Paradoxes and Metaphors of Time in Early Universe(s)

ERC-2017-STG – ERC Starting Grant n. 758145

PROTEUS studies main strategies devised by Western philosophy in representing time in cosmology. It aims at modifying current metaphysics and its relationship with cosmology in the light of recent scientific debates in quantum gravity and quantum cosmology, thereby boosting a new research field in history and philosophy of cosmology.

Principal investigator
Dr Silvia De Bianchi

Host institution
Autonomous University of Barcelona

Start date: 1 September 2018
End date: 31 August 2023

Project description

The project is based on two hypotheses:

1) The history of philosophy reveals a guideline that can be traced back to Plato and that characterizes physical and metaphysical approaches to the question of the beginning of the universe in terms of a tension between fundamentality and non-fundamentality of time;

2) There is a conceptual problematic assumption in Western culture and it consists in shaping the problem of the origin of the world as a problem of thinking about the very same conditions of possibility of the origin of a process that is not in time.

The project spells out the conceptual roots of current representations of time in quantum gravity and quantum cosmology and highlights the conceptual break that they provide with respect to philosophical concepts of time portrayed in previous systems.

PROTEUS explores in detail the notions of time and the paradoxes emerging in the philosophy and cosmology of Plato and Kant and identifies the fundamental characters of emergent time in current quantum gravity theories.

In identifying these fundamental features, PROTEUS produces conceptual innovation in metaphysics in such a way that philosophical investigation is complementary to the development of current theories.


Research team

The research team includes members from different backgrounds (philosophy, mathematics and physics) and promotes the application of a new methodology emphasizing the relevance of the history of philosophy and the actual interaction between philosophers and scientists.



After receiving my PhD in Philosophy at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, I worked as post-doc in UK (University College London), Germany (Siegen University and TU Dortmund) and France (ENS Paris). In 2014 I moved to Barcelona and worked as Marie Curie Fellow at the Centre for the History of Science of the UAB. In 2017, I joined the Department of Philosophy as Ramón y Cajal Fellow. My research interests cover epistemological questions emerging in Immanuel Kant’s philosophy and natural science, as well as in Hermann Weyl’s scientific and philosophical works. I am interested in developing methodologies that integrate the history and philosophy of science and in exploring how models work in scientific practice.

Advisory Board


Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy - Sapienza University of Rome. He mainly works on the Presocratics, Plato and the Platonic tradition in the history of ancient and modern philosophy. Co-founder in 2001 with L. Brisson and J.-F. Pradeau of the Société d’études platoniciennes, and of Les Etudes platoniciennes. European member of the Executive Committee of the International Plato Society (2013-2019) and President of the Mediterranean Section of the International Plato Society. He is member of the International Society of Neoplatonic Studies, board member of the Società italiana di Storia della filosofia antica (2012-2018), Permanent Fellow of the Archai Unesco Chair (Brasilia).



Senior researcher and group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute). Working on quantum gravity (particularly on group field theories, discrete quantum gravity, loop quantum gravity, tensor models, non-commutative geometry), theoretical gravitational physics, fundamental and quantum cosmology; wider interests in philosophy of science and foundations of physical theories.



Researcher at the Istituto per il Lessico Intellettuale Europeo e Storia delle Idee (Iliesi) - CNR. His scientific interests gravitate around Hellenistic thought, particularly the Stoic one. He is the author of several works including a monograph on the lekton and co-author of the most recent and updated study on an important Herculaneum Papyrus of Stoic autorship (Pherc. 1020). He is a member of the CNR Papyrological Unit currently engaged in the experimentation with Phase Contrast on the Herculaneum Papyri.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 758145.