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The Specious Present. ‘the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible’ James. Consciousness. Time. Specious Present. = time as it most directly and distinctively manifests in experience. BUT: specious present : particularly controversial (& baffling).

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the specious present

The Specious Present

‘the short duration of which we are immediately and incessantly sensible’

James

slide2

Consciousness

Time

Specious

Present

= time as it most directly

and distinctively manifests in

experience

slide3

BUT: specious

present: particularly

controversial

(& baffling)

Does it

really

exist?

Isn’t it

paradoxical?

my aims
My aims:
  • Survey the main options + comment on James’ position
  • Isolate some key assumptions motivating the different positions
  • Defend a neo-Jamesian conception
  • Counter some recent criticisms of Sean Kelly’s
  • Explore a few implications
specious present why believe
Specious Present: why believe?

Primary reason: to make sense of our experience

change itself is one of the things immediately experienced james wpe
“change itself is one of the things immediately experienced.” (James,WPE)
  • Some changes = too slow to be perceived (growth of oak tree).
  • Some are too fast (speeding bullet).
  • Some are just right: we directly apprehend them.
enter sp all the changes in place of a meteor seem to be contained in the present clay
Enter SP: ‘all the changes in place of a meteor seem … to be contained in the present.’ (Clay)

1 sec

t2

t1

So: our direct perceptual awareness can’t be confined to a durationless instant

further data phenomenal depth
Further data: ‘phenomenal depth’

Most simple sensations have some temporal depth

Strictly durationless tone = hard to conceive

more generally typical streams of consciousness are continuous
More generally: (typical) streams of consciousness are continuous

each phase is

experienced as

giving way to the next

a puzzle about length a core of about a dozen seconds up to a minute james
A puzzle about length: ‘a core of about a dozen seconds, up to a minute’ (James)

We’re not directly

aware of what we

experienced

a minute ago

Or even

a few seconds!

partially plausible diagnosis
(Partially) plausible diagnosis:

James: ‘the practically cognized present is no knife-edge, but a saddleback’

SP proper (e.g. 1sec)

Vivid anticipations

Vivid short-term memories

making sense of sp two main models
Retentionalist

immediate experience of change occurs in a single moment

specious present does not really extend through time

Extensionalist

immediate experience of change is not confined to a single moment

specious present is spread through time

Making sense of SP: two main models
extensionalism 1 sp
Extensionalism: 1 SP

specious present

B

C

real (clock) time

extensionalism streams of sps
Extensionalism: streams of SPs

succession of tones

Pulse version (Whitehead, Sprigge)

succession of tones

Overlap version (Russell, Foster)

retentionalist model 1 sp
Retentionalist Model: 1 SP

more past

B

less past

Specious present

C

D

E

clock time

B

C

D

E

retentionalist model 3 sps

B

C

D

C

D

E

D

E

F

E

F

G

Retentionalist Model: 3 SPs

succession of tones in real time

retentionalist model full glory
Retentionalist Model: full glory

succession of tones in real time

sean kelly recent recommendation
‘Specious present’ = what James was committed to

James = Extensionalist

So: distinguish ‘specious present’ theories from Retentionalist approaches

Sean Kelly (recent recommendation):
james extensionalist
James = Extensionalist?

stream doctrine

‘duration-blocks’

james stream doctrine
James’ Stream doctrine

experiences

unified by

soul-substance

(rationalism)

experiences

not unified

(empiricism)

REJECT

Experience unifies itself, synchronically & diachronicallyvia ‘conjunctive relations’

conjunctive relations
Conjunctive relations:
  • ‘The conjunctive relation that has given most trouble to philosophy is the co-conscious transition, so to call it, by which one experience passes into another when both belong to the same self. … this sense of continuity in that most intimate of all conjunctive relations’ (WPE)
but james retentionalist
But: James = Retentionalist!

‘The knowledge of some other part of the stream, past or future, near or remote, is always mixed in with knowledge of the present thing’

Volkmann has expressed the matter admirably: ‘if A and B are to be represented as occurring in succession they must be simultaneously represented’

james sp diagram pure retentionalism
James’ SP diagram: pure Retentionalism!

‘The feeling of past time is a present feeling’

specious

present

B

C

D

E

clock time

B

C

D

E

diagnosis
Diagnosis:
  • In Principles James is pulled in different directions:
    • Retentionalist when in scientific mode
    • Extentionalist when in phenomenological/philosophical mode
terminological recommendation
Terminological Recommendation:
  • ‘Specious Present’ – for any account which attributes apparent temporal depth to experience
    • E.g. Retentionalism
    • E.g. Extensionalism
slide28

Retentionalism:

main advocates

Kant

Ward

James(/2)

Lockwood

Brentano

Broad (L)

Husserl

Dobbs

retentionalism motivation i
Retentionalism: motivation (i)

Avoid!

awareness

  • Can we really be directly aware of what lies in the past? (Or the future?) Or is clairvoyance commonplace?

Past Present Future

retentionalism motivation ii
Retentionalism: motivation (ii)

Simultaneous Unity Thesis (SUT):

to be apprehended as successive, contents must be presented together in consciousness at the same moment

  • regarded as axiomatic by Volkmann, Ward, James, Husserl, Dobbs
slide31

SUT

entails

Retentionalism

objections to retention 1
Objections to Retention 1:

Why aren’t these experienced as a chord, rather than a succession?

B

specious

present

C

D

E

time

B

C

D

E

main solutions
Main solutions:

Broad’s ‘presentedness’

Dobbs’ ‘gravitas’

Husserl’s

retentions

unclear

implausible

No matter: it still may be possible for momentary experience to have apparent temporal depth

objection 2 phenomenologically dubious
Objection 2: phenomenologically dubious

Are we really aware,

at each moment, of

a temporal spread

of content?

I’m only

aware of

what’s

happening

now!

objection 3 expensive and exotic
Objection 3: expensive and exotic

Multiplies total quantity of experience in universe

retentions

exotic dobbs broad properly viewed retention model two dimensional time
Exotic: Dobbs (& Broad): properly viewed, retention model = two-dimensional time

Specious

present

Experiential (extensive) time

Ordinary (transition) time

2 d time construal fully justified
2-D time construal = fully justified

more past

B

less past

temporal

interval

C

D

E

clock time

B

C

D

E

2 d time view vulnerable
2-d time view: vulnerable

Phenomenal time

ordinary time

Surprising &

important discovery?

Or needless posit?

objection 4 james insight lost
Objection 4: James’ insight lost?

Stream: fragmented

Stream: adjacent phases UNIFIED

two extensionalisms
Two Extensionalisms

stream

Pulse version

stream

Overlap version

slide42

Fragments stream …

succession of tones

BETTER: secures

continuity of

consciousness

succession of tones

overlap model basic ingredients
Overlap Model: basic ingredients

= Jamesian duration block

single specious present

Parts spread across time AND experienced together as a succession

diachronic co consciousness directly experienced succession persistence
Diachronic co-consciousness = directly experienced succession/persistence

A

B

A

B

Does mean: directly hearing A-being-followed-by-B

Doesn’t mean: hearing A and simultaneously hearing B (i.e.before it has occurred!)

diachronic co consciousness
Diachronic co-consciousness:

In consciousness together, but as a succession (not simultaneously = retentional model)

overlap no unwanted duplications
Overlap: no (unwanted) duplications

D

C

SP1

D

E

SP2

F

E

SP3

Overlapping SPs possess common parts (D in SP1 = D in SP2, etc)

what explains the apparent direction of experience
The asymmetric character of diachronic co-consciousness relationship?

The intrinsic character of phenomenal contents?

What explains the apparent direction of experience?

More economical option

overlap but no temporal modes austere
Overlap but no ‘temporal modes’ (= austere)

Jamesian saddleback

more past

just past

present

“we have a constant feeling sui generis of pastness, to which every one of our experiences falls prey” James

‘qualities’/intrinsic

properties

slide51

B

C

D

C

D

E

D

E

F

E

F

G

Modes are intelligible in Retentionalist Model

succession of tones in real time

3 numerically distinct experiences - varying properties not a problem

not in overlap model
Not in Overlap Model:

present

SP1

D

C

SP2

D

E

just past

A single experience, at a particular time, can’t have different and incompatible intrinsic properties at that time!

but with dynamic contents temporal modes aren t needed to account for perceived passage
But: with dynamic contents, temporal modes aren’t needed to account for perceived passage:

motion!

motion!

extension certain forms of retention
Extension + (certain forms) of Retention

Realistic specious present

anticipations

Fringe feelings & images

sensory core

short-term memories (echoes)

slide56

A B C D E F G

B C D E F G H

C D E F G H I

‘lingerings of the past dropping successivelyaway, and the incomings of the future making up the loss’
extension overlap v retentionalism
Extension/Overlap v. Retentionalism

KEY ISSUE

Simultaneous Unity

Thesis

accepting overlap rejecting sut
Accepting Overlap = rejecting SUT

Non-simultaneous

D

C

But unified: experienced together

why accept sut
Why accept SUT?

James: accommodate Kantian insight

A certain conception of time

A metaphysical assumption

james a succession of feelings in and of itself is not a feeling of succession
James: ‘A succession of feelings, in and of itself, is not a feeling of succession’

True! But:

Diachronic co-consciousness

CDE

C

D

E

C

D

E

Difference can be explained in Extensional way also…

2nd motivation a neo rationalist assumption
2nd Motivation: a Neo-Rationalist Assumption?
  • Eg: unity of consciousness requires something SIMPLE (non-extended, part-free)

- so a temporal spread of content must be unified by a non-extended experiencing

  • Question: why believe this?
antidote a relevant spatial analogue
Antidote: a relevant spatial analogue

PHENOMENAL EXPANSE

ALL SPATIAL PARTS

EXPERIENCED

TOGETHER

slide63

If we

reject

point of awareness

then:

Unity a product of inter-experiential relations (in Jamesian style)

why sut
Why SUT?

3nd motivation

Tacit commitment to presentism?

if reality is like this
If reality is like this:

No past

No future

time

then Extensionalism can’t be true

obvious observation
19th century: Presentism (probably) very common

21st century: less common (among philosophers)

4-d world-view more prevalent

Obvious observation:
4 d perspective extension through space time unproblematic
4-d perspective: extension through (space)time = unproblematic

4-d hunk of wood (perduring)

4-d stream of experience

slide69
So:
  • SUT: less than wholly compelling
  • Hence: overlap theory remains a live option
    • maybe the better option (assuming we want a SP at all)
slide71

‘how can we be aware

of what’s no longer

happening?

awareness

No: only a diachronic co-consciousness relation

past

future

(not as problematic as)

slide72

2. Can’t explain how

successive

specious presents

are related

Yes it can:

via overlap

slide73

3. Can’t explain

perceived change

Yes it can: via

animated contents

within duration

blocks

motion!

motion!

an argument sketch for dualism
An argument (sketch) for dualism:
  • There is no temporal passage in the physical world (McTaggart, relativity, etc.)
  • There is temporal passage in experience.
  • So: experience is non-physical.
2 explanations for limited span of sp
2 explanations for limited span of SP:

non-existence of past & future

short-span of diachronic

co-consciousness

looks compatible with

4-d worldview

but what about flow doesn t experience have a felt direction
But what about flow? Doesn’t experience have a felt direction?

Doesn’t require ‘universal becoming/annihilation’

Yes but: phenomenal flow = intrinsic feature of experience

No more (or less) a problem for materialism than phenomenal colour

slide79

Objection: accounts of SP should be metaphysically neutral.Retentionalism = compatible with all conceptions of time Overlap Theory isn’t.

slide80
True!

Eternal block

Growing Block

Presentism

slide81
Why must SP-theories be metaphysically neutral?

Mightn’t SP provide empirical evidence for the nature of time in our universe?

Why shouldn’t SP offer some clues as to the nature of time?

But:
illustration
Julian Barbour

Quantum Gravity

Wheeler-De Witt equation

Universe = collection of 3-d slices existing in phase space/platonia

Our experience is confined to momentary ‘time capsules’

Temporal unity of world = illusion

Illustration:
however
If consciousness = physical

Overlap theory refutes Barbour’s speculation

However:

Streams of experience bridge universe-phases

slide85

If dualism: unified streams sustained by disunified world-phases - maybe possible?

stream of consciousness

Platonia/Phase Space

final speculation

Final speculation:

Specious Present as a guide to the cosmos: a Jamesian Universe?

standard alternatives to eternal 4 d cosmos

Standard alternatives to eternal 4-d cosmos

Broad-Tooley Growing Block

Presentism

what s not to like about presentism
What’s not to like about Presentism?

No unity between

successive

presents

It’s just too thin

to contain

anything!

a middle way cosmos consists of overlapping extended presents
A middle way: cosmos consists of Overlapping Extended Presents

absolute becomings

D

C

D

E

absolute annihilations

F

E

NO PAST + UNITY + (ENOUGH) BREADTH (+ explanation of why temporal breadth of experience is what it is ….)

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