26 Oct 2013

Dainton, “Time in Experience: Reply to Gallagher,” summary

by Corry Shores
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Barry Dainton

“Time in Experience: Reply to Gallagher”

Reply to: Gallagher, Shaun. Sync-ing in the Stream of Experience: Time-Consciousness in Broad, Husserl and Dainton, Psyche 9(10), April 2003

Abstract [quoting]:

Consciousness exists in time, but time is also to be found within consciousness: we are directly aware of both persistence and change, at least over short intervals. On reflection this can seem baffling. How is it possible for us to be immediately aware of phenomena which are not (strictly speaking) present? What must consciousness be like for this to be possible? In Stream of Consciousness I argued that influential accounts of phenomenal temporality along the lines developed by Broad and Husserl were fundamentally flawed, and proposed a quite different account: the overlap model. While recognizing that the latter has merits, Gallagher argues that it too is fundamentally flawed; he also takes issue with some of my claims concerning Broad and Husserl. My reply comes in three main parts. I start by clarifying my use of certain terms, in particular realism and anti-realism as applied to theories of phenomenal temporality in general, and the accounts of Broad and Husserl in particular. I then turn to Gallagher’s main criticisms of the overlap theory. Gallagher argues that the theory is sunk by a problem with ongoing contents, that if our experience possessed the structures I ascribe to it, we would be aware of contents as having longer durations than is actually the case. I suggest otherwise: the version of the overlap theory which is afflicted by this difficulty is not the version I put forward, as becomes clear when two distinct forms of overlap are distinguished. Gallagher is also concerned that the theory lacks phenomenological grounding, and has difficulties with experiential holism. The latter worry, I argue, is completely misplaced. While the former has more warrant, it too is rooted in a misconception: the overlap theory was intended only to provide an account of the most basic sensory components of our short-term experience of temporality, and can easily be expanded to accommodate other aspects. I supply a sketch an augmented theory to back up this claim. I | conclude with an assessment of the intentional account of time-consciousness Gallagher ascribes to Husserl. A meaning-based account of this kind is incapable of accounting for experienced sensory continuity, or so I argue. I also suggest that both Broad and Husserl may have had leanings towards the Simple Conception of consciousness. (1)


1. Introduction

The most serious of Gallagher’s objections are based on misunderstandings that Dainton will here clarify.

Dainton’s Simple overlap model does not rely on the “erroneous awareness-content conception of consciousness” (2) Dainton will defend his model against Gallagher’s critiques.

2. The Phenomenal Present: Realism v. Anti-Realism

We are conscious of continuously altering things. As well we are aware of things that stay the same for periods of time. But even experiences of constancy involve a phenomenal flow of renewing content. (3)

We apprehend change and persistence, which means our phenomenal present cannot be a durationless mathematical present; it must rather have some duration, and thus be the phenomenal or specious present. (3)

We can remember the past and anticipate the future, but our immediate experience is confined to the present, or so it seems natural to suppose. But given the fact that we directly apprehend change and persistence, albeit only over quite short intervals, the present of experience — the phenomenal or specious present — cannot straightforwardly be equated with the mathematical present, i.e. the durationless dividing line between past and future. If change and persistence are directly experienced, the phenomenal present cannot be strictly instantaneous, it must — in some manner — have some duration. (3)

Those analyzing temporal awareness have realized that “a succession of experiences does not, in itself, amount to an experience of succession.” (3) [According to Dainton’s view, a durationless instant excludes temporally other ones, and awareness of succession means an awareness of more than one instant. So to be aware of succession, you need more than one moment of awareness in action.]

Since a typical phenomenal present is an experience of succession (or persistence), it cannot be composed of a succession of durationless experiences that are related by nothing more than temporal proximity. It may well be that instantaneous experiences do exist — if only as ideal limits — but if so, something must serve to bind them together into the experienced successions with which we are familiar. (3)

What we need to know is, what would bind such durationless instants so to allow an awareness of succession.

The A-Theory says that “an experience always consists of a content (or object) falling under an act of awareness”. (3) Those with this view could have a promising solution for the binding problem. Because A-Theorists divide act from content, they can say that a present durationless act can be aware of moments from various different successive times. Miller calls this the principle of simultaneous awareness (PSA).

This conception has been developed in two ways each with its own conception of phenomenal presents.  (3d) One view sees the act as momentary but the contents as really in succession. Dainton calls this realism, because we are directly aware of the temporally extended contents. [For Dainton, realism is not that time is a physical reality but that instead of being aware of representations of other moments we are aware of actual other moments.]

One option is to hold that a momentary (or very brief) act of awareness apprehends a succession of content that is spread through a real interval of time. On this view, an act of awareness may be momentary, but its scope is not. The content that is apprehended may be physical or phenomenal, this account is neutral in this regard. The key point is that temporally extended stretches or successions of content are apprehended, as temporally extended wholes, by single acts of awareness that are momentary, or close to it. Since on this view we are directly aware of temporally extended occurrences, I call it realism. According to the naive (or direct) realist theory of vision, we are directly aware of the material objects we see around us — no inner representation lies between them and us. In analogous fashion, the temporal realist holds that we are directly aware of change and persistence. (4)

The problem with this view is that present consciousness is directly aware of moments now in the past, which is normally thought to be impossible. But if you still want both PSA and A-theory, there is another option; hold that 1) the phenomenal contents are momentary, but 2) these contents appear to be temporally extended. So we only seem to be aware of the past, and thus Dainton calls it anti-realism or representational anti-realism.

Anyone who finds this problematic, but who also wants to retain PSA along with the A-theory, has another option: to hold (i) that the contents apprehended by momentary acts of awareness are themselves momentary, but (ii) that these contents appear to be temporally extended. On this view, we are not really aware of the recent past, we only seem to be, but the illusion is entirely convincing. Since on this conception of the phenomenal present we are not truly aware of temporally extended occurrences, but only seem to be, I call it anti-realism. A more informative label is representational anti-realism: although we seem to be directly aware of temporally extended occurrences, in reality we are only aware of representations of such occurrences. Since these representations are phenomenal mental states, anti-realists do not have the option of adopting naive realism about the perception of change; the possibility of embracing naive realism about the momentary present remains open. (4)

But the anti-realist might object that phenomenologically speaking what seems to be real is phenomenally the same as what might actually be real.

The experience of change and duration on my account is just as real as that found in the doctrine you are calling realism. In the realm of the phenomenal there is no distinction between seeming and being. Phenomenal presents, as I construe them, seem temporally extended, so they are temporally extended — at least on the phenomenological level. (4)

dainton reply fig 1

[Image from Dainton, p.5]

Recall Broad’s model from Scientific Thought [fig 1], which is realist. “He held that the phenomenal present consisted of a momentary (or very brief) act of awareness stretching a short way back in time.” One problem with this is that we would be aware of the same content repeatedly as the umbrella of awareness for each successive act includes within it a particular content once for each successive act. (fig 2)

dainton reply fig 2

[Image from Dainton, p.5]

However, Broad also thought that momentary acts did not exist and their breadth was matter of a continuous uninterrupted awareness of a single content, so it is not as if we hear distinctly different repetitions of the sound. But even so this will cause stretched contents, we will hear for example the sound longer than it actually happened, as the act of hearing it is longer.

Suppose C’s duration is half of a second, and to keep things simple, let us further suppose that my continuous awareness of C has just three phases. By the end of the third and final phase, C’s apparent duration will be a full one and a half seconds, rather than the half a second that (in reality) I experience. Repeated contents have merely given way to stretched contents. (6)

dainton reply fig 3.2

[Image from Dainton, p.5]

Broad’s later accounts were representational anti-realist. (fig 3) We can see on the right now a content diminishes in presentedness.

The diagram on the left depicts the way in which the phases of a short stretch of recently experienced content become represented in a single momentary phenomenal present. The diagram on the right shows how a single (very) brief content is represented in successive phenomenal presents. The smaller the content, the less present or more past it seems to be. In effect, contents such as these are experienced as moving though consciousness, appearing first as fully present before embarking on a smooth, continuous slippage into the past. The problem of repeated contents is thus avoided: there is repetition, but this is accompanied by a continual variation in temporal mode of presentation. (6)

In this model, each phenomenal present is an entirely new production (6)

Dainton notes two problems with this model. 1) It is atomistic. But

How is the moment-to-moment continuity of experience to be secured if a stream of consciousness is composed of a succession of entirely distinct experiences? Neighbouring phenomenal presents may have similar representational contents, but there is no real experiential connection between them, each consists of a discrete experience in its own right. This is profoundly unrealistic: are we not aware — directly aware — of the transitions between the successive phases of our streams of consciousness?

[[Later we will be proposing a Deleuzean model that is momentary except each moment is a variable present, not a static moment but a passage between states of affairs. Like this model, the contents diminish, but only by infinitely small changes, creating the appearance of continuity not just in the absolute present but across a number of past ones.]]

Another problem is that this model explains pastness as diminished vibrancy, but this is not enough to indicate that a past moment is more past than a present one [[perhaps Dainton is saying that we can in the present have faint impressions but that does not mean we take them as past. One possible reply is that the faintness takes on temporal meaning only in relation to the other layered impressions that have more vibrancy.]]

The anti-realist might say that such representational contents are not logically impossible, even though they are hard to conceive. (7) However, if a realist account is adequate to the phenomenological data, then it will be superior in that it is also conceivable.

Dainton then notes one of Gallagher’s misunderstandings. Dainton defines as realist the view that the present moment of awareness is directly aware of other moments not immediately present. So in fact under this definition Broad’s early model is realist and later one anti-realist. (8)

Gallagher also misunderstood what Dainton means by phenomenal contents, which can in fact be sense data. (8)

Recall Gallagher’s 2 “ Lotzean assumptions”.

LA1: The perception of succession requires a momentary and indivisible, and therefore durationless act of consciousness.

LA2: A sequence or succession is represented by persisting sensations or memory images that are simultaneous in present consciousness. (8)

Gallagher claims that Dainton misunderstood Broad’s account with regard to the nature of contents, which persists even after their event of occurrences.  (8d) Dainton is unsure that in the early Broad account we can say that sensations persist in present consciousness. (9a)

Dainton now wants a formulation of LA2 that is faithful to PSA while also being neutral with regard to realist and anti-realist accounts. He suggests:

LA2*: A sequence or succession is experienced only when a temporal spread of content is apprehended together in consciousness. (8)

Dainton changes simultaneous to together, because simultaneous was misleading [this would be misleading if we were not assuming the present moment to be durationless. But Dainton might find it misleading for reasons I am missing “Note the substitution of ‘together’ for the potentially misleading ‘simultaneous’. The ‘temporal spread of content’ should be construed as neutral between theories of perception (so the content could be phenomenal or physical), and realist and anti-realist conceptions of the phenomenal present (what is apprehended could be real contents distributed over an interval of time, or merely representations of the latter).” (9)] Then Dainton combines LA1 and LA2*, which might characterize PSA.

PSA: A sequence or succession is experienced only when a temporal spread of content is apprehended together in a single momentary act of consciousness. (9)

Nonetheless PSA is problematic, as discussed above, so another model is needed. (9)

3. The Overlap Model and the A-Theory

dainton reply fig 4

[from p10 Dainton]

Dainton will now address the overlap model as Gallagher interpreted, using Gallagher’s diagrammatic rendition (fig 4). “Gallagher claims ‘If content C is presented at the end of e1, it is speciously present throughout e1’ (2003, sec.4)” This means that C is perceived a second and a half before it occurs (each e is 2 seconds long and tone C is a half second). And because C is in all the experiences, although it is half second long it is experienced for 4 seconds. Gallagher’s solution was Husserl’s retentional structure. (10)

But Gallagher misunderstood the model. (10a)

Recall Miller’s Principle of Presentational Concurrence (PPC), which says that:

the duration of a content being presented is concurrent with the duration of the act of presenting it. That is, the time interval occupied by a content which is before the mind is the very same as the time interval which is occupied by the act of presenting that very content before the mind.” (1984, 107) (sic [endquotes]Dainton p.11)

Gallagher’s version of the overlap model combines PPC with PSA. But Dainton’s overlap model takes up PPC while rejecting PSA. Thus we should remove the diagonals from Gallagher’s diagram. “brief act-phases are only aware of correspondingly brief content-phases, no act is aware of a stretch of content lasting longer than itself — and so no problem with ongoing contents.” (11)

Dainton then explains how his own writing may have led to the misunderstanding. (11)

But Gallagher’s misinterpretation of the overlap model may have as its source the “puzzling character of the phenomenal present.” (11) Recall the A-thesis, the act-content structure of consciousness. Gallagher’s diagram seems to reflect this.
dainton reply fig 4

In the diagram, ABC is apprehended together as a single whole by a continuous act of awareness e1, because this spread of contents constitutes a phenomenal present and because we are assuming that ABC is being directly apprehended by e1. (11d) Dainton then asks, “But how is any of this possible? How can temporally extended phenomena be apprehended as extended wholes in this manner? What, | precisely, is the relationship between temporally extended contents and the temporally extended phenomenal presents within which they are experienced?” (11-12)

Dainton says he deals with these questions later in his book. (12)

The A-theoretic version of the overlap model has this pseudo-problem of ongoing contents, which Gallagher takes to be the most serious problem, but there are others that result from this misconstruel. The model calls for overlapping acts of awareness and overlapping contents, and Gallagher is skeptical of both.

I don’t think [Dainton] actually means overlapping contents (p. 164). An example of an overlapping content would be if I am looking at someone as they tell me their account of consciousness and the phone rings. I see them, I hear them, and I hear the phone. This kind of thing happens constantly and is phenomenologically unproblematic, although it may be pragmatically problematic. It’s not just one damn thing after another (as Whitehead once said in regard to experience) it’s too many things at once. Rather than overlapping contents, I think Dainton means overlapping specious presents (Gallagher 2003, section 4) (Dainton 12)

Here Gallagher’s notion of overlapping contents would be for simultaneous co-conscious contents, and it is overlap by superposition, in which “two distinct things sharing a common location — where ‘location’ is construed liberally.” (12)

dainton reply fig 5
[From Dainton p 12]

This can apply to spatial but also temporal cases. Consider period P1=1850-1950 and P2=1900-2000. P1 and P2 overlap, but not like “placements lying on top of one another.” (13) The shared parts are numerically identical. [This then would seem to be overlap by sharing common parts.]

Now for overlapping acts. Gallagher:

I’m not sure what overlapping acts of awareness could mean for an individual subject. I can conceive of a temporal overlap of two or more acts of awareness in the following way. I’m sitting in my office looking at the ringing phone, for example. You walk in, hand me a piece of paper, glance at the ringing phone, and walk out. Your awareness of the ringing phone temporally and temporarily overlapped with mine. Can something like this overlap happen in one individual? (Gallagher 2003, section 4) (13)

Here the overlap is overlap by superposition, but Dainton’s overlap is by sharing common parts.

Look again at Figure 4: e1, e2 and e3 are acts of awareness which overlap in just this way. Or at least, that is how the diagram should be interpreted. The different “heights” assigned to e1, e2 and e3 should not be taken to mean these acts are entirely distinct, they aren’t, they share common parts. I can see no harm in using “overlap” to refer to these different sorts of case, provided it is clear just what kind of overlap is involved in each particular instance. (13)

4. The Overlap Model, the Simple Conception, and the Phenomenal Present

PSA presupposes the A-Thesis. But since PSA has problems, and because A-Thesis is already been shown to have its own problems, there seems to not be good enough reason to maintain the A-Thesis. Instead Dainton proposes the Simple overlap model.

According to what I call the “Simple overlap model”, the unity of consciousness over time is a product of inter-experiential relations among partially overlapping phases of a stream of consciousness. On this “Simple Conception” of consciousness, streams of experience are entirely composed of interrelated phenomenal contents, and these | contents do not need to fall under a separate act of awareness in order to be conscious. Phenomenal contents, thus construed, are intrinsically conscious entities. (13-14)

Dainton then addresses the question, “How do the contents in a single phenomenal present come to be experienced as a unified whole if they are not apprehended by a single act of awareness of the sort posited by advocates of PSA?” (14) Dainton says it is because the contents are co-conscious, “the contents in question are experienced together, as a unified ensemble” (14)

Dainton then discusses the issue of the transitivity of spatial co-consciousness but the non-transitivity of temporal moments. [We examined this from his book so we skip much here. The diagrams figs 6 and 7 explain the distinctions Dainton makes.]

dainton reply fig 6

dainton reply fig 7

[From Dainton pp15-16]

Dainton says that although the parts of the present are co-conscious, not all the parts are phenomenally simultaneous. Yet they are all equally present. [It is still not very clear how this is so. He says that earlier parts do not possess an intrinsic property that marks them as older; however somehow they are experienced as having happened at a different moment. So apparently we experience the phases at different times but we regard them phenomenally as all being present.]

The parts of a phenomenal present may be mutually co-conscious, but they are not experienced as simultaneous, for as already noted, a typical phenomenal present is a temporal field of content, e.g. a transition between two brief tones, or one tone enduring, or the seeing of a car in motion, or a combination of suchlike. But although the constituents of a phenomenal present are not experienced as simultaneous, there is also a sense in which they are all experienced as present. This may seem paradoxical, but appearances can be deceptive, and this is a case in point. Some parts of a phenomenal present are earlier than others, but the earlier parts do not possess an intrinsic property (or temporal mode of presentation) which marks them out as such — it is in this sense that they are all experienced as “present”, and this is a key difference between the overlap theory and typical anti-realisms, such as those of Broad and Husserl. If the experienced succession C-D-E includes two phenomenal presents [C-D] and [D-E], the intrinsic properties of D are the same in both (if they were not, the D in the first phenomenal present could not be numerically identical with the D in the second). (16)

But now we have another problem. If all the parts are equally present to our awareness, how is we experience them as having a direction or order? Dainton says that each moment has a flowing character [So they are all present, but all of them have the character of flow, I suppose meaning the character of flowing into one another, thus we are aware of their linear order even though they are all present.]

A further issue now comes to the fore. If contents all appear equally present as and when they occur, what accounts for the experienced direction or order that most phenomenal contents exhibit? The difficulty is all the more pressing because co-consciousness is symmetrical: if C is coconscious with D, then D is co-conscious with C. The solution, I suggest, is phenomenal character. Phenomenal contents are not just temporally extended, they also inherently dynamic, they possess a flowing character — this flow-character is an intrinsic phenomenal attribute, just like colour or timbre. It is because each of C, D and E possesses this immanent directed animation that C is experienced as flowing into D, and D into E. I stress again that we dealing here with only brief intervals, of around a second or less (cf. SoC, 131) — the overlap model is only intended as an account of our short-term, moment-to-moment, experience of temporality. But then, it is this aspect of our overall experience of time that is by far the most puzzling. 5 [ft 5: 5 Gallagher seems to find all this rather fishy: “On Dainton's view, the flow of experience is no problem at all since experience is intrinsically organized as a flow ... Thus, the problem of temporal order is also easily resolved ... One begins to wonder why Broad and Husserl were so exercised. The way things seem to be is just the way they are.” (2003, section 4) But isn't this precisely what one ought to find in phenomenology? The simplicity of the overlap model - the absence of hidden, introspectibly invisible, mechanisms - is one of its primary virtues.] (16)

Now Dainton wonders of an anti-realist might reject the notion that “as contents slip through the phenomenal present they undergo qualitative modifications, modifications which make it seem as though the contents are slipping into the past.” (16) However, “an anti-realism which combined the overlap model’s conception of the phenomenal present with the doctrine that new phenomenal presents are continually being generated, from moment to moment, would be vulnerable to the problem of repeated contents that sunk Broad’s realist theory. The overlap theory itself, of course, entirely avoids this difficulty.” (16)

Dainton now draws what would be for him a diagram of the overlap model.

dainton reply fig 8

[From p18 Dainton]

A stream of consciousness consists of partially overlapping phenomenal presents. Only three of the latter are shown in Figure 8; in reality, even for a stream as brief as this one, there would be a good many more — successive phenomenal presents being separated by just-noticeable temporal differences. The lower of the two expansions represents the manner in which the parts of the various phenomenal presents are linked by diachronic co-consciousness. The successive phenomenal presents partially overlap by sharing parts or phases, but not for long: thanks to the fact that the relation of diachronic co-consciousness is only transitive for short periods, experiences separated by more than the length of the phenomenal present are not experienced together. The same three phenomenal presents are shown in the upper expansion, the single-headed arrows show the direction in which experience seems to be flowing, this apparent directedness is a consequence of the contents of the phenomenal presents; these contents have the form of temporal fields or spreads of content possessing inherent directedness or “flow” (e.g. a ball moving to the right). (18d)

5. The Intelligibility of Overlap

Recall the Principle of Presentational Concurrence (PPC), which says that the duration of a content being presented is concurrent with the duration of the act of presenting it. Gallagher claims that the rejection of the A-thesis (the act-content structure) makes PPC meaningless. (18) But Dainton’s Simple overlap model still allows that “our consciousness of temporally extended contents runs concurrently with the contents, rather than being condensed into shorter-lasting apprehensions” (18)

Gallagher makes another complaint.

If e1, an ongoing experience, is suddenly overlapped by e2, then my overall consciousness would have a different character and it would not be a case of e2 overlapping with e1, but e1 being replaced by en (the effect of combining e1 and e2). That is, a new experience rather than two overlapping experiences would occur, because overlapping experiences cannot retain their individual phenomenal characters. When they are in sync, one sinks into the other and something new surfaces.” (Gallagher 2002, section 4) (Dainton 18)

It is not clear what sort of overlap Gallagher is describing. One kind would be the overlap of numerically distinct experiences occurring simultaneously, which can be represented (18d):


The / here represents co-conscious simultaneity. e1 persists while e2 begins. Dainton thinks Gallagher is referring to this sort of overlap.

Dainton then explains there are different kinds of experiential holism. Consider two experiential wholes with different simultaneous contents, W1 = [C, D, E] and W2 = [C, D, F]. Both have different phenomenal characters. Dainton also discusses phenomenal interdependence in which “the character of an experiential whole can impact on the intrinsic phenomenal character of its parts” (19)

Now we consider the case that is probably worrying Gallagher, where a new experience is added to a persisting experience: e1-e1/e2. (19) Gallagher says that when e2 comes into the picture, e1 ceases to exist and it is replaced by a numerically distinct experience, which Dainton gives as: e1-e1*/e2. [It is not clear to me this is what Gallagher meant. Gallagher says that when e2 overlaps with e1, they are replaced by en, which I thought meant a synthesis that is different than either part]. Dainton agrees but does not see how this threatens the intelligibility of the overlap model. (19d)

And thus: “Experiential overlap involves experiences being experienced together; the fact that the experiences in question are interdependent at the level of phenomenal character is no obstacle whatsoever to their being experienced together, or their overlapping.” (20a)

Regarding when overlap occurs over time, the same considerations apply, and Dainton concludes “phenomenal interdependence, whether local or global, is no barrier to experiences being related by co-consciousness, and hence to temporally extended experiences partially overlapping.” (20)

Dainton then discusses at length something puzzling about diachronic overlap, referring again to discussions in chapter 9 of his book SoC. (20)

6. Phenomenological Adequacy: The Overlap Model Augmented

Dainton then addresses one of Gallagher’s phenomenological objections.

if I try to find overlapping experiences phenomenologically, it seems just as problematic as trying to find reified retentions and protentions appearing in the flow. Dainton’s criticism of Husserl seems to apply equally to his own analysis in this regard. Perhaps my defense of Husserl would work equally as a defense of Dainton: overlapping experiences are simply descriptive abstractions. In contrast to Husserl’s description, however, according to which I can say that when I hear a piece of music my experience is that I seem to retain the sense of previous notes in the melody and anticipate what is to come next, I find it difficult to say that when I hear a piece of music the current note seems to overlap with previous and future notes. In the overlap model, for example, it’s not clear why, in a sequence of auditory experiences (or phases of experience) a1- a2- a3-a4, the fact that experience a3 is just prior to a4, or that there is an overlap between a2- a3 and a3- a4, explains or describes anything about the phenomenal character of anticipating the continuing melody at any moment of the experience. (Gallagher 2003, section 4) (Dainton 21)

Dainton observes “One of Gallagher’s concerns here is that he cannot detect any overlapping of experiences within his own consciousness. I suspect Gallagher’s worry may stem from his construing overlap in terms of superposition, rather than its being a matter of possession of common parts.” (21)

dainton reply fig 9

[From Dainton p.21]

Dainton’s overlap is by sharing common parts. Thus there is no problem of doubling.

Dainton thinks that the overlap by sharing has a discernible phenomenal character, namely, the character of running into a successor. This does not mean that the content will be heard twice.

Of course, the question remains: does the sort of overlap shown on the right have a discernible phenomenological character? The answer is unambiguously “Yes”. Suppose you hear a succession A-B-C; you hear A-running-into-B, and B-running-into-C. Since you hear [B] only once, we can immediately conclude that the experiencing of [B] in the earlier phenomenal present is numerically identical with the experiencing of [B] in the later phenomenal present, and hence that you have just experienced two phenomenal presents that overlapped by virtue of possessing a common part. This identity not just a reasonable inference, it is directly apprehended: the [B] that you experience [A] running-into is one and the same experience as the [B] that you experience running-into [C]. This overlap structure is not, I concede, immediately obvious. We find it most natural to think of ourselves as simply experiencing A-flowing-into-B-flowing-into-C. The fact that this extended experience consists of overlapping phenomenal presents only becomes apparent after some reflection and introspective experimentation, but once thus equipped, the existence of overlap- structures within our ordinary experience becomes obvious. More generally, if we accept the overlap model, then we are all continually aware of experiential overlaps, for it is these overlap which are directly responsible for the experienced continuity of our streams of consciousness. These overlaps do not produce noticeable alterations in experience of the sort Gallagher seems to require — and which might naively be expected if distinct experiences could overlap in the manner of sheets of glass, which when overlapping affect the appearance of what can be seen through them — but, as I hope is now very clear, the overlap model does not posit this sort of overlap. (22)

Another complaint of Gallagher’s is that Dainton’s model is missing the phenomena of retentional and protentional awareness, which our experiences show to exist. (22)

Dainton admits his model does not explain these other aspects of time consciousness, but also he notes he never meant it to do so. He merely wanted to explain the flow.

To this charge I plead guilty. The overlap theory only offers an account of the most elementary aspect of temporal experience, the immediate experience of change and duration in sensory experience, over short intervals of time. There are, of course, additional ingredients or levels in our everyday experience of temporality, some of which are mentioned by Gallagher. But then, I did not claim to be providing a complete account of time-consciousness, in all its multi-faceted complexity. As I indicated right at the outset (SoC, pp.xv-xvi), I was attempting only to provide an account of the most basic structures of streams of consciousness, structures that might also be found in creatures not equipped with conceptual abilities, creatures whose consciousness is restricted to sensory experience of the most basic kinds. (22)

Dainton then describes the non-elementary aspects of temporal experience and he says they do not pose a problem for the overlap theory. (23d. see 24 for list)

Dainton will discuss the non-elementary aspects.

(B) Non-Elementary Aspects:

(B1) Conscious thoughts and conscious acts.

(B2) Memory and Imagination

(B3) Non-sensory “fringe”  consciousness (23)

B1. Conscious thoughts like “when have I heard this melody before” are “easily accommodated in the overlap theory, for they are merely contents in the stream of consciousness, and when temporally extended (some thoughts appear momentary, or close to it) they are distributed across overlapping phenomenal presents in precisely the same way as extended contents.” (23)

B1 continued. The same holds for conscious acts, such as volition, mental activities, wishes, fearing etc.

B2. Memories are felt when we have conscious thoughts of the past. Memory also allows us to replay our past experiences, and our past sensory reproductions can accompany our present ones. (24a) The replay can be either involuntary or voluntary.

B3. Fringe aspects of conscious are non-sensory, “it lacks distinctive qualities of a sensory kind, but it nonetheless possesses a definite (if not always very detailed) content or meaning of its own, one which is clearly manifest in consciousness.”  (24). James uses this word, also halo, psychic overtone, feelings of tendency, and suffusion. “Intuitive feeling” is a little better. For example,

Think of what it is like see someone and know that you have seen them before, but can’t remember when or where: there is a strong feeling of conviction, a feeling that in itself has no sensory features, but nonetheless has a definite sense or meaning: “I’ve seen that person before!” (24)

The fringe explains what we take to be retentions and protentions.

Once the existence and importance of the fringe is recognized, the forwards- and backwards- oriented aspects of consciousness in question can be seen for what they generally are: products of present feeling. At the purely sensory level, the experienced continuity of consciousness is produced by overlapping temporally extended experiences whose contents are inherently dynamic. This sensory continuity is typically accompanied by (or infused with) fringe feelings of rightness and familiarity, feelings which provide us with the reassuring sense that thin are proceeding as they should, that how things are now is in line with how they were moments ago. (25)

Dainton continues to elaborate on fringe feelings by examining passages by William James.

We should not overstate the importance of fringe in James. Mangen did this by saying the steam metaphor was not for the dynamic flowing character of experience but rather to emphasize fringe. (26)

Dainton does not think that fringe experience explains the continuity of consciousness. (26)

Think again of listening to a melody: each note may be accompanied by a dying echo of what preceded it and a dawning sense of what will follow, but each note also has its own dynamic sonic character, each note consists of a flow of sensory quality, a flow which also carries one note over into its successor — and this flow could exist largely unchanged in the absence of its subtle halo of fringe feeling. (26)

Dainton then shows a diagram to explain how fringe and co-conscious overlapping flow are enmeshed. (26)

dainton reply fig 10

[Image from p27 of Dainton]

But perhaps the fringe elements are separate.

dainton reply fig 11

[Image from p28of Dainton]

But in instances like meditation one might have fringe feelings that are “ wholly non-temporal in phenomenal character” . Dainton diagrams this too.

dainton reply fig 12

[From p28 of Dainton]

7. Husserl

Gallagher thinks that Dainton was wrong about Broad’s early view resembling Husserl’s later and vice versa. Dainton thinks it still stands that Broad shifts from realism to anti-realism and Husserl vice versa. (29-30)

It is certain that “until  around 1908-1909 Husserl subscribed to an anti-realist view of the phenomenal present.” [Meaning the non-immediately present contents or acts are present only as representations] (30)

[Dainton here seems to continue the claim that Husserl’s models of the now phases of consciousness are momentary, even though Gallagher showed this to be untrue of both early and later Husserl.] Dainton says that regarding later Broad’s model, “in one key respect his view of the phenomenal present was similar to Husserl’s: it consists of a momentary (and so simultaneous) collection of contents, which appear to stretch from the present into the resent past. And so, as with the early Husserl, the scope of direct awareness is confined to the momentary present.” (30)

Husserl later (1907-9) recognizes the problems with his earlier anti-realist view. (30)

Retentions are not presently-occurring representations. Rather, they provide us with direct unmediated access to the past. (30)

But this returns us to the problem of repeated contents. (31)

Dainton will now argue that Husserl’s now point is momentary. Dainton points to a quote by Miller that Gallagher thinks describes accurately Husserl’s time consciousness [that can be read either to suggest Husserl’s time is momentary or continuous. It is not clear why Dainton is relying on a Miller quote instead of a Husserl one as defense for his claim. It is also unclear why Dainton does not address the unequivocal quotes by Husserl which state the now is not momentary]:

“An awareness of succession derives from simultaneous features of the structure of that  awareness ... A continuous awareness of a tone as  enduring must involve an awareness of (at least) some temporally extended part of the tone at any given instant of that awareness” (Miller, 1984, p.109). (Dainton 31)

Dainton notes that the now can be both momentary and continuous. (32)

Dainton thinks that

Husserl always took the view that momentary acts and cross-sections were dependent parts (or “moments”) of extended phases of consciousness, and so could not exist in isolation, but that they nonetheless perform real functions within extended acts, one such being the delivery of momentary primal impressions. (32)

Dainton thought that descriptions of momentariness in Husserl were descriptive abstractions and thus misrepresentations. (32)

Dainton thinks that the momentariness of primal impressions is more than a descriptive abstraction.

Although Husserl insisted that retentions and protentions are themselves impressional modes of consciousness (unlike re-productive memory and ordinary anticipations — see the quote above), he also insisted — in both his early and later accounts — that primal impressions are “originally | present” in a way that retentions and protentions are not. As a consequence, change and duration cannot possibly be experienced with the same immediacy as colour and shape, the latter being features which can be apprehended in primal impressions. The overlap theory, by contrast, begins by positing extended phenomenal presents, all of whose constituents possess the same raw immediacy, and so faces none of these difficulties. (32)

8. Intentionalism

Later Husserl switches to realism. So we directly perceive the past. But if momentary phases of the stream directly apprehend the past then there is the problem of repeated contents. Dainton said that Husserl did not have a clear solution, but Gallagher thinks he did. Gallagher describes a purely intentional theory in Husserl. Retentions retain intentional contents and not real contents. (33)

But there are problems with the purely intentional model. When we strip temporal experience of sonsory elements it solves the lingering contents problem, but it makes our stream of consciousness “too thin, too transparent, too ethereal.” (33a)

Dainton believes that while there is a non-sensory element of our experience of temporality, there is as well a sensory element. (34)

This strong form of intentionalism regards protentions, retentions and as well primal impressions as lacking sensory meaning contents. There is weaker form, “partial intentionalism”, that says primal impressions have both noetic and a sensory components.

This does not solve the problem, however, because it makes the sensory content limited to momentary sensation-slices. (34d)

This can have the problem of explaining the relation of moments with their neighbors. (35) The overlap theory is able to explain how we are continuously aware of succession. (35)

9. Intentionalism and Husserl

Dainton continues looking into Husserl’s intentional theory, examining more closely the development of Husserl’s thought in this regard.

At one point in this development Husserl seems to have taking up a view similar to the Simple Conception. (38)

Dainton, Barry. “Time in Experience: Reply to Gallagher”, Psyche 9 (12), 2003.

Gallagher “Sync-Ing in the Stream of Experience Time-Consciousness in Broad, Husserl, and Dainton”, Summary

Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]

[The Dainton – Gallagher Phenomenal Time Debate, entry directory]

[All underlining, boldface, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so mistakes are still currently present.]

Shaun Gallagher


“Sync-Ing in the Stream of Experience Time-Consciousness in Broad, Husserl, and Dainton”


Abstract [Quoting]:

ABSTRACT: By examining Dainton's account of the temporality of consciousness in the context of long-running debates about the specious present and time consciousness in both the Jamesian and the phenomenological traditions, I raise critical objections to his overlap model. Dainton's interpretations of Broad and Husserl are both insightful and problematic. In addition, there are unresolved problems in Dainton's own analysis of conscious experience. These problems involve ongoing content, lingering content, and a lack of phenomenological clarity concerning the central concept of overlapping experiences.

1. Introduction


Gallagher notes that in Chapters 6 and 7 of Barry Dainton’s The Stream of Consciousness, Dainton “provides a detailed and fascinating analysis of the temporal structure of consciousness and the ‘specious present’ ” Gallagher says that Dainton’s work falls along a line of scholarly commentaries that “although sometimes helpful and important, often misconstrue and confuse the issues” [namely “Mabbott's (1951) critique of the specious present, Mundel's (1954) defense, and Plumber's (1985) rejoinder”.] Yet Chapter 7 belongs to the line of good commentaries, although it is still problematic in some ways [namely “Lotze (1887), James (1890), Stern (1897, 1898), McTaggart (1908), Brentano (1911), Broad (1923, 1938), and Husserl (1927)”]. (1-2)

2. Dainton's Analysis of Broad

Many of the above named theorists dealt with two of Lotze’s basic assumptions, which he will call LA1 and LA2.

LA1: The perception of succession requires a momentary and indivisible, and therefore durationless act of consciousness. (2)

Dainton notes how Broad first rejects LA1 but later adopts it.

LA2: A sequence or succession is represented by persisting sensations or memory images that are simultaneous in present consciousness. (2)

These two assumptions are found in William James analysis of the specious present. But succession of images is a matter of brain processes and phenomenology. (2)

There is a problem with the specious present. To be aware of successive objects [or of succession] we need to make before and after somehow simultaneous. But how can simultaneous objects be sensed as successive? Gallagher calls this the ‘cognitive paradox’. (2) Somehow the past contents are marked as being past, but this is not a direct perception of succession. (2)

Broad’s account depends on both assumption. Although later he drops LA1, he consistently uses LA2. But Dainton misses something in Broad’s account. Broad maintains LA2 in terms of sense-data making up a sensory field. So actual sense data from the past persists in present consciousness. (3)

Mabbott and Dainton note problems with adoption LA1 and LA2, for example the ballooning of content and the problem of repeated contents. Also there is the problem of the fact that different senses have their own umbrellas, and thus would mismatch. (3)

Broad later keeps LA1, the momentariness of consciousness, while adding idea of greater and lessor presentedness. Dainton thinks this means the contents have different phenomenal characters, but Gallagher asserts this means they are still present and thus LA2 still holds. (4)

Dainton thinks that this model avoids the problem of repeated contents, but Gallagher is not so sure.  [Gallagher is also saying that the past moments are present to consciousness, but maybe Dainton was saying that they are only present as representations.] If we hear a tone one moment then the next moment, the prior tone instance is still the same tone, but just in diminished form. (4)

Gallagher then addresses what he thinks is the ambiguity of Dainton’s use of the term ‘experience’. In the context of Dainton’s A-Theory, the phenomenal object would be the object as it is experienced rather than the “the sense data that stands for, represents, or in some way participates in the generation of the appearance of the object”. [It is not clear to me yet that Dainton needed to make such a distinction. However, Gallagher continues to say that] Dainton acknowledges this sort of distinction when he criticizes Broad’s anti-realism. Dainton thinks that the contents other than momentary ones must be ‘representations.’ (4-5)

3. Dainton’s Interpretation of Husserl

Dainton’s interpretation of Husserl may have been influenced by Miller, since Dainton uses Miller’s concept of the Principle of Simultaneous Awareness (PSA). There can be strong and weak versions. Strong appeals to both LA1 and LA2, but weak lacks this specification. Dainton’s description of PSA is uses the weak version, because he says it is both a direct awareness of the past but that awareness is in the present [so maybe not clearly LA2]. Miller considers a strong version in Husserl’s description of Brentano’s model. [Husserl seems to be saying that for the act that takes successive moments together, these moments must be simultaneous.] Gallagher says that Husserl’s rejection of Brentano’s theory would also be a rejection of Broad’s theory. “Specifically, he rejects LA1 on phenomenological grounds and (although he must struggle to do so) he also rejects LA2. In doing so, Husserl rejects the strong version of PSA.” (5)

Dainton and Miller both claim Husserl accepts strong PSA, like Brentano’s model. However, this is not so with later Husserl. (5) [One problem we might have had reading Dainton’s account of Husserl was Dainton’s belief that Husserl’s now point is momentary. There is not much to suggest this in Husserl’s writings. However, Dainton explained that Husserl is inconsistent and ambiguous at times.] In fact, Dainton portrayed Husserl’s now moment as durationless, even in both early and later models. But Husserl seems instead to be saying that it is not, at times even unequivocally.

Specifically both Miller and Dainton claim that Husserl (like Brentano and Broad) accepted LA1. But this is simply not true for either Husserl's early or later accounts. He had rejected LA1 under the influence of Stern and in working out his critique of Brentano. In 1905, and thus as part of his early account, Husserl states unequivocally:

It 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 the phenomenological temporality that belongs to its irreducible essence. (1991, p. 24). (Gallagher 5-6, and quoting Husserl)

Gallagher argues then that Husserl accepts weak PSA, and quoting Miller,

An awareness of succession derives from simultaneous features of the structure of that awareness .... A continuous awareness of a tone as enduring must involve an awareness of (at least) some temporally extended part of the tone at any given instant of that awareness” (Miller, 1984, p. 109). (Gallagher 6 quoting Miller)

Husserl thinks the solutions to these problems lies on the side of the acts of awareness and not in the contents. This means Husserl maintains the awareness-content model, but “the complexity introduced by retention and protention is on the side of awareness rather than on the side of content.” (6)

3.1 Early Versus Late Accounts

Dainton says that the early Broad model is like the later Husserl one and vice versa. Gallagher thinks it is more complex than that, because Husserl always maintained that the acts of awareness themselves extended in time. And there is a difference between Husserl’s early and later accounts that we should note. To do this we also need to examine Husserl’s distinction between two types of content. (6-7)

3.2 Two Kinds of Content

For Husserl there are two kinds of elements in our consciousness. There is the real and the intentional elements. consider if we see a cat. The event of our perceiving the cat is a real event of our consciousness. The cat is out in the world, and it is an intentional but not a real content of consciousness. Also, the cat that we imagine or remember is also not a real content. However Husserl also thought that there is real content that is given to our awareness through perception, at first calling it sensation but later hyletic data.

Hyletic data are the pure uninterpreted sense impressions (of color, shape, smell, etc.) that inform perception. According to Husserl, we are not normally aware of hyletic data, but we can become conscious of them in phenomenological reflection. When I perceive something, hyletic data are processed in a nonconscious way in what Husserl calls the "apprehension - content schema." So when I see the cat, I am aware of the cat (the intentional content of consciousness), not the hyletic data, but this awareness is generated on the basis of a processing of real (hyletic) content of which I am not ordinarily conscious. (7)

Early Husserl thought that retention involved this apprehension content schema. [Somehow the hyletic data from the past remain and are processed in the present] “In other words, retention depended upon something like a current micro-processing of hyletic content that originated with the past event but was in some way simultaneous with the current processing” (7). So at first, Husserl held onto LA2, because past contents persisted in consciousness. But later he rejects this idea. He comes to think that what remains are not real contents but rather intentional contents. (7) Quoting Husserl:

Do we have a continuum of primary [hyletic] contents simultaneously in the now-point and, in addition to this and simultaneous with it, a continuum of 'apprehensions'? ... [C]ertainly everything that 'really' [reell] belongs to this consciousness exists in it simultaneously - that is to say, exists in it 'now' ... The primary contents that spread out in the now, are not able to switch their temporal function: the now cannot stand before me as not-now, the not-now cannot stand before me as now. Indeed, if it were otherwise, the whole continuum of contents could be viewed as now and | consequently as coexistent, and then again as successive. That is evidently impossible. (1991, pp. 334-35). (Gallagher 7-8 quoting Husserl)

And while the status of the contents change, retention’s structural status does not change. And also retention and protention are not themselves contents. Some misunderstand this. Plumber thinks that for Husserl the specious present is an instant flanked by intervals of retention and protention and thus he “understands retentions to be part of what we are aware of, rather than part of the structure of awareness”. (8) Dainton equates retentions with representations that we simultaneously apprehend now. And retention of retention is not the awareness of a previous retention and it is not a sequence of retentions existing now [because this would see them as contents]. “The specious present, which for James and Broad consists of a set of simultaneous sense-data paradoxically laid out in a successive order, is for Husserl an intentional structure in which the just-past is virtually (not really) retained.” (8) Protention is just the structural anticipation of a future content, not an awareness of that content itself [protention is the looking forward of present consciousness in anticipation of something to come, not the foreseeing of an event that has not yet happened.]

This understanding of protention and retention eliminates the problems of lingering contents and clogged consciousness. For Husserl, according to Gallagher, our retentions are aware not of the previous event’s contents but rather of there having been such a previous event [that it is to be found structurally connected to the present].

It's not that we continue to hear the past note reverberate as the present one is sounded (that would soon become an auditory jumble); we hear the present note as following the one we have just heard and as preceding the one we anticipate. Dainton writes: "If I snap my fingers, I hear the sound of the snap and it is gone. The snap-sound does not linger on in my immediate experience" (p. 156). Husserl's concept of retention, in contrast to Broad's account, does not imply such lingering. Rather, what is retained is the sense that I have just snapped my fingers. Dainton writes: "If I turn my head to the right I will eventually lose sight of the coffee cup to my left. But I do not experience the cup fading into the past, rather I experience it moving to the left .... When I lose sight of the cup, I do so completely and all at once. The only 'fading' that occurs is due to the blurring of perception at the peripheries of the visual field" (p. 156). But this is not an objection to Husserl's concept of retention. It confuses retention with some kind of faded | image that supposedly would linger on in consciousness, as if I were still seeing the cup but somewhat out of focus. Retention retains the sense of my just-past experience of seeing the cup (and just as clearly as I saw it), but it does not do so by keeping a faded image in consciousness. The fading aspect of a fading image is not equivalent to a temporal "fading" into the past. (8-9)

Also there is not a problem of clogging of consciousness. Retentions do not cause there to be an overload of contents in our present awareness.

The retentional aspect of consciousness at any one moment opens up a unitary access to our just-past experience. Even if the just-past is articulated into a specific sequence, retention provides access to that temporal articulation without showing itself to be articulated. Husserl's own phrases are sometimes misleading in this way. When he speaks of a retention of a retention of a retention, and so on, this may lead the reader to think that what we experience is a series of retentions, and that all of these retentions are clogging things up so that it is difficult to find the experience of the temporal object itself. (9)

3.3 Phenomenological Description and the Problem of Reification

Dainton notes Husserl’s idea of the double intentionality of retention. In the first place, retention is an intentional awareness of the moments of consciousness that just passed. This is the ‘longitudinal’ aspect of retention [because it extends as though along a time line]. This also makes retention an awareness of the just past-past object, and is thus indirect or transverse intentionality.

Its primary target is my just-past experience of the object, not the persisting or changing object itself. Since my just-past awareness had been an awareness of the just-past object, retention allows for the continued awareness of the object, as just-past.(9)

Gallagher then mentions two sorts of intentionality, function-intentionality, which is the intentionality retention has, and act-intentionality [which thematizes the object like a full-blown intentional act would, like perception or memory]. “It functions more on the order of working memory, not just in terms of its short-term reach, but in terms of how it ‘keeps hold of’ the just-past (Husserl, 1966, p. 118).” (9)

So Husserl has this notion that retention has a double intentionality [it intends both the past moment as a moment and it indirectly intends the content of that moment]. It attempts to explain how the present can have parts that are synthesized and as well to explain the unity of consciousness and the self-awareness of the stream of consciousness. (10)

Dainton notes that we cannot detect this retention-protention structure, so it goes beyond our phenomenological data and is instead a theoretical construction. (10) We also might wonder if the momentary cross-sections of consciousness that Husserl talks about are real or is it an abstraction. Hence Miller and Dainton came to believe that Husserl thought present consciousness was momentary. But although Husserl rejects LA1, he still insists on analyzing temporal consciousness in terms of momentary cross-sections.

It’s like Husserl’s problem of reification, as soon as we fix our attention on our consciousness, it vanishes. An objection to Husserl’s reduction is that it uses language, whose theoretical constructs cannot be bracketed. This is especially a problem if we use nouns, which would suggest the stream of consciousness has substantive parts rather than transitive parts. (10)

Reflection itself may introduce distortions into what we see in phenomenological intuition, as Husserl warns specifically in regard to time-consciousness. [quoting]

We must therefore distinguish: the prephenomenal being of experiences, their being before we have turned towards them in reflection, and their being as phenomena. When we turn towards the experience attentively and grasp it, it takes on a new mode of being; it becomes "differentiated," "singled out." And this differentiating is precisely nothing other than the grasping [of the experience]; and the differentiatedness is nothing other than the being-grasped, being the object of our turning-towards. (Husserl, 1991, p. 132). (Gallagher 10)

Husserl warns against reifying the structure of consciousness (11a) “Lotze (1887) had warned against the kind of reification of experience that takes the form of spatialization (also see Dainton, pp. 18ff). Husserl points out that reflection tends to freeze the flow of consciousness and to set it out in discrete parts.” (11)

Husserl’s idea of retention is based on phenomenological observation and it is a “descriptive abstraction”, and the task is then to determine if it is close to experience or if it distorts it somehow.

I think Husserl does sometimes describe things in a way that is too reified - the cross-section of consciousness, and retentions and protentions as if they were elements that we could directly experience. In such cases the task is to try to pull such abstractions back closer to the experience by finding a more appropriate way of putting it, or by introducing various qualifications. This might be the beginning of a theorizing process, but it is one that is phenomenologically generated. In any case, Husserl always intended phenomenology to be an intersubjective enterprise, open to corrections. In that spirit, he would welcome any improvements. (11)


4. Daiton’s Own Account and the Principle ofPresentational Concurrence (PPC)

Dainton’s overlap model aims to improve on Broad’s account of phenomenal time.

To resolve Broad's problem of repeated contents in the overlapping specious presents, Dainton appeals to Foster's solution: allow for an overlap in the acts of awareness (which Foster terms 'presentations'). (12)


gallagher broad

[From Gallagher, page 12]

So look first at e*. It is an abstract momentary act of awareness. There are solid lines, Ae* and e*C, and these represent the momentary act along with its specious present. Consider specious present A-C. Act of awareness e* is extended as e1, which extends from AC. e1 overlaps with e2 (and any other act interposed between). Acts or species presents can have varying durations. However, whatever the duration of the acts of awareness, so too must their specious presents have proportional durations. The Principle of Presentational Concurrence (PPC) is the idea that the acts and their contents are strictly concurrent. “Acts of awareness and their contents share the same temporality - there is no temporal discordance between acts of awareness and phenomenal contents. Furthermore, Dainton, following Foster, suggests that this common time can be matched to objective time (p. 165).” (Gallagher 12)

Dainton’s overlap models solves the problem of repeating contents. Gallagher claims that it generates a new problem, the problem of ongoing contents. Dainton’s model [as here portrayed in Gallagher’s diagram] would suggest that we hear content C before it actually occurs, in e1, and as well after it occurs in e2.


PPC with overlapping awareness solves the problem of repeated contents. But as it does so, I suggest, it generates a new problem - the problem of ongoing contents. The same continuous content is seemingly present across a number of overlapping acts. If content C is presented at the end of e1, it is speciously present thoughout e1. Unless Dainton appeals to some notion of protention, however, C's presentedness throughout e1 is supposedly at a constant level, even though C does not objectively occur until the end of e1. C is also speciously present throughout e2, but unless we say first as protended, then in a primal impression, and finally as retended, C will be heard, not only throughout e2, but from the first moment of e1 until the last moment of e3. Dainton, however, does not appeal to protention or retention to sort this out, and I think the problem of ongoing contents remains unresolved. If, as he contends, the common time of the act of awareness and its content can be clocked with objective time, then consider what happens if e1 is 2 | seconds long. Two seconds before C occurs, I become aware of C. My awareness of it continues up until C actually occurs and for two seconds after C occurs. If we assume C is a momentary event (e.g., the quickly dampened sounding of a musical note), or that it lasts for approximately .5 secs (or any duration less than 4 secs), unless we have some way to distinguish between our anticipation and retention of it, then it would seem to last for 4 secs, it would be heard before it actually sounded, and it would continue to be heard after it was no longer being sounded (the problem of lingering contents once again). Even if this is consistent with the logic of PPC, it is not consistent with our phenomenology. What is missing here is some account corresponding to what Husserl described as the retentional and protentional structure of consciousness. Overlapping, by itself, just doesn't capture the nuances of anticipation and retention in experience. (12-13)

Gallagher has trouble knowing what phenomenologically speaking an overlapping act of awareness would be. He offers one possibility to illustrate.

I'm sitting in my office looking at the ringing phone, for example. You walk in, hand me a piece of paper, glance at the ringing phone, and walk out. Your awareness of the ringing phone temporally and temporarily overlapped with mine. Can something like this overlap happen in one individual? For example, I am aware of the computer screen in front of me and at the same time I am aware of the phone ringing on and off. I would say this is just a phenomenologically unproblematic overlapping of content, or with Dainton, this is a case of co-consciousness, but not that I have two separate acts of awareness going at once. In the end, trying to decide this for acts of awareness may be irrelevant since Dainton wants to give up the A-thesis, which distinguishes between acts and contents (13)

Gallagher then wonders of these problems are really resolved by Dainton’s ‘Simple Conception’. (13)

The Simple Conception gives up the act-content schema. Gallagher thinks this in fact only adds a conceptual problem. Note how PPC claims that awareness acts and their contents coincide in time. The Simple Conception dissipates this distinction. But since Dainton wants both, it is hard to conceive what PPC means without the correspondence of act and content. (13-14)

Gallagher explains that in evaluating Dainton’s overlap model, we are left with differences in phenomenal character as being the criteria for individuating moments:

The Simple Conception involves overlapping experiences or phases of experience. Experiences in the stream of consciousness are not to be individuated in terms of subjects (pp. 25, 220). Dainton suggests we individuate experiences by differences in intrinsic or exact phenomenal character (e.g., if one is of pain and the other is of smell), differences in their time of occurrence, and/or differences in their physical basis (p. 25). To stay with the phenomenology we can leave physical basis aside. We can also eliminate differences in time of occurrence, since we are trying to understand what overlapping experiences are, and during the overlap period there is no difference in time. That leaves exact phenomenal character as the criterion of individuation. (14)

Dainton’s notion that each act of consciousness has a different phenomenal character “undermines our ability to speak of overlapping experiences.” (14) Gallagher seems to be saying that overlapping moments do not each characterize the phenomenal character of the experience but rather some kind of synthesis of the two does.

In this regard we run into another problem. If exact phenomenal character refers to "what the experience is like, exactly like, phenomenologically" (p. 23), this can change from moment to moment, and experiences might seem to be momentary. More importantly, phenomenal character seems to involve a holistic aspect of experience. Dainton writes: "If my visual field were in any way different, it would have a different phenomenal character. If my visual field had a different phenomenal character, my overall consciousness would also have a different character" (p. 24). This understanding of phenomenal character helps to individuate experiences, but it undermines our ability to speak of overlapping experiences. If e1, an ongoing experience, is suddenly overlapped by e2, then my overall consciousness would have a different character and it would not be a case of e2 overlapping with e1, but e1 being replaced by en (the effect of combining e1 and e2). That is, a new experience rather than two overlapping experiences would occur, because overlapping experiences cannot retain their individual phenomenal characters. When two experiences are in sync, that is, when they overlap, one sinks into the other and something new surfaces. (14)

Gallagher will now conclude “by considering the phenomenological adequacy of the Simple solution to the problems of time-consciousness” (14)

Gallagher says we need to explain two aspects of temporal experience: the flow of temporal passage and the temporal order of appearances. Husserl’s retentional-protentional structure explains both aspects. Gallagher previously claimed that to solve the problem of ongoing contents in Dainton’s overlap model, we might still need Huserl’s structure. But because Dainton adopts the Simple Conception while abandoning the notion of conscious acts, he is unable to appeal to the retentional-protentional structure. Instead, Dainton tries to solve all the problems by “appealing to experiential content.” (14)

Dainton says that experience is intrinsically organized as a flow. This is why we experience time as a flow. Dainton is here making a phenomenological and not an ontological claim about the structure of time. We say time flows because it appears that way to our consciousness. And this also explains temporal order too, as the overlapping shows the order of passage of its parts.

On Dainton's view, the flow of experience is no problem at all since experience is intrinsically organized as a flow. This is not primarily an ontological claim; it's a phenomenological claim. Consciousness just is a flow of experience because it appears to | be - and in phenomenology appearance is all that counts. Content is not momentary, it endures, and then it flows into the next content in a unidirectional fashion. My experience of the content flows in sync with the content, and there is no lack of coincidence between awareness and contents to worry about. Furthermore, the phenomenal content of experience has an intrinsic temporal pattern that presents itself as this unidirectional flow. Thus, the problem of temporal order is also easily resolved. In the overlap model, some element of content appears in two overlapping phases of experience. In the first phase it is sequentially related to other content in that phase which is not contained in the following phase (e.g., B follows A), and in the second phase it is related to content in the that phase which is not contained in the first one (e.g., B precedes C). These relational differences make all the difference needed for temporal order. Temporal order is a reflection of the relational properties of these contents (Dainton, pp. 173-77). (Gallagher 14-15)


So the Simple Conception of time seemingly for Dainton solves the problems that Broad and Husserl encountered. (15)

But Gallagher notes that we have difficulty finding overlapping experiences in our own mental lives. “Although logically and diagrammatically we might be able to make sense of an overlap model, if I try to find overlapping experiences phenomenologically, it seems just as problematic as trying to find reified retentions and protentions appearing in the flow.” (15)

gallagher p.15

[p.16 Gallagher 2003]

Gallagher uses the diagram above to question the Simple Conception and its usefulness.

Even if we consider the notion of overlapping acts of awareness as a form of descriptive abstraction, represented in the diagram (fig. 1) for example, the question is then what happens to this notion in the Simple model. Consider a diagram of the Simple model (fig. 2). | The overlapping acts of awareness seemingly sink into the overlapping specious presents (sp1 overlapping with sp2, etc.) of content. One needs to ask what work is being done by the notion of overlapping acts of awareness in the first place, if that work can be taken over by overlapping content. Furthermore, exactly what does a temporal overlapping of content or experience mean in the absence of awareness? Is it a real (reell) overlap or an intentional overlap? Or is it something different? If it is an intentional overlap, how can this be explained without noetic acts or the structural features of retention-protention? If it is not an intentional feature, and it depends on the real presence of overlapping content, then we are back where we started, with Broad. Or worse, since if experience is now simply running along the same line as the content, there is no good way to explain what exactly the overlap is. Unless these issues are resolved, the overlap model just won't float. (16)


Gallagher, Shaun. “Sync-Ing in the Stream of Experience Time-Consciousness in Broad, Husserl, and Dainton.” Psyche, 9(10) April 2003.