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Speculative Geographies of Hollow Earth

Authors: Keith Woodward*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Geographic Theory, Social Theory, Earth Science
Keywords: Sperculative Philosophy, Armchair Geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Variations in the readings of his magnetic compass led Edmund Halley, in 1682, to hypothesize that the Earth was hollow. While a Hollow Earth would never be discovered, the refutation of Halley’s speculation would prove to be in one of the key scientific discoveries of the European “Enlightenment” – the Schiehallion (1774) and Cavendish experiments (1797-98) that calculated the Earth’s mass. And yet, if science is quick to change, the worlds it dreams are much less so. Halley’s hypothesis continued to fuel speculation that Earth harbors a vacuum at its center. More recently, philosopher Quentin Meillassoux proposed a system that derives its problematic from scientific statements about “artifacts” which testify to events that unfolded prior to the existence of conscious beings – for example, as the accretion of the Earth. One consequence of his philosophical encounter with science is his insistence that speculative problems be derived from mathematics rather than empirical observation. Much like the emergence of Halley’s Hollow Earth, the “Great Outdoors” disclosed by Meillassoux’s scientific mathematical statements present a vision of “nowheres” that are both fascinating and unthinkable, “necessary” and impossible. This paper proposes a further expedition to Halley’s Hollow Earth – via Meillassoux’s Great Outdoors. In doing so, it seeks neither to map its territories nor envision its landscapes. Rather, it seeks to understand its potentiality and foreclosure as dimensions that are posited in advance by the “Empirical Imperative” of science. What would it mean for speculative theories of space to hold such an imperative in suspension?

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