Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science
What is the significance of the introduction of the notion of spacetime into our physical thinking? From one perspective, the notion was already plainly in view in classical physics. Thus we find the following remarks by Einstein in a popular account of relativity from 1917:
"The non-mathematician is seized by a mysterious shuddering when he hears of ‘four-dimensional' things, by a feeling not unlike that awakened by thoughts of the occult. And yet there is no more banal statement than that the world in which we live is a four-dimensional space-time continuum." (Einstein 1917, §17)
However, from another perspective the development of the notion of spacetime marks a profound change in our ways of thinking about the world. In this talk, I will highlight one aspect of this change, connected with the relationship between mathematical geometry and physical space. I will explore how the figures who grappled with the "Problem of Space" in the nineteenth century following the development of non-Euclidean geometries were all thinking spatially rather than spatiotemporally. This created a blind spot, or so I will argue, that has persisted to some extent up to the present day.