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When I’ve attempted to research philosophy of time I find that a lot of the discussion seems to be about how to give a logical analysis of tenses in language, but relatively little of it seems to pay attention to the relationship between the present moment and phenomenal consciousness (i.e. qualia). Intuitively, all human experience occurs in a distinguished present moment which seems moves forward along the time axis. I’ll call the content of this intuition the progressive phenomenal present (PPP).

B-theorists often say that the present moment and tensed utterances are indexical an offer a simple scheme for systematically translating tensed propositions into tenseless propositions which are indexed explicitly to the time of utterance. It is thereby claimed that all tensed language as well as references to the present, past, and future are inessential conveniences. This sort of analysis overlooks the connection between the present and phenomenal consciousness.

I’m convinced that the indexical account of A-series language works for tensed language that is not intrinsically consciousness related such “I’m now writing a post,” “I came home earlier,” or “the Big Crunch will be some time in the future”. But I’m not convinced that this works for language that directly describes our phenomenal experience in relation to the present moment and the flow of time. If I assert, “All of qualia appear in the present moment,” at 10:19pm, it does not even preserve truth to translate this as “All qualia appear at 10:19pm”. In my original statement I was not saying that every phenomenal conscious experience is occurring at a single point in B-series time. My statement is most naturally interpreted as presupposing the truth of PPP which implies that there is a single present moment which occupies and moves through distinct moments in the B-series.

While this example is a highly abstract philosophical statement, a more ordinary statement can illustrate a similar point. I might say, “I was suffering from a bad headache earlier and I’m so glad that time is in the past now.” The B-theorist translates this as “I am suffering from a bad headache at some time which is earlier than when I’m asserting this, and I’m so glad that the time of my headache is earlier than that the time of this assertion.” My original statement implies, together with PPP that I am not suffering from the headache, since phenomenal suffering cannot occur in the past. Moreover, it is this implication that is the reason for my gladness. On the other hand, the translated sentence implies that I am (tenselessly) both suffering at the earlier time and also not suffering at the later time. It says nothing to imply that the earlier headache event is not an event which involves phenomenal suffering. This means my gladness at the later time is not supported by the same reasons as in the original statement. I might be biased towards my co-temporal part at the moment of speaking, but this is a very different kind of reason. Therefore, the translation does not preserve what matters in my statement.

If deflationary accounts of tensed language can’t faithfully translate the meaning of these uses of A-series language, it seems obvious to me that reason is the intuition that a distinguished and temporally progressive present moment that is a necessary condition for having phenomenological consciousness (PPP).

My question is which philosophers have explored these issues at the intersection of philosophy of time and the problems of consciousness and what are some of their theories and arguments?

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  • How can anything dynamic, like experience, occur in a moment? Experience is a dynamic process and only static states attach to moments, being limit abstractions just as moments are. There are developed phenomenological accounts of time-consciousness, e.g. Bergson's and Husserl's, and all of them require temporal horizon and duration, not moments, see IEP, Phenomenology and Time-Consciousness. Analogizing time to space with moments for points is a deeper reason why B-theory fails to describe phenomenal consciousness, which present moment does not fix.
    – Conifold
    Aug 14, 2023 at 6:10
  • @Conifold It's true I used the language of a point in the B-series, and I think you're right that an phenomenological moment can't be an infinitesimal point. I should have said an interval in the B-series. I don't think this issue is what explains the failure of the B-series since we can use B-series to define an interval as an open set of continuous temporal points.
    – Avi C
    Aug 14, 2023 at 11:35
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    Identifying phenomenal duration with an interval made of points in either A or B series already misinterprets phenomenal consciousness, as Bergson pointed out, see SEP. Temporal consciousness is "holistic", it does not dissociate into instants, and cannot be "defined" or described that way. Once it is so dissociated, adding a moving slider will not assemble it back, this is why A and B theories are so easily convertible into each other. What one needs is a model of divisible continuum that does not split into points at all.
    – Conifold
    Aug 14, 2023 at 18:03

2 Answers 2

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In Heidegger's phenomenology there is a subjective form of time which is quite separate from ordinary clock-time time. This subjective time is referred to as authentic because it is proper to the self. Its mode of temporality is considered in terms of (cycles of) past experience and future plans, but when an action is to be made in a specific moment its moment is referred to as the moment of vision. I.e. from Being & Time H. 338 (The Temporality of Understanding)

That Present which is held in authentic temporality and which thus is authentic itself, we call the "moment of vision". This term must be understood in the active sense as an ecstasis. It means the resolute rapture with which Dasein is carried away to whatever possibilities and circumstances are encountered in the Situation as possible objects of concern, but a rapture which is held in resoluteness. The moment of vision is a phenomenon which in principle can not be clarified in terms of the "now" [dem Jetzt]. The "now" is a temporal phenomenon which belongs to time as within-time-ness: the "now" 'in which' something arises, passes away, or is present-at-hand. 'In the moment of vision' nothing can occur; but as an authentic Present or waiting-towards, the moment of vision permits us to encounter for the first time what can be 'in a time' as ready-to-hand or present-at-hand.

In contradistinction to the moment of vision as the authentic Present, we call the inauthentic Present "making present". Formally understood, every Present is one which makes present, but not every Present has the character of a 'moment of vision'.

The origin of authentic time is developed from Kant's intuition of time but now made completely intrinsic to subjectivity. Clarified by Jacques Derrida in Heidegger: The Question of Being & History, (pages 180-181)

To clarify what he calls Kant’s “obscure assertion” that “time affects a concept, in particular, the concept of the representations of objects” (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 133), Heidegger shows what time as pure intuition must signify: originarily, it can in no way signify affection of something by something, affection of a being by another being, affection of an existing subject by something outside it: because time is nothing, as such it cannot affect anything. It is affection of self by self. Auto-affection, a concept that is as incomprehensible as is, in truth, the movement of temporalization. This auto-affection as temporality is not a characteristic affecting transcendental subjectivity, one of its attributes; it is, on the contrary, that starting from which the self, the Selbst, the I think constitutes itself and announces itself to itself. Heidegger writes, [French] p. 244:

As pure self-affection, time is not an acting affection that strikes a self which is at hand (vorhandenes Selbst). Instead, as pure it forms the essence (Wesen) of something like self-activating (Sich-selbst-angehen as self-relating, to relate to self, angegangen werden zu können). However, if it belongs to the essence of the finite subject to be able to be activated as a self, then time as pure self-affection forms the essential structure of subjectivity. Only on the grounds of this self-hood can the finite creature be what it must be: dependent upon taking things in stride (angewiesen auf Hinnahme). (Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, 132) [GA 3, 1929]

Authentic time is contrasted with ordinary or inauthentic time in Being & Time H. 329

[authentic] Temporality makes possible the unity of existence, facticity, and falling, and in this way constitutes primordially the totality of the structure of care [i.e. concern, attending to]. ...

Temporality is the primordial 'outside-of-itself' in and for itself. We therefore call the phenomena of the future, the character of having been, and the Present, the "ecstases" of temporality. Temporality is not, prior to this, an entity which first emerges from itself; its essence is a process of temporalizing in the unity of the ecstases. What is characteristic of the 'time' which is accessible to the ordinary understanding, consists, among other things, precisely in the fact that it is a pure sequence of "nows", without beginning and without end, in which the ecstatical character of primordial temporality has been levelled off. But this very levelling off, in accordance with its existential meaning, is grounded in the possibility of a definite kind of temporalizing, in conformity with which temporality temporalizes as inauthentic the kind of 'time' we have just mentioned. If, therefore, we demonstrate that the 'time' which is accessible to Dasein's common sense is not primordial, but arises rather from authentic temporality, then, in accordance with the principle, "a potiori fit denominatio" [denomination from the more important], we are justified in designating as "primordial time" the temporality which we have now laid bare.

Ordinary time in the above sense is the A-series. Heidegger mainly focuses on Dasein rather than consciousness, but qualia (even unconscious qualia) would align with authentic experience rather than ordinary conventions of time. The general point is to show that there are separate conceptualisations of time for subjectivity and objectivity.

As for the relevance of the B-series. The B-series is just a further abstraction of the A-series but with no observer at all to say when is now. As Conifold commented on this post regarding McTaggart's B-series: "McTaggart was an objective idealist, all subject bound constructs were "unreal" to him. ... He is asking for a tenseless explanation of tenses, as long as one plays by his rules there is no escaping circularity."

The A-series is not without its problems. Kant points out how reason is confounded by the conceptualisation of time in his antinomies and the modern space-time model excludes gravitational singularities because the physics is too extreme. Ordinary time is not so straightforward as one might think.

To extend phenomenology of time to consciousness I might suggest Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Time.

Merleau-Ponty made a further interpretation of the relationship between “Being” and “Time” in his lecture notes during 1958–1959. He points out that “the temporal opening or ecstasy is not the ‘act’ of consciousness……time stops being the product of a project (Entwurf), of a ‘intentionality’. Before an intentionality takes place, there must be an opening, a leeway (Spielraum), a region (Gegend) where the intentionality can unfold. It is this region that is the time” (Notes de cours: 1959–1961, 136). The “region” as the “isotope” of time proves to be the premise of intentionality unfolding. This potential relationship between temporality and “being” as the cornerstone of ontology provides important clues for clarifying Merleau-Ponty’s later phenomenological ontology.

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  • Thanks for your detailed post Chris . I do appreciate the phenomenological approach. I studied Merleau-Ponty in doctoral research. It's just that I'm looking for more points of connection between the analytical/logic based approaches and the approaches that take the phenomenology seriously. I feel like it's two conversations talking past each other, each side preaching to the choir. I want to find the points where there can be real engagement between them to hash it out in philosophical argument. Maybe it is Quixotic of me, but I'll keep trying.
    – Avi C
    Aug 15, 2023 at 2:48
  • I just commented one point of connection here: "Quantum vacuum theory makes an interesting analogy with Leibniz's principle of reason whereby reason is causeless (and akin to phenomenal being) and the "laws of physics"—here taken as causeless—manifesting as matter. Thus uniting phenomenology and logical empiricism in causelessness." Not necessarly quantum vacuum though, any eternal physical basis would do. Aug 15, 2023 at 12:46
  • For temporal qualia I would still use the moment of vision as the decisive moment for conscious (or unconscious) action and connection with the physical world. If action is not required Dasein has no need to be ordinarily temporally engaged, and consciousness even less so: day-dreaming, asleep, time dragging or flying, occasionally super-contracted. Less so also to any extend that consciousness is a retrospective interpretaion of unconscious thought and action. Aug 15, 2023 at 14:34
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Husserl believed that our basic experience of consciousness is centered around the living present moment. However, this living present is not instantaneous but has a bit of "thickness" or duration to it.

Within the living present, we retain what just happened moments ago. This gives us a sense of the experience flowing or streaming over time. It's what allows us to have a continuous sense of time passing rather than just isolated instances.

We also intuitively grasp or anticipate what will happen next. This is called "protention" - it's like a very short-term prediction. Together, this retention of the just-past along with protention of the immediate future make up the "thickness" of the living present moment. Even though it's just a very brief span, it has depth rather than being a single instant.

For Husserl, all of our perceptions, thoughts, memories exist within this living present framework. So even when remembering the past, it happens from the perspective of the now. Our sense of self is also unified over time thanks to the retention across successive living present moments.

The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness https://archive.org/details/phenomenologyofi0000ehus/page/n197/mode/2up

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  • Thanks for your comment. I'm familiar with Husserl and other phenomenologists. I agree fundamentally with that sort of account of the present moment. What I'm looking for is to know whether there are more contemporary philosophers would have engaged with the phenomenological implications of temporality in the context of the philosophy of time. I guess I'm asking if anybody has brought considerations like this to the debate on the other side of the analytic-continental divine.
    – Avi C
    Aug 14, 2023 at 11:39
  • J. T. M. Miller, Barry Dainton, Rudolf Bernet and Thomas Baldwin tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00071773.2009.11006679 - for example.
    – user66933
    Aug 14, 2023 at 11:49
  • Thanks for the names, I'll Google them. The article you linked to appears to be about Husserl and Heidegger scholarship. What is the link with contemporary analytic philosophy of time?
    – Avi C
    Aug 14, 2023 at 12:26
  • @AviC It's an exclusive link I'd guess from this: "Analytic philosophy started as a reaction to Kant’s epistemology in the Vienna Circle, picked up its linguistic impetus through Wittgenstein, became strictly formulated by Logical Positivists" and this: "logical positivism, also called logical empiricism, a philosophical movement that arose in Vienna in the 1920s and was characterized by the view that scientific knowledge is the only kind of factual knowledge..." Aug 14, 2023 at 14:19

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