specious present

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William James (1842—1910) American philosopher and psychologist


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Term due to E. R. Clay and promoted by James, to describe the view that although the present is itself ‘punctiform’ or a mere point between past and future, nevertheless in experience some earlier events are still present to us when we perceive later events. Only thus, it was thought, could the experience of hearing a melody as a melody, or seeing movement as real movement, be understood; for unless the past notes or the past position is still somehow present in the mind, the perception would not be of the sequence as a melody or the object as moving. The doctrine was quickly criticized on the ground that what it predicts is not the experience of hearing a melody, but a compacted block of sound in which all the earlier and the later notes are squeezed together, and similarly we would perceive movement as an object with a tail of its previous positions, like a comet.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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