18 Oct 2013

Ch. 6 of Dainton’s Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience, “Broad and Husserl”, summary


by Corry Shores
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Summary of

Barry Dainton

Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience

Chapter 6: 
Broad and Husserl


Brief Summary: Broad and Husserl propose models of time consciousness with early and late versions. Dainton compares them to see how certain properties create and avoid problems in their accounts.




6.1. A curious tale


Dainton will examine the phenomenologies of time consciousness in Broad and Husserl. There pose similar theories, but also Husserl’s and Broad’s views on time consciousness changed throughout their writings. (136) Their views evolved invertedly, so later Husserl is more like early Broad and vice versa. “Broad’s early account is realist, his later account anti-realist; Husserl seems to have moved in the opposite direction” (136)

Both tried to combine the awareness-content model with the Principle of Simultaneous Awareness (PSA), but learned that together they are untenable, so one must be removed. (136) Dainton thinks the problematic component is PSA, but when we remove it, we as well take away the motivation for subscribing to the awareness-content model. (136d)

Dainton explains that his treatment of Husserl will necessarily be a simplification. (137a)

6.2 Broad: the early account


Broad’s early account of temporal awareness is simple but baffling. It is based on the awareness-content distinction. "in Broad’s terms, there are acts of sensing and their sensible (or phenomenal) contents, or sensa.” (137) This awareness senses change and persistence in our experiential contents. Quoting Broad: “There is no doubt that sensible motion and rest are genuine unanalysable properties of visual sensa. I am aware of them as directly as I am aware of the redness of a red patch, and I could no more describe them to anyone who had never sensed them than I could describe the colour of a pillarbox to a man born blind. (1923:287)”. (137) Broad also here thinks there is the specious present, quoting  him again “‘what can be sensed at any moment stretches a little way back behind that moment. This…the Specious present’ (1923:348).” (137) So Broad thinks there are no momentary acts of awareness, because “all actual acts have some small but finite duration.” (137) For the sake of argument, Broad assumes there are momentary acts. But they take as their object temporally extended phenomenal contents. Dainton then reproduces (with relabeling) Broad’s diagram.

Broad time consciousness diagram. Image from page 138 of Barry Dainton, Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London/New York: Routledge, 2000.
[Image from page 138 of Barry Dainton, (2000).]


Line O1, O2, O3 are O’s successive acts of awareness. The bottom horizontal line A, B, etc. are the contents of these acts of awareness. O1 is O’s act of awareness at time t1. The content of this act is the line segment AC. So while O1 is a momentary act of consciousness, the content of O1 is a “temporally extended stretch of phenomenal content.” (138). “So in a single instant O is aware of a temporally extended phenomenal content, for example an enduring tone, or a patch of light moving some way across his visual field.” (138). And similarly this holds for O2 and so on. But notice how O2’s content overlaps with O1’s, as they both share content BC.  [Momentary acts O1 and O3 only share a moment of content C.]

broad yellow blue

[Image from page 138 of Barry Dainton, (2000), here modified with color]

But for Broad, there are not momentary acts but rather continuous processes. In this case there is awareness process O1-O2. Because they are taken as a pair, the contents exclusive to each are not a part of their joint awareness. So O1-O2 is aware just of BC. “Athough O2 apprehends content which occurs after C, right on up until D, since O1 ends at C nothing beyond this point is apprehended by O1. So the content which is sensed throughout the duration of O1-O2 is restricted to their period of overlap, BC.” (138) Imagine if the duration periods were shorter. This would make the overlaps more overlapping, and vice versa. (138-139)





One problem with Broad’s model are obscurities. It is not evident how long a continuous process of sensing can last. Now regarding the content sensed through a continuous act, like O1-O2, let’s call it the ‘core content’ of the act. O1-O2’s core content is BC. The total content is everything that the act is aware of, even if it is not continuously shared. Dainton calls this the ‘total content’ of the act. So the total content of O1-O2 is AD. The smallest possible content would have the duration of the specious present and it could only be apprehended by a momentary act. Yet “One of the peculiarities of Broad’s account is that although core contents have the distinguishing property of specious presents, they are temporally extended and are sensed as a whole, Broad doesn’t call them specious presents. He reserves this label for the limiting case which can never occur.” (139)

[Recall The Principle of Presentational Concurrence, or PPC, which says that “the duration of a content being presented is concurrent with the duration of the act of presenting it” (134)] Another oddity results from Broad’s rejection of PPC, for he claims that the contents of the acts of awareness are longer than the acts themselves. Broad thinks that within acts there can be smaller acts of finite duration. But as we noted, shorter acts overlap more with each other. So in the diagram below, first consider the longer act O1-O4. There is just a tiny overlap, QR. However O2-O3 has a larger overlap, PS.

Broad. Stream bk. p140

Broad. Stream bk. p140.color.b

Broad. Stream bk. p140.color

[Images from page 140 of Barry Dainton, (2000), color modified.]

But this does not match our phenomenological experiences. “It does not seem that over very short intervals I am aware of longer stretches of the process than I am over longer periods.” (140)

Another strange consequence. BC is apprehended throughout the temporally extended process O1-O2.


broad end at begin

[Image from page 138 of Barry Dainton, (2000), here modified with color]

“Since the extended act O1-O2 does not even overlap B-C, we only start to be aware of BC as a whole from the moment when B-C is wholly in the past. The same applies to all extended contents: they enter our awareness only when they are completed and in the past. This is certainly counter-intuitive.” (140)

Dainton now notes a way that Broad’s theory is damagingly problematic. (141) First assume there are momentary acts of consciousness. Now imagine there is a constant auditory tone from A to E. If there is a single sharp click between B and C, it will be heard by two distinct acts of consciousness, O1 and O2; it will be heard twice when in fact it strikes only once. (141) 

Broad does not think there are momentary acts of consciousness. Still here the click will be heard by both extended acts O1-O2 and O2-O3. (141-142)

Dainton’s solution is to say that the acts are not discrete but rather overlapping. He will discuss this model more later, but first he will look at Broad’s solutions. (142)

6.3 Broad: the later account

Broad uses the concept of ‘prehending’, which means being directly aware of something, “having it immediately before one’s consciousness or awareness.” (142) Dainton will simplify the discussion and speak of “‘awareness’ and the objects and contents of awareness.” (142d)

Broad “begins with two assumptions. The first is that the present is a durationless instant, the second that we are directly aware of things changing and remaining unchanged.” (143a) But there is a problem if both are true. A momentary awareness is aware of singular moments and thus not changes or unchangings. So Broad says our awareness has a finite duration, extending “a short way into the past.” (143) Broad then introduces another idea, presentedness, which is “a psychological characteristic which comes in varying degrees from zero up to a maximum.” (143) If a content C is spread through time, then it as a whole cannot all be present, as the present is a durationless instant. So at one moment of C, we are directly aware of one instant of its presentation, and this part is the most present. Moving aware from that center-point, the moments diminish in presentedness with each movement down the chain. It tapers off to the point “where C no longer falls within the span of immediate awareness.”  (143) “As contents slip into the past, we sense them fading away, they appear less vivid, less intense; or perhaps it is because we are aware of contents losing their intensity that they seem to slip away into the past.” (143)

In the forgoing we have been examining “Broad calls the ‘extensive’ aspect of the specious present: how a single momentary awareness takes in a temporal spread of phenomena.” (143) We turn now to the ‘ transitory’ aspect of the specious present, which is “the manner in which specious presents succeed one another, and how they relate to one another when they do so.” (143) Broad makes three assumptions: 1) “all specious presents of the same subject are of the same duration,”

2) “the maximum degree of presentedness is the same for all specious presents,” and

3) “the degree of presentedness decreases continuously and uniformly to zero between the later and earlier boundaries of any specious present.” (143)

Broad also claims that there are no intervals between specious presents, and thus from moment to moment in one single stream of  consciousness, there are no sudden changes in presentedness (143-144). Dainton has us consider if specious presents were temporally adjacent but non-overlapping. In this case, each specious present is the apprehension of an extent of content that has the greatest presentedness in the instant of enaction but trailing from it is a continuum of diminishingly present prior moments. [So it seems we would imagine the triangle diagram as having triangles that do not overlap, and they diminish, but that means the high presentedness of the current moment is adjacent to the least present moment of the next specious present] (144a) This would also hold even if there was overlap but the specious presents were separated by gaps. [Thus we must think of the acts themselves as overlapping and proceeding continuously, fading in and out of present enactment, if we want there to be a continuous awareness of presentedness.] “Clearly, if presentedness is continuous, if we are continuously aware of a spread of content, stretching a short way back in time, with uniformly decreasing degrees of presentedness, then co-streamal specious presents must themselves be continuous, there can be no temporal gaps separating them. Thus successive co-streamal specious presents form a compact series: no specious present has an immediate successor, and between any two co-streamal specious presents, no matter how close together, there is an infinity of others.” (143)

dainton bk 144 fade broad
[Image from page 144 of Barry Dainton, (2000)]

Dainton shows this with diminishing bands (fig. 6.3). “The diagram shows how the same contents are apprehended as possessing different degrees of presentedness in successive specious presents which overlap in content. […] Although a given content is sensed as a whole throughout some finite period of time, throughout this period it will be sensed as sinking continuously into the past.” (145)

6.4 Connectedness and presentedness

We now compare Broad’s early and later models. “Broad no longer believes momentary acts are mere fictions; he now takes the view that an extended stream of consciousness consists of a compact series of momentary acts.” (145) Where previously the same content is apprehended the same way at different moments, in the new model the same content is apprehended as diminishing in presentness as it trails away.

And because Broad now sees all acts as momentary, it no longer has the problem of shorter acts apprehending longer stretches of content, and it also does not have the problem of apprehending the same content more than once. (146)

But something is sacrificed for these gains, because Broad here moves from realism to anti-realism (with respect to the reality of phenomenal time; are there only durationless instants or are their temporal extensions of consciousness that extend outside an immediate punctual present?) “If a phenomenal tone Mi has different phenomenal characteristics when apprehended in different specious presents, it makes no sense to think that one and the same phenomenal object occurs in those specious presents. In the earlier theory, Broad held that Mi did not alter its phenomenal characteristics from specious present to specious present, but he now holds that that Mi would have different phenomenal characteristics in different specious presents: it varies in different degrees of presentedness. While this neatly avoids the repeated contents problem, it does make it difficult to see how it is one and the same phenomenal item that is being apprehended throughout this process of sensing.” (146)

One option to solve this problem is to “loosen the individuation conditions for phenomenal contents.” Consider for example how the same house appears larger or smaller depending on how far away we view it. Likewise, perhaps the same phenomenal content appears more or less present depending on how recently we apprehended it. (146d) But Dainton finds a problem with this. It cannot be that it is one and the same content that appears differently in the same moment [Perhaps Dainton is saying this: Mi right now appears to have a certain degree of presentedness, but in the prior moment it had slightly more. However since Mi is one and the same content, what it was in the past is still the same thing that what it is now, and in that way, both variations are present in its identity. But one and the same thing cannot contain contrary predicates, in this case having both one and another degree of presentedness, so the prior instance is right now a representation of Mi and not Mi itself.]

Suppose that Mi is first apprehended at t1 by act O1 with maximal presentedness. Can we make sense of the idea that this phenomenal tone undergoes changes in presentedness over time? Can an item that exists at a certain time t1 possess at this time different and incompatible properties? An item within a sense field, such as a red patch, can change over time; the patch could shrink or expand. We could view the expanding/shrinking patch as a phenomenal continuant, one and the same object possessing different properties at different times. But in supposing that when we apprehend Mi as possessing different degrees of presentedness we are apprehending one and the same tone-content, we are supposing that this content possesses different and incompatible intrinsic properties at the same time. This is impossible. We should conclude, I think, that as ‘Mi’ is apprehended by later acts O2, O3, etc., although it is apprehended as occurring at t1, given that these acts apprehend ‘Mi’ as possessing different degrees of presentedness, they are not apprehensions of the same phenomenal item as was apprehended by O1 But if O2 is not an apprehension of the originally sensed Mi, what is it an apprehension of? There seems to be only one answer: some kind of representation of the originally sensed Mi, a representation which is simultaneous with O2. (If this representation of Mi occurred simultaneously with the original Mi at t1, then presumably both contents would be apprehended by O1, which does not happen.) Instead of successive acts being apprehensions of numerically identical contents, successive acts must be apprehensions of representations of contents, with each representation being apprehended by only one act of awareness. It seems that, knowingly or not, Broad has adopted the second strategy for accommodating PSA we discerned earlier: the representational anti-realist strategy. In itself, this does not mean his theory is false, it just means it is not the kind of theory one might initially take it to be. (147)

Broad’s representationalist theory is similar to the nested short-term memory account we discussed in 5.3, and it shares the same problem: “a seemingly unrealistic degree of complexity.” (147)

Previously we noted how Broad claimed that sensible motion and rest are properties of the visual things we sense and we are directly aware of these properties just as much as we are directly aware of the redness of a red patch. But in Broad’s representationalist model, it seems we no longer can be directly aware of change. (148)

Another problem results from his representational model. “Given that the contents of two successive acts such as Ol and O2 are numerically distinct, what is it that connects these two experiences? It seems that there is no direct experiential connection at all.” (148d) “Broad’s theory has the consequence that a stream of consciousness consists of a succession of wholly distinct experiences. The theory thus fails to satisfy the phenomenal binding constraint: the successive phases of a stream of consciousness are not, on this theory, bound together by experience itself.” (149) And there is a deeper problem. “What holds the successive acts together? Are they bound together in experience? It seems not: each act of awareness is wholly discrete from its neighbours. These acts overlap in content, but this is all: within a given act, there is no awareness of the neighbouring acts. Successive acts of awareness are not aware of each other; all they have in common is their content, to the extent that this overlaps.” (149) “If Broad’s theory were true, a stream of consciousness would consist of a sequence of isolated acts, each having no direct awareness of the adjoining acts. It seems, then, that the theory fails to accommodate the experienced unity of consciousness through time.” (149)

Dainton now more closely examines presentedness. On the one hand, we apprehend contents as sliding into the past, while on the other hand, we apprehend them as possessing diminishing degrees of presentedness. “These two phenomena are not merely correlated: contents appear to be sliding pastwards because they are being apprehended as possessing ever-diminishing degrees of presentedness in successive specious presents.” (149) Dainton now wonders if the “variations in the strength of a phenomenal quality could have this effect.” (149) Since Broad does not clarify what presentedness is, Dainton will consider different options. One is “to equate presentedness with phenomenal intensity. Phenomenal qualities of the same type can vary in intensity, or what Hume called ‘force and vivacity’. A sound of a given timbre and pitch can be softer or louder.”  (149) But presentedness is not like this, because it is about how time manifests in our experiences [making something more or less timely, or close to the present moment]. “Take two contents, one with more presentedness than the other. The content possessing the lesser degree of | presentedness will seem to occur before the content possessing the greater degree of presentedness.” (149-150) But consider if we see a color chart showing blue diminish in intensity. The dimmer side does not seem more ‘past’ than the brighter side. Thus Dainton thinks that we cannot assume that diminished intensity is indicative of temporal pastness. (150) “We must conclude that it would be a mistake to equate presentedness with Humean force and vivacity.” (150)

Thus “Since there are no other obvious alternatives, we seem obliged to conclude that presentedness is a sui generis phenomenal property. This property would be such that, first, simultaneously presented contents cannot possess different degrees of it; second, any two co-conscious contents which possess different degrees of it seem to be non-simultaneous; and third, the content with the lesser intensity appears to occur before the content with the greater intensity.” (150) But Dainton sees this as being flawed. “As I noted earlier in connection with the idea that experiences possess a special quality of ‘presence’, when we hear a sound while seeing a colour, we are aware of the auditory and visual characteristics of these contents, but we are not aware of any additional phenomenal characteristic that is common to both. The same applies to other cases, e.g. touch and taste sensations. So the problem is that there just does not seem to be any such property.” (150)

6.5 Husserl on the ‘consciousness of internal time’

Husserl’s extensive and elaborate analyses of phenomenal time evolved over time and he never seemed to settle on one view. So Dainton will not summarize all the various positions but rather just with one account that he worked with, which is interesting in comparison with Broad’s model.

Dainton explains that the basic mechanics of this model by Husserl are similar to those of the later Broad model. Here the stream is made of momentary experiences that contain representations of previous parts of the stream. Moments of consciousness sink into the past, and in that process become representations. But recent representations are ‘retentions’ or ‘primary memories’. Our immediate momentary impression is called the ‘primal impression’, and it is the ‘source point’ in our ongoing temporal stream of awareness. And so simultaneous with the primal impression are the representations of past moments, the retentional modifications.

The basic mechanics of Husserl’s account are similar to that of the later Broad. A stream of consciousness consists of a compact succession of momentary experiences. Each of these momentary experiences contains a representation of the preceding stretch of the stream. As one momentary experience gives way to another, these representations change in a systematic manner, such that phenomenal items seem to occur in the immediate present and then sink into the past. However, unlike Broad, Husserl posits a clear distinction between present experience and the representations of recent experiences, which he calls ‘retentions’ (or sometimes ‘primary memories’). Each momentary experience comprises a momentary primal impression and a simultaneously apprehended sequence of representations, the retentional modifications of preceding primal impressions. The primal impression is ‘the source-point’: it is here that all experience of temporally extended objects originates. [quoting Husserl]

Now within the impression we have to call special attention to the primal impression, over against which there stands the continuum of modifications in primary memorial consciousness. The primal impression is something absolutely unmodified, the primal source of all further consciousness and being. Primal impression has as its content that which the word ‘now’ signifies, insofar as it is taken in the strictest sense. Each new now is the content of a new primal impression. Ever new primal impressions continuously flash forth with ever new matter. (Husserl 1991:70) [from On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, ed. and trans. J.B.Brough, Dordrecht: Kluwer.] (Dainton p.151)


The present moment recedes from the present and becomes a representational retention; likewise the other prior ones recede deeper into their nestings.

dainton bk p125

[Image from p.152 of Dainton (2000)]

Husserl's diagram shows each moment of consciousness C through G on the horizontal line. The vertical line underneath first has the most recent moment now as a retention, and the next most as a retention of a retention, and so on. But in between each lettering we suppose there being many other moments intervening, so the vertical is a continuum of retentions. "Each of these continuums of retentions is a representation of the immediately preceding stream of consciousness." Dainton then writes: "The length of the vertical represents the duration of the specious present: that stretch of the past that is available (in some form) to current awareness." [But of course he does not mean that the moment of conscious E has an extensive duration, that it itself lasts, for the amount of time of the prior rentended moments; for it is momentary in Dainton's interpretation. Thus he must mean it has a 'depth' as long as the vertical rather than a duration, I am supposing.] (152)

Some phenomena extend over multiple points (all probably do) and their retentional ‘tails’ (like comet tails) are found as stretches along the verticals. After the event, like after a musical note passes, no part of it is in our primal awareness. (153)

But unlike Broad, Husserl thinks we can have an awareness of the future, in the form of protentions. Thus Dainton includes the diagonal going up on the right of the diagram to represent protentional awareness. And although our experiences might surprise us, Husserl is right to say that we are not surprised to always find that our experiences continue forward in time. (153)

Husserl notes we are continuously aware of our experience’s continuity. This means 1) the contents of our experience are continuous. And although we perceive sudden changes, still there is continuously a flow of phenomenal content in our awareness. A continuous succession of acts of awareness allows for given contents to successively become ‘more past.’ (153) And 2) we are not only aware of the continuity of the contents, we are also aware of that our awareness of it is continuous as well. This means, for Dainton, that moments in Husserl’s model are aware not just of their contents but also of their neighbors. The retentions and protentions are nests, and

This entire complex undergoes successive modifications in the succeeding momentary experiences. As a result, we are aware at any given instant of not only our present perspective on a sensory object, but of our past perspectives on it as well—we are aware of how the object was apprehended by previous acts of awareness. Consciousness is thus unified over time at the level of acts as well as contents. (154)

6.6 New words, old problems

Dainton will now look at the critical objections leveled at Broad’s model and see how they apply to Husserl’s. We have seen how Husserl avoids one of them [the problem of the awareness of the continuity of the stream]. There are two others Dainton examines:

(a) Broad’s theory has the consequence that awareness of change cannot be as immediate as the awareness of simultaneity.

(b) How can different intensities of ‘presentedness’, a phenomenal quality possessed by contents present in awareness, give rise to the impression that these contents occurred in the past? (154)

Husserl notes Bretano’s theory of temporal experience, which is similar in ways to Broad’s. We have a sensation S and then it ceases. But when S occurs, it also triggers “the automatic production of a series of representations of itself, a process Brentano called ‘original association’.” (154) But because the succession of representations is also a succession of modifications, “to each successive representation of S is added a different ‘temporal determination’, the upshot of which is to make it seem that S occurred at a successively greater remove from the present.” (154) Brentano thinks that our immediate experience of change really happens in the realm of imagination-like ‘phantasy’ representations instead of in our immediate experience. (This is similar to objection a.) Another problem is that representations are apprehended as simultaneous with present ones, but then on what basis do we experience past representations as being past? How are they qualitatively different? Brentano (or his defenders?) say that past contents have a ‘sign’ of the past. Husserl is critical. How does a now consciousness change into a past one? “In response to the reply that the characteristic in question is a ‘sign’ of the past, Husserl is scathing: ‘But this only provides us with a new word’, it leaves unexplained how ‘a consciousness that is supposed to be now comes to be related to a new-now’ (1991:19).” (This is like objection b.) But Husserl’s model is still vulnerable to these attacks. (155)

So return to objection (a), “Broad’s theory has the consequence that awareness of change cannot be as immediate as the awareness of simultaneity.” But still for Husserl the only immediately given content of consciousness is found in the present moment and all the others are indirectly apprehended retentionally.

Now consider objection (b), “How can different intensities of ‘presentedness’, a phenomenal quality possessed by contents present in awareness, give rise to the impression that these contents occurred in the past?” Husserl says that we perceive or intend retentions as being past (unlike raw intentions) but they are intended as real (unlike memory or imaginings) and thus in a sense are present. (153) “Retentions present the past, memory represents it. That is, retentions provide us with access to the just-past in our current experience.” (155)

But Husserl does not explain how retention can give us the past in immediacy. (155-156)

Dainton then wonders if it is possible for us “to detect in our own experience the postulated complexes of retentions, primal impression and protentions performing their intricate dance?’ (156) Dainton does not think so, and he notes two problems: lingering contents and the clogging of consciousness.

Dainton thinks that present experiences do not linger in our consciousness after they are over, except as retentional images. So for example, if we snap our fingers, the only lingering impression would be from echoes in room, not in his head so to speak. He also says that waving his hand in front of his page makes the words disappear from view. (156) [[This is a curious example and point he is making. On page 129 he writes “Move your hand slowly but smoothly across your field of vision. At each moment you see your hand at a different position; you also see your hand continuously moving. Not only is the movement continuous, but your experience of the movement is continuous: you are directly aware of every perceivable change in your hand’s location in the same way.” He does not make the point here, but when we wave our hand in front of us, we see a blurry trail behind it. These are not memories in our imagination. The past positions of our hands are right there available to our sight in that immediate moment of visual experience. The position of my hand in the prior moment is so vivid in my actual field of vision that it is indiscernible from the present. It in actuality is less present but in virtuality it is equally vivid, or at least its lesser vividness is not discernible to us. We are not talking about a moment that is some finite extend into the past, no matter how small, but a moment that is infinitely close to this one, that cannot possibly be any closer. In the same way, I think in my own reflection that sounds have this trail in my auditory field as well, that even after the sound ends in reality, like when cupping a bell to stop it from ringing, true there is echoing in the room, but that sound is very dim. In my mind I think I hear in fact a very vivid trail of retended impressions. Yet maybe this is unique to my own experience.]] “There may be a faint echo of the snap that lingers on—this depends on the acoustic properties of the environment—but the echo is itself a sound that I am directly experiencing. This is not at all what the theory of retentions leads us to expect.” (156)

Dainton says that the problem is more evident when there are sudden qualitative transitions [[because in these cases prior moments do not bleed into current ones. But I wonder if maybe they do, and the shockingness of the event results from us having to perceive two qualitatively contrary impressions in the same primal impression.]] Dainton then gives another example [that is interesting to us given its similarities with the waving hand trail]

When I let my eyes sweep round the room, I do have an impression of past contents lingering. But this is explicable without recourse to Husserlian retentions. When I look slowly round the room, I continue to be aware of mostly the same objects; what can be seen at one instant overlaps to a large extent with what can be seen an instant later. This is due solely to the width of my visual field. 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, towards the periphery of my visual field, until it finally moves out of view. 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. But even the indistinct perception of the cup, as it lingers in my peripheral vision, is completely present. Those with tunnel vision will not have the same impression of contents remaining in consciousness: when they turn their heads what they see will change too quickly. To drive this point fully home, try looking round the room but shutting your eyes while doing so. The moment your eyes close, you will of course stop seeing your surroundings immediately. You may, however, experience something else: an afterimage—a | pattern of colour corresponding approximately with what you last saw. But once again, this is in no way the retention, in the Husserlian sense, of a previous primary experience. An afterimage only represents its preceding experience in the vaguest of ways and is itself directly experienced. According to Husserl (and Broad), momentary experiences enjoy their moment of full consciousness, then slip away, becoming less and less present before finally fading altogether—only then, after they have left direct awareness altogether, can they appear in the guise of ordinary memory. This does not seem to happen. Contents depart from immediate experience cleanly, leaving no residue, and become immediately accessible to memory. (156-157)

[[At first Dainton is not talking about afterimages. The cup does not fade into a visual trail like the trail behind a speeding car, which has temporal meaning to it as it leaves on us the impression of movement through time. It instead is receding out of view as his eyes are directed aware from it. But what is interesting is that he says he does not perceive it fading into the past. Even the blurry trail example is still just a fading into a different spatial location, and the temporal meaning is in a way inferred from it or perceptually implied in it, as all moving things of a great enough speed leave a trail of their prior locations. So we are not necessarily perceiving time itself in its continuous recession, but merely we see a record of the object’s prior locations, with the diminishing vivacity as an indirect indicator of the succession of moments during which the object was in those prior places. But his second illustration does discuss after images. We close our eyes and what we see leaves an afterimage. Dainton says it is not a retention in Husserl’s sense of the term, because it is just a representation of the prior experience and is not directly experienced. But if I wave my hand in front of me then close my eyes, in my after image there remains the blurry trail behind my hand. It is true that I am not perceiving the past itself but rather a retention of it. However, it is there in its relative perceptual freshness in immediacy.]]

One possible defense [assuming that we do not directly perceive prior moments of perception in the way I described with the trail behind the hand] is to say that we do have such retentions but they are too brief to notice. Dainton says that in that case why posit them in the first place? (157)

Now for the ‘clogging’ problem. Broad’s model had nesting. There is an awareness not just of the present but as well of the prior moments. Husserl’s nesting goes even further. [Say we have three moments of consciousness C-D-E, one coming after the other in succession. Let’s assume that C is the first moment of our consciousness, with none preceding it. C passes to D. Then at D, we are retentionally aware of C, but primally ware of D. Then D passes to E. We are primally aware of E, and the freshest retention is D, which just happened a moment ago, and next freshest is our retention of C, happening two moments ago. So E is retentionally aware of C even though it happened two moments ago. But consider D. When D happened, it was aware of C as being a moment that happened only one moment ago. So this means that E is directly aware of C being two moments unfresh, but also as being one moment unfresh, because the retended impression of D is an impression of a moment when C was only one moment unfresh. But imagine how complex this gets after many moments have transpired. And also consider that between C and D is implied a countless number of other moments that the diagram cannot display. That for Dainton is far too complex to be like what in our phenomenal experiences is a simple awareness of temporal continuity.]

Thus “a consciousness which contained this degree of internal complexity would be clogged with different contents to a nightmarish degree.” But Husserl does not think in fact there is actually an infinity of such modifications, because they blend into one another. However he does not elaborate more on how the blending happens. But Dainton invites us to suppose it does. [This would mean that the moments lose their discernibility, thus Dainton thinks their phenomenological reality] “His position is now open, once more, to the objection that his retentional complexes have no phenomenological reality; if they cannot be discerned in experience, why posit them?” (158)


6.7 Husserl’s change of view

Later Husserl developed his theory partly in effort to remedy these problems. He later becomes concerned with ‘absolute time consciousness’ or ‘the absolute, temporally constitutive flux of consciousness.’ (159)

Dainton now explains this absolute time consciousness. In Husserl’s model, there are two series of unifications within the stream of consciousness; one lies at the level of phenomenal contents and the other at the level of our awareness itself. (159) But such an act-object model needs to account somehow for the continuity of our own awareness. In this new model, our awareness each moment is not just aware of its immediate contents, or of the contents neighboring acts, but rather it is aware of those very neighboring acts themselves. This is because this unity between adjacent moments is a precondition for anything to appear. Other acts however produce synthesis by means of distinct acts of constitution. But this is not so for time consciousness, because it would lead to infinite regress. [If our current act of awareness needed to by linked to the rest by means of an additional act, then this one would be temporal and also need an additional synthetic act and so on. Rather, moments are pregiven already synthesized with their neighbors.] (159)

Husserl says we cannot describe the absolute time consciousness; we can only use metaphors. This is because temporal objects appear in time and we can describe them. However the absolute time consciousness does not itself appear in time. (159-160)

Brough’s interpretation is that Husserl abandon’s his earlier notion of retentions [at least with regard to absolute consciousness]. There are no contents on the level of absolute consciousness. Momentary consciousness does not have past or future contents in its retentional or protentional awareness; rather, it only has those acts themselves in its awareness. (160) So there is the upper level of absolute flux and it cannot be described. There is also the lower level in which there are temporally extended contents that the upper level apprehends. So while before when claiming that only the momentary instant of awareness is real, now he seems to say that phenomenal time is real, because the absolute flow is the continuum of time consciousness which extends beyond the present moment. “Husserl seems to have moved from a representational anti-realism to a full-blown realism”. (161a) Yet Dainton concludes “Unfortunately, since Husserl nowhere elaborates in any detail or with any clarity how at a given moment we can be directly aware of past and future phases of our experience, our positive understanding of time-consciousness could scarcely be said to have advanced.” (161)



Barry Dainton. Stream of Consciousness: Unity and Continuity in Conscious Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.


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