In Martin Heidegger's work What is a Thing?, he discusses the development of the seemingly obvious or common sense way of looking at things. Although it is not directly the point of the theme he is developing in this work, he talks about the historical distinction between place and space.

Heidegger claims that the Ancient Greeks did not have the concept of "space" that we did, and that despite being the inventors of abstract geometry, the Greeks did not think of the world in terms of an abstract, featureless space upon which actual things are layed. They did not, in other words, look at the world as a Cartesian grid (since it would be a long time before Descartes was born!). Instead, they thought of the world as being made of a collection of actual concrete places, which were connected with space.

In other words, the distance between Athens and Sparta came first, and the hundred miles between them came second. In modern thinking, there are three thousand miles, and then Los Angeles and New York appear at either end of them. Of course, both of these things don't happen chronologically first and second, but they do happen chronologically first and second.

Along with this belief came the belief that everything had a specific place, and would try to seek that place. Fire belonged in the heavens, and was activly trying to seek that place. Stones belonged on the earth, and were activly trying to seek the earth. The enlightenment belief pioneered by Isaac Newton that space was uniform and everywhere would never have occured to them. Instead of believing that the ocean was there because the water flowed there, the Greeks would believe that the water flowed there because that is where the ocean was meant to be.

It may seem that this distinction is a pointless metaphysical one, even if we allow Heidegger the claim that Greeks didn't think in terms of abstract space. However, in many ways, this concept is very important in understanding at least the psychology of people and their attachement to actual places.

I grew up in the Willamette Valley, and didn't really leave it until I was in my mid teens. The Willamette Valley is layed out so that on the west and east there are large mountain ranges, and beyond those mountain ranges there is the Pacific Ocean and a great desert respectivly. At fifteen, I of course knew that the 200 or so miles between Newport, OR and Bend, OR would be the same 200 miles between, say, Cleveland, OH and Chicago, IL; but that would view would have been submerged beneath my experience of the ocean and the desert, and the mountains seperating them, as actual real places. In other words, the unique places came first in my understanding, and the abstraction of distance was layed on top of them.

As I got older, and I travelled around the United States, I had the sometimes unfortunate experience os seeing that places were all much the same in their ways of being close and distant to each other. I came to realize that as much as the Cascades may be unique in some ways, that New Mexico also had its mountains. And had its shopping malls, and little towns. And so my own geographic area was no longer unique, it was just another locale layed out on the Cartesian Grid of the planet. In my mind, the Cartesian Grid now became the first principle, and the actual locales were just accidentally laying on it. I gained something and lost something with this revelation.

This may be a great sublime tool for understanding our relationship with the world, or it perhaps could just be an idle conceptual toy. But I do believe that understanding this concept could be important.

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