If we start from the premise that all our acquired knowledge of objects comes to us from having seen them in certain relations to other objects in space, how would we be able to describe an object if we took out space from the mix?

You wouldn't be able to tell its distinguishing characteristics since it would appear, I am assuming, almost as a 2D figure. Once that is gone, what other characteristics would the object hold, independent of space?

Also, without space, how would you establish the relation between two objects? You can't possibly establish a relation between two things solely on the basis of time.

And if you can't put the two objects in space(which isn't there any longer), how would you ever be able to make parallels?

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    I'm not so sure I buy you premise here. Yes, we gain knowledge from things that are in space and time, but is the knowledge we gain about them a function of their being in "certain relations to other objects in space" in generic terms or is that we perceive them through space? Also, if that's the premise, then isn't the outcome obvious? (we could know nothing without space if the premise is true)
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 8:48
  • @virmaior No object can exist independently, at least to our senses. Therefore, our sensory inputs always establish a relation with the surroundings of that object. Imagine a glass of water. You try to remove everything from your vision except that glass. But you can't imagine it without the existence of space. A lot of what appears to you as its properties come from our notion of space. And from here comes my question. If we take out space, what characteristics remain of the object? Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 9:31
  • depending on what is meant by "take out space", then I assume there would no object remaining for physical objects since they are by definition spatial objects. But our knowledge of spatial objects is knowledge of these objects and only for ancillary reasons does it matter what other objects are nearby at the time, which is my point
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 9:41
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    If you take space out of equation, then you will also have to take out space from the concept of perception itself. Our perception system is itself spatial and temporal and this system (or object) is able to perceive other spatial and temporal objects in space. Space is gone then the spatial nature of perception system itself is gone. Think it like this: A person is perceiving object in space and the person itself is in space too. Space is gone what now?
    – Ankur
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 12:56
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    If I may offer an example, and see if it meets Sampark's needs, without space I believe you could still experience the "wetness" of water. You may not know "where the water is," but the qualia of wetness does not have a significant spatial nature, so it can be observed without space relatively undisturbed from our current spatially-aware qualia.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 21:34

3 Answers 3


Let's amend the premise by taking "space" out of it:"our acquired knowledge of objects comes to us from having seen them in certain relations to other objects". Space points do not come with labels attached, even when we measure distances they are distances between markings of some sort, not points. And we can easily establish relations between objects without space, say numbers 2 and 17, or even vectors and operators in infinite-dimensional spaces. They are not physical objects of course, and space is around for those, but even physically objects are demarcated by other objects, and their characteristics are contrasted to characteristics of other objects.

Come to think about it there is no space involved in any of it, it is merely kept, and perhaps constructed, as framing. Psychologists established that our visual perception starts with a flat and spotty impression on the retina, which is then filled in and 3-dimensionalized by the brain. Kant even believed that this imposition of flat 3D space is the source of synthetic a priori knowledge which will forever subject our physical theories to 3D Euclidean geometry. As it turned out, even the space of visual perception is slightly hyperbolic.

The idea of empty independent absolute space only came to prominence after Newton, who adopted it because it was the simplest way to express classical mechanics (modern textbooks have to go through a complication of reference frames). Before that relational theory of space was a consensus since Aristotle. Descartes identified space with matter, so that when matter moves the space moves, it does not leave some empty space behind to arrive at a new one. Leibniz gave the most comprehensive expression of the "ideality of space" in relational theory. He held that "(i) a body comes to have the ‘same place’ as another once did, when it comes to stand in the same relations to bodies we ‘suppose’ to be unchanged... (ii) That we can define ‘a place’ to be that which any such two bodies have in common... And finally that (iii) space is all such places taken together. However, he also holds that properties are particular, incapable of being instantiated by more than one individual, even at different times; hence it is impossible for the two bodies to be in literally the same relations to the unchanged bodies. Thus the thing that we take to be the same for the two bodies — the place — is something added by our minds to the situation, and only ideal. As a result, space, which is constructed from these ideal places, is itself ideal: ‘a certain order, wherein the mind conceives the application of relations’".

When working on general relativity Einstein noticed that if we know gravitational field around a region in space there is no unique way to extend it into that region, but that different extensions are physically equivalent despite assigning different field values to different spacetime points. This came to be called the "hole argument". Einstein concluded from it that individual spacetime points as such are physically meaningless and accepted the relational theory:"People before me believed that if all the matter in the universe were removed, only space and time would exist. My theory proves that space and time would disappear along with matter."

  • I am, to a good extent, satisfied with what you are saying. The answer seems to lie in the fact that space, in itself, is a human mind's construct that is used to differentiate between objects. I'd hate for this to slip into the old realism vs. idealism debate, so I'm not going to ask you to imagine space as an objective truth. It must be noted that even though the mind receives a 2D image, it has ways of judging the depth and distance through it. Which is why a 2D object in reality would appear as a 2D object to us. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 9:52
  • Einstein's theory holds little ground. As we now know, 'nothing' cannot exist in the universe, which runs opposite to what he was proposing. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 9:54
  • @Sampark Sharma To me the question of whether space is a human construct, or objective is hard and open. Attractive answer is that it is objective relative to us, that is it is something that emerges to beings of our constitution and perception from our particular way of interacting with the world, rather than a mental option. Objectivity proper is hard to defend because of "what does it mean and how would we know" questions, and a possibility that a different kind of beings could arrange their experience differently, with a space of different dimension, or even non-spatially.
    – Conifold
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 20:02
  • What you say is rather interesting, especially so because recent findings, like those from the double-slit experiment, have made this theory much more plausible in the recent years. The idea of an interactive reality is an inviting one. Who knows, maybe there is a middle ground between realism and idealism. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 9:07

"how would we be able to describe an object if we took out space from the mix?"

Surely the answer can only be in terms of ideas since most likely no one ever has seen an object without space.

So assuming an object can exist without space i would think its dimensionless and has the same substance like as example what you see when you close your eyes and imagine something.

On the other Hand i doubt what exists without space could not be called object.

  • Be careful now. Having always seen objects in context to their spatial surroundings, our brain cannot imagine something without space. When I say the word deer, the first image that should pop into your mind is that of the animal. Doesn't the image in your head put the deer at the centre of space? You don't just imagine the deer, you also imagine the space that is likely to surround it. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 14:39
  • You dont imagine it without space but the imagination itself has no dimension so the deer you imagine is a deer which is in no space, it actually does not exist. However since you can still see it it somehow exists. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 15:18
  • If I tell you to imagine a deer and nothing else, you would naturally remove the deer from what you take as its natural surroundings (say a forest) and put it in blank space. Though you think you are imagining the deer and nothing else, you are actually looking at it through the context of space. Which means that space would have to be just as real as the deer. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 8:59
  • I imagine a deer in the woods! Is the deer real because i imagine it? Are the Woods real because i imagine them? If they are not how can i see them? If they are in which kind of space does my Fantasy exist? Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 15:09
  • What you imagine does not exist. And for all the things discussed on this thread, each of which is subject to much debate, this is something most Philosophers would agree on. Moreover, what you say here has nothing to do with what I'm asking. Why I asked you to imagine them was to help you make better sense of my question. More likely than not, when you imagine this deer, you also imagine him surrounded by something. And what is it if not space? Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 9:00

Short answer: If you remove all the "space" or res extensa from an "object" you have a Euclidean point.

What does that mean? In what sense does this location without magnitude exist? It is, like zero, an infinite placeholder that goes on somehow to engender more and more "places" (somewhat in the manner of Wallace Stevens' jar in Tennessee).

I would suggest (on no authority I can cite, though I am sure it is not at all original) that this axiomatic limit, vanishing point, or "point of origin" for the Euclidean system marks the existence of the geometer herself outside the plane, always one-dimension removed from the reference system under observation.

So what you get when you remove all the "space" from an object is as close as you can get to the unlimited context of that object, or the "transcendental subject."

  • I didn't ask you to remove all the space/matter from an object, I asked you to remove it from around it. Take the object to be a truth and then remove everything you see in relation to it, including space. All the other Physics jargon is alien to me, and I cannot apprehend it. But I'm sure you now realise that you misinterpreted my question. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 14:20
  • Okay, "out of the mix" wasn't clear to me, so not sure I grasp the question. A few thoughts: Leibniz argued against Newton that space is purely relational, so the idea of things "in space" is misleading. Intriguingly, there are branches of theoretical physics called "holographic principle" (Susskind) or "shape dynamics" (Barbour) with 2D mathematical models of the universe. Your descriptions sound very visual, which may prejudice you against ideas of temporal distinctions, as in Bergson. When we distinguish musical "objects" we do not "spatialize," except in theory after the fact. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 15:41
  • More of a direct answer. Kant takes space and time to be absolute categories, prior to any experience or awareness of experience. So in the many Kantian-influenced philosophies-sciences, space is simply part of what we mean by "thinking." You "remove it" by... well, becoming unconscious. Your object, the glass of water, has become an irreducible "oneness" without even a "subject" to see it. So in a sense my earlier answer may have some relevance, even if we substitute "glass of water" for "point." The incoherence seems to arise from treating anything as an isolate or singularity. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 15:54
  • And since depth is the mind's creation, a 2D model, at least of our very own world, would be an appropriate proposition. And as @Conifold pointed out in his answer, space just might be the mind's way of differentiating objects. Even Leibniz seems to have made a good argument, that I hope to read up on. The thing about Kant is that he talks in a very matter-of-fact way about a lot of things which are very important in the study of epistemology and metaphysics. Not something I'm fond of. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 9:22

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