Possible Objects: Topological Approaches to Individuation

Lance J. Rips*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We think of the world around us as divided into physical objects like toasters and daisies, rather than solely as a smear of properties like yellow and smooth. How do we single out these objects? One theory of object concepts uses part-of relations and relations of connectedness. According to this proposal, an object is a connected spatial item of maximal extent: Any other connected item that overlaps (i.e., shares a part with) the object must be a part of that object. This article reports four experiments that test this proposal. Participants see descriptions or diagrams of spatial items that vary across trials in their relative positions. In separate experiments, participants decide whether the items are physical objects, whether they are wholes, or how many objects are present. All experiments find support for connectedness as a contributor to object status, but they find little support for maximality. The results suggest that maximality is not a necessary feature of wholes or of objects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12916
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • Concepts
  • Connectedness
  • Count nouns
  • Mass nouns
  • Mereology
  • Mereotopology
  • Spelke objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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