Many of the philosophical questions arose in the 17th century, during the early development of classical mechanics. In Isaac Newton's view, space was absolute - in the sense that it existed permanently and independently of whether there were any matter in the space. Other natural philosophers, notably Gottfried Leibniz, thought instead that space was a collection of relations between objects, given by their distance and direction from one another. In the 18th century, Immanuel Kant described space and time as elements of a systematic framework which humans use to structure their experience.
In the 19th and 20th centuries mathematicians began to examine non-Euclidean geometries, in which space can be said to be curved, rather than flat. According to Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, space around gravitational fields deviates from Euclidean space. Experimental tests of general relativity have confirmed that non-Euclidean space provides a better model for explaining the existing laws of mechanics and optics.
In the seventeenth century, the philosophy of space and time emerged as a central issue in epistemology and metaphysics. At its heart, Gottfried Leibniz, the German philosopher-mathematician, and Isaac Newton, the English physicist-mathematician, set out two opposing theories of what space is. Rather than being an entity which independently exists over and above other matter, Leibniz held that space is no more than the collection of spatial relations between objects in the world: "space is that which results from places taken together. Unoccupied regions are those which could have objects in them and thus spatial relations with other places. For Leibniz, then, space was an idealised abstraction from the relations between individual entities or their possible locations and therefore could not be continuous but must be discrete. Space could be thought of in a similar way to the relations between family members. Although people in the family are related to one another, the relations do not exist independently of the people. Leibniz argued that space could not exist independently of objects in the world because that would imply that there would be a difference between two universes exactly alike except for the location of the material world in each universe. But since there would be no observational way of telling these universes apart then, according to the identity of indiscernibles, there would be no real difference between them. According to the principle of sufficient reason, any theory of space which implied that there could be these two possible universes, must therefore be wrong.
Newton took space to be more than relations between material objects and based his position on observation and experimentation. For a relationist there can be no real difference between inertial motion, in which the object travels with constant velocity, and non-inertial motion, in which the velocity changes with time, since all spatial measurements are relative to other objects and their motions. But Newton argued that since non-inertial motion generates forces, it must be absolute. He used the example of water in a spinning bucket to demonstrate his argument. Water in a bucket is hung from a rope and set to spin, starts with a flat surface. After a while, as the bucket continues to spin, the surface of the water becomes concave. If the bucket's spinning is stopped then the surface of the water remains concave as it continues to spin. The concave surface is therefore apparently not the result of relative motion between the bucket and the water. Instead, Newton argued, it must be a result of non-inertial motion relative to space itself. For several centuries the bucket argument was decisive in showing that space must exist independently of matter.
In the eighteenth century the German philosopher Immanuel Kant developed a theory of knowledge in which knowledge about space can be both a priori and synthetic. According to Kant, knowledge about space is synthetic, in that statements about space are not simply true by virtue of the meaning of the words in the statement. In his work, Kant rejected the view that space must be either a substance or relation. Instead he came to the conclusion that space and time are not discovered by humans to be objective features of the world, but are part of an unavoidable systematic framework for organizing our experiences.
|Type of geometry||Number of parallels||Sum of angles in a triangle||Ratio of circumference to diameter of circle||Measure of curvature|
|Hyperbolic||Infinite||< 180o||> π||< 0|
|Elliptical||0||> 180o||< π||> 0|
Henri Poincaré, a French mathematician and physicist of the late 19th century introduced an important insight which attempted to demonstrate the futility of any attempt to discover by experiment which geometry applies to space. He considered the predicament which would face scientists if they were confined to the surface of an imaginary large sphere with particular properties, known as a sphere-world. In this world, the temperature is taken to vary in such a way that all objects expand and contract in similar proportions in different places on the sphere. With a suitable falloff in temperature, if the scientists try to use measuring rods to determine the sum of the angles in a triangle, they can be deceived into thinking that they inhabit a plane, rather than a spherical surface. In fact, the scientists cannot in principle determine whether they inhabit a plane or sphere and, Poincaré argued, the same is true for the debate over whether real space is Euclidean or not. For him, it was a matter of convention which geometry was used to describe space. Since Euclidean geometry is simpler than non-Euclidean geometry, he assumed the former would always be used to describe the 'true' geometry of the world.
Over the following ten years Einstein worked on a general theory of relativity, which is a theory of how gravity interacts with spacetime. Instead of viewing gravity as a force field acting in spacetime, Einstein suggested that it modifies the geometric structure of spacetime itself. According to the general theory, time goes more slowly at places with lower gravitational potentials and rays of light bend in the presence of a gravitational field. Scientists have studied the behaviour of binary pulsars, confirming the predictions of Einstein's theories and Non-Euclidean geometry is usually used to describe spacetime.
In addition, time and space dimensions should not be viewed as exactly equivalent in Minkowski space-time. One can freely move in space but not in time. Thus, time and space coordinates are treated differently both in special relativity (where time is sometimes considered an imaginary coordinate) and in general relativity (where different signs are assigned to time and space components of spacetime metric).
Furthermore, from Einstein's general theory of relativity, it has been shown that space-time is geometrically distorted- curved -near to gravitationally significant masses.
Experiments are ongoing to attempt to directly measure gravitational waves. This is essentially solutions to the equations of general relativity which describe moving ripples of spacetime. Indirect evidence for this has been found in the motions of the Hulse-Taylor binary system.
Currently, the standard space interval, called a standard meter or simply meter, is defined as the distance traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of exactly 1/299,792,458 of a second. This definition coupled with present definition of the second is based on the special theory of relativity, that our space-time is a Minkowski space.
Geographical space is often considered as land, and can have a relation to ownership usage (in which space is seen as property or territory). While some cultures assert the rights of the individual in terms of ownership, other cultures will identify with a communal approach to land ownership, while still other cultures such as Australian Aboriginals, rather than asserting ownership rights to land, invert the relationship and consider that they are in fact owned by the land. Spatial planning is a method of regulating the use of space at land-level, with decisions made at regional, national and international levels. Space can also impact on human and cultural behavior, being an important factor in architecture, where it will impact on the design of buildings and structures, and on farming.
Ownership of space is not restricted to land. Ownership of airspace and of waters is decided internationally. Other forms of ownership have been recently asserted to other spaces — for example to the radio bands of the electromagnetic spectrum or to cyberspace.
Public space is a term used to define areas of land as collectively owned by the community, and managed in their name by delegated bodies; such spaces are open to all. While private property is the land culturally owned by an individual or company, for their own use and pleasure.
Abstract space is a term used in geography to refer to a hypothetical space characterized by complete homogeneity. When modeling activity or behavior, it is a conceptual tool used to limit extraneous variables such as terrain.
Other, more specialized topics studied include amodal perception and object permanence. The perception of surroundings is important due to its necessary relevance to survival, especially with regards to hunting and self preservation as well as simply one's idea of personal space.
Several space-related phobias have been identified, including agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces), astrophobia (the fear of celestial space), claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces), and cenophobia (the fear of empty spaces).