ABSTRACT

In his 1879 essay ‘The Spatial Quale’, James proposed a simple experiment to those who objected to his argument that space was a distinct quality or feeling and not just a sensation of the eye and the discriminations between points of observation. He proposed that “the objector” sit with his eyes closed and “a friend approximate some solid object, like a large book, noiselessly to his face”. According to James (1879a: 68), “the objector” will sense the object’s “presence and position”, which he accounts for by the “excessive tactile sensibility of the tympanic membrane” in the ear and the feeling of different pressures of the air, something developed acutely in some blind people and a friend of James who could distinguish different degrees of solidity when a board, a lattice-frame and a sieve were held close to his ear. This “felt quality” is not used in isolation but becomes part of the “vague spatial vastness in three dimensions” when, as James explains, we “lie on our back and fill the entire field of vision with the empty blue sky”.