotinus, End. VI. 1.26.24-25). Therefore ‘chora’ itself turns out to be disordered, always introducing otherness and irrationality, and therefore everything residing in it also turns out to be incalculable: ordering and calculability are inherent only in patterns (ideas) and numbers. Therefore the very notion of so called ‘space’ represents a considerable difficulty: differing both from being and arising, it appears inconceivable neither by reason, nor by opinion, nor by sensual perception. Plato is forced to admit a special way of comprehending spatiality, through a kind of ‘illicit inference’ (λογισμῷ νόθῳ), as if in dreams and reveries, i.e. essentially through imagination, also capable of representing always the other and other in images of the never-being.

As such a non-essential, Plato’s ‘chora’ turns out to be similar to the emptiness of the atomists, Democritus and Leucippus, understood as non-existence. The question of the possibility of emptiness (τὸ κενόν, vacuum) as a completely empty receptacle has given rise to much debate since antiquity: so Chrysippus admits the existence of an infinite emptiness outside the world, while Straton strongly rejects it. Philoponus identifies emptiness and space, believing emptiness deprived of any qualitative definition to exist as emptiness.

From Aristotle’s point of view, physics is called upon to consider the movements and properties of continuous quantities and bodies. Location in relation to other bodies is inherent in the body as a single substance, primary in relation to all its properties and relations. Therefore the spatial characteristic of a body, its place, is defined proceeding from the body as primordially given, and not vice versa, and as soon as the physical space is a set of bodies, the concept of unified space becomes superfluous in Aristotelian physics and metaphysics. Place (τόπος) is one of the most important components of Aristotle’s physics (Physics 208a 26 s): place is neither matter, nor form, nor extension, but that in which a body (but not a geometrical figure) is placed, that which immediately encloses this body. Place is neither smaller nor larger than the body in it, but is not inherent in the body itself and therefore is something “external”, distinct from the body, defined as the first fixed boundary of the enclosing body”. Place is spatial, i.e. three-dimensional, and also has a top and a bottom in the final enclosed space. Finally, the place has some force which determines movement in relation to the place. The place itself is immovable and can be left by a body so that any body, if it is not hindered, moves to its natural place (light – up, heavy – down), in which the body rests; the whole cosmos therefore consists in a system of natural places.













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