chapter  1
14 Pages

Spatial Aspects of the Mental Representation of Objects and Events

A historical account of the conception of space and the transformations that conception has passed through-from Aristotelian to Newtonian to Einsteinian-could serve as an account of the development of intellect. These insights into physical space, as several writers have pointed out (But­ terfield, 1965; Cornford, 1936; Eddington, 1958) rest upon parallel discoveries in conceptual space-the spherical but bounded Void of Pythagoras, the infinite, continuous space of Euclid and the elastic space of Lobatchvsky. The most obvious effect of these discoveries has been to alter our conception of the external world; but just as important, it has altered our conception of human cognition. If what we call physical reality is to be dependent upon certain conceptual or mental ideas, as for example the infinite, continuous, physical space of Newton is to be seen as the expres­ sion of the infinite, continuous, conceptual, space of Euclid, then it is im­ possible to explain the structure of human cognition by recourse to the structure of physical reality. That is, the structure of ideas cannot be ex­ plained by recourse to the structure of reality. The noted physicist, Sir Ar­ thur Eddington (1958) made this point most strongly:

The ball, so to speak, is in our court. Can we develop some description of the operations of the human mind which will account for some of the prop­ erties of invented conceptual space and the ways in which this conceptual

space is employed in perceiving, recognizing and remembering objects and events? What is the structure of the cognitive processes by means of which we represent and interpret the world? What is the relation between the cognitive structures that are employed in everyday perception and action and those that are involved in our scientific representations of reality? What is the role of symbols in those cognitive processes?