Category Archives: representation

Discussions on representation. As will be clear in the text, when it comes to experience and perception, I am not at all happy about talking about it as representation. I find thinking of experience and perception as representational shallow, misleading and unhelpful.

Seeing things at more than one time

Take a look at the video below (the noise might be quite loud; it is from the spinning):

**And here is the video of it provided by Daniel Palacios (the artist) himself (I prefer my own for THIS post because it shows only on what I’m discussing here): **.

This is one of the exhibits at the Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin in March 2013. This is a single elastic rope being spun rapidly by two motors attached to each of its ends. There’s more to it than that — the motors are set off and altered by movement around it — but what is most important is this:

(a) If you are seeing this device, then you are seeing a single rope spinning rapidly through a region of space.

(b) What you seem to be seeing is something occupying the surface of a three-dimensional volume within that region. This surface includes more than one point in space, e.g., in the following picture, it includes the area encompassed by the circles ‘A’ and ‘B’.


This volume that you seem to see is constantly changing. If you’re seeing the rope, then it is because of the motion of this rope. However, at any one time, the rope is not itself stretching out over that surface it seems to fill. The rope is just a relatively thin (yet elastic) rope which spins quickly about a horizontal axis. And because of that spinning then, at one time, it is at ‘A’ and, at another time, it is at ‘B’.

What you see in this video is — obviously — not just what you are seeing when you look at this for real. But when you go and look at the spinning rope — not through YouTube, but just standing in front of it and seeing it — you see in all important respects the same thing as in this video: the apparent filling of the circumference of a volume by something in motion, something which turns out to be the rope. Go and see — visit the science gallery [1].

The Time of What you See

If you see this rope moving like this, and you do see it as being in two places  (e.g., ‘A’ and ‘B’) — then

1. You seem to see the rope occupying different locations in space.

What is moving — in reality, a single rope — seems to be occupying two places at the same time, i.e., it seems to occupy two points in space simultaneously.

However, the rope cannot be occupying these two places, or any like them, simultaneously[2]. Instead, this filling of the volume is only from the movement of the rope. The rope is moving from one of these points to the other of these points, but it is never at each at one time. The rope is occupying this surface over or through a multiple of times. And you see it doing that — you see it filling this surface over a multiple of times.

This means that this appearance of simultaneous occupancy of these spaces is not of real simultaneity. That in itself doesn’t bother me — and I don’t think it should bother anyone else: ‘apparent simultaneity’ in my view is not an ‘appearance’ at all but the non-appearance of actual duration (read more on this in my 2010a ‘Complex Experience, Relativity and Abandoning Simultaneity’, or even my PhD thesis, where I go into more finicky detail).

It also means something else.


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.