Seeing things at more than one time


I’m not really sure where else to go with this. Either you insist that what you see here — the surface filled by the rope moving through space and time — is not really what you see, or is not real — and so is in some way an illusion — or you hold that we do see something at several moments in time. As said, I prefer the latter: it captures the appearances.

This is something I’m concerned with. Not all philosophers, metaphysicians, and other theorists might be concerned with this — with how things seem, or can be shown, or pointed at, or made apparent. I take it that, since I started this post by pointing at such things, and you have continued reading to this point, you are probably not one of them (and if you are, why did you read this far? What were you expecting from an appeal to how things seem that would interest you?).


1. Or something similar: maybe you know — or are — someone extremely healthy who can skip with a skipping rope so fast, for so long and so regularly that the rope seems to be constantly above and below them. I don’t myself — all my friends are almost as lazy as myself.

2. It does of course occupy more than one point in space: it occupies the entire length joining it from one motor to the other. And it has its own volume — about the thickness of a jump-rope. But neither of these distances capture both ‘A’ and ‘B’, or any similar points in space. That is, the vertical distance the rope seems to occupy all along its length, and the volume is circumscribes, as it moves is neither the rope’s length nor the rope’s thickness.

3. There are lots of other examples of seeing things in space which are at more than one time — some more extreme in temporal terms. For example, as we see them, distant stars are at dramatically different times to each other and ourselves (see my 2010b, ‘Perceiving External Things and the Time-lag Argument’ for more on this). Further, allegedly, early examples of televisions involve cathode ray tubes lighting up the screen at different places at different times. As a result, arguably, if we see the whole screen lit up, then we are seeing illuminations happening at different times (see Le Poidevin’s earlier 2004 version of ‘The Experience and Perception of Time’ for a reference to this as the ‘specious present’; he seems to drop it in the later version).

I think this particular example is especially useful because what you see is the same thing, at different places, seemingly at once, but actually at different times. Say the speed of light were infinite, and so distant things could be simultaneous with our seeing of them. Say, one analysed the illuminated screen as being due to left-over heat or what-have-you. Still, there is this example of perceiving things at more than one time. What we see is a single moving thing, only at those places at different times, only reflecting light at those places at different times. The difference is neither due to the time-lag of light nor anything to do with ‘heat traces’ at places where it once was.

4. Actually, I don’t think it does neutralise the relevance of this sort of stuff to discussions about time, or vice versa. It just moves the discussion away from external things like ropes into the temporal structure of internal things. And I think we’ll still run into trouble there, given relativistic physics. My basic position being: given relativistic physics, there just isn’t any scope in a physical view of the mind and the world for any kind of presentist analysis of perception, external and internal. Like presentism simpliciter, a physical form of what I suppose one could call perceptual presentism should also be rejected.

I discuss this in my 2010a ‘Complex Experience, Relativity and Abandoning Simultaneity’ as well as my currently-post-refereeing-in-revision paper ‘The Temporal Structure of Neural Representation’ (see it on my academia web-page:

5. This is a common move so far as I can tell with representationalists. It is employed, for example, by Lycan to remove the threat of qualia toward physicalism (Lycan 1996). I don’t think this is a particularly good move for questions about experience, especially where the alternatives are in keeping with otherwise plausible hypotheses (e.g., eternalism). But I’ll not discuss that here.


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