BLACK PHYSICS

VINCENT BONTEMS AND ROLAND LEHOUCQ

ILLUSTRATIONS BY SCOTT PENNOR

(LES BELLES LETTRES, 2016, 208 PAGES, WITH BLACK-AND-WHITE LINE DRAWINGS)

 

A philosopher and a physicist come together to try to shed light on the “black” or “dark” concepts of physics. Indeed, so many of physics’ phenomena are named using the words “black” or “dark” that Bontems, a philosopher, and Lehoucq, an astrophysicist, decided to examine why we use those words to describe so much of the universe. There are of course the oft-mentioned black holes, but there are also black sky, black body, dark matter, dark energy, and more.

But why, if most of the universe is dark matter that can only be detected by its gravitational effects, and which does not absorb, reflect, or emit light, should we call it black or dark? Are there connotations that develop from so naming these phenomena, and do their names influence the way we study them, imagine them, and research them?

For every term designated by black or dark, the authors explain the denotation, not only what it means to a physicist, but also what it metaphorically, and at times unconsciously, brings to the layperson’s  mind.

Vincent Bontems is a philosopher specializing in the sciences. He graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superieure, and works in a research laboratory. His interviews with Bernard Stiegler were published in 2008.

Roland Lehoucq is an astrophysicist at the Atomic Energy Commission, specializing in cosmic topology. He also teaches at the Institut de Sciences Politiques in Paris.