The Copernican Imperative

The newest volume of Collapse is now available to purchase here.


Contents of the volume are below the fold…

The volume will include contributions from: Julian Barbour, Nick Bostrom, Gabriel Catren, Milan Cirkovic, Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, Nigel Cooke, Alberto Gualandi, Iain Hamilton Grant, Paul Humphreys, Immanuel Kant, James Ladyman, Thomas Metzinger, Carlo Rovelli, Martin Schönfeld, Conrad Shawcross, Keith Tyson and Damian Veal.

Copernicanism tore asunder the fit between the world and man’s organs: the congruence between reality and visibility.
– Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World

In his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Galileo proclaimed, through his mouthpiece Salviati, that he could ‘never sufficiently admire the outstanding acumen’ of those early advocates of Copernicanism who, ‘through sheer force of intellect’ – that is, without even the benefit of a telescope to confirm the theory observationally – ‘had done such violence to their own senses as to prefer what reason told them over that which sensible experience plainly showed them to the contrary’.

Since Galileo published his work in 1632, recognition of the deeply counterintuitive nature of scientific findings has become virtually commonplace, and the ‘explanatory gap’ between the ‘manifest’ and ‘scientific’ images of reality has long been a central concern for philosophers and philosophically-minded scientists alike. In this volume of Collapse, we bring together samples of the most intellectually challenging contemporary work devoted to exploring the philosophical implications of ‘Copernicanism’ from a variety of overlapping and complementary standpoints.

As in previous volumes, the involvement in Collapse V of several major contemporary artists alongside groundbreaking philosophers and prominent scientists is designed to open up new perspectives and new directions for thinking outside disciplinary constraints. From multiple philosophical and artistic perspectives, and from scientific fields as diverse as theoretical physics and cosmology, biology, mathematics, cognitive neuroscience, and astrobiology, the volume addresses the issues of the ‘deanthropomorphisation’ of reality initiated by the Copernican Revolution, the relation between scientific and philosophical (Kantian) ‘Copernicanism’, and the enduring gulf between the spontaneous image of the world bequeathed to us by evolution and that revealed by the physical sciences in the wake of Copernicus.

With several of the contributions in interview form, Collapse V: The Copernican Imperative will be an accessible and thought-provoking volume exemplifying that characteristic blend of speculative audacity and scientifically informed insight which has always been the hallmark of ‘Copernicanism’.

Contents of Volume V will be as follows (some details subject to alteration):

In Anaximander’s Legacy, theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli (co-founder of Loop Quantum Gravity and author of Quantum Gravity) charts the historical dynamics of science’s ever more radical overturning of the commonsense image of the world from Anaximander through Copernicus to the ‘unfinished revolution’ of twentieth-century physics – a revolution which, suggests Rovelli, challenges us to find a way of understanding the world in the absence of the familiar stage of space and time.

Rovelli’s question ‘Can we think the world without time?’ is one which has preoccupied renegade theoretical physicist and historian of science Julian Barbour (author of Absolute or Relative Motion? and The End of Time) for the best part of five decades. In our interview The View From Nowhen we discuss the nature of his radical rethinking of the foundations of physics, his arguments for the non-existence of time and change, and the influence his ideas have exerted on contemporary quantum gravity research from outside the halls of academe.

In his contribution to the volume, Turner Prize winning artist Keith Tyson – well known for his intricate and provocative artistic displacements and extrapolations of scientific ideas – presents a Random Sampler from a Blocktime Animation.

In our interview with Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart (authors of dozens of ground-breaking popular science books, including their co-authored works The Collapse of Chaos, Figments of Reality, and What Does A Martian look Like?), we discuss with them the continuing collaboration between mathematician and biologist; the key conceptual innovations of their co-authored works; their trenchant criticisms of what they see as the overly conservative and unimaginative nature of contemporary astrobiology; and their positive programme for a new science of alien life, beyond astrobiology, which they call Xenoscience.

In Sailing the Archipelago, cosmologist and astrobiologist Milan Cirkovic provides a sophisticated defence of anthropic reasoning (understood in terms of ‘observation selection effects’) against the charges brought against it by the likes of Cohen and Stewart as part of an ambitious project of laying the ‘philosophical groundworks’ of the nascent science of astrobiology.

In Where Are They?, philosopher and transhumanist Nick Bostrom (Director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, author of Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy) revisits Fermi’s Paradox, employing probabilistic ‘anthropic’ reasoning to motivate the conclusion that, far from being a cause for celebration, the discovery of extra-terrestrial life would in fact augur very badly for the future of the human race.

In his (2006) motion-sculpture Binary Star artist Conrad Shawcross gestured beyond Copernicanism, suggesting that life in a solar system where there is ‘no such thing as one’ would disturb fundamental epistemological assumptions. In a presentation of the various Models and Objects of Thought constructed by Shawcross over the last decade, Shawcross with editor Robin Mackay investigates the relationship between his work and the philosophical trope of Copernicanism, and previews his latest work Chord, to be unveiled in 2009.

In an interview charting the journey from Copernicanism to Enlightenment 2.0, Thomas Metzinger (philosopher of neuroscience, author of Being No One) discusses his ‘self-model theory of subjectivity’, the potential social and cultural ramifications of the findings of contemporary neuroscience, and responds to criticisms of his radical eliminativist position with regard to the existence of ‘selves’.

In his Thinking Outside the Brain, philosopher Paul Humphreys (author of Extending Ourselves: Computational Science, Empiricism, and Scientific Method) proposes that computational science is fast displacing humans from the centre of the epistemological universe, speculates on the possibility of a ‘science without humans’, and presents his proposals for a radically non-anthropocentric empiricism.

The paintings of Nigel Cooke present a meticulously conceived landscape of painting. His contribution in the form of a series of paintings, Thinker Dejecta, suggests a kinship between his figure of the vagrant painter at the end of painting, with the dejected thinker forever displaced from the centre.

In our fourth and final interview, Who’s Afraid of Scientism?, James Ladyman (philosopher of science, co-author of Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalised) discusses the forlornness of contemporary analytic metaphysics and the prospects for a radically naturalised metaphysics which would fully take on board the most counterintuitive findings of contemporary physics, finally dispensing with the habitual ontology of ‘little things and microbangings’ which continues to hold sway in contemporary ‘pseudo-naturalist philosophy’.

In his The Phoenix of Nature, Martin Schönfeld (artist and philosopher of nature, author of The Philosophy of the Young Kant) presents us with a vivid picture of Immanuel Kant profoundly at odds with the recent popular characterisation of him as a conservative, anti-Copernican thinker, via a stimulating exploration of his early cosmology. Here we are presented a radically anti-anthropocentric, anti-Christian, naturalist, speculatively audacious Kant who pushes ‘Copernicanism’ to its limits; who abolishes the hand of God from, and introduces a history and evolution into, the Newtonian cosmos; and who as early as 1755 strongly anticipates the fundaments of what became the Standard Model of modern cosmology only in the 1930s.

To accompany his piece Schönfeld also contributes a new translation of Immanuel Kant‘s Concerning Creation in the Total Extent of its Infinity in Both Space and Time, an extended excerpt from his 1755 Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens in which this astonishingly prescient cosmology of ‘island universes’ and the birth and death of ‘worlds’ is most magnificently and perfervidly portrayed.

Tackling the great philosophical ‘Copernican Revolution’ head-on, Iain Hamilton Grant (philosopher, author of Philosophies of Nature after Schelling) examines Prospects for Post-Copernican Dogmatism: The Antinomies of Transcendental Naturalism.

In A Throw of the Quantum Dice Will Never Overturn the Copernican Revolution, Gabriel Catren (Director of the project ‘Savoir et Système’ at the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris) presents what he calls a ‘speculative overcoming’ of recent influential quasi-Kantian interpretations of quantum mechanics. Rather than being limited to a mathematical account of the correlations between ‘observed’ systems and their ‘observers’, or pointing to the inherent ‘transcendental’ limits of physical knowledge, Catren argues that quantum mechanics furnishes a complete and realistic description of the intrinsic properties of physical systems, an ontology which exemplifies the Copernican deanthropomorphisation of nature.

In Errancies of the Human: French Philosophies of Nature and the Overturning of the Copernican Revolution, Alberto Gualandi (philosopher, author of Deleuze and Le problème de la vérité scientifique dans la philosophie française contemporain) indicates the features common to certain speculative philosophies of nature in 1960s France and problems facing current evolutionary biologists.

Collapse V: The Copernican Imperative
January 2009
Ed. D. Veal
Assoc. Eds R. Mackay, R. Brassier.
450+pp tbc
Limited Edition 1000 Numbered Copies
ISBN 978-0-9553087-4-1


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