Seeing things at more than one time

Representationalism

For some people, that’s not all there is to it.

It is only ‘all there is to it’ for those who hold the following: we see the rope at these two places and we only see real things. I think this is the best answer. This is generally in keeping with how my thinking is going overall as I work on perception: it is best to capture the appearances of things; different explanations of how thing seem can come from different metaphysical theories. And as I do this work, the less impressed I am by presentism and tensed theory to do any work, other than get in the way. But perhaps there are other possible ways to take this situation, ones where we — on first pass — need not get metaphysics and time involved.

Of most significance, I think, is how a representationalist (or intentionalist) might deal with my claims here. These two positions, not always distinguished, are very much live theories in current philosophy of perception. A few commentators on my papers and talks have raised them at various points, e.g., in my analysis of temporal experience in my 2010a and in a talk at Glasgow where I discussed conditions of simultaneity illusions (the talk in 2011; the paper from it also in 2011). These positions are discussed at many points of the bibliography. I can’t define them or evaluate them in-depth here (although I do have opinions about them).

Representationalism and intentionalism applied to perception are theories which state (pretty much, e.g., Batty 2010; although see Pautz 2012 for a more careful definition) that what is apparent when we see, hear, touch, taste, etc., is represented content. This makes it like a unicorn in a painting of a unicorn. Being representED content, it need not be real in order for the perception, as a representation, to occur. It is not what does the representing in a perception, also known as the vehicle of representation. The vehicle of the representing perception is like the painting in a painting of a unicorn. As representER, it must be real in order for the perception as a representation to occur.

Lastly, then, the content only needs to be real for veridical or true perception to occur. The content need not be real for false or mistaken perceptions, such as, e.g., illusions and hallucinations.

So, then, we might try the following:

— First, deny that what we seem to see is what it seems to be. The rope occupying the two places is not what we see; we only seem to see that.  We see something alright, but it is not the rope, or at least not the spatial locations occupied by the rope. And so, we not need see the different spatial locations at different times.

This is in the spirit of a once-popular position (and perhaps popular again, from conversations I’ve been having): sense-datum theory or indirect realism. In indirect realism, we see something, even when are under an illusion or hallucination. Butwe don’t see that thing out there — that thing we seem to see. What we seem to see — that thing, out there — is just content. What we see instead is something internal, or mind-dependent: sense-data or some other kind of directly perceived, intermediate internal entity.

— Second, deny that what we see needs to be real. Seeing is — in the relevant terminology — intentional. What we see has the ontological commitments of a belief. We do see the rope occupying the two places. But that does not mean it is real. Just because we see something doesn’t mean it is real (just like belief). What is seen, again, is just the content, something represented. It is not the vehicle.

In either case, the thing outside is just what a perception represents. And everyone knows that something represented needn’t be real (just look at a picture of a unicorn). And so, one can try this: Neutralise the force from seeing things like the rope spread out in space, or the relevance of the rope being like this, for any debate about time [4]. We could say: given indirect realism etc., it is either an open question about what it is we really do see. And there is no need to assume that what we do see occupies more than one point in time. Some representationalists/intentionalists might put it this way: my analysis confuses content with vehicle, what is represented with what represents, and so on.[5]

Still, for this to work here, representationalists need to say that how things seem is false or mistaken: we only seem to see the rope in two places; the rope isn’t actually in two places. They can’t say: how things seem is true or accurate; we do see the rope in two places; the rope is actually in two places.Because this won’t work for presentists: we need to use representationalism to bring an illusion in here: the illusion of multiple locations, e.g., of ‘A’ and of ‘B’.

So, we are under an illusion. From my perspective, given I am trying to avoid commitments to illusion, whatever the virtues of a position, it is not the better move.

I also don’t think it is necessary, even given representationalism. As an eternalist, there is no illusion, hallucination or false perception in seeing the rope at these two different places. Since anything at any time is as real as anything at any other time, seeing real things at different times is not a mistake. There are such things at those different times.

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