Throughout history, physicists have divided their attention between matter and a chimera called "space." Regarded as an existent independent of matter, space has been to physics what God has been to metaphysics: an invalid idea that undercuts the science at its foundation.
In this incisive, non-technical lecture, given at the 1999 Lyceum Conference, Mr. Harriman explains that the confusion began with the infinite void of the Greek atomists and the attempt by Plato to reduce matter to geometric figures. It continued in the Christian era, when many theologians argued that space was an aspect of God. In the 17th century, Isaac Newton gave an ingenious (but wrong) argument for the existence of "absolute space," and endowed it with the power to affect matter. Einstein accepted the idea that space affects matter and compounded the error by adding that matter affects the "properties of space." Seamlessly interweaving science and philosophy, Mr. Harriman argues that physicists can save themselves from the "abyss of space" by returning to the relational view held by Aristotle.