Research What Are You Reading...On the Philosophy of Place

What Are You Reading…On the Philosophy of Place

Place is one of those experiences that can be difficult to conceptualize, as it often situates experiences but doesn’t become an object of experience itself. It organizes our world, remaining in the background as we experience various aspects of that organization. But as many fields are beginning to realize, the way our mind, our culture, and our institutions understand places can do great harm. Our descriptions of other places in relation to where we are, the way media privilege the experience of certain places over others, and the practices by which we connect ourselves to some places rather than others, can perpetuate systems of oppression.

The philosophy of place tries to understand how humans grasp place as such, and how different practices can yield different experiences of place. It also looks at the connections between place and psychology, geography, sociology, and anthropology, among other fields. Hopefully, it will produce a greater understanding of how to develop new places in ethical, healthy, and sustainable ways. Personally, I would like to see the field help artists incorporate the concept of place into their work, so that the experience of place can become an aesthetic one. As you consider the role place has in your work and daily life, try reading some of the following papers.


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  1. Space is the ultimate place. But wait, does this foundational place we call space actually exist?

    Hmm.. There is something between the Earth and Moon or they would be one. And yet, whatever that some “thing” is it seems to have none of the properties we normally associate with the concept of existence, weight, mass etc.

    It appears the overwhelming vast majority of reality from the cosmic to sub-atomic level does not fit neatly in to our definition of existence. It seems that one could propose that space exists, or doesn’t exist, with equal validity. Or to put it another way, it might be said that space has the properties of both existence and non-existence.

    To the degree the above is true, it may shed some useful light on one of the classic questions of philosophy, the possible existence of a God, and the nature of the minds posing that question.

    We might observe that the God debate has been built upon the widely agreed upon assumption that a God either exists, or doesn’t exist, one or the other. We might further observe that the rigidly dualistic nature of that assumption seems to bear little resemblance to the vast overwhelming majority of reality, the place we call space.

    What can we learn from this examination of place? We might learn to be more suspicious of the authority of the group consensus. Could it really be true that some of the best minds among us have been engaged in an enthusiastic debate for centuries which is rendered largely pointless by the faulty un-examined assumption (God must exist, or not, one or the other) that debate is built upon?

    If that is true, how did such a remarkable error occur? From here we could enter an investigation in to that place between our ears, and the nature of that which we are made of psychologically, thought.

    Examining the failure of the God debate might help us see that we are observing reality through a lens, thought, which has a profound bias for division. Thus, when we encounter the God question, we instinctively create a hard division between existence and non-existence, even though a more clear minded observation of reality appears to show that existence and non-existence are somehow united in the phenomena of space, the ultimate place.

    Our experience of place is that it is made up of a collection of separate things. Is that true? Or is it that place just appears to be divided within itself when observed through a bias for division?

    If division is an illusion generated by thought then there is only one place. Some people call that place God.


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