Speaking Freely with Marshall McLuhan by Edwin Newman, 4 Jan 1971

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The visual man has very much an inclination to make things contain things, but visual space has very peculiar properties. Static, most people think of space as static... as something that is constant, that is, between you and me there are so many inches or so many measures and that those are the same no matter who's sitting there. To a pre-literate man space has no static properties at all, they're entirely determined by the people or things that are involved in the spatial relationship, so that a person is thought of as creating his own kind of space and not as being inside space. The pre-literate man, the man who lives more by ear than by eye does not think of himself as being in space at all.

There's a delightful little illustration of how pre-literate people, children, feel space. A child on his first airplane flight, as they took off and climbed higher and higher said, "Daddy, when do we start to get smaller?" Now, this is true and happening, and it has the immediate feeling of the natural authentic child observation about space. To an adult it seems perfectly obvious that the static space in which people are contained would remain the same, and that people in that space would remain the same. In point of fact this is an illusion on the part of the adult, the child is much more in tune with the reality than the adult in this matter. The child is responding to a dynamic space created by changing physical relationships.

A friend of mine was recently on an expedition with some indians. He has a job, the finding of the proper native names for various places and lakes and rivers in Canada... They got off trail and after a while he said to one of the indians, "We're lost." And the indian looked quite startled and he said, "We not lost, wigwam is lost". To an indian the idea of a human being getting lost is meaningless, because the man makes his own space. The wigwam could get lost because it is not that dynamic factor that the human being is.

This idea of a fixed position from which to see things in perspective is of very recent origin in the western world, and in Shakespeare's time it was a new and exciting experience.

As you know the normal human mode of perception is at all times upside down. Why do we turn them right side up? Nobody knows. No psychologist even has a theory, about why do we see upside down and turn things right side up?

The Stratton Glasses... when put on they turn the world upside down again. It takes a while, having put them on and seeing the world upside down again, it takes a while before you turn it right side up, it takes several hours. Then if you take the glasses off the world goes upside down again and stays that way for several hours. Nobody knows why people do this.

Now in the Eskimo world, for example, there is no upside down. You know small children don't see pictures right side up or upside down. It doesn't matter which way you hold it to a small child, say a two or three year old, it's the same. It's only later that this habit of rightsideupness begins. Now why? I don't know, and nobody knows. But in the Eskimo world there is no attempt made to turn pictures right side up. They stick them on their igloos and so on in any position at all, and they're always amazed when visitors come and start craning their necks around to see these pictures. They think it's very amusing because they don't see upside down.