Experienced Space and embodied Extension

After re-establishing what ontology is and how I approach this thought experiment I now turn to the experience of space. All those connections between objects not only seem to reflect proximity or sameness but also imply a topology. When I take in the scene in front of me I see again my monitor. But that is not all. I am also aware of left, right, up, and down. Even depth and extension exist. The space of experience in my mind is not only filled with colors and lights but also three-dimensionality. But how?

I could just assume that there is already an experience of three dimensions that enters my consciousness and be done with it. But I find that of little satisfaction, mostly because it is so easy to trick my perception. Something can be perfectly flat and I still believe it has depth (A1). On the other hand, it seems to me that the experience of two dimensions is the boundary I cannot cross. At least, I never heard of someone experiencing a single dimension, nor did I have that experience myself. What all this means is, that I have to assume an a priori two-dimensional coordinate system within my visual impressions.

But how do extension and space emerge from that? I believe these properties are a byproduct of ontology trying to create a consistent world for me. My usual experience is that of a continuous flow. Reality is not changing all of a sudden into some unexpected state. Objects don’t just appear in or leave my mind without preparation. For example, when I unpacked my monitor months ago I turned it around to put it on its stance and figure out how to connect it to my notebook. All those different perspectives of it belonged to the same object of the mind: my monitor. But they differ substantially. Out of the necessity to produce a continuous experience, ontology had to establish all those views as one thing. But how would you combine contradictory visual impressions like that? I see parts of the front but also the side. I continue turning it and now I see the back and the same side view. Mapping that into two dimensions makes no sense, otherwise, I would see all perspectives at once. I only know one way out of this conundrum: adding depth to my world. When there is a third dimension all those perspectives can be combined. When I look straight at my monitor I have a feeling of extension in two dimensions. When I move around my table and look at it from the side depth is added to it. The very act of moving itself also suggests more than two dimensions.

But I have to be cautious with my words here. Ontology isn’t trying anything. That would suggest it is its own entity or mind instead of a part of the fabric that creates the mind that is me. So, instead of implying intent I rather assume the properties of ontology I uncovered before are the true source of three-dimensional experience. I know there is a vivacity of objects. While I was turning my monitor around the corresponding object of the mind was as lively as it gets. A slight change in perspective would mean that I still have very similar but not exactly the same impressions but the initial vivacity is still there which means I continue to recognize the monitor just that its shape changed. And with continued movement, the perspective changes even more but the vivacity of the object stays the same. Through that, a multitude of different shapes attaches itself to this thing I call a monitor, and something akin to a collage forms. That then is the place where depth or extension emerges. How exactly? I don’t know.

On a tangent, from my experience, I know there are two sources of visual impressions also just called eyes but it seems to me that having two is not necessary to produce an experience of space. Closing one eye I still see depth in things, which makes sense considering that only a collage of different perspectives is necessary to have an experience of extension. This is not to say that the two centers of visual perceptions I have do not play any part in my three-dimensional world. When I close one eye and then the other I see a slight difference in my vision. It doesn’t perfectly line up. What that means is, that I am constantly fed two different perspectives of my world and therefore a guaranteed collage. It is just not clear to me if that part of my consciousness is fundamental to an experience of space. As of now, I would assume the answer is: no.

But what about my other impressions? Is pain telling me exactly where it is located or is it that I know the extension of my body and can correlate the feeling with it? I have the hunch that what I call extension, depth, and space is a purely visual construct. But it is almost impossible to prove. When I close my eyes I can meditate and release touch from space, but that state is never really stable. The slightest disturbance by thought or impression reestablishes the old spatial experience. It seems to me a lifetime of association between my other impressions and sight makes it hard to untangle them. But still, from these few glimpses of pure touch and stories of how blind people perceive the world, I believe this hunch to be true.

But if my impressions, besides vision, don’t carry information about two or three dimensions with them how are they exactly connected to the extension of my body? What is the glue combining them? I think it is provided by having distinct and continuous sources for all my impressions. And I don’t mean that there is a single source from which flows for example pain, but that there is a collection of different, distinguishable sources for the sensation of pain. From that follows then that each source is acting as a continuous stream of new impressions for the same type of impression. On the other hand, if sources wouldn’t prevail over time a stable connection to my body’s extension would not be possible anymore.

How exactly is that connection made? Maybe an example shines some light. I can hold my left hand in front of me and touch my index finger with my thumb. I have the impression of touch and vision at the same time. Now I move my hand somewhere else where I still can see it and I touch my index finger again. I recognize my hand but in a new position and I still have that same impression of touch. Not “same” as in “it is another sensation of touch again” but exactly the same sensation of touch because when I repeat this experiment with my right hand, maybe even do both at the same time, I don’t just have one experience of touch in my mind but two. When I close my eyes and my vision is gone I can repeat that experiment again and I still know which hand produced it. And that seems like something akin to proof to me that those streams are distinguishable and continuous. What is even better is, that because of these unique relationships, my other impressions can activate specific objects of the mind representing any part of my body even in absence of vision. That is also why I can know in which hand an object was placed even though my eyes were closed. Over those many years of my existence, all those streams permanently attached themselves to each bodily object and it shows that no inherent topological structure is needed in my other impressions but all can derive from vision.

This is a good point in time, I believe, to emphasize again that my body is something external to me. It is just another source of impressions that streams into ontology and gets recognized as an object. I don’t know if there truly is a body. I just have a world of experiences that creates that experience. What separates my body from all those other external things is the constancy of its vivacity. I cannot put it aside like my phone. Every waking moment is filled with the experience of being embodied. It is always alive and because of that, it is the perspective through which I experience.

And I believe it is the reason why there is space in the first place because for me space is not only an extension of objects but also their topological distribution in three dimensions. I know my monitor to be behind my keyboard. But how do I know? Because I can touch one but not the other. I stretch out my left arm and no matter how I position it there never is the feedback of touch. What does that imply? A location in space. My body is the origin and its extension defines the topological structure. What I can interact with is within the reach of my extension and its distance is described by it. Because I am the zero point all those objects now have a relative position based on me. Something is outside of my reach, like my monitor? Then I just know its distance to be larger than my extension. How large? I have to act and change my position, get closer to the monitor. But that poses a new challenge.

When I am the zero point in my topology how can I change my position? Isn’t it more like all these other objects change their position in lock-step when I act? I lean forward, the world rushes past me, and all of a sudden I feel the sensation of touch when my hand finally reaches my monitor. What also changed is the space my monitor occupies now in my vision. Its scale increased. By acting out a change in my impressions through movement I could trigger the desired feeling of contact but it also came with a changed visual impression and as with different perspectives this image is also added to the collage that makes up my object of the mind (A2). With that scale comes another way to infer a thing’s location independent of movement. I know or learned the size of all the objects of my daily existence and when I say “size” I mean the area of vision they take in when they are close to me. If an object’s scale is smaller than what I expect then it needs to be in the far distance. When I encounter something new I still have cues from the multitude of objects I recognize in every moment. I just need to compare.

What isn’t clear to me yet is how movement or more broadly acting in the world translates to distance. I assume it is related to the time it takes to produce some specific degree of scale change to infer if an object is large, small, or anything in-between. But as of now, I have neither tackled time nor what it means to act so I have to defer this question to a later moment.

Ending this section, I will conclude that space emerges from ontology in combination with a two-dimensional topology that is inherent to my visual impressions. To be more precise, depth exists in the combination of the vivacity of an object and the collage of different perspectives of it. Out of that, I get space as a topological structure that comes to be because my own bodily extension acts as the origin point for a three-dimensional coordinate system. Through acting in this world I discover and update the location of all those objects surrounding me. How fundamental my other impressions’ contribution to the experience of space is I am not able to discern, but I believe that they are not required to generate depth, extension, and space. They are aligned with it and even support it, but space is the consequence of action and vision. I could get rid of touch and any other sensation besides vision and would still be able to understand the scale and position of any object.


A1 - Optical illusions of three-dimensionality

There are many forms of optical illusions that make me believe something has depth even though it is perfectly flat. Take for example those clever drawings sometimes found on sidewalks in cities. Look at it from the right angle and it blends into the scene and changes the sidewalk to let’s say the edge of a cliff.

Another example is a 3D movie. There is no space or depth in the theatre, but when I put on those glasses the experience emerges nonetheless.

A2 - Other examples of scale

Another interesting example of depth and scale is the comparison between reality and its modeled counterpart. When I stand at the foot of a mountain I know it to be massive not only because it fills almost all of my vision, but also because no matter how I act that mountain will not change its scale, except when I run away from it for hours. On the other hand, when I look at a model of that same mountain I might place my head at the level of its base and move as close to it as I can so that it also completely fills my vision, but by just moving my body slightly the scale changes completely. Compared to my body’s extension that mountain is small. And of course, there are other cues too. I might see other people standing around that model or I recognize just some objects in the background whose size I know.

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