The duration of “now” is shown to be important not only for an understanding of how conscious beings sense duration, but also for the validity of the. Kinds of temporal experience; Duration; The specious present; Past, present and the passage of time; Time order; The metaphysics of time  ‎Duration · ‎The specious present · ‎Past, present and the · ‎Time order. PDF | The doctrine of the specious present that we perceive or, at least, seem to perceive a period of time is often taken to be an obvious claim about perception.


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So one temporal boundary of our experience is explained; what of the other?


There seems no specious present reason why we should not directly experience the distant past. We could appeal to the principle that there can be no action at a temporal distance, so that something distantly past can only causally affect us via more proximate events.

But this is inadequate justification. We can only perceive a spatially distant tree by virtue of its effects on items in our vicinity light reflected off the tree impinging on our retinasbut this is not seen by those who espouse a direct realist theory of perception as incompatible with their position.

We still see the tree, they say, not some more immediate object.


Perhaps then we should look for a different strategy, such as the following one, which appeals to biological considerations. To be effective agents in the world, we must represent accurately what is currently going on: Now we are fortunate in that, although we only perceive the past it is, in most cases, the very recent past, since the transmission of light and sound, though finite, is extremely rapid.

Moreover, although things change, they do so, again specious present most cases, at a rate that is vastly slower than the rate at which information from external objects travels to us.

So when we form beliefs about what is going on in the world, they are largely accurate ones. See Butterfield for a more detailed account specious present these lines. But, incoming information having been registered, it needs to move into the memory to make way for more up to date information.

Temporal Consciousness > The Specious Present: Further Issues (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

For, although things may change slowly relative to the speed of light or of sound, they do change, and we cannot afford to be simultaneously processing conflicting information. So our effectiveness as agents depends on our not continuing to experience a transient state specious present affairs rather in the manner of a slow motion film once information from it has been absorbed.

Evolution has ensured that we do not experience anything other than the very recent past except when we are looking at the heavens. To perceive something as present is simply to perceive it: In addition, if pastness were something we could perceive, then we would perceive everything in this way, since every event is past by the time we perceive it.

But even if we never perceive anything as past at the same time as perceiving the event in question we could intelligibly talk more widely of the experience of pastness: And it has been suggested that memories—more specifically, episodic memories, those of our experiences of past events—are accompanied by a feeling of pastness see Russell The problem that this suggestion is supposed to solve is that an episodic memory is simply a memory of an event: So we need to postulate something else which alerts us to the fact that the event remembered is past.

An alternative account, and one which does not appeal to any phenomenological aspects of memory, is that memories dispose us to form past-tensed beliefs, and is by virtue of this that they represent an event as past.

The Experience and Perception of Time

We have, then, a candidate explanation for our experience of being located at a particular moment in time, the specious specious present. And as specious present content of that experience is constantly changing, so that position in time shifts.

But there is still a further puzzle. Change in our experience is not the same thing as experience of change.

Specious present

We want to specious present, not just what it is to perceive one event after another, but also what it is to perceive an event as occurring after another.

Only then will we understand our experience of the passage specious present time. We turn, then, to the perception of time order.


Time order How do we perceive precedence amongst events? A temptingly simple answer is that the perception of precedence is just a sensation caused by instances of precedence, just as a sensation of red is caused by instances of redness. Hugh Mellorwho considers this line, rejects it for the following reason.

If this were the correct explanation, then we could not distinguish between x being earlier than y, and x being later than y, for whenever there is an instance of one relation, there is also an instance of the other. But plainly we are able to distinguish the two cases, so it cannot simply be a matter of perceiving a relation, but something specious present do with our perception of the relata.