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Our Expert Voices conversation on space.

There's an obvious connection between how far away I am from something and the degree to which that thing can physically affect me. A rhinoceros, or an explosion, or a tornado, or what have you, is more dangerous to me the closer it is to me, and less dangerous to me the farther away it is from me. And we usually explain this to ourselves by saying that a distant explosion is less dangerous to me than a near one because the effects of a distant explosion have more space to cross, before they get to me, than the effects of a near one do.

New idea: With increasing excitement and intensity over the past 20 years or so, the following thought has occurred to scientists and philosophers: Maybe there is a way of eliminating the middleman here. We're used to thinking of the 'distances' between things as something that helps explain why some things affect one another a lot and others affect one another less – but maybe that's all backwards: maybe there's a way of thinking about the distances between things as nothing more than a measure of how much they affect one another!

Bottom line: Maybe the world, at its most fundamental level, is just this formless void in which things float, and affect one another – a void in which there is no distance, and no geometry, and no space – and that all the talk about distance and geometry and space is really just a way of keeping track of how those things affect one another.

Other voices in the conversation:

Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist, California Institute of Technology: Space is overrated

Izabella Laba, mathematician, University of British Columbia: We can work with space without understanding its essence

Bridget Falck, astrophysicist, University of Oslo: Space is a relation between things, not a thing itself

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
10 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.