Perceptive Space

12 юли, 2012 | Публикувано в: Articles | Автор: Сергей Герджиков
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Perceptive Space


Department of Philosophy, Sofia University

This study is an attempt to draw the basic structures through the re-synthesis and expansion of the human form. The formlessness, or the stream of spontaneous loss of the form as a transient life, is set as a premise. Thus, in the beginning, the chaos stands and the transient spatio-temporal form “emerges” and “plunges” out of it.

As the myth tells, the cosmos is born by the chaos. Actually, the world is being outlined every time when a human creature is born and loses its delineation along with his death. This is a world that depends on the human form.

What kind of form does the life world have? It has living form; life is not only quality, but also a form of perceiving mind. Alive is thos form, which has for a synthesis its own dynamics.

Immanuel Kant analyzes space and time in his “Transcendental Aesthetics” (Critique of Pure Reason). Let’s follow his thought.

Although Kant considers the two forms (space and time) separately, we may combine them, as far as the same observations apply strictly to both. This is the case with the metaphysical exposition, defined by Kant, as “containing the description of a notion, as given a priori”.

By means of our external sense, which is a property of our minds, we represent objects as without us, and their form and relations are determined in what we call Space.

Space is clarified as a form of our experience. The modality of the space, according to Kant, is “necessity”. Things cannot be placed without space.

But why must the things be perceived somewhere at all and especially “out of us”?

What sense has the “localisation” of my body, “in which I am”, towards “the other things”?

If we were not localised in the thing we call our body and if our body was localised owing to the streadiness of its form, if we were at many places and nowhere precisely, we would not develop a concept for amorphous neutral uniform space (Euclidean and non-Euclidean). If places were not steady and were not ordered side by side together with the things that cover them, there wouldn’t be a space structure.

If there was no localization at all, then there would be no orientation too. If there was no orientation, there would be no action. If there was no action, the form would disintegrate without rehabilitation and expansion. But, in case there is no corporal form of the Self, as a human body, the space, as a form of perception, does not exist.

According to Henri Poincaré geometry depends on the experience we have in the external world and especially on the solid body. Only a solid body with a steady form can move and keep this form.

Geometrical space is continuous, infinite, has three dimensions, it is homogeneous and isotropic (that is to say, all points are identical one with another). In contrast, the visual space is “continuous, but possessing only two dimensions, which already distinguishes purely visual form from what may be called geometrical space. On the other hand, the image is enclosed within a limited framework; and there is a no less important difference: this pure visual space is not homogeneous. All the points on the retina, apart from the images which may be formed, do not play the same role. The yellow spot can in no way  be regarded as identical with a point on the edge of the retina. Not only does the same object produce on it much brighter impressions, but in the whole of the limited framework the point which occupies the center will not appear identical with a point near one of the edges. Closer analysis no doubt would show us that this continuity of visual space and its two dimensions are but an illusion. It would make visual space even more different than before…

However, sight enables us to appreciate distance, and therefore to perceive a third dimension. But every one knows that this perception of the third dimension reduces to a sense of the effort of accommodation which must be made, and to a sense of the convergence of the two eyes, that must take place in order to perceive an object distinctly.” (Poincaré, H., Science and Hypothesis, Dover, 1952, p. 52-53).

  So, according to Poincaré, the visual space is: continuous, not infinite, has two dimensions, it is not homogeneous and obviously not isotropic. Poincaré does not explain this difference, but this is an important to the phenomenological analysis point. I have an explanation: visual  (also acoustic or tactual) space is live (real) and the geometrical one – an artifact (creature). It depends on the real space and especially on our body. That is why our experience in the perceptive field, when conditioned by the intellect, gives us namely the geometrical space: we understand that there are three dimensions, although the image on our retina has two dimensions, we learn that points in the space are homogeneous, that space         is infinite, though the visual field is limited.

Geometrical space (Euclidean and non-Euclidean) is an artifact which is intended to order the joint experience more vigorously, and not to arrange the immediate perception (visual and acoustic).

How can we represent the space of the life world phenomenologically?

The world is being felt and perceived from the position of the body and it is felt and perceived in the life space, which is structured according to our measurement. The position of the senses is crucial to the sensation. The look from the center is the only possible one. The axis of the visual field is directed unconditionally “from the inside outwards”, from the eye to the horizon.

Along this line, forward, we perceive (we understand that it exists) a third dimension, together with the dimensions right-left and upward-downward (they all are given in the frame of the visual field).

George Berkeley, in “An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision”, shows that the distance, upon sight of an object, is not computed by the bigness of the angle made by the meeting of the two optic axes, as mathematicians and geometers pretend to explain it. Nor distance is determined by the greater or lesser divergence of the rays, which arrive from any point to the pupil. It is impossible to perceive by sense the various angles wherewith the rays, according to their greater or lesser divergence, fall on the eye. “In vain all the mathematicians in the world tell me, that I perceive certain lines and angles which introduce into my mind the various ideas of distance; so long as I myself am conscious of no such thing.” (Berkeley, G.,1929, 15-16) (three centuries later Henri Poincaré        keeps within such explanation).

Berkeley considers that distances cannot be perceived by sight. There is no idea for distance – the mind does not judge of the distance of objects by means of these angles and lines. Distance is not perceived by itself. It must be perceived, by consequence, by means of some other idea, which is immediately perceived, and varies with the different degrees of distance. By altering the dispositions of the eyes, the mind perceives whether the angle of the optic angles is made greater or lesser. “And that accordingly by a kind of natural geometry, it (the mind) judges the point of their intersection to be nearer, or further off.” (Berkeley, G., 1929, 17). Berkeley concludes:

“XX. From all which it plainly follows, that the judgment we make of the distance of an object, viewed with both eyes, is entirely the result of experience.” (ibid.)

Nevertheless the two dimensions of the plain frame, which come unsield on the retina, can be perceived by the immediate sensation of distance – the objects are put on this frame and they have their own visible places. It is not true, that there is no idea of distance in the perception. Concerning this, Poincaré is the right one.

Distances can really be learned. But, if in the immediate non-reflective perception, on the frame of the visual field there is no “distance”, then no other sensations would make us form this concept. Distance, of course, is a fruit of a complex of sensations: visual, acoustic, tactual. But our body is movable and by means of this movement the distance is evident by itself.

“None of our sensations, if isolated, could have brought us to the concept of space; we are brought to it solely by studying the laws which those sensations succeed one another.” (Poincaré, H.,1952, 58) – this is the conclusion made by Poincaré.

Our body movement teaches us of the real distance. We come to know the real distance by comparing all our sense data. Besides, the first look is the crucial one – it is based on the experience and immediately defines thereabouts the distance between us and familiar to us objects (houses, trees, people) or the distance between these objects.

The difference between the size of a body, which we know by experience and which can be seen at short range, and the size of a body, that we see at long range, shows how far is the body. This happens owing to the phenomenon called perspective. The perspective is a fundamental characteristic of the visual fields. It gives to this field depth and awareness of prolongation beyond the perceived frame, beyond the horizon. The body takes away from us, it grows smaller and, finally, decreases to a little spot. We continue its movement (mentally) beyond the visible field and thus we can join the mental perceptions, received at our position, to the ones received at a distant positions. It gets possible to frame a visual picture of an arbitrarily large extensional field (for example, of a planet). The size as a mark of the distance and the distance as a mark of the size are not pointed neither by Berkeley, nor by Poincaré.

The perspective makes possible to put an indefinite number of bodies in the limited visual field. The bodies are arranged in width and depth and cover a close, middle and remote distance. Size decreases while the distance increases and this fact allows to dispose the distant bodies along with the close ones.

The phenomenon of perspective can be understand as an order of the life world with a view to the expansion. The close bodies, which are of an importance to the live individual, are being perceived more definite and stronger than the distant ones. They are bigger and clearer.

“Space” is a form of the world as an “external” one, as arranged around the body and “around” the apprehensive “mind”. We have no other concept for external world in our perception and thought, which is based upon transcendental signals.

Edmund Husserl finds a similar phenomenological structure of the consciousness – it is always directed outwards and always turned around and filled with objects. He calls this structure intentionality. Without studying the Husserlian intentionality, I do claim that this “directness outwards” can be understood through the expansivity of the life – consciousness, and especially space perception, is inseparable from the life.

“The externality of the perceived world” or “intentionality of the consciousness” is due to the living form of perceiving mind:

(a) the order of perception is centered around the perceiver;

(b) even when it is conditioned and reinforced by the experience, these externality (or intentionality) is being necessitated to the perceiver and he does not choose it. This order is “compulsory”, not “voluntary”, given, not created;

(c) the world is external, because the asymmetry of the perception, from the inside outwards, is             inalterable. We never see “inwards” (when we feel pain or some other irritation in our own body, this is again an external world and it is external namely in its relation to the sensation, the perception and the mind).

There can be another perceiver in the external world. Then we perceive a succession of objects that construct “the line of perception”: the light, coming from the objects, travels through the cornea and then through a lens which focuses it on the inner lining of the sphere (the retina); the light falling upon the retina stimulates the nerve impulses that are transmitted along sensory paths of the optic nerve to the brain (the visual center) These impulses has a completely different,  spaceless form. The brain analyzes the sensation and, finally, we can imagine what the perceiver does see. The vision is a pure, ideal, invisible plan.

The external representation of the perceiver is not a continuation of the natural “internal representation”. It is “opposite” without being symmetrical. From without, the color stays away, while the color is not absent in the “look from within”. But in the latter case the eye itself is absent.

The quality of the five senses, the five qualities of the sensitivity        cause and reduce the whole variety of things. The perception and its rationalization are being structured by the immediate sensations – visual, acoustic, tactual (sensations concerning the position of the body in space). These sensations unite, almost indistinguishably, with their “interpretations” as distances, forms and sizes. The notions of the never seen and sometimes invisible “continuation” beyond the horizon add to these interpretations indistinguishably (organically) as well. Man “sees” in this way even the molecules, the atoms and the elementary particles.

This is a possible phenomenological explanation of the realistic argument:

“the objects and state of affairs, which the perception is of, and which it provides knowledge about, exist independently of the perceiving of them… Thus trees, mountains, etc. can exist without there being creatures with the capacity to perceive them, and it is in principle possible for houses, automobiles and human bodies to exist in this way.” (Shoemaker, S., 1994, 2,  253).

This postulated image of the perception, unfortunately, is not clarified and based. Up to now, no realist of this type has shown how the things in space exist independently and before their perception. How, for example, does the color exist before being perceived and how could we come to know about its existence?

“The wavelengt h” could be suggested to be the color’s transcendent being. But we get to the “wavelength” by means of the idealizing abstraction of a quantity, which concerns “color” too,  along with another perceptive “effects”. Realism, this way, takes the artifacts out and postulates them as things in themselves.

Certainly, the trees and the mountains do not exist because we set them apart or because we frame them up. But this order, which is given to us, requires analysis that does not permit a transcendence beyond the possible experience.

The perception is being formed by the life form, the past experience, the intellect and the culture. Owing to the experience of the perception, we know that the parallel lines, in spite of the visible image, do not cross in the distance. Owing to the variants of the perception when our body and, respectively, the center of perception move, we form images of space formations. We learn how to interpret the decrease and the disappearance of the things in the distance as “a perspective”.

The perception is being organized as it arranges itself spatially and teleologically (with a view to the body orientation) around its center – the position of our body and its sense organs, “in” which body as though the Self is “placed”. The position of the Self is an unique one and its correlation with the field boundary – the horizon – is constant. “The vector” of the axis starting from the eye to the middle point of the horizon is always orientated in one direction – from the eye to the horizon. It is not possible to see the eye, with which you look – the eye you see in the mirror is not the same eye. This is similar to the conception of Richard Avenarius which conception rejects the dualism of perception and the external world in favor of a monism in which all knowledge is confined to pure experience.

The space is irreversible just like the time. The term “irreversibility” is loaded up with a temporal meaning but now it acquires completely definite spatial meaning. “Here” and “there” remain asymmetric and entirely depend on the position of the perceiver. Left, right, before, behind, up, down are placed around here – they all are entirely dependent on the same position of the perceiver.

The spatial perception “illuminates” a field, which moves along with our body. The visual perception floats in conformity with our body. For example, one and the same object (the table) is being perceived from a different angle as an irregular tetragon, differing in form and illumination. But despite this we know that the table does not change its form. If there were no constancy of the form we would not have been able to learn how to perceive durable images of the bodies and, respectively, the bodies themselves. According to Henri Poincaré the presence of the solid bodies around us is crucial:

“When the displacement of a body takes place with deformation, we can no longer by appropriate movements place the organs of our body in the same relative situation with respect to this body…”. And: “If, then, there were no solid bodies in nature there would be no geometry. ” (9 Poincaré, 1952, p. 61).

The world, as far as it is a world – “illuminated” entity, which is ordered extensively, is limited. The visual field has a form and a limit. In this field the space is orientated, organized and formed. It is “bent” in accordance with the human perception, which orientates us towards the position, the distance and the size of the objects. Man is transient – his world is transient too.

Thus the initial form of the space, which is defined by the human form, is obtained.

Physics makes a significant correction to the Newton’s absolute space with the Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. It gets more explicit that the idealization of the “absolute space” and of the independence of the spatial characteristics on the “point of view” have no grounds and, therefore, are not true. Terms like “distance”, “size”, “equality” have sense only to the co-ordinates of a starting-off system. Size “shortens” when the velocities are close to the velocity of light, but it does not shorten in relation to a size that stands out of the starting-off system. (In the same way, “time interval”, “succession” and “simultaneousness” have sense only to one starting-off system.) The philosophical discussion, concerning the thesis whether this shortening or acceleration of time is imaginary or real, is a product of a misbelief. Werner Heisenberg writes (“Language and Reality in Modern Physics”):

“It is senseless to answer the question whether the shortening of the moving body in the direction of the movement, described by the Lorentz’s formula, is real or imaginary; this problem could be forgotten too. ” (Heisenberg, W.,1971,169).

The phenomenological explanation of the objections against the Special Theory of Relativity may be the following. The Newtonian physics is accepted as combined with the standard perception, in which clocks and meters do not differ and we consider that the starting-off point has no meaning of an “accidental” or of a “subjective” one. Both of the physical terms for time and space are artifacts. But the term, used by Newton is less accurate because it is a token of a smaller human experience. Furthermore, The Newtonian space alienates from the perception of the single man – it is closer to the collective perception – it has no “center”. According to the Relativity, it is obvious that time and space, that have no center, are impossible and inconceivable.

In the perception, which is reinforced by the science, there are three plans and they clearly show the limits of the human space: macro, micro, mega. The macroworld is the world of the immediate perceived things – the perception is not reinforced by any devices. The space beyond the immediate perception is described as a “microworld” and this space is “represented” by means of macrodevices in the field of observer’s perception. “Mega” means extremely large – something that stands beyond the limit of perception through a non-equipped eye.

The notion appears to take the place of the perception of “micro-” and “mega-”sizes. The notion is an absolutely inaccurate projection of transcendent objects in the field of perception. For example, Rutherford’s planetary model of the atomic nucleus, later developed by Bohr, represents the atom as a system containing central nucleus and electrons, circling around the nucleus like planets. The equations of the wave mechanics (Schrödinger), however, cannot be illustrated in such way. The nucleus and the electrons are not at all particles, similar to the macro- ones. They have no “trajectory” – they have probabilities for localizations with different density. These “densities” are represented and painted once again as “clouds” with different density. But, certainly, we know that it is impossible such clouds to exist in the atom, because these clouds signify only the distribution of the probabilities, which are unsubstantional.

Why do we need these notions? Because we have no other choice. Because our perception, which is a fruit of our human form, is limited. It has its own form – to go out of it means to transcend and the cost would be the loss of this form.

If we plunge in the microworld and if we mentally “perceive by means of our senses” the molecule systems, the atoms and the elementary particles, the outlines of the world would change radically. The usual world of objects, would stay outside the horizon of perception. This means that the sensibly given space is definitely dependent on our body. It is, namely, the measure of “micro” and “macro”.

Every visual perception is being structured “from the inside outwards” and represents a chain of qualitatively different elements: “electromagnetic wave with a certain length” – a ray of light – eye lens, cornea, optic nerve, visual center – color. Here, in our notion we “add” the color. But the color is not a part of the succession. The color is a completely another plan – it is mental. In the mental plan the color replaces the whole succession – we do not “see” the red-light ray, nor we see our eye lens, the cornea, the optic nerve, the visual center in our brain. The first article of the chain – “the electromagnetic wave” is a completely artifactual or conceptual one – it is a term which is taken from the physics and it stays at a different level. There is no way to bring a certain color – for example, the “red” one – out of the corresponding wavelength.

So, what is space?

The phenomenological answer is: The space is a life form of the perception and, therefore, of the external world. Through space and time perceiving mind’s form is alive, i.e. expands toward its reestablishment from chaos. The visual, acoustic and tactual sensations, as well as the act of structuring the “external world” as an organic entireness, are impossible without space. The space has a human form and it is such that the man, as a live being, can expand. The space is the extensive aspect of the orderliness and this aspect is of a great importance to the life. The space structure causes the difference between “my body” and the “external surrounding”. This difference makes the identification of the objects in space and, in particular, of the distinction between the useful object and the harmful one possible. It makes possible the expansion itself as it project the expansion in a certain depth, where the obstacles and the feasible outcomes are placed.



1. Poincaré, H., Science and Hypothesis, Dover, 1952.

2. Berkeley, G., An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision, A New Theory of Vision and other Select Philosophical Writings by George Berkeley, London, 1929.

3. Shoemaker, S., “Self-Knowledge and ‘Inner sense’”, Lecture I: The Object Perception Model, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. LIV, No.2, June 1994.

4. Heisenberg, W., “Sprache und Wirklichkeit in der modernen Physik”, Schritte über Grenzen, Piper, München, 1971.

Sofia, 1997