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The Void and Emptiness Site. "Biografía del vacío". Scheme of contents

The Catalan Society of Science and Technique History (Societat Catalana d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica), in its annual meetings, included the Albert Ribas Lecture untitled "The Battle of Void" ("La batalla del buit"). It was a synthesis of the main contents of his book "Biografía del vacío". In this page you will find the slides of that lecture. The referenced battle was the struggle, in the philosophical and scientific circles, between the vacuum supporters and the antivacuist ones. This poignant discussion illustrates how the old concept of "horror vacui" subsisted in the Western thought.

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1. The Premodern inheritance

2. The Renaissance transition

3. Experimental episodes in Seventeenth-century

4. Science and philosophy in the battle of Void (II): from Torricelli to Newton's victory 

5. Some conclusions


"[Newton] admits, in addition to the matter, an empty space and, according to him, the matter does not occupy more than a very small part of the space".

"... to affirm the void in the Nature is to attribute to God a very imperfect production; it is to violate the Principle of necessity of a sufficient Reason".

Leibniz (1716), in his Controversy with Clarke

1. The Premodern inheritance
  • Four classic theories:
  • Classic atomism: atoms + void
  • Plato: Space as independent entity
  • Aristotle: the critic of the concept of Void
  • Stoicism: the extracosmic emptiness
    • Three kinds of void:
      • interstitial void
      • continuous void
      • cosmic void
    • The classic Pneumatics (Hero and Philo)

    • The medieval principle of horror vacui
    Summary | Next

    2. The Renaissance transition


    • The critic of the Aristotelian Physics
  • Finding alternative sources: 
      •  The Hero's Pneumatics 
      •  Lucretius: De rerum natura

    • New cosmological conceptions: Francesco Patrizzi and Giordano Bruno
  • Cosmographical aspects (Copernicus, Gilbert, etc) and the problem of space


    Click to enlarge
    Thomas Digges, 
    A perfit description of the Caelestial Orbes, 1576

    Previous | Next

    2.2. Conceptual and experimental background
  • Three kinds of void
  • The so-called "imaginary space" or extracosmic emptiness 

  • The influence of "magical" trends:
  • The Occult Philosophy
  • The mystical tradition 
  • Ideas on the weight of air
  • The observations with suction pumps 

    Emmanuel Maignan, 
    Cursus philosophicus, 1653
    Previous | Next

    3. Experimental episodes in Seventeenth-century

    3.1. Beeckman as predecessor. 
    Four conclusions:

    • Not to the horror vacui
    • Weight of the air
    • Expansive force (pressure) 
    • Possibility of a continuous void, for example in space
    3.2. The "experiment of Italy": Torricelli (1644)

    Click to enlarge
    Attached Scheme in letter of Torricelli to Ricci  (11 June 1644)

    3.3. The vacuist question in France
    • Diffusion of the Torricelli experiment
    • 1647-1648, time of many experiments
    • Pascal
    • The "void in a void" experiment 
    • The so-called "expérience de Descartes"
    Click to enlarge
    Blaise Pascal,
    Treaty of the weight of the mass of the air, 1663 (posthumous)
    Previous | Next

    3.4. The diffusion of the experiments and the controversies in Europe
    • England: Boyle
    • Germany: Guericke
    • Other focus: Ch Huygens, group of Montmor, repercussion in Spain
    Click to enlarge
    Steven Shapin, Leviathan and the air pump, 1985
    3.5. The importance of Otto von Guericke 
    • The sources of Guericke
    • The void pump
    • Aspects of his conception:
    • a perseverant experimenter
    • the question of  space 
    • denying Descartes
    • Mystical influences: radical vacuism
    Click to enlarge
    Otto von Guericke, Experimenta nova, 1672
    Previous | Next

    3.6. Science and philosophy in the battle of void (I)
    • The apriorities of vacuists and antivacuists
    • Descartes: the subtle matter
    • Modern philosophy against Void: Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Leibniz
    • Against the demonstrative value of experiments
    • Some eclectical opinions: Huygens, Gassendi
    • From the "natural magic" to the Scientific Revolution
    • The "experimenters" against void (experimental capillarity, viscosity, irregularities in experiments)
    4. Science and philosophy in the battle of Void (II): from Torricelli to Newton's victory 


  • The key dates: Torricelli (1644) - Newton (1687)
  • The cosmological aspect: the dissolution of the celestial spheres
  • Newton vs Descartes: empty spaces versus vortex theories
  • To a mechanical and corpuscular natural philosophy
  • The idea of plurality of Worlds
    Previous | Next

    4.2. Experimental limits and conceptual debate
    • Experimental conclusions in the edge of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
    • The Leibniz-Clarke controversy (1715-16) as an example of conceptual debate
    • Bayle's Dictionnaire (1702...)
    4.3. The difficult victory of Newton
    • Philosophers against Newton: from Descartes to Hobbes and Leibniz
    • Voltaire's testimony (1734)
    • Enlightenment victory: the Encyclopédie pragmatism
    • Science will be Newtonian and philosophy will be Kantian
    5. Some conclusions
    • The void: not to simplify  the emergency of modern thought
    • Relations between theories and experiments: the case Guericke versus Descartes
    • Theories and experiments: falsification and falsifiability
    • Science and philosophy, separated ways
    • A limited victory of Void (in Physics and Cosmology)
    • Ether as a residuum of a victory in extremis
    Previous| Go to this link: Horror vacui. I protagonisti

    Sure an direct purchase of Biografía del vacío  Sure and direct purchase of "Biografía del vacío"

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