Category Archives: Constitution

By ‘constitution’ here is meant the makeup–the structure, the elements, parts intrinsic relations and properties–of something. In order for something to exist, it’s constitution must exist. (As discussed in an early post, this makes it distinct from ‘content’ conceived as semantic content).

Phenomenal Presentism [definition of]

By phenomenal presentism[1], I mean this:

The position that, whatever we might say about the reality of time or things and events in time,

(a) our experience is really only strictly present.

(b) by ‘strictly present’ is meant a single moment of time.

This is the first time I’ve used this ‘out in the open’ as it were, although I came up with it years ago when talking to Robin (Le Poidevin, my PhD supervisor). Here are some comments on it.

  • No matter (i) what our experience is about — no matter what it represents or intends, or however you might like to put it, e.g., how it seems or appears, and (ii) how the rest of the world exists in time, or what rules govern anything other than experience, experience itself is strictly present.
  • Anything that we might say about experience as not being strictly present is relegated to something not real about or intrinsic to it. For various philosophers and theorists, this might include:

(i) Mere represented or intended content of experience; it is not something real with respect to experience because it is not real in the broadest most general sense. I hallucinate a flame-breathing bear; I experience a duration. These are contents of the experiences but not properties of the experience itself, and also not real.

(ii) Relationships which are not found in the experience itself; e.g., they do not constitute the experience. They might be real but they hold between an experience and other things, such as causes or effects of it. So, a flash of light causes my visual experience of a flash of light. The flash of light is real, perhaps (whenever it happens) but it is not part of the experience. Instead, the experience is an effect of the flash of light. Similarly, a temporal relationship between that experience and the flash of light is not something which is part or constitutive or intrinsic to the experience.

  • Another example: it seems to you that you have some kind of experience of the past in memory experiences. E.g., it seems to you that you somehow experience in memory a day you when you were young that you slipped on some seaweed. But you can’t experience the past because: the past is not present, and anything you experience — however it seems — must be present.

You might hold this view, for example, if you are a phenomenal presentist and prefer naive realism (SEP) for experience. In that case, experience is only in the present; experience is partially constituted by what is experienced. So, what is experienced is present (because: if x is present, then its parts and constituents are present — I take this to be obvious).

  1. I think holding phenomenal presentism to be true, explicitly or (as I think in most cases) implicitly, is central to many theorists’ problems with perception, consciousness and experience in time, e.g., with respect to the specious present, time-consciousness, perception under time-lag, the relationship between phenomenology and the physical world etc.
  2. I also think, as a variant of presentism, that, however intuitive or ‘obvious’ (to some) that it might be, it is a false or implausible position given contemporary physics. I’ve argued that in my papers — in all of them pretty much, e.g., in my 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, although not in terms of ‘phenomenal presentism’.
  • Given ‘1’ and ‘2’, it is perhaps obvious that a common problem I encounter regarding discussions with other theorists about perception, consciousness and experience is this: I am suspicious that I make different assumptions to them about what is true of perception, consciousness and experience.
  • I think I make different assumptions because, when discussing issues about consciousness and perception, I always have this question in the back of my mind: what happens to this issue at hand when it is not assumed that experience is strictly present? (This isn’t a question I see considered explicitly).
  • This isn’t a question I see considered explicitly despite the following:

How one answers it looks to have as much significance as one’s position on how experience occurs in space. It is as significant as holding one of the following views about experience:

i. Experience has no spatial location: as non-physicalists or eliminativists might think.

ii. Experience is at a single spatial location: as Descartes (according to Rowlands 2010) might think.

iii. Experience is spread out in space — as I think, and I think physicalists should too.

I won’t go into the details about why these views might be significant.

In summary: some assume phenomenal presentism; I do not. As a result, I think that when I discuss problems about perception, consciousness etc. I do not solve them the same way. In some cases, I have problems others don’t (e.g., simultaneity, although I don’t think it’s much of a problem). In other cases, their problems don’t even come up (e.g., the specious present). And I’m beginning to suspect that this discrepancy flows into all of my thinking about consciousness in time. Which is a pain when I go to conferences.


1. I use ‘phenomenal’ here as being in one sense equivalent to ‘experiential’: it is used to refer to the real properties, structure and constitution of experience. It is not equivalent to appearances, where such a term includes ‘mere appearances’, because ‘mere appearances’ are not real. It is more like my use of ‘phenomenal’ in my 2010 (and in this site earlier on) when I talk about ‘phenomenal parts‘). Or what I call here ‘obviousness‘. Except that it need not refer to something apparent.

That is not to say appearances aren’t related to experiences; you cannot have experiences and the phenomenal without appearances, but the appearances are not sufficient for experience/phenomenal/obviousness: with the (check the ‘obviousness’ post for more). You could also call the view here ‘experiential presentism’. Adapting it to perception someone might call it ‘perceptual presentism’ (and so on).


Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses I


Illusion and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses

Content and constitution

Metaphysics of time


I think that time is relevant to the extended mind debate because of the following:

1. The extended and embedded hypotheses, and other hypotheses in the same area of discussion (e.g., enactive, embodied , Rowland’s amalgamated mind — a combination of the embodied and extended mind) — these concern the constitution of mental events:

  • Embedded (EMH): mental events are wholly and necessarily constituted by events/processes/objects inside the brain (and/or mind)[1]
  • Extended (XMH): mental events are partially and contingently constituted by events/processes/objects outside the brain (and/or mind).


2. As discussed in an earlier post, I hold questions of constitution to be questions about the real structure, elements, relations, properties, etc., of mental events; they are not about the intentional, represented etc. structure/elements/relations/properties. Put more loosely: constitution concerns what mental events are made of, not what mental events are about (unless that has implications for what they’re made of).

  • Such questions are important. Their answers prescribe what, for theories with minds in their ontology, it is that can or needs to be real. Their answers also tell you when it is you can say there is a mind involved.
    • There are further consequences that I think follow from this, e.g., thought experiments about the mind: what is necessary for the constitution of mental events determines what can you assume you have when you posit minds in imaginary situations. I am planning a later post where I discuss one such thought experiment — Davidson’s ‘Swampman’ — that I think is affected by thinking about mental constitution over time.
    • I must be brief here on this, so can only note it and put it off for later. But I also consider questions of constitution to be more important than questions of intentional or represented content. They are more important because questions about intentional or represented content divide into two parts:
      • (a) Questions about what is needed for the mental event, the vehicle, to be representing or intending. That is, how can some x represent or intend? (b) Questions about what is represented or intended.
      • ‘a’ is a question about constitution; ‘b’ is about content. But whatever you say about ‘b’, it does not commit you to anything involved.
      • A central debate in contemporary philosophy of mind, about, e.g., consciousness, attitudes, information, representation, concerns the claim that physicalism leaves something about the mind out of its range of what is real. E.g., that ‘what it is like’ to be conscious is not something physical, but is something real.
        • It is not not the claim ‘I can think about consciousness and consciousness isn’t physical’. This is just the same as saying ‘I can think about crystal spheres’ or ‘I can think of next Saturday’s lunch’ or ‘I can think of ghosts’. The physicalist can reply: ‘good’; or even, ‘so can I’. But, also, ‘none of these things you think of are real.’


3.It is plausible that (a) a debate about what is real may have implications for (b) a debate about the real constituents of something.  This is not the case if the ‘what’ in ‘a’ does not encompass the constituents of ‘b’. But if ‘a’s ‘what’ does encompass ‘b’, then it is relevant. And I think that the ‘what’ in the metaphysics of time debate encompasses, and so is relevant to, the constituents in the extended/embedded mind debate.

  • The debates in the metaphysics of time, particularly I think those surrounding eternalism and presentism, are debates about what is real. These include physical things, both internal to a human body and extending throughout the external world. The debate concerns what physical things are related to each other, and how they are related.
    • For example, I argue in my 2010b that it is plausible to hold that only real things are spatially related to one another — e.g., I am no distance from unicorns. If so, then only real things can participate in spatially organised structures together (of course, merely possible things can participate in merely possible spatially organised structures, but that’s not important).Then:
      • If one holds, as presentists do, that only present simultaneous things are real, then only present simultaneous things can participate in spatially organised structures.
      • If one holds, as eternalists do, that anything at any time is real, then — I argue in 2010b, anything at any time can participate in spatially organised structures. That is, whether a number of elements are past, present, simultaneous, non-simultaneous — given eternalism, they are real.
      • Note that the point about eternalism (which is in many ways one of my Big Ideas behind my work).
    • The question asked in the extended mind debate: how are mental events constituted, by merely internal or also external events?  — this is a question at least partly about the spatial organisation of mental events. [2]
  • The debates between extended and embedded mind are debates about physically real things, both internal to a human body and in the external world.
  • The debates in the metaphysics of time may affect what we can say about what is real in the world, and so what we can say about the physical constitution of mental events.


Here are three ways to approach this possible relationship between the two debates, and why you might pick each of them:

  1. You want to remain neutral about the metaphysics of time. So, you pick physical constituents which  (a) encompass all physical things agreed in the extended mind debate and (b) all real thingsagreed in the metaphysical debate about time.
    • This can get difficult. See next post.
  2. You commit to a metaphysical position on time, and doing so undermines some of the motivations for one of the position in the extended/embedded mind debate.
  3. You commit to a position on the extended/embedded mind hypotheses, and doing so undermines some of the motivations for the positions in the time debate.


I will spell this out a little more.


Time and the extended/embedded mind hypotheses II (in development)


1. This is not how I separately define them in the illusion and extended mind post. I haven’t decided yet which is the best way to express the differences, or even if there is a need to decide.

2. They arguably also can include non-physical things, which is why I;m being explicit here about physical things.