Space, the Final Frontier
Is space in us, or are we in space? A weird question, for sure.
Let me see if I can make sense of it. It’s pretty easy for us to think of ourselves as in space. When you look around your room, you see iPod there, chair here, two feet from the iPod. And you think of yourself as a certain distance away from both of them, so that one can turn up as closer than the other. You can think of this kind of space as “Newtonian” — it’s an “objective” kind of space (for want of a better term), as it turns up in scientific theories and explanations, and so on. But is that it? Is Newtonian space the only kind of space that we experience?
It’s typical of the Existentialists (I’m thinking of Heidegger specifically) to think that Newtonian “objective” space is not the kind of space that is particular to your existence. It may pertain to things, but you’re not a thing. You’re a ‘subject’ in a way, something that ‘comes at’ the world as opposed to just lying around ‘taking up space’. Instead, space is in you, it permeates your existence.
For the Existentialist, human existence is different from thing existence primarily because the latter is based in what might be called involvement, specifically a kind of involvement with one’s plans and projects, with one’s aims — with who one is struggling to be. Insofar as I exist in this way, space has a different meaning. We use the term “in” in a very different fashion. We say things like:
- He’s in love.
- He’s in philosophy.
- What’s he gotten himself into?
When we say such things we tend to mean ‘relational located-ness’ or something of that sort. Notice that when you think in these terms, phrases like “close to” or “far from” also take on a different meaning. When I am primarily concerned with my relationships, certain people are close whereas others are distant. A person standing next to you in a Newtonian way might be quite far from you in an existential sense. Or you might say something like the country song suggests: “I stand by my (wo)man” where this doesn’t mean literally standing next to someone in a Newtonian way, but rather means being determined to assure that my involvements and those of my partner as closely related.
Basically, this way of understanding the world is existential space, as opposed to Newtonian space. Do you buy it?
- Is Existential space really just a metaphor? Or is it just as “real” as Newtonian space?
- Which of the two is primary? Do we generate our notion of existential space from Newtonian space, or do we derive our notion of Newtonian space from existential space? Or neither?