Foundations of Science

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 1–38 | Cite as

Some Mathematical, Epistemological, and Historical Reflections on the Relationship Between Geometry and Reality, Space–Time Theory and the Geometrization of Theoretical Physics, from Riemann to Weyl and Beyond

  • Luciano BoiEmail author


The history and philosophy of science are destined to play a fundamental role in an epoch marked by a major scientific revolution. This ongoing revolution, principally affecting mathematics and physics, entails a profound upheaval of our conception of space, space–time, and, consequently, of natural laws themselves. Briefly, this revolution can be summarized by the following two trends: (1) by the search for a unified theory of the four fundamental forces of nature, which are known, as of now, as gravity, electromagnetism, and strong and weak nuclear forces; (2) by the search for new mathematical concepts capable of elucidating and therefore explaining such a relationship. In fact, the first search is essentially dependent on the second; that is to say, that in order for a new theory of physics to come to light, the development of a deeper geometric theory capable of explaining the structure of space–time on a quantum scale appears to be necessary. On careful consideration, we notice that both of these developments converge in the direction of a unitary and fundamental tendency of modern science—which is the geometrization of theoretical physics and of natural sciences. This new emergent situation carries within it a profound conceptual change, affecting the way in which relations are conceived of, first and foremost, between mathematics and physics. This new paradigm can be summed up by the intimately interdependent points: (1) the immense variety of physical phenomena and of natural forms follows from the equally infinite variety of geometric and topological objects that can be made out in space and from which space is made up; (2) the second point, which ensues from the former one and which is of great historical and epistemological significance, is that mathematics is involved in rather than applied to phenomena. In other words, phenomena are effects that emerge from the geometrical structure of space–time. There is no doubt that this new conception of the relationship between the universe of mathematical ideas and objects and the world of natural phenomena is the true scientific revolution of our century, of great conceptual importance, and consequently, capable of changing our view of science and of nature at one and the same time. It is all at once of a scientific, philosophical and aesthetic order.


Geometry Reality Space Geometrization Unification Strings 



The author was supported by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (New York) and the Canadian Council for Social Sciences and the Humanities (Ottawa), to whom he would like to express his deep gratitude. The author also warmly acknowledges the suggestions, comments and criticisms of Professors Piet Hut, Chiara Nappi and Irving Lavin of the IAS in Princeton.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre de Mathématiques and Programme Philosophie et ÉpistémologieEcole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences SocialesParisFrance

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