Consciousness does not have spatial properties?

I’m looking for the key sources on the claim that consciousness does not have spatial properties such as extension, shape, etc.. Descartes it the obvious one, but other than Descartes are there any other sources for good discussion of this matter?


  1. Maybe I should have also asked, regardless of the source, what is the best argument for (and analysis of) the claim that consciousness is not spatial.

    I have always been (too?) comfortable breaking such discussions into considerations of content versus vehicle of experience, and that tends to clear things up, and renders it fairly clearly false that consciousness is nonspatial (in both content and vehicle senses).

  2. Eric Thomson

    By ‘nonspatial’ they usually mean that it has no extension (volume), shape, position. I’ve seen some say consciousness simply does not exist in space, period.

    Though note that especially since special relativity has been on the scene, it is strange to say C is nonspatial but that it exists in time. Don’t we now realize that space and time are not separable?

  3. How can we argue whether consciousness is spatial or non-spatial without relating the question to a working definition of consciousness? If one adopts a dualistic stance and puts consciousness outside of the physical realm then it is non-spatial. If you take consciousness to be a physical phenomenon that is non-spatial then you have a serious problem in explaining how any non-spatial event can be considered a physical event.

  4. I think that is a good point. I recall mike almeida pressing a similar point in discussing the pairing problem over at prosblogion. Kenny’s discussion was helpful, I thought, because he was pushing the line that various mental entities are non-spatial while arguing against the dualist view.

  5. John Schwenkler

    I would have to look more carefully than I can right now to find a precise reference, but I probably should have been clearer in what I said. Berkeley’s view is that ideas are spatial (i.e., we have ideas of shapes and spatial properties), and since (1) the only thing that can resemble an idea is another idea and (2) the mind is not an idea but rather that which ideas depend on for their existence, therefore the mind (i.e. consciousness, in the sense I took Eric to have in mind) is not spatial. Of course Berkeley also thinks that there is no such thing as the mind-independent material world, so all this needs to be taken with a pillar of salt ……….

  6. Bill

    I think that a typical Schwarzschild black hole is supposed to have a physical center which is outside space and time, though it has a location. So, there is precedent for some of these views.

  7. Clayton

    I think there are entities in some broad sense that are not easily thought of as spatial that do not require any flight from materialism. My limp, the power this magnet has to attract metal filings, the state of dental health in France in the 20 th century. Apart from substances, few things in our ontology should be expected to have spatial locations ini any clear sense. As for events, those are tricky, but is there any view of events on which one event is spatial and nonispatial?

  8. Eric Thomson

    I’m not completely convinced. I wouldn’t want to say they are unlocalized in absolute terms. E.g., your limp is roughly localized to your body. The best examples I can think of are not material in any obvious sense (e.g., the property of being a prime number). I suppose the old standby property of being a democracy, but even that is controversial (e.g., does that commit me to some weird ontology of properties?). I’d prefer an uncontroversial example of a natural property that is not localized.

    I guess externalists would say that historically or causally individuated properties are not localizable. E.g., thinking about XYX on twin earth. But that’s certainly not an example I can pull out to convince Grandma, who tends to get very angry at Twin Earth.

  9. Bill Parkyn

    Conscious experience is inherently spatial, organized by an integrated body-centered schema that has depth as the first dimension, and up-down and right-left the other two, angular, dimensions (see Merleau-Ponty).

    Descartes’ outdated ideas were a response to the objective physical space of the newfangled Newtonian physics, which is abstracted from the phenomenal space of consciousness and thus deliberately excluding it. Only in this narrow sense of ‘spatial’ could consciousness be said to be non-spatial.

    My consciousness, for example, extends from here to the horizon, encompassing diverse sensory phenomena that are unified by being at the same place (e.g., sounds coming from a visible object).

    This entire topic is too trivial to bother with, except as a historical curiosity, analogous to phlogiston, bodily humors, and bleeding as a panacea.

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