There must be a reason why an experience feels the way it does. A good place to begin addressing this question is spatial experience, because it may be more penetrable by introspection than other qualities of consciousness such as color or pain. Moreover, much of experience is spatial, from that of our body to the visual world, which appears as if painted on an extended canvas in front of our eyes. Because it is ‘right there’, we usually take space for granted and overlook its qualitative properties. However, we should realize that a great number of phenomenal distinctions and relations are required for the canvas of space to feel ‘extended’. Here we argue that, to be experienced as extended, the canvas of space must be composed of countless spots, here and there, small and large, and these spots must be related to each other in a characteristic manner through connection, fusion, and inclusion. Other aspects of the structure of spatial experience follow from extendedness: every spot can be experienced as enclosing a particular region, with its particular location, size, boundary, and distance from other spots. We then propose an account of the phenomenal properties of spatial experiences based on integrated information theory (IIT). The theory provides a principled approach for characterizing both the quantity and quality of experience by unfolding the cause-effect structure of a physical substrate. Specifically, we show that a simple simulated substrate of units connected in a grid-like manner yields a cause-effect structure whose properties can account for the main properties of spatial experience. These results uphold the hypothesis that our experience of space is supported by brain areas whose units are linked by a grid-like connectivity. They also predict that changes in connectivity, even in the absence of changes in activity, should lead to a warping of experienced space. To the extent that this approach provides an initial account of phenomenal space, it may also serve as a starting point for investigating other aspects of the quality of experience and their physical correspondents.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited