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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.

Notes

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).

Anosognosia

Back: Table of Contents for 1st Draft of Monograph

In this post, I want to make a brief comment on something I think important to what I’m doing in the monograph I’m currently completing (of which I recently posted the table of contents).

In the monograph, I define, describe and use a kind of erroneous experience that I refer to throughout as ‘anosognosia’. Although I describe it as a kind of erroneous experience, I do not consider it as either identical to or a sub-species of the commonly conceived erroneous experiences of illusion or hallucination.

By ‘anosognosia’, I mean an error related to some experience of x which is this: it seems to the subject of the experience that they experience everything that is there, suitably qualified by experiential mode (e.g., memory/perception; visual perception/auditory perception).

So, I look at an apple’s surface under bright light, and it seems to me that I see the whole of the apple’s surface, contour and colour. But I don’t see it all: there is more surface, contour and colour to the apple, revealed through microscopes or different ways of shining light upon it (or whatever you like).

Still, in my seeing the apple, it does not seem as if there is more of what I seem to see (e.g., colour, or shape) there; I seem to see all the colour, shape or contour belonging to the apple.

The point is not that I do not know that there is more to the apple’s colour, shape, contour etc. (intellectually, as it were); it is not about my beliefs generally about experience. I may very well know or believe there is more to it (which is in fact the case). It is that this ‘more’ does not seem that way through my seeing it.

I need to introduce this kind of error because of amodal completion. With amodal completion, there seems to be more to what I experience than what I perceptually experience (I discuss this in Chapter 8 of the first draft). So, I see the apple’s surface, and although I believe I see all its colour and shape of what faces me, it also seems to me that there is more to the apple’s colour and shape than what faces me; there is what faces away from me (the ‘presence in absence’, as some theorists put it).

I am not happy with the term ‘anosognosia’. It is usually associated with serious atypical impairments in subjects rather than typical human functioning.’Anosognosia’ is quite a technical term, of which its uses in the relevant literature I have not fully explored.

A recent very helpful email discussion with Max Coltheart (of Macquarie University) has given me a  taste of why I feel cautious and unhappy with it. His worry is that how I use it here doesn’t fit right. For example, it will apply to anyone who doesn’t have technical knowledge about experience, i.e., almost everyone’s beliefs about experience, or else only to particularly confabulating conditions, and so no-one with ‘normal’ perception.

Although I can see the worry, I’m not sure I agree the concept is problematic. I think that the concept I’m using the term for has a precise and important role in understanding consciousness, particularly in light of evaluating different ontologies and metaphysical systems from which one considers questions about consciousness.

But, that doesn’t really solve the problems with it(and so I have told Coltheart that I will probably drop it). Like ‘phenomenal’ (as discussed in an earlier post), how ‘anosognosia’ is used by everyone else may be drifting to settle far from my use. The result will be that, however coherent or useful my concept might be, my use of this term will only end up seeming either idiosyncratic and/or cause confusion (this is why I’ve dropped ‘phenomenal’ for ‘obvious’, as discussed in that earlier post).

But for now, I am using ‘anosognosia’. Further to the reasons above:

1. I don’t think what I describe here is simply ignorance of what is the case regarding one’s experience (which was one of Coltheart’s worries).

2. Nor do I think anosognosia is so defined by others that it must include confabulation (as, e.g., as found in anosognosic sufferers of Anton’s Syndrome(Journal of Medical Case Reports; wikipedia)). In the JME case report linked here, the authors conceptually separate confabulation from anosognosia: ‘Visual anosognosia, that is, denial of loss of vision, associated with confabulation in the setting of obvious visual loss and cortical blindness is known as Anton’s syndrome.’ These two features of the syndrome are associated, not identical.

3. As with many deficits,  e.g., such as blindness, that it applies to uncommon, atypical or pathological cases does not mean that it must be kept for strictly referring only to these cases. If something in common, typical, non-pathological cases is found to be exactly the same, I think we should carry the terminology over; again, we do it all the time, as with blindness.

…and Simplicity-illusions

Final point: there are connections with ‘illusions of simplicity’ discussed in an earlier post. In the monograph, I discuss how anosognosia and illusion (but not hallucination) can be related. I would say now that where there are simplicity-illusions, there are cases of anosognosia as well. As a result, I don’t define simplicity-illusions separately anymore in the monograph. But,  importantly, in cases of simplicity-illusion and anosognosia, there is not illusion and anosognosia of the same thing. It’s almost the contrary: if there is an illusion of not-B, there is anosognosia of B.