A Ku Indeed!

Space, the Final Frontier

Posted in Existentialism, Life by Chris on January 15, 2008

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?
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2 Responses

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  1. adamqp said, on January 15, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Some people have a view of non-existential space as relational as well, I believe. But other than that, doesn’t our primary notion of space really come from our evolutionary ancestry, installed in parts of our brains that pre-date the human parts by quite a bit? And then wouldn’t it sort of have to be non-existential space that is primary, given that our ancestors weren’t human?

    Another thing that comes to mind are certain disorders like autism that compromise one’s ability to be part of a social world. It seems like one can easily have a non-existential notion of space without the existential one, but I’m not sure I can even form an idea of what it would be like for someone to have an existential notion of space without the non-existential one. The only thing that comes close would be the experience of a unborn child.

  2. eyeingtenure said, on January 15, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    To this philosophical amateur, existential space is as real as the soul, whatever the reality of a soul is. Existential closeness could be analogous to emotional closeness.

    “She’s really distant” would be equal, then, to existential distance.

    As far as the second bullet, I believe that this is a matter of chicken-or-egg reasoning. If Adam’s above postulate is true — that an unborn child exists in existential space — then surely that comes first.

    I’ve heard parents talk about how their children seem to believe that they’re the center of the universe, only growing out of that in time. In this sense, the existential space is already defined in the mind of the child at or before birth, and Newtonian space is defined much later.

    I still really don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’m trying.


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