Friday, May 20, 2016

Experiencing present events and simultaneous causation

When I look at a rock, I see the rock and not just its outside surface. Of course, it is the outside layer that is causally responsible for my perception: a typical rock would look the same (except when intense light was shining through it) if suddenly all but the outer one millimeter of it disappeared. Similarly, when I see an event like a ball flying through the air, I see an event that includes the ball's presently flying through the air, even though it is only the temporal parts of the event fractions of a second prior to my perception that are causally responsible for my perception, since it takes light a few of nanoseconds to get to me from the ball and then it takes my visual apparatus rather longer to process it, and I need to process data from two different times in order to get the perception of motion. In both cases the data is processed without my being aware of it, and a rock or an event that includes the present is presented to me. If all goes well, this is veridical, though it could happen that there is no rock but a mere shell or that the ball was annihilated just before I had the perception.

So, in these experiences, when things go well, I have an experience of something extended through space and/or time caused by a very small proper part of the object of the experience. But veridical experiences must be caused by their objects (and in the right way). This means that a whole can count as causing something that is only caused by a proper part. (There are, of course, plenty of non-perceptual examples.) Moreover, notice that the case of the ball flying through the air, then, is a case of something like simultaneous causation when all goes well: a temporally extended event of the ball flying--including its flying now--causes my present perception, and the two events temporally overlap.

But this instance of simultaneous causation seems grounded in a case of non-simultaneous causation: a past temporal part of the ball's flight causing a present experience. That may be so. However, for all we know this non-simultaneous causation could be grounded in a finite sequence of fundamental simultaneous causations between temporally-extended temporally-simple events.

1 comment:

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: How is this matter affected if one does not think of the situation as "processing data" at all? Or even as a case of the object causing an effect in me which is (or which produces) the experience of the item in question? I am more and more persuaded lately (by reading Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, and Heidegger, and their heirs like Hacker and Dreyfus) that perception is not at all a matter of being impinged upon by the world and then processing that stimulus into an experience (either in the brain or in the soul or anywhere else for that matter). Does such a difference affect the matter of whether "simultaneous causation" is occurring here?