After many years of patience and tenacity for surmounting the n-series of challenging obstacles, the scientists admirably realized the limiting goal of launching the Webb Telescope in the morning, December 25, 2022. It was a Christmas gift to science and humanity.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is humanity’s most powerful scientific tool ever built to probe the deepest recesses of the universe. According to theory, it gives us a glimpse of the first stars and galaxies that started forming just 200 million years after the origin of time and 200 million light-years away from its limiting boundary of space where everything was flying away at a maximum speed of light. This early phase of cosmic history corresponds to 13.8 billion years ago, for a current cosmic age of 14 billion years.

Because light from the distant universe travels space-time with a finite speed, it takes time to reach us. It follows that light from the distant universe is assumed to be light from the early universe in the past, which is different from and before our mature universe in the present. 

The ancient Greek philosophers considered the limiting boundary of the universe as the residence of the omnipotent and omniscient gods. In his Metaphysics D, 17, 1022a Aristotle defines the limiting boundary of a thing or totality of things called universe as 1) “The first point beyond which it is not possible to find any part of the thing, and 2) The first point within which all points are. “Other meanings of the limiting boundary mentioned by Aristotle are: 3) The primary being, or the topos of the primary being; 4) The informing form of that which has magnitude; 5) The what or ultimate constituent of everything, which is the limit of knowledge but also the limit of the known thing; 6) The common, universal origin (arché, principle) and unifying principle of all things. To these different meanings we will add two more: 7) The bending or breaking point at which something becomes something else and 8) The complex and indeterminate boundary at which something a is at the same time something else a′ (not-a) without contradiction or paradox.

Having the above philosophical points in mind, let us come to a fundamental question concerning the form of our universe, which sooner or later will be posed by the paradigm-changing discoveries of the Webb Telescope: Is our universe limited or unlimited relative to space and time? 

Photo: Jessica Lee, The New Worlds

The Webb Infrared Telescope will peer close to 14 billion years back in time to see, according to theory, the first stellar and galactic structures emerging out of the darkness of the very early universe. This means that through the Webb, we expect to see a distant past universe that is younger, brighter, and denser than our mature present universe. However, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP, 2001-2010) whose mission was to reveal conditions that existed in the very early universe just a few hundred thousand years after its origin,  found that it was flat with an average mass-density of roughly 1 hydrogen atom per cubic meter, or more precisely, 5.9 hydrogen atoms per cubic meter. In other words, WMAP found that the very young universe was not denser, but similar to our mature present universe, which means that our universe is flat and uniform everywhere in space-time ⎯ here and now at our local present universe and there and then at the ultra-distant past universe.  If this is the case, how then can we explain the above contradiction between observation and theoretical expectation? 

Another contradiction that we find is between the constancy of the average density of the universe and its accelerated expansion implying an increase of the average distance between objects (say galaxies) over time and therefore a decrease of the cosmic average density. Is there a compensating or restoring physical mechanism, which by neutralizing the lethal effects of one-way of accelerated expansion renders constant the average density of the universe as well as the rate of its accelerated expansion? 

It is logically clear that a universe whose average density and rate of accelerated expansion are constant is expected to be an unlimited and eternal universe, which is ingenerated and indestructible verifying thereby Aristotle’s model of the universe relative to time (Treatise of the Heavens, I, 11). But can we conclude from the above observational facts that at 14 billion years back in time and 14 billion light-years away there was no limiting point ⎯ no cosmological singularity ⎯ delimiting and originating the expanding universe?  Not necessarily. We claim that at this cosmological scale the unlimited universe is simultaneously limited by an enveloping limiting point, in other words, that the unlimited universe is at any time a self-limiting and a self-originating universe!

If the objective universe is the synthesis of all possible aspects (parts, or points of view), then according to Heraclitus’ synthetic principle of coexistence of opposites, we assert that the expanding universe is both unlimited and limited having an enveloping cosmological singularity in the past considered as its origin as well as in the future considered as its end, without destroying its unlimitedness in the past and in the future. But how is it possible that the universe is both unlimited and limited, flat and infinitely curved into a limiting point⎯the cosmological singularity ⎯without contradiction or paradox? 

Since the time of Pythagoras (6th century BCE), this fundamental finite/infinite antinomy relative to the geometry of the universe has not yet been answered by humanity. Will the Webb Telescope help scientists, philosophers, and any deeply thinking reasoner to answer this question and bring messy observational cosmology one step closer to comprehending the complex nature of the universe, which is the sum total of all conceivable parts? 

Science is a process of learning and discovery where we realize that what we considered as right is wrong relative to a different perspective or measurement method. Observer-independent universe, reality, or truth are obtained when all conceivable points of view have been combined such that each point of view compensates its shortcomings by the other point of view so that on the whole we obtain a spherical view of the real nature of the universe⎯namely of what it really is.  It follows that the real and true nature of the universe (or reality) and its corresponding science replicating the universe is not simple but complex verifying synthetic principles of existence. When we ignore this complex reality, it sooner or later comes back to punish us. 

Visit the spectacular and highly informative video Things We’ve Never Seen: The James Webb Space Telescope Explores the Universe produced and realized by NASA: 


Ion Soteropoulos

Ion Soteropoulos is an independent research philosopher and scientific metaphysician who is passionately devoted to creative and transdisciplinary work. In 2002 she founded Apeiron Centre, the first philosophical organization in the world that studies the idea of infinity in dynamic connection with the finite as presented in our physical universe, society and physical body.


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