Some years ago in France a book by Jean-François Gautier appeared, entitled Does the universe exist?.
What if the universe were a concept like cosmic ether, or phlogiston, or the conspiracy of the Elders of Zion?
Philosophically, Gautier’s arguments make sense.
The idea of the universe, as the totality of the cosmos, is one that comes from the most ancient cosmographies, cosmologies, and cosmogonies. But can one describe, as if seeing it from above, something within which we are contained, of which we are part, and from which we cannot exit? Can there be a descriptive geometry of the universe when there is no space outside it on which to project it? Can we talk about the beginning of the universe, when a temporal notion such as “beginning” must refer to the parameter of a clock, while the universe must be the clock of itself and cannot be referred to anything that is external to it?
Can we say, as Eddington does, that a hundred billion stars constitute a galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies constitute the universe, when, as Gautier observes, while a galaxy is an observable object, the universe is not, and therefore we would be establishing an improper analogy between two incommensurable objects? Can we postulate the universe and then study with empirical instruments this postulate as if it were an object? Can a singular object exist (surely the most singular of all) that has as its characteristic that of being only a law?
And what if the story of the big bang were a tale as fantastic as the gnostic account that insisted the universe was generated by the lapsus of a clumsy demiurge?
Basically, this criticism of the notion of the universe reiterates Kant’s criticism of the notion of the world.
After all, the cultivated person’s first duty is to be always prepared to rewrite the encyclopedia.
P.S. The reflections are directly borrowed from Umberto Eco
's lectures, but are genuine concerns of this reviewer too. Questions are addressed to Einstein, of course.