Robert Piłat – The Experience of the Present Moment

Kultura i Historia nr 12/2007

Robert Piłat
The Experience of the Present Moment

Tekst oryginalnie opublikowany w: The Experience of the Present Moment, in: L. Embree (red.) Aron Gurwitch Relevance for Cognitive Science, Springer Verlag, Den Haag 2005.

Publikacja za zgodą autora.


In this essay I am discussing an aspect of time awareness: the experience of the present moment. In „William James” s Theory of the “ Transitive Parts” of the Stream of Consciousness” Aron Gurwitsch took up the problem of “the intrinsic temporality of an enduring act.” Some of his remarks shed light on the nature of the experience of present moment. His theory of the field of consciousness provides grounds for following suggestion: The experience of the present moment is built upon specific structure of the presented content, namely, a double representation of each content of conscious experience: as a central part of the field and as a marginal part. The transition from the former to the latter is accomplished through a decomposing of the first presentation and re-building it in another part of the field. Accordingly, the experienced temporal flow is also a „movement” through the field. It presupposes a field structure. I find supporting insights for my view in Husserl’ s manuscript on temporization (C 6). I also refer to research into neural mechanisms of time awareness and to some recent theories of mental representation.

1. Intensional contexts containing the term “ now” or its synonyms

The radically naturalistic account the experience of the present moment boils down to saying that events occurring in the experiencing subject and events in its environment take place in the same moment of physical time. An alternative account the experience of the present moment is a cognitive construction whose realization within given subjects is loosely connected to the moment of physical time that the experience refers to. The task I am pursuing in this paper is to reconcile these two standpoints by combining cognitive and phenomenological approaches. Before attempting this, I will give reasons for going beyond the purely semantic analysis of sentences in which the experience of the present moment is reported.

The sentences describing experiences of the present moment, i.e., those containing the word “now” or its synonyms differ essentially from their paraphrases containing the expression “in the moment.” The former imply intensional contexts and the latter extensional contexts. According to the predominating semantics of intensional contexts, i.e., the semantics of possible worlds, the meaning of a sentences containing the word “ now” is interpreted as a set of possible states of the world (speaking more generally: possible worlds) in which the sentence is true. Therefore, the semantic account of the experience of the present moment amounts to posing the question: What does it mean to say “I am experiencing x now?” In order to answer this question, we need ways of identifying appropriate set of possible worlds. Were it accomplished, the experience of the present moment could be reduced to certain set of physical states and the relation between the sentence and the set of states. By imposing a modal condition on the sentences with „now” the possible worlds semantics hopes to reduce the meaning of „now” to the meaning of „in the present moment”.

It is doubtful, however, if the experience of the present moment can be accounted for in terms of meaning of expressions that contains the phrase “in the present moment” or its synonyms. There are three reasons for this reservation:

(1) Neglected intentionality. A purely semantic approach ignores the intentional character of the experience. The experience of the present moment does not imply that we utter or think sentences that refer to the states of the world contemporary with these utterances or thoughts (for such reference can be created by sentences uttered or thought later); rather, it implies that these words express a content of experience that orients itself intentionally towards the present state of the world. There are many ways of using the word “now” in which it maintains its meaning while its intentionality has nothing to do with the present experience of the speaker; for instance, in reported speech (“He says, he is in Paris now”), in sentences referring to other people (“Now he is visiting Paris”), or in sentences about other people stated in probabilistic mode (“He is probably visiting Paris now”). All these sentences denote the states of the world contemporary with acts of uttering these sentences – but they connote different intentions.

(2) Non-tractable causality. For intentional contexts it is crucial that the state of the world contemporary with the utterance be causally connected with the utterance or thought. However, it is difficult to imagine how one can trace the casual links connecting:

  • (a) what happens in the present moment both outside and inside the organism of the
    experiencing subject; and
  • (b) mental representation of the state of the world underlying the utterance containing
    “now” or its synonyms;

The state of organism in the given moment is a result of influences both of the external world and the former state of this organism. These two causal determinations have different temporal structures; organic processes (internal causality) impose a different measure of physical time than the external physical processes that are contemporary to the former. If we ever got to represent what happens outside and inside of the organism in terms of functions with a time variable, we would very likely end up with two sets of incompatible functions.

It seems plausible to see the sensory apparatus as a “spot” where the two hypothetical sets of functions get reconciled. This is accomplished by standardization, usually referred to as information. The emergence of information that happens on the basis of a complex network of internal and external causal relations takes place by means of numerous filters and auxiliary constructions that help to distill information from a causal nexus. The filtering functions are realized by neural networks and as such they need time. Therefore, the resulting state of the organism should be referred not to momentary events but rather to temporal phases of the world. Consequently the very correspondence between the actual state of the organism and the actual state of the world appear loose. The causality that is responsible for the present states of organisms cannot be traced back to the well defined events or time slices of the world.

(3) Model dependence. I might be tempting to say that sensuous creatures just have some sort of perception of the present moment—something similar to the perceptions of trees or buildings. Should this assumption be true, then the necessary and sufficient conditions of truthfulness of sentences like „X happens now” would be the same as time related conditions of identification of X by subject. The description of those conditions would not contain the word „now” or its synonyms. The sentence „A is happening now” would mean exactly the same as the sentence „A happens”.

Such solution is counterintuitive though. Not only does it deprives expressions like „now” any meaning but also ignores grammatical differences, which do reflect important difference in assumed models. Let’ s consider a simple example: „X happens” may refer to a “perforated” process like the changes of stock rates at the stock exchange that closes every evening and opens again next morning. When in the certain period of time the rates go down, one can say „Stock rates are going down” in every moment of this period, regardless the hour, although, literally speaking, every evening, after the closing the stock exchange they stop falling. This is not just a liberal approach to word usage. We use
two different models for the process in question. On one model, there are acts of market players that influence the rate’s change. This model divides time into portions and allows for breaks. On the other model, there is just a time continuum into which all economic value including the stock rates are mapped. This is a model we need to describe our economic reality.

Intentionality, causality, and model dependence are three features of the experience of the present moment that force search beyond the semantic framework. In the remainder of this chapter I shall consider the cognitive point of view and dwell on phenomenological one.

2. Mental representation as the basis of the experience of the present moment

The causal connection between the actual state of the world and the state of the organism has a peculiar characteristic even at the purely physical level. There must, namely, be at least two states of organism, the internal cause and the internal effect, to correspond with singular state of the world. States of organism result from one another and only as such are they connected to the state of the surrounding world. An object that reacts to the states of the world but has its current states remain causally disconnected from its proceeding states (or the connection is so weak that it is in fact negligible compared to the influence of the external world) would not be an organism, i.e., a homeostatic dynamic system. This property of organisms implies that two or more states of the world need to be taken into account when we deal with the neurophysiology of the experience of the present moment. The stabilization of this experience requires a certain dynamic structure that links the continuum of the states of the world with the continuum of the states of organism. The corresponding continuous phases can be longer or shorter, but there is neurophysiological limit to their length, which is aptly called a “time window” or a “window of consciousness.” Roughly one to three seconds is needed for a human subject to identify a stimulus (see Pöppel 1989). Although the subjective sensing of the time flow is relatively continuous, the above mentioned correlating mechanisms function within the frames of the “time window” that is being reconstituted every time anew. The question is: „What
happens within the window that enables us to experience continuous flow of the present?” In order to answer this question, we have to look closely at current theories of mental representation. The information that contributes to the experience of the present moment does not come in loose flocks but in the form of representations—the basis of the cognitive content of experience. I shall present just two ideas from the extremely rich field, because they seem to shed light on the issue discussed.

(1) Synchronization Based Theory

Thomas Metzinger (1995) departs from an obvious fact that the background of the experience of the present moment is constituted by a large number of physiological phenomena that take place in various locations of the nervous system and are not linked to one another functionally. So, how can they produce anything together?

Metzinger suggests that the mechanism is based on synchronization of neural oscillation in the brain. Referring to the research of Koch and Davies (1994) suggesting that conscious states are linked to the occurrence of neuronal oscillation of 40 Hz, Metzinger advances a hypothesis to the effect of the present conscious states consisting in the synchronization of oscillations of all relevant processes at the level of 40Hz. Actually, his hypothesis is even more general and concerns all representational wholes
no matter whether conscious or not. „Certain natural representation systems are able to bind internal, spatially distributed individual events which function as feature detectors for them into a representational whole, by coding the perceptive relations between them through processes of synchronization” (Metzinger 1995, sec. 3). Representational coherence and time awareness are explained here at one go. Whatever is responsible for representational wholes also contributes to time awareness and vice versa providing that synchronization at consciousness related frequency takes place.

Despite its many explanatory advantages, Metzinger’s hypothesis is not satisfying. It fails to account for the dependence between the state of the world in the given moment and the conscious experience that occurs in this very moment. It presupposes almost magical connection between the present state of the world and the properties of a higher order characterizing some nervous systems.

(2) Simulation Based Theory

In Robert Cummins’ (1989) theory of s-representation (simulation based representation) the temporal dimension of experience seems to be given more plausible treatment. Cummins argues that the state of organism—or, by simplification, the brain state—that represents a state of environment is based on the simulation of this state of environment. This means that the emergence of representation is a process that is always extended in time. For even the simplest state of the environment there exist minimal conditions that must be fulfilled for its simulation to occur. Fulfillment of these conditions needs time; it implies some temporal extension of the corresponding internal processes that may or
may not correspond with physical time of the simulated state. The only temporal limitation for the bundle of simulating processes involved in an experience of the present moment is that they must fit the window of consciousness. This condition, however, allows for considerable time shifts within the window.

One has to be aware that Metzinger and Cummins pose different questions. Metzinger’s one is: “What gives unity to the dispersed neuronal processes that happen in the same moment?” The answer is: synchronization. Cummins asks: “What mechanism does make neuronal processes represent states of things?” The answer is: simulation. However, neither Metzinger’s nor Cummins’ theory can help to solve the philosophical puzzle of the experience of the present moment. Metzinger’s theory gives insight into the functional aspect of this experience, while it leaves unexplained its connection with the concurrent state of the world. Cummins’s theory puts emphasis on the connection of this experience with the state of the world, but does it in a very complex way that only produces additional difficulties. Cummins reasons in the following way: Representation consists in two processes: simulation and interpretation. Simulations of the states of the world occur in our minds all the time; interpretations emerge only occasionally in regard to whether they are needed by some internal or external activities. Representations are not always useful, and as such they do not result in interpretations (the organism is better off by relying on its reflexes). But when interpretation emerges, it must be an interpretation of something. Cummins formulates thus a curious transcendental argument: If simulation is successful and results in a non-trivial interpretation, then the state of things represented by this interpretation exists. (Cummins 1989, p. 105).

Unfortunately, this does not work as an account for the experience of the present moment. It does not determine the temporal location of the state of the world to which the interpretation of the successful simulation refers. If the environment is benign, i.e., it does not change too quickly or too unpredictably, and does not hold any excessive threats, organism can tolerate quite a great discrepancy between simulation and its interpretation. There is nothing here that could point to the present moment within the continuum of simulation. The flow of the experience is divided into continuity of simulation with indeterminate objective reference, and discontinuity of interpretation. These objection are exactly symmetrical to one just voiced against Metzinger’s theory. Whereas Metzinger gives us the actuality of the experience without reference to the actual state of the world, Cummins secures the reference but without possibility of temporal location of the experience itself.

3. Psychic Events

In order to explain the nature of the experience of the present moment we need to depict some event—an entity that is on located in time on the one hand and carries some content on the other hand. Let us call it a psychic event. My tentative definition may be: a psychic event is an emergence in a subject a psychological content like thought, perception, or feeling. One has to be careful and not confuse psychic events with such phenomena as seeing an object, having a thought or the state of feeling cold or warm. Psychic event consists in the emergence of a these contents and not in entertaining them.

A good example here is the act of focusing attention on an object. This act shows twofold duality noticed first by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and described in his Phenomenology of Perception. The first duality consists in the fact that paying attention to something presupposes that this something has already been given in some other, inattentive way. The second duality consists in the fact that every attentive act is prospective as a whole, because the object is a limit of motion of focusing the attention; it is also retrospective because it will present itself as following the presented that appears as having motivated the whole process from the very beginning (Merleau-Ponty 1945, 277).

My hypothesis is that these two oppositions: inattention–concentration and retrospection–prospection represent some general feature of psychic events. I suggest that these are based on a repetition of an underlying physical event, whatever it is. Metzinger’s time coding by means of neural synchronization is a mechanism whose purpose is to reveal in brain states a common dynamic pattern that becomes—as a property of a higher order—a tool providing information about the environment and the experiencing subject itself. Now, the same mechanisms that stabilize this pattern also make its repetition possible, although next occurrences of the pattern may be realized by quite different processes in the brain.

Considering their complexity, which probably generates numerous chaotic effects, brain states are in the strict, physical sense, singular. So, if a pattern of oscillation is to result in the constitution of a repeatable higher order property, then the instantiation of the pattern has to fulfill some non-trivial conditions. Among them, as I have mentioned already, are some features of organisms in general, but others, not yet specified, are sufficient conditions that could probably occur only in humans. In order for a psychic event to constitute itself one needs repetition that would be recognized as such. Neural synchronization might well be the physiological mechanism that is responsible for this phenomenon. It
is quite possible that the human brain, by tuning together various bundles of neural events at certain frequencies, creates both strict and flexible conditions of the repeatability of very complex physiological processes for which there exists neither a structural nor a causal principle of identity. This is all very speculative though, and I do not think we can do much more to prove or deny the suggestion while staying within naturalistic framework. In the rest of this chapter I shall turn to phenomenology.

4. Phenomenological identification of the present moment and the temporal flow

I have argued that the identification of the present moment needs multiple sources of information. This condition makes its impact on the phenomenal structure of experience. In St.. Augustine’ s famous analysis of recitation in Confessions we find a suggestion of a bond existing between the feel of what is now and the intelligible whole towards which the present experience directs itself:

I am about to repeat a Psalm that I know. Before I begin, my expectation is extended over the whole; but when I have begun, how much soever of it I shall separate off into the past, is extended along my memory; thus the life of this action of mine is divided between my memory as to what I have repeated, and expectation as to what I am about to repeat; but „consideration” is present with me, that through it what was future, may be conveyed over, so as to become past. Which the more it is done again and again, so much the more the expectation being shortened, is the memory enlarged till the whole expectation be at length exhausted, when that whole action being ended, shall have passed into memory. And this which takes place in the whole Psalm, the same takes place in each several portion of it, and each several syllable; the same holds in that longer action, whereof this Psalm may be part; the same holds in the whole life of man … (St. Augustine, Confessions 11,28).

St. Augustine was fully aware that the present state of the world as we see it does not provide sufficient conditions for the experience of the present moment. Our experiential “ now” sends us back to a certain “ earlier” and forth to a certain “ later.” The expressions “a certain earlier” and “a certain later” designate the extension of physical time that is necessary to collect all the information determining the current conscious experience, e.g., a perception. The information being gathered within the time gap is much influenced by a person’ s knowledge.

Yet, this relativization of the problem of experiencing the present moment,to knowledge driven competence to receive the presently available information is still unsatisfying. We need a theory which would determine not only the identification of the moment in the flow of time (via consciousness of the current state of things), but also the principle of the flow itself, that is, the very
dynamics of the time experience.

In “William James’ s Theory of the ‘ Transitive Parts’ of the Stream of Consciousness” Aron Gurwitsch took up the problem of “the intrinsic temporality of an enduring act.” He praises William James’s theory of transitive parts for overcoming Humean time externalism and placing the temporality of conscious experience within the structure of the conscious act. He also approvingly quotes James’s speculation about possible neurophysiological basis of the transitive effects. Gurwitsch admits James’s merit in „taking non-perceptual presentation of perceivable objects, meaningfulness of words, experience of relations, and so on, as specific experiences of time, i.e., experiences in which
the subject becomes aware of his passing from phase to phase” (Gurwitsch 1966, p.328). For him the main problem with James’s theory is that it preserves the main assumption of empiricism, which is the one-dimensionality of time experience. James places the condition of the temporal flow within the act as its transitive part, but although he admits that the transitive parts manifest themselves in different phenomena, they remain indiscernible at the noetic level (speaking in Hussel’ s terms)—in all cases they are just those properties of acts that enable them to hook on to one another in a flow. The flow itself is presupposed rather than accounted for.

Gurwitsch pays much more attention to variety of manifestations of transitive parts. These are (Gurwitsch 1966, p. 314-316): (a) imageless thoughts, (b) feelings of relations, (c) feelings of tendency and direction, and (d) “psychic overtones,” “fringes,” awareness in a “penumbral nascent way” of objects and relations. On the one hand, transitive parts are “experiences of connection, continuity and temporality.” On the other hand, they are the basis of contents like (a) to (c). Gurwitsch argues that the best framework for explaining the twofold role of transitive parts is his own theory of the field of consciousness. On his theory there are many conjunctions that give the consciousness character of a flow. The conjunctions could not be discerned within the empiricist framework, in which the only possible conjunction is a succession of mental states—succession being best describable in physical terms. In Gurwitsch’s field theory, there is more than one way of making mental states flow. „The problem as to whether there is but one or several types of conjunctions leads to a field theory of consciousness. By the latter is meant an investigation into the form or forms of organization prevailing among those facts which at any given moment appear to consciousness” (Gurwitsch 1966, p. 331).

How to explain this variety of conjunctions? Why does the field produce an irreducible plurality of relations between contents? In what respects are the conjunctions different from each other? Why do they shape the time flow differently? The field structure of experience provides an answer. Although Gurwitsch himself does not go very far beyond noticing the field character of necessary relations, it seems consistent with his theory to suppose that the nature of conjunction depends on the position of subsequent contents within the field of consciousness. The term “subsequent” refers in this context to physical time. The field of consciousness organizes itself in physical time, but it is only a necessary and not the sufficient condition of experienced time flow. In other words, there is no direct mapping from physical time flow to experienced time flow. What is needed for the experience of the present moment is consistency of the whole field. This however cannot be accomplished in one run. According to Gurwitsch there are three regions within the field: the theme, the thematic field, and the margin. What seems to happen in the succession of fields are different connections between the contents belonging to all three regions. Although Gurwitsch is not quite explicit here, this is what I suppose he means when he speaks about many conjunctions underlying our time awareness.

The unity of the field within the window of consciousness is a dynamic process involving all the conjunctions. It needs therefore at least double representation of each content within the field. All the field regions belong to each other. It cannot be guaranteed by some external mechanical rule, but the relationship must itself belong to the field. In other words, the unity within the present moment is a property of the field and not the property of the underlying physiological processes. So the contents belonging to different regions have to be in a sense represented within each other. The thematic field must reflect the theme and vice versa. This is especially hard to conceive in case of relation of the two to the margin. But this is exactly where the mechanism of the flow comes to play. The thematic content gets “marginalized” and the marginal content gets linked to the theme and the thematic field.

The dynamic exchange within the field can be further elucidated by referring to Husserl’ s analysis of temporal consciousness.

5. The most radical of Husserl’ s reductions

Husserl attempted to merge the conditions of content presentation with conditions of temporal flow in his well-known theory of retention and protention in the Lectures on the Internal Consciousness of Time. On this theory the experience of the present moment is grounded in the continuum of present acts which perceive the same content as, on the one hand, more and more sinking in the past (retention) and, on the other hand, as less and less related to its distant origin in the future (protention). The experience of the flow of time is a series of acts where each of them is linked to the former via the same object towards which the subject directs itself. Thus, I see an object as if in its consecutive manifestations where every new manifestation reveals some new perceptional aspects and at the same time repeats the content already perceived. The successive acts follow from one another in a way that resembles peeling of an onion. But if we want to talk about the experience of the present moment, this onion must have a center: Hence, how is this center constituted? If (as it follows from my previous considerations) this center cannot be defined as a moment in physical time, we can only refer to other segments, properties, and moments of conscious experience.

Husserl’s answer goes in two directions. First, he talks about pre-impression as a source of the system of retentions and protentions. Second, he introduces the notion of the pure I which constitutes an ideal correlate of the bundle of acts that are concentrated round the pre-impression.

The theory of retention and protention does not explain fully the phenomenon of the present moment for at least one reason: all these acts which perceive the flow of contents in their coming and going, must have a source whose abode is independent from time. For Husserl, this source is the pure I, which is a highly ambiguous concept. I, the executor of acts and the center of personhood, resists time, but only because it already feels the destructive impact of the temporal flow. Transience and duration are two sides of the same coin, two equally powerful experiences; so there is no theoretical reasons for privileging only one of them as a foundation of the phenomenology of temporality. And there is no reasons for maintaining that the pure I should stay untouched by this subjective dynamics.

Husserl convinced himself that the explanation of “Now” given in conscious experience requires a type of reduction that is the most radical among all the reductions postulated by phenomenology. The purpose of this reduction is to reveal a pure movement of impressions that is ex-centric in regard to the I and to the object-directed experience. The impressional as such is the most primordial transcendence, although a transcendence to be found within the immanence of experiencing.

Following Husserl’ s remarks, it is difficult to fathom how such reduction could be effectively implemented. I suppose—linking up to Gurwitsch’s framework—that this purpose could be realized via perception of the marginal structure of conscious experiences. It would be impossible to understand the essence of temporal experiencing via analysis, even the most subtle, of the content that appears thematically in the experience. Only the margin of experience reveals the object of Husserl’s quest, i.e., “the standing-flowing present” (die stehend-stromende Gegenwart)—the present moment which, being something solid in time, simultaneously moves in time. The experience of the present moment is not thrown into time, rather, it is time which flows through it.

The reduction proposed by Husserl as an attempt to grasp the nature of experienced temporal flow consists in moving what is given centrally in its retention-protentional flow towards the margin; the content is being reduced to pure perception which is no longer the “perception of..” It is aimed at revealing the primary dynamics thanks to which any content can appear. This is the deepest immanence that is accessible to phenomenological analysis. The pure I appears here not as a problematic entanglement in the reflexive movement of experienced contents (like in non-egological theory of consciousness endorsed by Gurwitsch), or as a pole of the acts of consciousness, but as one side of the immanent relation between the one who experiences and the fact that he experiences. These “ who” and “that” remain strictly interwoven. „I systematically reduce the concrete flowing present through an ‘unbuilding.’ I reduce to the primal impressional immanent present of things, to the “foreign to me,” namely the immannent hylē (sphere of marginalized experience)” (Husserl, Zeitigung, MS C 6, p.3). This hylē that Husserl talks about is something constitutionally more primary than the impressional matter which occurs in Logical Investigations. This is, in fact, an Urhylē, a pre-matter:

„Primal hylē in its temporization is the ego-foreign core, so to speak, in the concrete present. We would then have to say: in the flow of concrete primal presence, purely immanent time temporizes itself constantly as primal time, in which [primal] [non-]individual being exists; thereupon, we postulate as valid the pure flow of experience, the first “ transcendence” over and against the primal impressional flowing present” (Husserl, Zeitigung MS C 6, p.5).

The hyletic field passes continuously through immanent time and is thus the hyletic core material of the primal-impressional sphere. In other words, Husserl tries to understand the nature of perception as perception. Beneath any given content, it emerges from the dynamics of the present moment; and this dynamics is a movement of the primordial impressional matter itself: „In this ‘unbuilding’ we return to the primal-impressional present, which leaves valid exclusively the purely perceived and reserves in bracketed form that which is not purely perceived, withholding in this from pure perception ‘perceiving’ and all other consciousness, and that as non purely perceived in any case, and as perhaps not perceived at all” (Husserl, Zeitigung MS C 6, p. 4). The unclear formulation in the second part of this sentence I would interpret in the following way: The bottom level of perception is not a form of its corresponding objectivity, but the pure movement of impressions; in this mode of consciousness, strictly speaking, nothing is yet perceived. But what does Husserl mean when he talks about building down (Abbau)? Certainly not a conceptual analysis separating the experiential components or any real disintegration of the experience. It is the phenomenon of pure receptivity, which is elucidated by this part of Husserl’ s study.

6. The problem of combining phenomenological and cognitive approach

Husserl’s analysis does not say anything about the realization of the revealed content structure. On the other hand, its great advantage lies in the way it tackles the constitution of time as dependent on both sides of experience: subjective and objective alike. It transcends this opposition by showing how the movement away from the thematic content towards the marginal content converges with the position of the I in the field of sensuous receptivity. This I is very far from the Cartesian cogito. It emerges from the dynamics of the temporal experience that is effected by a complex mechanism of horizons. The I who operates with consciously experienced contents is a content for itself; whereas the I who experiences its now reveals its specific being as a correlate of the possibility of receiving impressions.

It is tempting to conclude at this point by saying that this ideal receptivity or sensuousness is nothing else but a biological property of human body, and the tensions postulated by Husserl within the field of experience result from incommensurability in the functioning of separate units of human brain. One could say that from this heterogeneous bedrock there emerges a relatively coherent self-representation that somehow contains all these incommensurabilities. In cognitivism, this representation relies on a brain model of one’ s own body. This model might be said to determine the activity of the living body as a receiver of impressions. The sense of time and, above all, the sense of the present moment would then be associated with the transaction between the abstract, timeless model of one’ s own body and the physical temporal continuum that is particular to the processes occurring in this body.

This approach, apparently promising, is, in fact too close to the old-fashioned functionalism and its solipsistic consequences (in the style of early Putnam and Fodor). It ignores the fact of receptivity as a possible foundation of the sense of time. Here, any process happening inside the body could give rise to the consciousness of time, and the experience of now in particular. This view violates the reasonable condition I have formulated before, according to which the experience of the present moment should be conceived as intentionally directed towards the state of the world in this very moment.

Husserl goes in the more promising direction, although his model does not contain any empirical data. On his analysis, the body is not presented as an abstract model built into a sensing organism, but as an individual concept of a living body that is given with and in the stream of experiences (C 6, p. 7). This individual concept (that is, the concept of one’s own body) is revealed in the transcendental analysis, but only as a transcendental possibility. It is impossible to perceive it effectively, for it is always implied by any constituted human experience. The sphere of functioning of this living body can be seen only through the layers of already constituted knowledge. The consciousness of the present moment understood as the consciousness of impressional receptivity that is particular to the living body, existing here and now, can be created only as a “result” of the immanent building down of the experience to the level of hylē. It cannot be done effectively, for we always experience something already constituted. This is, I think, what differs Husserl’ s transcendentalism from any cognitive analysis where all the constituents of experience must effectively be shown. Husserl is aware that the reduction is performed on the living, already accomplished experience. Thus, in the strict sense, we do not experience hyletic data, nor do we fulfil retention and protention as separate acts, nor do we “marginalize experience” in the way as, for example, we can marginalize at will the range of our perception by half-closing our eyes or by concentrating on the edges of our perceptional horizon.

With all the due reservation coming from methodological grounds, one can search for compatibility between transcendental method of explaining the temporal experience adopted by Husserl and the theories of neurophysiological mechanisms of consciousness. It is true that the Husserlian analysis deals with possible experience, whereas the mechanisms investigated by cognitive psychologists and neurophysiologists point to the conditions of its realization. It is also true that individual sentences in phenomenology and in the psychological-physiological theories are mutually untranslatable. Compatibility, however, is something else than successful translation. It manifests itself not on the level of separate statements but on the level of postulated properties of higher order, as well as other ontological and epistemological assumptions. As I already mentioned with respect to Metzinger’s theory, the synchronization of the brain’s functioning at the level of about 40 Hz is probably supported by the mechanism which represses other frequencies. On the phenomenal level, it is represented as the selectivity of consciousness. But this repressing does not amount to nullification. Apart from synchronization, there are other causal connections that tie brain processes independently of the links based on synchronization. The effective absence of certain contents does not yet indicate that they leave no traces in the form of our experiences. These are precisely the traces phenomenological analysis tries to discover.

7. Conclusion

I have argued that the experience of the present moment manifests itself in emergence of contents (psychic events). They can be identified by both scientific and phenomenal methods. The higher order properties that are assumed by cognitivist theories can be thought of as grounded in transcendental conditions of experiences understood in Husserlian sense. Speaking from the cognitivist perspective, I postulated the repetition of physical events as the basis of psychic events as well as to the mechanisms of selection, simulation and synchronization from which conscious experiences emerge. I confronted these conclusions with Husserl’ s theory of retention and protention and the idea of the immanent deconstruction of the experience leading to the pure movement of impressions and their correlative subjective structure: the pure I. Also I discussed Gurwitsch’ s theory of the field of consciousness as a good framework for describing the experience of the present moment. This description is based on the notion of content marginalization, which in turn presuposes both synchronic duplicity and diachronic repeatability of content representation. This is where the link comes to cognitive theories which for different reasons should also deal with the problem of duplicity and repeatability of mental representations.

The cognitivist and phenomenological approaches to the experience of the present moment cannot be straightforwardly put together but they are not incompatible. The transcendental (constitutive) analysis describes conditions of possible experience, while cognitivist theory describes conditions of realization of these possibilities. Yet the full analysis of the experience of the present moment must resort to such transcendental conditions for which there is no empirical theory of realization. Such levels (immanent structures) of experiencing as receptivity, the movement of sensual impressions, the pure I, and the marginalization of experience will probably never be explained in terms of conditions of realization. This cannot be said with certainty, however. The cognitive theories change rapidly and it is difficult to say now what philosophical use can be made of the future findings.


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