One of the qualities of our perceptual experience is the presence of objects in fields. When we see an object moving, we see it move against a background. Because of the three-dimensional quality of vision, we see it move in an environment of other objects. We also perceive a foreground, behind which the object moves. For instance, we might watch a car move along a residential street. The car appears to move against an unmoving background of houses along the street. Perhaps the car is maneuvered around cars and trucks parked on the street shoulder. It also swerves to avoid oncoming traffic. We perceive the vehicle as moving in a three-dimensional environment of structures and objects. As we watch the car moving, the scene has a foreground. The foreground is of little interest, but we are alert to sudden changes in it. For instance, a dog might suddenly rush out of the foreground in front of the moving car, which its driver stops quickly to avoid hitting the animal.
This familiar experience of objects in fields and environments carries an implicit structure. This structure is of an objective world of spatial structure of fields--background, middle ground (or environment), and foreground. We perceive the spatial fields as containing the objects. We think of the objects as in the world comprised by these unchanging, structural fields. As a consequence of this experience, we intuitively assume that the spatial fields exist independent and prior to objects. The spatial fields construct, so to speak, a theater in which objects exist and move and events, caused by their movement, occur.
What is interesting to me, from a scientific point of view, is that this perceptual experience of objects inside of fields does not correspond to the physical universe according to Einstein's general theory of relativity. According to the general theory (which has been confirmed in all tests of it), material objects are not inside the spatial fields. Rather, it is the presence of objects that creates "space" and the movement of objects that creates the "structure" of space. If there were no objects (no stars, no planets), there would be no space (or time). (As a side note, what Einstein was doing was demonstrating that Newton's vision of the comos, in which space and time were a kind of theater in which objects move, corresponding to our naive experience, was not true.) For Einstein, material objects are the fundamental reality of the universe--not fields, not the space-time theater within which objects and events are falsely perceived to occur.
Einstein's theory concerns the gravitational universe, that is, the cosmos, not the little world perceived close at hand by humans; nonetheless there are instances in our experience which parallel Einstein's theory. Let's take the example of landscape sculpture. The great British sculptor, Henry Moore, created large-scale objects which he placed out of doors. (See my photographs of Moore's works at the Kendall Sculpture Gardens in New York.) The unthinking reaction to seeing these magnificent pieces is to see them as objects placed inside an out-of-doors setting. We perceive the grassy lawns and copses and screens of trees as giving the sculptural objects their locations and viewing situations. But this naive perception is misleading. Actually, Moore's pieces create the landscape in which they appear to be located. Consider that if the "landscape" were devoid of sculptural objects, devoid of trees, it would be empty and undefined. We would not see it as anything at all. It would not be a landscape; it would be nothing. Now put Moore's sculptures back. The sculptures provide reference points, dividing the landscape into background, middle ground, and foreground. The size and weight of the sculpture defines the scale of the landscape. The form of the sculpture forms and deforms the flow of the landscape. Add a second sculpture somewhere in relation to the first sculpture, and watch the landscape's scale, flow, form, and deformation change. Do this exercise and you will see that it is Moore's sculptures that are creating the landscape in which they are "situated".
Moore's sculptures are values. Both literally and metaphorically, the sculpture-as-value(s) creates the space and time of the landscape. When the sculpture-as-value is placed, the landscape springs into existence. Notice a second quality of this reality. We do not experience the sculptures as having these effects. Our naive perception of the scene fools us, by switching things around, so that the landscape appears to have an independent real existence as a theater of spatial and temporal fields, and the sculptural object is simply situated as a dead thing. There are reasons (having to do with our physical human evolution and the role of distal sensory perceptors in enabling us to track prey and avoid predators) for this naive falsification of the real construction of the world. The point to be made here is simply that, in the example of Henry Moore's sculptures creating a landscape, the sculptures are doing what values do. In the presence of values, the physical world springs into existence and takes the shape, form, and flow we experience it having. Values are not qualities added to an already existing world; values create and animate the world.