The Concept of Space (Part 1) – Inside and Outside Space

The Concept of Space – Part 1

It’s time for me to introduce one of the most central concepts in the view that I am developing – space! So what do I mean by ‘space’ and why is it important to what I am interested in discussing? When one hears the word ‘space’ one has an intuitive understanding of what it refers to. We say things like ‘There is space to put the table over there ’, ‘We should spend more money exploring outer space’ and ‘Give me more space to do my own things!’ There are countless ways that the concept of space is utilized in ordinary language. For my purposes what I want you to distinguish is between two primary senses in which the word can be used: epistemological and ontological.

The EPISTEMOLOGICAL utilization of the concept of space: Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge. Therefore when we think about things in epistemological terms, we are thinking about them from the standpoint of the way our minds work. Saying ‘Give me more space to do my own things!’ is an example of this sort of utilization of the concept of ‘space’ since when we say this we usually mean that we need space in a psychological sense; we need time to think about other things, for example. Note, however, that in order for ones partner to comply with this request, he/she will have to literally give their partner more physical space as well, which leads us to the second sense in which we can use the concept of space; ontologically.

The ONTOLOGICAL utilization of the concept of space: Ontology is the study of the nature of reality; the way that things actually are in the world. If, for example, you believe that God actually exists, this is an ontological commitment, Therefore when we say that ‘There is space to put the table over there’, we are making a claim about our belief in the physical state of the world. We are saying that we can move physical stuff around such that the table can be moved over there! It can be moved over there because there is space to do so. Therefore, in this sense when we talk about space we make claims about the nature of the way that we believe the world/universe/reality is constituted.

In order to focus the discussion lets keep in view the larger picture that we are painting which is the relationship between technology and social change. Keeping this in mind will ensure that we think about space in a pragmatic way. So what is the pragmatic utilization of the sense of space that we want to think about?

Note to the reader: as you read the following keep the above distinction in mind… You will also note that the following might seem a little technical, but since I am working on developing a theory I need to be as precise as possible in defining terms that I am using. In the long run this will make things clearer and easier for you to understand.

Toward the Evolution of a Taxonomy of Space

We want to stimulate our analysis of space by an appeal to the intuitive. To say that in living our lives we move through space is to say no more than our lives consist of a sequence of spatial environments, each of which can be associated with a point in time in the temporal sequence. For now, we will defer the question as to how, precisely, to individuate these environments. What do we mean by spatial environments? In an average day, we may awaken in the morning, roll out of bed, go to the bathroom and take a shower, walk to the garage and get into our car, drive the car through public streets to the office, attend meetings at the office, go to dinner with our in-laws, go to a baseball game with our families and so on.

However we choose to precisely individuate the above scenarios, we can say that we are moving from one space to another. We also note that there is a clear sense in which my bathroom is a fundamentally different environment to a baseball game. So far so good as this should all be pretty obvious!

How might we taxonomize (organize) spaces in a meaningful manner? In keeping with the strategy that we are employing which is to keep things simple, we now ask the question: Is it intuitively obvious that sitting alone by oneself in ones bedroom is a fundamentally different space than giving a speech in front of a thousand people? It seems that the answer must be yes. We might ask this question in contrast to the question as to whether or not it is immediately obvious whether or not sitting alone in ones bedroom is a fundamentally different space than sitting by oneself in a movie theatre. In this case we would likely agree that there is something fundamentally different between the two spaces, but that however we are to understand this difference it seems less different than giving a speech in front of a thousand people. What is the source of this intuition?

The distinction lies in the fact that in the case of giving a speech we are the object of the consciousness of a thousand people. Somehow the stakes seem higher in this case, don’t you think?

With this in mind, we will introduce the most basic element in our taxonomic structure. The distinction between Inside Space and Outside Space, and we introduce the following definitions:

Inside Space (IS): Beings[1] presence in space such that Being is conscious of the absence of Being-as-object-of-the-consciousness-of-Other. In other words, when one is in IS, there is a consciousness that one is not being ‘watched’, so to speak – we are alone with ourselves.

Outside Space(OS): Beings presence in space such that Being is conscious of Being-as-object-for-Other. In other words, in contrast to IS, we are conscious that we are being watched by others.

In reflecting on the examples we just posed, we immediately see the relevance of the IS/OS distinction. In the case of one sitting alone in ones bedroom, one is alone (therefore in IS). When one is giving a speech, one is the object-of-the-consciousness-of-Others (therefore in OS). When in a movie theatre, we see that we might be the object-of-the-consciousness-of-Others. We therefore see that this distinction is revealing of the obvious fact that these spaces are somehow different. How, more precisely, might we understand the difference between the movie theatre case and the speech case?

We now point out the obvious which is that in Inside Space, there is only one consciousness to contend with – Beings (yourself). In Outside Space, there are potentially many consciousnesses present (Others). Therefore we can conclude two things:

1) Whatever strategy we use to taxonomize Inside Space, it will somehow be defined in terms of a singular consciousness.

2) Taxonomizing Outside Space will involve examining how many (a multiplicity) of consciousnesses can stand in relation to each other within a singular space. Therefore, we will attempt to identify obvious distinctions in the way a multiplicity of consciousnesses must stand in relation to each other.

The Inside Space/Outside Space distinction is a pretty intuitive one. What requires some reflection, however, is the relationship between this distinction and the epistemological/ontological distinction introduced at the outset.

At first glance it would seem that the Inside Space/Outside Space distinction might be an ontological one since the distinguishing feature of Outside Space is the fact that you are the object of the consciousness of Others, and this is only possible to the extent to which others can ‘watch’ you, so to speak. But to view things in this way is to miss something exceedingly important which is that the distinguishing feature is the relationship between your consciousness and the consciousness of others. This, in and of itself does not seem to have anything direct to do with the physical facts that relate you and the others. That said, my point is not that the distinction is an epistemological one, but that there is some complexity in terms of identifying what precisely the distinction is.

A lot will hinge on why this ambiguity exists.

Enough for now, stay tuned…


[1] We are introducing the notion of Being to refer to people, generally understood. We introduce this term in virtue of its philosophical implications with the proviso that what these implications are and how they are relevant to this discussion will be developed in due course. At this point it provides a straightforward concept upon which these ideas can be developed and introduces a formality that is absent if we just use the term ‘person’. The term Other is to be understood as a Being that is known by Being as a Being, and is known reflexively as not itself. Intuitively, other persons etc.

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One thought on “The Concept of Space (Part 1) – Inside and Outside Space

  1. Pingback: Inside Space and Outside Space: the changing nature of Space « Technology And Social Change

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