Abstract We argue that the view that we misperceive time as passing is self-undermining. 1. Introduction The debate over the reality of temporal passage has occupied philosophers of time for over a century. The dispute was largely concerned with the need to resolve a conflict between reasons of experience in favor of temporal passage and reasons of the intellect against it. The latter appeal to logic, a priori principles, or to science, while the former make a direct appeal to experience. It has been largely agreed that these reasons are in conflict and that one of the warring parts must give way to the other. The deniers of passage typically concede that time seems to pass but, persuaded by intellectualistic reasons, conclude that it must be an illusion. Conversely, the friends of passage have tried to do justice to the appearances at the expenses of the intellectualistic reasons. This is the so called ‘argument from experience’. The conviction that the manifest image of reality contains the (possibly illusory) fact of passage is so widespread that it is surprising how relatively little attention has been devoted to expressing exactly what such experience would consist of. Simon Prosser (2012) has rightly observed that the question can be asked most vividly within the framework of an intentionalist view of perception, according to which the phenomenal character of perceptual experiences supervenes on their representational content. Within such a framework (assumed in this article too) the somewhat vague phenomenological characterization of the experience of passage can be replaced by a clearer characterization in terms of its presumed representational content. Those persuaded by the idea that the experience of passage is illusory owe us an explanation as to where exactly lies the error. There are two families of error theories put forward to block the argument from experience. According to the first one, perceptual experience, inasmuch as it presents us with something dynamic, misrepresents reality (Dainton 2011, 2012). Let us call it the ‘misperception error theory’ (misperceptivism). This is the view we aim to criticize. The misperceptivist owes us a precise statement of which properties it is that the world does not instantiate, which would make it ‘dynamic’. This is what we shall argue cannot be done without departing from a static B-theoretic framework. According to the second error theory, the mistake would consist in a misdescription of the content of perceptual experience; it seems to us that we perceive the world as dynamic but in fact we don’t; rather, we only have wrong beliefs about what the representational content of our perceptions really is. Let us call this the ‘misdescription error theory’ (Dennett 1991, Le Poidevin 2007: ch. 5, Paul 2010, Prosser 2012). In claiming that our experience represents the world as instantiating dynamic features absent from reality, the misperceptivist must be careful not to concede too much, as she would if her account required that dynamic experiences themselves (or their contents) instantiate dynamic properties incompatible with the B-theory. It is not enough to claim that passage is mind dependent in the sense that it requires the interaction of a conscious subject with external reality. The strict denier of passage wants to further claim that the content of the experience of passage is never true of the actual world, not even of that part of it consisting of the interactions between subjects and their objects: ‘the dynamic character of our immediate experience does not require time itself to be dynamic’ (Dainton 2011: 391).1 This contention often rests on the observation that representations need not share their properties with their representeds. An experience representing an object as heavy, or colored, needs not be itself heavy or colored. Analogously, so the reasoning goes, an experience as of dynamicity needs not be itself dynamical. As Steven Savitt put it: ‘we don’t need an animated picture to have a picture of animation’ (Savitt 2002: 163). Here, we shall argue that this view, combined with the claim that experiences of animation misrepresent reality, is self-undermining. To argue so, we proceed by excluding three plausible candidates as to the content of the illusory experience of passage, in order of increasing complexity. We then provide a general diagnosis for this pattern of failure. 2. Representing time as passing We start by asking whether the representation of a B-theoretic relation, to the effect, for example, that Clinton is standing before and later sitting, could constitute, so unadorned, a representation of time as passing. Arguably not. If we misrepresent time as passing, in fact, then there must be a mismatch between how the experience represents the world as being and how the world actually is. Since the B-theorist is happy to concede that the world really contains B-relations, representing (veridically) states of affairs as succeeding one another cannot by itself amount to misrepresenting time as passing. Dynamicists argue that the B-theoretic account of change is not an account of genuine change at all. Dynamical change, it is argued, must be more than just having different properties at different times. Notice that no one denies that a thing having different properties at different times has changed. Of course it has! What is at stake, rather, is whether having different properties at different times could be all there is to change. Dynamicists think not, invoking the so-called no-change objection, which, in a nutshell, runs as follows. In a B-theoretic scenario, we are allowed only tenseless verbs, at least as far as we are concerned with describing fundamental reality. The trouble is that the propositions that they can afford to express are all eternally true or eternally false. If this is the case, genuine changes must be more than these mere variations, since real change occurs only if reality itself changes. But changes in reality must correspond to changes in the truth values of the propositions that describe it. Of course, the B-theorist will be unpersuaded by this argument. However, as she concedes that time seems to pass, and that our experience deceives us in that, she will have to concede that the experience of passage has a content exceeding that of unadorned B-theoretic relations, although she will think that such content is not true of the actual world. One could concede that temporal relations are changeless in the sense that they do not themselves change, but nonetheless deny that they thereby fail to be dynamic. Nathan Oaklander, for example, has argued that the Russellian stance (according to him largely misunderstood) should be interpreted as viewing temporal successions as external, irreducible but inherently dynamic relations (the R-relations). As he pointed out: ‘I would agree that B-theoretic relations are changeless … but it does not follow, at least on the R-theory, that the relations are static and not dynamic. We are given flow, passage, whoosh in our experience, so why not say that the R-relation (the sequence) is itself the ground of the dynamism? Admittedly, R-facts do not change since like all facts, they are not in time, but that is compatible with their being temporal facts in virtue of containing temporal (dynamic, transitions from earlier to later) relations’ (personal communication). In a similar vein, Savitt (also a denier of absolute tense) claimed to have ‘both Bergson and Broad on my side for my account of passage’ (Savitt 2002: 164). Whatever one thinks of these moderately realist stances, they do nothing to ease the predicament of the strict B-theorist who wants to claim that the experience of passage is totally illusory: if things are as these authors claim, then we veridically experience dynamical features of reality! Following the lead of McTaggart (1908), the misperceptivist, as a second attempt, could maintain that the illusory aspect of the experience of passage consists in the (illusory) experience of a unique time singled out as absolutely present. Thus, besides Clinton’s experiencing herself as standing first and then sitting, she also has the (illusory) experience of her sitting, say, as absolutely present, and her standing as past. According to some authors (Baker 2010, Craig 2000, Gale 1968), the supposition that experience represents A-determinations would suffice to imply that such features are instantiated (at least by experiences). If this were the case, misperceptivism would be straightforwardly self-undermining. Le Poidevin has objected to this contention, on the grounds that ‘we should distinguish between representing A-series position and instantiating it’ (Le Poidevin 2007: 44). Here, we do not wish to take side on this debate, since we think that, regardless of whether representing an A-series position entails instantiating it, A-series positions have nothing inherently dynamic in themselves, and are therefore unsuited as candidate contents of dynamicity. This is why. The passage of time requires that different times become present in succession, and this, as Fine put it (2005: 287), ‘appears to require more than the presentness of a single moment of time’. A-theorists typically hope to express the thought that time flows by conjoining the proposition that a given time is present with the proposition that other times have been or will be present too. This, however, does nothing to free the A-theory from the charge of making reality static. A representation of, say, yesterday’s past presentness conveys the same content as the conjunction of (i) a representation of today being present with (ii) a representation of yesterday being earlier than today (a B-fact). How could passage consist of the logical conjunction of two non-dynamic states of affairs?2 The missing ingredient, then, could only consist in the further fact that we represent dynamic transitions between states of affairs, regardless of whether these are A- or B-theoretic. As Huw Price (2011: 279) put it: ‘[the notions of passage, change or temporal transition] seem to involve a relation between equals, a passing of the baton between one state of affairs an another’. This brings us to the third and final step of our argument. What does it take to represent a dynamic transition, as opposed to a mere B-theoretic succession? In the following pages, we argue that the notion of transiency is subject to minimal constraints that make its representation by static means impossible. There are two ways in which misperceptivism could turn out to be self-undermining: if it could be argued that either (i) the vehicles or (ii) the contents of the representations of animation must themselves be animated. We argue that the misperceptivist must face both challenges. Let us consider them in turn. 3. No representation of dynamicity without dynamicity Do representations ever represent their contents by sharing the properties that they represent? Surely sometime they do, e.g. when we represent a car accident with a toy model of it (cf. Wittgenstein 1969). To use Currie’s term, we shall say that in these cases the vehicles represent their contents homomorphically. Our question is then whether in experience we represent time homomorphically or not. If it could be shown that we do, then in order to (mis)represent a dynamic transition, the elements of the vehicles would have to concurrently undergo dynamic transitions themselves, contradicting the misperceptivist’s tenet that the experience of dynamicity is totally illusory. Most would agree that experiences of time are special at least in the sense that they could represent temporal properties homomorphically, since they do themselves have temporal properties, and occur before and after one another: as Husserl put it, ‘[i]t is certainly evident that the perception of a temporal object itself has temporality, that the perception of duration itself presupposes the duration of perception, that the perception of any temporal form itself has its temporal form’ (Husserl 1991: 24; see also 198). Indeed, an increasing number of authors argue, on phenomenological grounds, that as a matter of contingent fact we do so represent time, i.e. that ‘for any temporal property apparently presented in experience, our experience itself possesses that temporal property’ (Phillips 2014: 137). Following Phillips, we shall call this view inheritance.3 If inheritance is true, then there can be no representation of dynamicity by static or temporally unextended vehicles. This doctrine has been criticized primarily by arguing that the experience of time is not as it seems to be in this respect (Dennett 1991, Le Poidevin 2007, Paul 2010). Since these criticisms are committed to misdescriptivism, however, we shall not take issue with them here. If the misperceptivist wants to deny inheritance, instead, she will have to insist that there is nothing either incoherent or phenomenologically dubious in assuming that temporally unextended vehicles can represent dynamic contents (non homomorphically). According to this view, also known as Retentionalism, an experience of succession, like that of hearing Re following Do, consists of a complex of experiential representations, comprising an immediate experience representing Re, together with a representation (retention) of the recent past, representing Do; these contents are wrapped together simultaneously in a momentary act of experience. When two or more contents are so simultaneously represented we shall say that they are co-represented. Retentionalism, as it applies to misperceptivism, presupposes that not only (i) vehicles arranged by static means can represent dynamic contents (something which we have offered reasons to doubt about) but also that (ii) contents as of dynamicity need not involve dynamic successions of (sub)contents. This brings us to the second way mentioned above in which misperceptivism could be self-undermining: if the contents as of dynamicity must themselves instantiate dynamic features. In the rest of the article, we shall argue that they must. A necessary condition for two contents to be co-represented is that they be both available to feature together in the synchronic compound when this is represented. Indeed, compound contents, standardly conceived, appear to require that their constituents feature together in them. As Geach (1957: 104) has argued, the elements which constitute the content of a thought do not enter in it successively, even when the content in question is of a succession: they form, he argued, ‘non-successive unities’. Unless a content is ‘grasped altogether’, unless its components ‘are all simultaneously present, the thought or judgment just does not exist at all’ (emphasis added). When two contents A and B can be simultaneously present in a compound, when they are available to form a non-successive unity, we shall say that they are co-available. We shall indicate their co-availability as A ° B. Those who like sets may think of co-availability as a relation which holds between contents if and only if there exists a set which contains them as members. As Ted Sider put it: ‘[s]ince at no one time did there exist both a dinosaur and a computer, it follows that at no time will there exist a set containing a dinosaur and a computer …’ (2001: 16). Paradigmatic domains of co-available contents include mathematical truths, spatial relations, possible worlds, and crucially for our concerns, successive classes of simultaneous events ordered by B-relations in a static Eternalist framework. William James observed that classes of things come in two varieties: ‘classes conceived as “standing,” like space, past times and existing beings; and classes conceived as “growing,” like motion, change, activity’ (James 1912 : 1067). We could express our concern by saying that contents that are co-representable form classes (of co-availability) of the standing variety, while the target dynamic domain forms a class of the growing variety. In an Eternalist framework the truth that Do precedes Re does not compromise the co-availability of the two components to form the non-successive compound, since they belong together to the same unrestricted domain of states of affairs (the static B-series), notwithstanding their not obtaining simultaneously. We may express this semi-formally by claiming that in a static domain co-availability satisfies adjunction ( A,B ⊧A ° B) but doesn’t entail simultaneity ( A ° B ⊭ Sim(A,B)). Things, however, become problematic in a dynamic setting, where non-simultaneous states of affairs, while individually available (in turn), are arguably never co-available. If Re dynamically follows Do, then insofar as the content Do exists, the content Re must fail to exist (in the most unrestricted sense of ‘exists’), and vice versa. This excludes that the recently past Do would ever be co-available with the present Re to partake in the construction of a non-successive unity (Do in the recent past)&(Re now), as required by the retentionalist strategy under consideration. Formally, if the world were dynamic the relation of co-availability wouldn’t satisfy adjunction ( A,B ⊭ A ° B) but it would entail simultaneity ( A ° B ⊧ Sim(A,B)). Now, to represent a succession as dynamic a vehicle must represent how things would be if reality were indeed dynamic, which, we have seen, would entail that no two successive contents are ever co-available. Our thesis is a denial of Geach’s contention as it applies to experiential contents of dynamic successions: if contents as of dynamicity exist at all, they must consist of successive unities, whose essentially non co-representable components enter in them successively. This excludes that any co-representation of successive contents could amount to a representation of a dynamic succession. Most likely, many staticists will find these obscure dynamic unities conceptually indigestible, if not incoherent, and they might therefore refuse to countenance them. This is a perfectly legitimate stance for the misdescriptivist; however, it would be a fatal concession on the part of the misperceptivist, for it would amount to the claim that distinctly dynamic contents simply do not exist, hence a fortiori that they cannot be (mis)represented. 4. The logical form of dynamicity It is interesting to ask what logical form dynamic contents have, which makes them irrepresentable by static means. Here are some constraints about their inferential structure. Whatever coordinates successive contents into a dynamic compound must not only allow, but also entail that they are not co-available: [Re dynamically follows Do] ⊧ ∼Do ° Re. This excludes that the semantic role of the expression ‘dynamically follows’ could be played by the truth-functional conjunction (&), since this is commutative, and it does not exclude co-availability: Do & Re ⊭ ∼Do ° Re. Von Wright (1970) suggested that we overcome these difficulties by introducing (axiomatically) a new non-commutative connective (T), similar to an asymmetric conjunction, whose intended interpretation is ‘and next’. Thus, the content Re follows dynamically Do could be expressed by (Do)T(Re), which excludes Sim(Do,Re), a cacophony; and, crucially, which is different from (Do in the recent past)&(Re now), a non-successive unity of co-available states of affairs. Unfortunately the connective T will be always susceptible of non-intended interpretations, for example, one in which it ranges over co-available (although non-simultaneous) terms, such as those of a static B-series. In this case the content expressed by (Do)T(Re) will be a non-successive unity, and as such it will be representable by static means. But this could not be used to argue that the representation of dynamic contents needs not involve dynamic successions of contents. The aspect of successive unities which makes them dynamic resides in the dynamic successions of their subcontents (in their non co-availability), rather than in the abstract formal semantics of the connective which coordinates them. For that matter, the T-connective has also mathematical interpretations, but surely this does nothing to make these contents dynamic. DoT(Re) represents a dynamic succession only if it coordinates two dynamically successive, hence non co-available (sub)contents, i.e., only if DoT(Re) ⊧ ∼Do ° Re.4 As von Wright put it: ‘[t]he connective T may be said to co-ordinate two “worlds,” viz. the world which is now and the world which will be next’ (1970: 303). We can now put forward a compact version of our second argument for the thesis that misperceptivism is self-undermining: If reality is static, A,B ⊧ A ° B AT(B) represents a dynamic succession only if AT(B) ⊧ ∼A ° B If AT(B) (mis)represents a static reality as dynamic, then, A,B,ATB ⊧ A ° B & ∼A ° B To sum up, we have argued that Retentionalism is committed to the co-representability of the coordinated contents, which entails their co-availability; unfortunately, dynamicity is incompatible with co-availability (and with all that implies it). Therefore, Retentionalism is incompatible with the claim that we represent (veridically or not) dynamic contents. Remarkably, if we are right that dynamic contents comprise dynamic successions of sub-contents, inheritance holds true as a matter of necessity: only a dynamic vehicle could represent a dynamic content without co-representing its subcontents. This would elucidate the phenomenon of inheritance itself, for it would explain why temporal contents, unlike any other, would have to be invariably represented homomorphically in experience. It is worth stressing that co-availability is a relation among represented contents, rather than among obtaining facts (Lipman 2015 discusses a relation between facts, co-obtainment, that matches very closely, within the domain of truthmakers, our co-availability). Successive contents united in a dynamic compound might fail to ever obtain, but they would still instantiate dynamic features, even if they were totally hallucinatory. 5. How could static structures represent dynamic facts? Let us conclude with a note of appeasement. All that we said does not exclude that we refer indirectly to dynamic transitions by static means. Consider, for example, the sentence ‘Re dynamically follows Do’. Surely there is nothing in the least dynamic in it; and even if you process the sentence sequentially as you read it, such dynamic features are not used to represent the relevant content. If we are right, however, the locution ‘dynamically’ (just like the T-conjunction or the connector ‘ -°-’) would be a contentless flatus vocis, as far as dynamicity is concerned, were it not for its semantic deference to experience and other dynamic vehicles. This is perhaps how language, thought, diagrams and mathematical structures can represent dynamic contents heteromorphically: by deferring parasitically to experience, which represent the intended successive contents directly. These considerations offer us a way to understand Savitt’s contention that we don’t need animated pictures to have pictures of animation. We can depict successive classes of simultaneous events, and when we do, Savitt says, ‘we should have no trouble in understanding that this static structure can represent a dynamic or unfolding world’ (Savitt 2002: 163, emphasis added). Now, we can surely understand that. But could we experience dynamicity by representing it this way? And would we even understand that if we had never experienced dynamicity? We think not. 6. Conclusions We have argued that the view that we misrepresent reality as dynamic is self-undermining. This leaves us with two options: either (i) to concede that transiency is a real feature of temporal reality, albeit not necessarily of an A-theoretic kind (Oaklander, Savitt) or (ii) to deny that transiency is a real characteristic of temporal experience after all (Dennett, Le Poidevin, Paul, Prosser). In a nutshell, we have argued that passage is either more than an illusion or less than an illusion.5 Funding This study was supported by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP) [grant number 2014/03330-4]; the Center for Logic and Epistemology of the University of Campinas (Brazil); and the Department Philosophy and Cultural Heritage, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy). Footnotes 1 See Baker 2010 for a denial of this claim. 2 See Boccardi 2015 for an extended discussion of this difficulty. 3 Arguments in favour of this view can be found in Phillips 2014, Rashbrook 2013, Dainton 2011 and Soteriou 2007. According to Hoerl 2013, Husserl too, in passages such as the one quoted above, should be interpreted as endorsing the doctrine of inheritance. 4 It is interesting to read the Bergsonian contention that mathematical structures and conceptual thought ‘spatialize time’ as the claim that they merely mimic the syntactic structure of dynamic contents, leaving out, or otherwise deferring to experience, their essentially dynamic features (their non-co-availability). 5 We are very grateful to Ciro De Florio, Alessandro Giordani, Ulrich Meyer, Giovanni Merlo and Steve Savitt for useful conversations. We are expecially endebted to Nathan Oaklander and an anonymous referee for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this article. References Baker L.R. 2010 . Temporal reality. In Time and Identity , eds. Campbell J. K. , O’Rourke M. , Silverstein H. S. , 27 – 47 . Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Boccardi E. 2015 . 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Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press . © The Authors 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Analysis Trust. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Analysis – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 1, 2018
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