Superphysics Superphysics
Section 2

Place Versus Space

by Descartes Icon
4 minutes  • 778 words
Table of contents

11 Space, in reality, is not different from corporeal substance.

  • It is the same extension which constitutes the nature of body as of space.

These two things are mutually diverse only as the nature of the genus and species differs from that of the individual, provided we reflect on the idea we have of any body.

For example, we think of a stone.

  • We reject all that is not essential to the nature of the body of a stone.

We can reject:

  • hardness
    • This is because if the stone were liquefied or reduced to powder, it would no longer have hardness. Yet it would still be a body.
  • colour
    • This is because we have frequently seen stones so transparent as to have no colour.
  • weight
    • This is because we have the case of fire. Fire is very light. But it is still a body.
  • temperature
    • They are not considered as in the stone
    • A change of temperature does not cause the stone to lose its nature as a body.

After this examination, we find that nothing remains in the idea of body, except that it is something extended in length, width, and depth.

  • This something is comprised in our idea of space, not only of that which is full of body, but even of ‘void space’.

12 Space differs from body in our mode of conceiving it.

There is, however, some difference between them in the mode of conception.

If we remove a stone from the space or place in which it was, we conceive that its extension also is taken away, because we regard this as particular, and inseparable from the stone itself:

but meanwhile we suppose that the same extension of place in which this stone was remains, although the place of the stone be occupied by wood, water, air, or by any other body, or be even supposed vacant, because we now consider extension in general, and think that the same is common to stones, wood, water, air, and other bodies, and even to a vacuum itself, if there is any such thing, provided it be of the same magnitude and figure as before, and preserve the same situation among the external bodies which determine this space.

Cartesian Relativity

13 What is external place?

The words ‘place’ and ‘space’ signify nothing really different from body which is in place.

  • They merely designate its magnitude, shape, and situation among other bodies.

In order to determine this situation, it is necessary to regard certain other bodies which we consider as immovable. According as we look to different bodies, we may see that the same thing at the same time does and does not change place.

For example, when a vessel is being carried out to sea, a person sitting at the stern may be said to remain always in one place. If we look to the parts of the vessel, since with respect to these he preserves the same situation.

On the other hand, if regard be had to the neighbouring shores, the same person will seem to be perpetually changing place, seeing he is constantly receding from one shore and approaching another.

If the earth moves, and that it makes precisely as much way from west to east as the vessel from east to west, we will again say that the person at the stern does not change his place, because this place will be determined by certain immovable points which we imagine to be in the heavens. But if at length we are persuaded that there are no points really immovable in the universe, as will hereafter be shown to be probable, we will thence conclude that nothing has a permanent place unless in so far as it is fixed by our thought.

14 What is the difference between ‘place’ and ‘space’?

The terms ‘place’ and ‘space’ have different meanings.

  • ‘Place’ expressly designates situation than magnitude or figure.
  • ‘Space’ expressly designates magnitude or figure.

We often say that a thing succeeds to the place of another, although it be not exactly of the same magnitude or figure.

But we do not therefore admit that it occupies the same space as the other.

When the situation is changed we say that the place also is changed, although there are the same magnitude and figure as before: so that when we say that a thing is in a particular place, we mean merely that it is situated in a determinate way in respect of certain other objects; and when we add that it occupies such a space or place, we understand besides that it is of such determinate magnitude and figure as exactly to fill this space.