The research project "infinity – emptiness – liveliness" is dedicated to the ideas of the infinity of unexplored spaces in physics, art, and mathematics with a view to their historical character, their power in the context of current crises and speculative designs for the future. The focus is on the exploration of the cosmos, which has entered a new phase with the Mars rover Perseverance and the James Webb Telescope. While the rover searches for traces of microbiological life on Mars, the telescope acts as a window to a hitherto unknown deep space experience, revealing Earth-like planets. Contemporary images of outer space challenge the assumptions of emptiness and lifelessness which are culturally and historically inherent in earlier images of boundless spaces. This is because of advances in natural sciences and in technology. Such images serve to interrogate the history of the cosmos concomitant to the history of humanity and what it means to be human in the age of the transplanetary. The notion of the emptiness and boundlessness of the cosmos is culturally and perceptually historical: in particular, the history of science and the conquests of the polar regions can be seen as a precursor of space travel, allowing both scientific and ethical perspectives on the present exploration of the cosmos and its future use. The specific and comparative consideration of understandings and imaginaries of the cosmos in scientific and artistic disciplines should enable a critical approach to the cosmos as an economic, epistemic and cultural resource, which (despite the constant expansion of the universe) must question fantasies of infinity in terms of their potentials and dangers. Therefore we ask: Is the imagination of infinity an essential motor for scientific and sustainable development? And if so, how can it be critically updated with a view to history?
The research project "infinity – emptiness – liveliness" is funded by the Bodo-von-Borries-Foundation.