The 3D World

There is something very basic in our construction of space.

  1. During the 20th century we came to realize that space might have more than three dimensions. But try and try as hard as we can to perceive a fourth (or more) dimension, we fail. Even if we firmly believe in more dimensions and can actually imagine how projection of 4D can give 3D, we cannot live in anything but the three dimensions that our brain supplies.
  2. It may be that the three dimensions stem from the semi-circular canals which give us our orientation relative to gravity and the direction of any acceleration. They are after all three measuring devices at mutual right angles.
  3. Where in space something is (or in what direction) is something that joins together various senses. The eye follows the ear and the ear follows the eye. Our consciousness does not give us the world according to sight, and another world according to hearing and a third world according to touch. Instead we experience one single consistent world.
  4. If consciousness is a construct that anticipates the very near future then it would have to have a space framework in which movements could be mapped and extrapolated and this framework would have to be central to the mechanism of predicting a fraction of a second into the future. There was a previous post on this subject – Living in the Present.
  5. We do not experience time in the same direct way. Instead we use various metaphors based on space. We move through time like we would move through a scene, with the past behind us and the future ahead. Or we can be still and time can move past us. Time is not the only idea that is experienced as a space metaphor. Change is often thought of as movement through space. Nearness and distance are powerful metaphors. There is our internal number-line. And so on and on.
  6. There are two ways to view space. We can be the permanent centre and we can think of directions as ahead-behind, left-right and up-down. Or we can either not be the centre. Then the space does not have a real center and we think of it as east-west-north-south and above-below. Or put another any – we can drag the space around with us or we can leave it still and move through it. In the one case I may look to my left and down. In the other case something is east and below something else. We very easily translate between the two views.
  7. Feeling lost is a very particular feeling. It seems to have its roots in losing our place in some aspect of space. We either do not know where we are in space or don’t know how to navigate it. Metaphorically we feel it whenever we are confused by a complex situation.
  8. The notion of place is connected to the notion of space. Place is probably also very basic but not identical to space. We seem to have an easy translation between place and a part of space.
  9. Our structure of space appears to hold the objects etc. that are in our consciousness but not in its immediate focus. It has something of the nature of a ‘filing system’ for the context of the conscious focus.
  10. Some part of the cortex (and probably other parts of the brain) must hold the space scaffolding. It is perhaps the planum temporale. This area does appear to integrate spatial information from sight and hearing unconsciously. The hippocampus and medial temporal lobe appear to cooperate in giving us an identification of place and perhaps also gives us a sense of space.


The origin of a nervous system with a brain (even a tiny primitive one like a worm’s) must be to facilitate movement. Movement has many components such motor control. One of the important components would be the aim, direction, speed of the movement and that takes an ability to track movement through a representation of space. So it should not be surprising that space is so basic to our consciousness.

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