26 Oct 2013

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

Corry Shores
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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.



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