The Origin Story at the End of the Universe: An Empirical Inquiry into a Cosmology of Problems

De Sutter, Adrien. 2023. The Origin Story at the End of the Universe: An Empirical Inquiry into a Cosmology of Problems. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Cosmology, the activity of describing the universe’s overall structure and origins, is understood today as the preserve of physics. Physical cosmology is an area of research that has seen such rapid progress in the last decades that it is regarded as the next chapter in physicists’ ambition toward unlocking the secrets of the cosmos and delivering a singular and final account of reality.

This thesis argues, however, that rather than a story of linear scientific progress, the becoming scientific of our modern cosmology may be read as the expression of a crisis in fundamental physics, and a sign that its turn towards unity and finality of explanation may be reaching its end, what I call the “end of the universe.” Weaving together the scientific literature, recent historical studies, and philosophical reflection, combined with ethnographic fieldwork and interviews from a sustained engagement with cosmological researchers, I seek to think from this crisis in order to characterise the meaning and purpose of cosmology otherwise.

Drawing on the work of William James, Étienne Souriau, Isabelle Stengers, and Alfred North Whitehead, among others, the thesis adopts an empiricist sensibility that explores how the problem of cosmology might be expanded away from a problem of physics to occupy a broader “cosmology of problems.” In this expanded cosmology, exemplified by attending to physicists’ dark matter problem, problems are real, immanent forces that work to form inquirers and the worlds they inhabit. It is this approach – one that seeks to understand how problems come (in)to matter for the peoples, practices, and worlds that belong to them – that I conclude holds promise in the development of a “pluralistic” cosmology, a cosmology that admits a plurality of divergent knowledges and practices into its explanations, ensuring that physicists’ “end of the universe” need not imply the end of their world.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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sociology of science, science studies, philosophy, cosmology, physics, Souriau, Whitehead

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31 May 2023

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Date Deposited:

20 Jun 2023 12:08

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2023 14:52


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