The Myth of the Present


I assume with R.G. Collingwood that the question comes before the proposition. Edmund Husserl proposes that our natural attitude presupposes theory on the phenomenal experience during the experience. I maintain that presupposition serves to interrupt the question before it completes. Using modern brain science and through Lisa Feldman Barrett’s constructed emotions theory, I show that Husserl’s natural attitude is normatively present in Barret’s cognitive process because the brain is constantly comparing the current phenomenal experience with past similar experiences to, through error processing, not only come up with an appropriate response, but also the appropriate emotions. It is my contention, from Husserl’s natural attitude and similarly from the Buddha’s dukkha that foreshortening the question produces the myth of the present by denying the temporal entirety of the question. I propose that the Buddha’s mindfulness and Husserl’s phenomenological attitude can help us understand the complications caused by the irruption of the question before it concludes. This includes deriving inappropriate responses and emotion from the truncated question that may not be ultimately beneficial to the person and may lead to faulty learning and improper error processing in future phenomenal events.

Introduction to the Question

R G. Collingwood informs us that a question always precedes a statement.[1] This means that the question precedes the proposition and not the other way around. Given this as a starting point, we must ask is there a predecessor to the question? Martin Heidegger asks the same with his question, “What is called thinking?” He says, “The ambiguity of the question ‘What is called thinking?’ lies in the ambiguity of the questioning verb ‘to call.’”[2] To call means to call something by its name or to name it, or to call as in a cry for help because one is lost, hence the fungibility of call that can be called ‘call’ in multiple contexts. Heidegger says, “The call is the directive which, in calling to and calling upon, in reaching out and inviting, directs us toward an action or non-action, or toward something even more essential.”[3] In other words, the call gathers our attention towards its object. Heidegger says, “Every call implies an approach, and thus, of course, the possibility of giving a name.”[4] The word approach is an operative word for attention to the question.

For example, the baseball batter approaches the batter’s box in anticipation of the question of what the pitcher will throw. The gathering is the attention to the ball still in the pitcher’s hand which is also an approach to the question of the phenomenal moment of both the batter’s and pitcher’s preparation for the pitch, and then the ball as a call. The call of the ball engenders the question of the pitch. The batter meets the question of the pitch with reflexive technique learned from thousands of such pitches but also with a reflective moment of discerning what the question has proposed (what will be the pitch), and when thrown, the phenomenal answer that concludes (calls): curve ball low and inside. From that information the batter acts and either swings or does not. Emotions are generated as this process unfolds.

The process begins with an approach, intentionality towards phenomenon in the world. The approach can involve walking towards the batter’s box, and before, standing in the warm-up circle watching the pitcher pitch to others. It is the calling that complicates thinking. The calling can be the naming of names, as Heidegger suggests, but that also suggests that in a very quick call one has already proposed or presupposed what the intended object is, and this is what Edmund Husserl called the natural attitude of proposing an answer before the question has been fully asked.[5] Fundamentally this is a restructuring of temporality by foreshortening the temporality of the phenomenon to ‘call’ the answer to the question before it has been completely asked. In other words, the call to question is answered in a structuralist manner that is consistent with prior experience or knowledge. Thus, the intentional object is objectified: called before the question is fully asked. The call of the object could simply be the signifier of its sign, or, more importantly, what the sign signifies in relationship to me. The call of the object as the signifier of its sign truncates the temporality of the question and objectifies the object. In the calling of the sign as both signifier and signified, the gestalt of subjectivity of the phenomenon is concealed even more under an objective mantle—its relation to me. In both callings, the question that occurs in the approach before the call is truncated into a notion that is a call that names and defines the phenomenon before the phenomenon can be ‘completely’ experienced and the question ‘fully’ asked.[6] The question arises from the phenomenon, not from me.[7] I gather the phenomenon in the approach. From the approach the question unfolds itself. It is I who am the arbiter of the question, but I cannot possess the question, only hear what it is asking or not.

Is this truncation, the calling of the phenomenon before it plays out, a bad thing? A reflexive ducking by the batter from the pitcher’s wild pitch is protective. Naming (calling) of a thing thrown at me is not necessary—I do not need to know whether it is a rock, a ball, or a fist—it is simply a projectile that could produce consequences for me. Such a shortcut is important for nature to react to imminent danger.

Is there something that is even more originary than the approach and the question that leads to a call? Jacque Derrida offers a more primordial notion of what precedes the question, “What calls us to thought, toward the thinking of thought, in giving us the order to do it, the call also being the call to reply ‘Present, here I am?’”[8] This is no less than the saying of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “sacred yes saying”,[9] the affirmation that ‘present here I am’; the affirmation of being that precedes all possible futurity, questions, and propositions. While this ‘present, here I am’ suggests a proposition of situatedness, it says nothing more than in this moment I am. ‘Present, here I am’ is always preceded by the word ‘yes’. Yes, as in the sacred yes saying, is simply an affirmation of being, not a proposition that might precede the question. Without yes and its affirmative ‘I am’ there is not the condition of being that is necessary for thinking to begin. ‘Present here I am’ is the statement of being, the being I am, present. It suggests no temporality other than the momentariness of being present—situated now in the present.[10] It is the beginning of the process that being engages to prepare the mind for thinking: ‘present, here I am’, preceded by the affirmation of being: ‘yes’—yes, present here I am. Being ‘present, here I am’ presages the situatedness of location—where I am—that precedes the approach to the phenomenon of the world. ‘Present, here I am’ is existential, the predecessor to the experiential me. The experiential me is where the question of the question is revealed.

Husserl’s Attitudes

Husserl proposes that the phenomenological attitude (versus the natural attitude) resists the calling, the naming of the phenomenon, the structuralist objective answer before the question has been fully asked.[11] However, we must define what the phenomenal event consists of. I maintain that a phenomenal event has three coordinates: content, cognition, and spatiality. Content is the intentional phenomenon (first as a question of what or who is). Cognition is the process our mind uses to discern the intended phenomenon (what or who is), its relation to me, and the subsequent action or reaction (including emotion) to the phenomenon. Spatiality is the three-dimensional space in which both the individual and phenomenon are located and the relation to each other—in the world. Time is not a coordinate because the experience of time is constructed from the event in context of the three coordinates and the temporality of the question. Time is therefore subjective and defined by the event, subjective because if we answer the question before it has been completely asked, we truncate the temporal possibility for the question and the revealing of the phenomenon that we intend.

The phenomenological attitude[12] event process is: yes, ‘present, here I am’, the approach towards the intended phenomenon which engenders the question, the three coordinates that frame the question phenomenologically: content, cognition, and spatiality, then the calling after the question fully reveals itself, and the reflexive and/or reflective response and the emotion that is generated from the brain’s understanding of the event compared to previous events. The cognitive process of how the response is agreed upon will be discussed later.

The truncation of time in the calling before the question has been completely asked produces a moment foreshortened of its temporality. If the call is both signifier and signified, its subject is shorn of its gestalt and revelatory possibility because it has become no more than the encapsulation that the sign of the ‘call’ (signifier/signified) of the phenomenon presupposed by me without completely hearing the question; the foreshortening of both what the question can reveal and its temporality.

Time and Temporality

The myth of the present suggests that the ‘calling’ or the naming before the phenomenological event has completed its question, not only compresses temporality but can lead to incomplete learning. I suggest that this truncation of the question can contribute to an error processing feedback loop that may be misleading or even wrong.  The myth of the present is the encapsulation of the event objectively before the question completes itself. This freezes both time and the object of intention, compressing both the temporality and subjectivity of the phenomenon being experienced.[13] It is, in some sense, the denial of the yes saying of the other (being, object) that proposes itself through its phenomenality. It also subverts temporality under the notion of time. This notion of time is not clock time, the Aristotelean progression of nows according to an accepted notion of what the moment of time is. Nor is this notion of time a physics time that considers the time relativity of an object in motion to an object at rest.

I suggest that time must be rethought as it relates to the experience of the phenomenal event. For this I turn to physicist Julian Barbour. He says, “[c]hange is the measure of time, not time is the measure of change.”[14] Agreeing with Barbour, time therefore is a function of change where change evolves as temporality.[15] Freezing temporality into time in the calling before the question has been fully asked is the fallacy that is the myth of the present. It is the deprecation of subjectivity under the objective call that refuses to account for the ‘entirety’ of change or difference that the experience could produce, but rather affiances a static reference—‘the call’—to a previous experience—an assumption without complete evidence. This produces Gabriel Marcel’s “disease of the intelligence” through his notion of the spirit of abstraction, “As soon as we accord to any category, isolated from all other categories, an arbitrary primacy, we are victims of the spirit of abstraction.”[16]

Marcel was interested in the kinds of abstraction that subvert a class of persons into an abstracted notion that, for example in war, tells us to, “[l]ose all awareness of the individual reality to whom I may be led to destroy…In order to transform him into a mere impersonal target, it is absolutely necessary to convert him into an abstraction: the communist…”[17] The spirit of abstraction ignores the phenomenon of the subjective other and refers back to the call that has been categorically made using the impersonal abstraction term. The other abstracted as a thing can now be killed without ‘any’ moral confliction or cognitive angst.

The spirit of abstraction in the myth of the present is not always as radical as Marcel’s abstracted enemy. The spirit of abstraction in the notion of the myth of the present is the presupposition of the call, the naming of the name of the thing before the question is fully revealed in the phenomenal event. It is a call to a prior understanding of what was—the return to a former experience(s) encapsulated in the objectivity of a definition that not only ignores change but also freezes temporality and produces the notion of permanence which the Buddha called dukkha, clinging, grasping, and craving. The Buddha explains:

And what, bhikkhus, is ‘in a word the Five Groups that arise from Grasping’? These are the Groups of material form, of feeling, of perception, of dispositions, and of cognition that arise from grasping. This is what is called ‘in a word the Five Groups that arise from Grasping are associated with Ill.’ This, bhikkhus, is the Aryan Truth regarding Ill.[18]

However, if one clings to the notion that grasping is a form of dukkha, how is this clinging to preconceived belief that grasping produces dukkha not also a manifestation of the myth of the present—the putting of the proposition before the question? This very well could be the case. However, the obverse, being free from grasping, can be thought of as a phenomenological attitude of letting the question unfold before any theory is proposed. This emptying of the grasp is consistent with Stephen Bachelor’s summary of the first noble truth of Buddhism, there is suffering, “How often do we embrace that worry, accept our situation, and try to understand it? … The challenge of the first truth is to act before habitual reactions incapacitate us.”[19] In other words, for purposes of this study, it is to first place ourselves in the moment (the approach), as it presents itself (before the call), and prepare to listen to and hear the question it poses before generating a hypothesis as to what it means to me. Bachelor calls this a letting go, “As with anguish, letting go begins with understanding: a calm and clear acceptance of what is happening.”[20]

Of course, grasping any new theory that is proposed could also introduce a natural attitude towards future questions. What we must recognize is that the phenomenon can be ‘called’ (its conventional truth) and is also empty (its ultimate truth). Later Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism observe that a phenomenon’s nature includes both conventional and ultimate truth. Sonam Thakchoe, through Tsongkhapa’s argument, explains this through a sprout:

The ultimate nature of the sprout cannot be separate from its conventional nature— its color, texture, shape, extension, and so on. As an object of knowledge, the sprout retains its single ontological identity, but it is known through its two natures. These two natures exclude one another so far as knowledge is concerned. The mind that verifies the deceptive empirical nature of the sprout thus does not have direct access to its nondeceptive ultimate nature. Similarly, the mind that verifies the nondeceptive ultimate nature of the sprout does not have direct access to its deceptive empirical nature.[21]   

Thakchoe continues, “It is important to recognize that, for Tsongkhapa, the two types of verifying consciousness do not imply two different individuals. A single cognitive agent is potentially capable of verifying both the truths.”[22] It is my contention that both the Buddha and Husserl want us to begin with the ultimate truth of emptiness because that empties the mind of preconceived notions to give the question of the phenomenon time to reveal itself. Therefore, the grasp and the freedom from grasp are both truths that can be cognized within a single person. Ill arises from the empirical grasp and falls away in the ultimate freedom from grasping. A single person can verify both truths, but not at the same time. Beginning in the ultimate mode, the freedom from grasping, letting the question unfold, is also, in my opinion, a means to secure freedom from the myth of the present. Letting the question unfold to ascertain the empirical, conventional truth is emptied in the phenomenological attitude to prepare for the next question. Thakchoe explains:

Knowledge of the conventional truth informs us how things are conventionally, and thus grounds our epistemic practice in its proper linguistic and conceptual framework. Knowledge of the ultimate truth informs us of how things really are ultimately, and so takes our minds beyond the bounds of conceptual and linguistic conventions.[23]

The ultimate truth helps us consider the gestalt of the phenomenon that exceeds the conventional evidence produced by the call. While the question may be heard completely, it continues to hang in the air as the ultimate truth informs. This hanging in the air is also a freedom from grasping, an emptying, which is a preparation for future questions as the phenomenal world unfolds.

The Buddha understood through his notion of dependent origination,[24] that there is a progression of causes that is the nature of our own being and the nature of the universe. While being announces its existence with a yes, it is always already approaching the next moment, the next cause even as it continually affirms the notion of being. Being is, however, not a permanent self, as the Buddha informs us, because to declare a permanent structure of either self or soul[25] would also lead us into the myth of the present to insure objectivity when there is subjectivity. Nagasena comments on this notion in The Questions of King Milinda:

 And Milinda began by asking, ‘How is your Reverence known, and what, Sir, is your name ?’ ‘I am known as Nagasena, O king, and it is by that name that my brethren in the faith address me. But although parents, O king, give such a name as Nagasena, or Surasena, or Virasena, or Sihasena, yet this, Sire,—Nagasena and so on-is only a generally understood term, a designation in common use. For there is no permanent individuality (no soul) involved in the matter.’[26]

Nagasena recognizes that the call of the naming of Milinda only provides limited information that does not reveal the entirety of Milinda, which, of course, cannot be revealed if Milinda the individual is subject to change. Therefore, from both the Buddha and Barbour, we must understand that ‘change is the notion of time’ and that to freeze time through an objective ‘calling’ and the denial of temporality of the question the phenomenon is posing, as the Buddhism said about dukkha—it is unsatisfactory, an ill, a lack.[27]

The Myth of the Present

 What is the cause of this unsatisfactoriness, the disease of the intelligence? The myth of the present results in the calling before the question is fully asked. For answers to the cause of the myth of the present we must first turn to the idea of emotion in the context of passion. The Buddha explained that there are two forms of enlightenment through the concepts of wood and burning. The enlightened one who has fuel remaining is like the charcoal log that no longer burns: this is the living enlightened one. When fuel runs out, this is the immanency of death. Says Michael C. Brannigan, “While the Arahant [Tathágata] is still alive, he/she still experiences the process of the five aggregates, but they do not burn with the fires of passion, aversion, or delusion.”[28] The five aggregates are the five continuous processes that are what we call the living person. After enlightenment, one no longer clings, grasps, and craves in a contingent world. The fuel that has caused the log to burn has been removed, but even though there is fuel remaining for the five aggregates to continue, the enlightened one does not reignite the log.[29] Therefore, the myth of the present with its rush to judgment without all of the facts proposes that if one exists like the flaming log, one exists in dukkha, which has been called suffering, lack, unsatisfactoriness, and ill. What produces this suffering? In the myth of the present, the emotions are channeled back towards defending the proposition. With the calling before the question has been fully asked, emotions are arrayed towards continuity, not change—compressing temporality of the event as well.


Emmanuel Levinas tells us that suffering, “[r]esults from an excess, a ‘too much’ which is inscribed in a sensorial content, penetrating as suffering the dimensions of meaning which seem to be opened and grafted on to it… it is as if suffering were not only a given refractory to synthesis, but the way in which the refusal opposed to the assembling of givens into a meaningful whole is opposed to it: suffering is at once what disturbs order, and this disturbance itself.”[30] Levinas’s suffering is an excess of sensorial content that refuses to assemble into a meaningful whole. But what does this lack of the whole produce? Levinas continues, “Suffering, in its hurt and its in-spite-of-consciousness, is passivity. Here, ‘taking cognizance’ is no longer, properly speaking, a taking; it is no longer the performance of an act of consciousness, but, in its adversity, a submission; and even a submission to the submitting, since the ‘content’ of which the aching consciousness is conscious is precisely this very adversity of suffering, its hurt.”[31] Passivity in this context is the state that asks the question of whether a sacred yes saying is possible.[32] This state of passivity suggests that it may not be possible to assert, ‘present, here I am’ because the phenomenon that causes passivity is simply overwhelming. Levinas calls suffering evil.[33] The Buddha called suffering unsatisfactory—the condition of otherwise than enlightenment—not evil in and of itself, because contingent beings suffer. Therefore, suffering is unsatisfactoriness. Though both the Buddha and Levinas explain suffering differently, there is in both a returning. Levinas’s suffering is a return to passivity as the ‘present, here I am’ but with an uncertainty of that statement. With the Buddha, the return is to a prior calling of the phenomenon (clinging, grasping, craving). Passivity also suggests that there is a paring of the phenomenological experience down to that which can be processed more efficiently. In this notion of the return we see Husserl’s natural attitude, but from both excess and lack at the same time—the surfeit of content, and the passivity that compresses the phenomenal content as it unfolds either through the need to simplify the phenomenon or to shortcut, as to return to a prior phenomenal experience. There is both too much (a surfeit of content) and not enough (the shortening of temporality) by the call before the question is fully asked—this is suffering.

However, the calling of the question before it has been completely asked does not always involve an existential-questioning surfeit of content that Levinas introduces as the predecessor to the experience of suffering. The assumptiveness of the natural attitude in common experiences is the foreshortening of the temporality of the other (object or being). This may be because of surfeit or may simply be a shortcut to make the call. In other words, it is a categorial reduction of the phenomenon to objectivity before the question can be fully asked. It is the limiting not only of the phenomenon to tell its story but also it limits the production of appropriate emotions associated with this phenomenon by referring it back to a prior instance of the same or similar phenomenon, putting it under the call of the prior phenomenological event.


The Buddha seeks mindfulness,[34] being in the now; Husserl’s phenomenological attitude eschews the truncating of the question before it can be completely asked. Both suggest that the irruption of the phenomenological moment produces distortion of experience which may produce an unsatisfactory response and the restricting of emotion to that which is associated with the assumed proposition based upon prior experience or prior knowledge.

Husserl’s phrase ‘natural attitude’ is appropriate to consider in context of the question, for it proposes that our natural state is one where we make the call before the question has been fully asked. I turn to Magna Arnold’s idea of the appraisal construct to inform this discussion. Arvid Kappas quotes Arnold that appraisals, “are direct, immediate, intuitive, and unwitting…and some are reflective.”[35] Therefore, intuitive appraisals of the phenomenal experience are the ‘norm’, though in some instances they can be reflective. Kappas says, “Emotions, according to Arnold, are similar to ‘sense perceptions’ in that they have an object, in other words that they are characterized by intentionality…What makes emotions different is that their object has been appraised with regard to how it relates to me.”[36] Therefore we can permit sense perceptions to reveal themselves through the question, but it is when that revelation reveals its relationship to me that emotions are produced. This suggests that emotions may also serve to truncate the question by objectifying and simplifying it in terms of its relationship to me.

As a result, Arnold’s appraisals relate to the being who has being, the continuity of affirmation of the affirmative yes saying, that restricts focus to the phenomenon defined as it relates to me. Arnold maintained that the appraisal, whether intuitive or reflective, produces emotion.[37] Obviously, if the phenomenon poses an existential threat to my being, a different cocktail of emotions is produced rather than the more reflective approach to an aesthetically appealing sunset, which has no direct existential consequence to my being, my sacred yes saying. What Arnold’s appraisal construct suggests is that we more often operate in an intuitive mode of understanding the question the phenomenal event proposes rather than the reflective mode. If this is the case, then we are more often focused on the known past, through prior assumptions of equivalence, rather than in the assessment of difference, which is towards being in the temporal moment, observing temporality and change unfold along with the unfolding of the question. In other words, we are oriented to survival, the continuity of the sacred yes saying, but do so in a manner that foreshortens the question to that of an expedient response: fight, flight, hide. I suggest that this is what the Buddha was trying to tell us, that fundamentally we operate as if we are the burning log, rushing from one moment of suffering to another. It is the surfeit of content of the phenomenological experience that drives us towards Levinas’s passivity where meaningfulness comes not from the experience of the experience, but from the content of past experiences that are substituted for the present phenomenon.

In Barbour’s notion of time as a function of change, in the event of the intuitive appraisal, temporality is compressed to fit the notion of the question that is presupposed. Experiential time, therefore is a function of the experience, the appraisal of the experience, and whether the question is properly heard and assessed. Can we gain any kind of confirmation of this notion of the variability of temporal experience from neuroscience?

Benjamin Libet and his A-Temporal Backwards Response

For most of the second half of the twentieth-century, neuroscience and philosophy grappled with the experiments of the brain studies of Benjamin Libet who showed that a person reacts to a stimulus about a half a second before the conscious cortex records the event.[38] This suggests that response to stimulus is reflexive and even subconscious and that there is an a-temporal backwards reflective response (to the subconscious response) that forms later in consciousness. Libet speculated that perhaps the conscious response that occurs after the actual response, serves as a checks and balance system to make sure that the subconscious response is appropriate.[39] Because the protocol of Libet’s experiments produced a time delay, Libet and others concluded that consciousness is not in direct control of will. Ergo, there is no such thing as free will because the intuitive response is not a conscious response.[40] This, of course, presupposes that consciousness is the location for free will.

However, Andrew C. Papanicolaou in a metanalytical study shows us that Libet, and those who confirmed Libet’s latent time differential, conducted a more complex experiment than stimulus, response, and brain-wave recording.[41] Within Libet’s experimental protocol was the requirement for the subject to also personally record the timing of a clock which introduced a third component that is outside of the original endeavor to record only the neurological activity associated with the event of the stimulus and response. In addition, Libet’s experiments were inconsequential events to the participant (non-threatening). Consequential events were not tested.

When subsequent researchers removed the timing requirement, any conscious cortex delay was minimal. Libet’s introduction of complexity outside of the primary task appears to have produced the delay. This has led John F. Kihlstrom to suggest that Libet’s backwards referral is the result of a flaw in the experiment that introduces new conditions which require additional thought processes not associated with the original response to stimuli task.[42] Both Papanicolaou and Kihlstrom conclude that we cannot say from Libet’s or subsequent experiments that remove the recording of time, whether there is free will or not.[43] If Libet’s assumption is based upon a flawed experiment, experiential time can no longer be explained as bifurcated into the subconscious response and the delayed backwards referral of the conscious experience of the event. Rather time and temporality, as Barbour has suggested, are produced from change, the unfolding of the question that is engaged during the phenomenal experience.

David Chalmers suggests that the hard problem of defining consciousness is how to define experience.[44] I am suggesting that what may be fundamental to experience is how we treat the question, whether it is to assume is objectivity before the question has time to unfold, or it is to wait until the question unfolds and reveals its subjectivity and gestalt. Either approach to the question is a subject of will. Both the Buddha and Husserl ask us to become ‘fully’ informed before we express our will either in definition or in action.[45] Expressing the natural attitude is as much a subject of the will as is letting the phenomenon unfold towards expressing the full nature of the question. Can we say either is free will? Should one duck from the errant pitch, is that free will or only intuitively produced will whose freedom is constrained by the primordial sacred yes saying that requires the continuity for, ‘present, here I am?’ The resistance to willful ending of the ‘present, here I am’ suggests that there is something that is fundamental to this phrase being uttered over and again without interruption. Leaving the discussion of whether the will is free to others, I maintain that there is will and it is something that we do have some capacity to control even if it may or may not be a proposition we can call ‘free’ categorically.


Both the Buddha and Husserl want us to temper will towards the experiencing of the question in its entirety before proposing a proposition and acting upon it. This is a concept that includes the Buddha’s mindfulness (being in the present moment), and Husserl’s phenomenological attitude. What I maintain is that this also can lead to the production, from Arnold’s appraisal construct, of emotion that is appropriate to the question being asked and not to some prior question that has been asked and answered (perhaps also answered before the entire question unfolded). If we must limit our emotional experience by restricting it to past events, are we not running headlong into dukkha as defined as lack? By not letting temporality unfold to complete answer the question posed by the phenomenon, what implications does this have not only on the emotional experience, but also to whether this restricted emotional experience will produce the ‘disease of the intelligence’ that Marcel suggested might be a flawed but useful phrase for what occurs when one employs the spirit of abstraction?

It is difficult to suggest what emotions will be produced when either the question is foreshortened or allowed to complete, because that will depend upon the question that is asked. I suggest that the more we accord phenomenon its temporality, meaning that the more we experience time as change using the phenomenological attitude of being in the moment of the phenomenal experience rather than returning immediately to the prior experience and experiencing what we remember of that emotional moment (which may also have been foreshortened), the more appropriate (and informative) both our phenomenal experience and our emotional experience will be. More investigation to assess this assertion is required. Preliminarily, I return to more recent neuroscience theories of emotions for a discussion about the primacy of the referential process.

Constructed Emotions

Lisa Feldman Barrett rejects the classical view of emotions that, “we have many such emotion circuits in our brains, and each is said to cause a distinct set of changes, that is, a fingerprint.”[46]  In performing allostasis, Barrett explains that, “Instead, the brain models the world from the perspective of its body’s physiological needs.”[47] We can call this the me-modeling of the world, relating the world to my personal needs, whether it is survival, sex, nourishment, or other physiological functions. Barrett suggests that the process begins something like this, “I hypothesize that, using past experience as a guide, the brain prepares multiple competing simulations that answer the question, ‘what is this new sensory input most similar to.’”[48] As the question unfolds, already our minds are comparing it to past experiences to determine its similarities or differences. Naturally, we are also processing whether our reaction to and corresponding emotions generated from the prior experience were helpful or not. We are engaging in in a recurrence pattern of thinking, albeit through multiple returns to experiences to find good fit for response e.g. run, hide, fight. Barrett explains:

[t]he brain uses emotion concepts to categorize sensations to construct an instance of emotion. That is, the brain constructs meaning by correctly anticipating (predicting and adjusting to) incoming sensations. Sensations are categorized so that they are (i) actionable in a situated way and therefore (ii) meaningful, based on past experience. When past experiences of emotion (e.g. happiness) are used to categorize the predicted sensory array and guide action, then one experiences or perceives that emotion (happiness).[49]

In other words, the appropriate emotion is generated based upon the fitness of the present phenomenal experience as related to past experiences. Even if the present experience is a new experience, direction of fit is sought to construct emotion that is appropriate to the world that the brain produces from this experience in relationship to past experiences. Emotions, as Barrett says are, “[c]onstructed the same way that all other perceptions are constructed, using the same well-validated neuroanatomical principles for information flow within the brain.”[50] Because the brain is testing differing scenarios, some will not produce direction of fit which means there must be error routines that lead towards a final consensus on what emotions to produce and what actions to take.[51]

I offer an example of consensus from the animal kingdom. Honeybees swarm. The swarm begins the house hunting behavior when the old queen leaves the nest with a complement of drones from the hive. Scout bees fan out to look for appropriate replacement homes. Scouts return to the swarm and dance the quality of the location they have found. It has been suggested that the more energetic the dance, the higher the quality of the site.[52] Other scout bees then visit that location and return to dance or not dance depending upon their assessment of the site’s suitability. After multiple trips and return trips and the ending of dancing of other locations, a consensus is achieved and the swarm flies to its new home. We see in house-hunting behavior consensus building, the use of multiple hypotheses, and an error routine that leads to a decision. Even so, each honeybee has in its mind a pre-conceived idea of what a suitable location is. As it dances it reveals that relativity even if others do not have the same notion of what suitable is.

What emotions (if any) the honeybees produce from this activity is unknown. Honeybees have one hundred thousand neurons compared to human’s eighty-five billion.[53] Honeybees are eusocial insects that work together to maintain and serve the hive. Humans are also a social species and we also rely on social cues to help us derive meaning and make individual and group from phenomenal events.

The phenomenal event provides the opportunity for new learning, not just the return to the same learning, the prior experience that provides a reasonable direction of fit. Barrett explains how learning occurs, “Therefore, the hypothesis is that all new learning (e.g. the processing of prediction error) is concept learning, because the brain is condensing redundant firing patterns into more efficient (and cost-effective) multimodal summaries.”[54] If one processes the question before it has a chance to unfold and secures an expedient answer based upon predictions of fit to past experiences, not only is the question truncated, but its possibilities for providing meaningful new information that can contribute to learning is also truncated. This is important because as Barrett says, “I further hypothesize that the salience network tunes the internal model by predicting which prediction errors to pay attention to [i.e. those errors that are likely to be allostatically relevant and therefore worth the cost of encoding and consolidation; called precision signals].”[55] Therefore, if we do not pay attention to the entire question and we rely on past information to provide direction of fit for current phenomenon, then our potential learning is diminished, and correspondingly, our error routines will likely be inefficient or even become compromised as a result. This is important because not only do we construct an allostatic response to the phenomenon, we also construct emotion that is consistent with the view of the world we have constructed from our cognitive process and derived error routines. Barret explains how her theory of constructed emotion works, “The brain continually constructs concepts and creates categories to identify what the sensory inputs are, infers a causal explanation for what caused them, and drives action plans for what to do about them. When the internal model creates an emotion concept, the eventual categorization results in an instance of emotion.” [56]

Barrett rejected the traditional emotional centers idea. Walter J. Freeman sees a chaotic aspect to the brain. Freeman has extensively studied one of the most primitive parts of the brain, the forebrain’s olfactory system. Freeman says that the forebrain, “[i]s the organizing focus of intentionality in vertebrates.”[57] He studies how rabbits and other vertebrates learn smells. A traditional cognitivist hypothesis maintains that, “[t]he brain would have to store, accumulate, and average sets of AM [amplitude modulation] patterns in a training period, and then retrieve the average patterns as a standard against which to compare all new incoming patterns during a test period, not only with one average AM pattern but with all average patterns to find the best match.”[58] Freeman suggests that, “brains do not have the neural machinery to perform these engineering operations, and if they did, they wouldn’t have time to run them.”[59]

Freeman sees significant AM pattern shifts over time over different parts of the brain which suggests that there is a non-linear dynamic at work in the brain. In reviewing AM patterns over time Freeman discovered that the AM patterns also do not form in the same place in individuals of the same species who have been given the same scent to assess. Rather, he theorizes, “Because of the contributions from past experiences, they are aspects of the meaning of the stimuli, holding only in the animal that has constructed them.”[60] In other words, learning produces unique patterns of AM and these are stored differently in each animal, even if they are stored in the same general location in the animal species’ brain. What Freeman offers is that cognitive process is somewhat flexible and individualistic if not also chaotic.

If emotions and action plans are both derived from the construction of conceptual ideas, then dukkha (as unsatisfactoriness) begins when direction of fit is not correctly aligned with the actual (in all its subjectivity) phenomenal experience that can be expressed by the question that is left to reveal itself. Both the Buddha and Husserl taught mindfulness as being in the moment and observing the phenomenal moment without interjecting preconceived theories before the question has ‘completely’ unfolded.[61] If Barrett is correct, we begin the process of reflection and assessment of the present experience compared to past experiences, actions, and emotions the moment the phenomenon is presented to us because we are fundamentally allostatic beings and our mind is an allostatic mind. Therefore, we can conclude that Husserl’s notion of the natural attitude is likely a ‘normative’ process. In a world where animals face imminent threats and have little time to respond, even Barrett’s constructive concept for action and emotion alone takes considerable computing time and energy. Therefore, something is sacrificed in the ‘normative’ process and that is the ‘complete’ understanding of the question that is being asked.

The Buddha developed his eightfold path to help individuals prepare themselves for enlightenment. In this process is mindfulness training which, as we have seen, is likely necessary if we are to counteract the tendency to make allostatic decisions as quickly and expediently as possible in situations that may not be consequential to our being ‘present, here I am’. Husserl offered no such process for the development of a phenomenological attitude, but clearly one is needed if one is to alter the mind’s tendency to derive answers before the question is fully asked. Obviously, there are degrees of freedom we can accord to any such approach to letting the question unfold ‘completely’. One does not need to be cognizant of the full phenomenal event of the car crossing into our lane to act appropriately to avoid an accident. However, the foreshortening of other questions that do not evolve such consequences is not only a truncating of the temporal experience of the phenomenal event, but also can produce errors in the error routines and perhaps flawed or incomplete learning that could interfere with the allostatic process in the future. Likely, if the natural attitude (the jump to the proposition before the question has been fully asked) is ‘normative’, it is something that requires a certain amount of training and conscious conditioning to overcome.


The field of emotion studies is vast and has engendered competing ideas and theories. I have sought to add value to Husserl’s natural attitude and phenomenological attitude which did not receive much attention from his followers like Heidegger and Levinas.[62] I have considered Husserl’s ‘attitudes’ only through three theories: Arnold’s assessment construct, Barret’s constructed theory of emotion, and Freeman’s work on olfactory learning. My effort has been to show how Husserl’s natural attitude can produce assumptions before the full question that the phenomenon poses plays out. Scientific studies of specific phenomenon are needed to discern just what differences in emotion and action might arise from the irruption of the question and correspondingly from the completion of the question…if any.  

Barrett and others who believe they are beginning to understand the nature of how the mind constructs its answers and emotions provide us with some confirmation that Husserl’s natural attitude of putting the proposition before the question has been fully revealed, is a ‘normative’ way of seeing, understanding, and constructing the world of our perception. The myth of the present suggests that while the compression of temporality towards quick resolution of direction of fit is a normative process, this does not mean that the accoutrements of nature constrain us to construct the world in our own personal mythology. The Buddha understood this; Husserl understood this.

The question of emotional health arises from this discussion in conjunction with the problem of developing direction of fit based upon incomplete information. If we constantly return to the past to define the future, we can get into a negative feedback loop. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a returning to a prior call based upon sensory feedback that returns to a time of stress and the emotion generated by that stress. In other words, incomplete information about the present somehow produces an error routine that routinely defaults to a prior experience, producing a negative feedback loop that triggers the stress emotions from the prior traumatic event.

Psychotherapist and philosopher Eugene Minkowski spoke of a schizophrenic patient who kept retreating inside himself in order to ward off the blows of life.[63] The patient had compressed temporality into a moment of the past that was not consequential to his being and as such had constricted his error feedback loop to a hypothesis that could countenance no new (as in different) questions, even a question that could reveal the potential for violence against his own existence.

With these two extremes we see the pathological possibilities of being ensconced in the myth of the present. I can offer no discrete process for assuaging the myth of the present. Certainly, it can be explained by Husserl’s natural attitude and is in Marcel’s term a ‘disease of the intelligence’. However, we have learned from Barrett that the myth of the present is derived from evolved natural allostatic processes and is fundamentally how the brain works. Therefore, the ‘disease’ is one of fundamental expediency and abstraction, principally towards the preservation of the being’s being. However, this is a malady, as the Buddha has informed us, that produces suffering that can be mitigated through cognitive and other training in the process he called the eightfold path.

If suffering begins in the incorrect matching of prior propositions with the truncated version of the present phenomenal experience, then its overcoming begins with listening to the question as it unfolds before one jumps to the proposition. The production of appropriate emotions and actions associated with the ‘complete’ unfolding of the question contributes two important things to the allostatic brain. First, it helps the brain more correctly match the current experience with past experiences which can lead to a more accurate error processing routine—a learning. Second, concomitant with the correct matching of the prior experience to the present phenomenon produces more appropriate emotions—also a learning.

As we have seen both with PTSD and Minkowski’s schizophrenic patient, should we take the myth of the present to the extreme, both emotion and physical health can become compromised, even to the detriment of the allostatic mind because, the appropriate feedback loop is truncated to meet conditions of a former time. Ultimately, the compression of temporality to fit expedient allostatic needs shows that the myth of the present is pathological (by degree) and, while it may be efficient in situations of imminent danger, it ultimately may not be helpful to the learning being’s long-term physical and emotional health.  


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———. “Do We Have Free Will.” Conscious will and responsibility  (2011): 1-10.

———. “The Experimental Evidence for Subjective Referral of a Sensory Experience Backwards in Time: Reply to P. S. Churchland.” Philosophy of Science 48, no. 2 (1981): 182-97.

———. “How Does Conscious Experience Arise? The Neural Time Factor.” Brain research bulletin 50, no. 5 (1999): 339-40.

———. Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness. Harvard Univ Pr, 2004.

———. “Time Factors in Conscious Responses: Reply to Gilberto Gomes.” Consciousness and Cognition 9, no. 1-12 (2000).

———. “The Timing of Mental Events: Libet’s Experimental Findings and Their Implications.” Consciousness and Cognition 11, no. 2 (2002): 291-99.

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Libet, Benjamin, Dennis K. Pearl, David E. Moreledge, Curtis A. Gleason, Yoshio Hosobuchi, & Nicholas M. Barbaro. “Control of the Transition from Sensory Detection to Sensory Awareness in Man by the Duration of a Thalmic Stimulus.” Brain 114, no. 4 (August 1, 1991 1991): 1731-57.

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———. Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way.  Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2007.

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[1] In his Metaphysics in the chapter ‘On Presupposing’, Collingwood’s first proposition is, “Every statement that anyone ever makes is made in answer to a question” Robin George Collingwood, An Essay on Metaphysics (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1940), 23…is a metaphilosophical statement that shows the primacy of the question to human endeavors in general.

[2] Martin Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking trans. Fred D. & J. Glen Gray Wieck (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1968), 123.

[3] What Is Called Thinking 124.

[4] What Is Called Thinking 123.

[5] The question before the proposition in terms of phenomenology suggests that the question is more complex than our language allows. The question is an unfolding that unfolds alongside the phenomenal event, and as such, questioning itself really has no conclusion because our phenomenal experience of the world never ends until death. The word ‘the’ with question is therefore not correct. Question’s inception begins with attention to the phenomenon. Attention is the origin of the question that unfolds temporally during the phenomenal event. Therefore, we can think of ‘the’ as attention that draws us towards the phenomenon and initiates our intentionality.

[6] Completely and fully are teleological and ultimately not helpful. Because we cannot know the thing in itself completely and fully returns us to Husserl who envisioned the science of phenomenology to be one of exploration and thick experience. Husserl explains, “Our procedure is that of an explorer journeying through an unknown part of the world, and carefully describing what is presented along his unbeaten paths, which will not always be the shortest” Edmund Husserl, General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, trans. F.  Kersten (Hingham, Mass: Kluwer Boston, Inc., 1983), 235.

[7] Husserl gives intentionality content, “That a mental process is consciousness of something” General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, 74. By giving intentionality content he brackets the intentionality rather than the natural attitude and this engages the myth of the present. The nearly content-less questions of what-is and who-is are not a ‘pure’ phenomenological attitude because they contain content related to the formulation of the question itself. Nor can the question as it unfolds reveal the entirety of subjectivity of the event. For example, one cannot see behind the rock where one stands. Therefore, the question will likely not ever reveal the entirety of the event even if I let it reveal itself as fully as I can.

[8] Jacques Derrida, “Hostipitality,” Angelaki 5, no. 3 (2000): 11.

[9] Nietzsche in Thus Spoke Zarathustra when referencing the ‘Three Metamorphoses’ (camel, lion, child) says, “The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred Yes-saying” Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, trans. Clancey Martin (New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2005), 26.. The child is life affirming, not life denying which is the fundamental notion of the construct used in this paper ‘yes, present, here I am’.

[10] I acknowledge the considerable deconstruction of the notion of ‘moment’ in Derrida’s work and the work of others. Entering into a discussion about the definition of moment is outside the scope of this study.

[11] Dermot Moran explains the natural attitude and the need for the shift to a phenomenological attitude, “Husserl thought phenomenological practice required a radical shift in viewpoint, a suspension or bracketing of the everyday natural attitude and all ‘world-positing’ intentional acts which assumed the existence of the world, until the practitioner is led back into the domain of pure transcendental subjectivity” Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology (NY: Routledge, 2000), 2.

[12] Phenomenology for Husserl was a science of phenomenon, Husserl, General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, xvii. Scientifically, then, the phenomenological attitude could be explained as, “When engaged in natural science we effect experientially and logically ordered acts of thinking in which these actualities being accepted as they are given, become conceptually determined and in which likewise, on the basis of such directly experienced and determined transcendencies, new transcendencies are inferred. In the phenomenological attitude in essential universality we prevent the effecting of all such cogitative positings, i.e., we ‘parenthesize’ the positings effected; for our new inquiries we do not ‘participate in these positings’” General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology, 114..

[13] The question of the question does not mean that there is only one question. The object of intention, a bird, in the trees also includes the question about the trees and other factors and hinges upon the orientation to the object with respect to me. If I am a hunter of birds, I also ask questions about wind speed and whether there are leaves or branches that might deflect my shot. If I am a bird watcher, my questions may only be associated with the bird itself, its plumage, its colors, its beak shape and other physical and behavioral questions. These are both gatherings, but gatherings though a selective filter and as such foreshorten the question to suit particular objectives. The premise and the objective therein are associated and linked. Temporality is constrained by the filter.

[14] Julian Barbour, The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 2.

[15] Barbour Explains, “Time is nothing but change” The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics, 2.

[16] Gabriel Marcel, Man against Mass Society, trans. G.S. Fraser (South Bend, In.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), 116.

[17] Man against Mass Society, 117.

[18] (From the T. W. Rhys Davids translation of the Mahsatipatthana Sutta, XXI, 18, ‘The Section on the Noble Truths’, Dukkhasaccaniddeso (Exposition of the Truth of Suffering [307])

[19] Stephen Bachelor, Buddhism without Beliefs (New York: Riverhead Books, 1997), 7.

[20] A standing-under Buddhism without Beliefs, 8.

[21] Sonam Thakchoe, Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2007), 11.

[22] Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way, 11. I have kept to Tsonghapa’s version of the two-truths debate for purposes of simplicity. Tsonghapa allows for a single mind to orient itself towards both the natural and phenomenological attitudes. This study does not try to orient the reader towards Buddhist enlightenment, but the everydayness of the human. I recognize that Gorampa sees the need for two minds, “the division of the two truths is dependent on two minds, ignorance and wisdom. In other words, were there no ignorance and wisdom, not only the distinction between the two truths, but also the two truths themselves, would not exist” Two Truths Debate: Tsongkhapa and Gorampa on the Middle Way, 13. There are many others, including Nagarjuna who have explored the two truths idea.

[23] “The Theory of Two Truths in India,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Stanford, Ca.: Stanford University).

[24] Paṭiccasamuppāda: law of dependent origination, the perpetual chain of cause and effect in the world.

[25] The question of self or soul has engendered considerable discussion in Buddhist literature as well as contemporary literature. My effort here is only to explain that if there is a self or soul it is subject to the Buddha’s laws of dependent origination.

[26] (From the T. W. Rhys Davids translation of the Milindapañhá Book II., Lakkhana Panha, The Distinguishing Characteristics Of Ethical Qualities, Chapter 1, Individuality and name [25].

[27] In his Pali-English dictionary, T. W. Rhys Davids explained that the word dukkha has no precise English meaning because English words have become too specialized. Some of the various aspects of dukkha are: suffering from being born and through the transmigration states of rebirth, illnesses, and bodily suffering, pain from cold, heat and other externalities, and mental stress by loss of loved ones or property. Dukkha includes mental stress as described but not mental illness, domanassa. Also, “As complex state (suffering) & its valuation in the light of the Doctrine: (a) any worldly sensation, pleasure…(b) ekanta (extreme pain) refers to the suffering of sinful beings in Niraya…(c) to suffer pain, to experience unpleasantness etc. is expressed in foll. terms: dukkhaṁ anubhavati Dukkha Dukkhita & experience may be a source of discomfort” TW & William Stede Rhys Davids, Pali-English Dictionary (Sri Lanka: Pali Text Society, 1921-1925). Ekanta, the pain of the sinful, Rhys Davids speculated, may or may not have been the original meaning of dukkha Pali-English Dictionary.. Whatever the origin, dukkha, on the one hand, involves worldly sensation whether pleasure or pain; and, on the other hand, it involves metaphysical suffering involved in the Buddhist notion of rebirth (saṃsāra). Note 1, §44, p.29, from the Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation of the Itivuttaka in the chapter, The Group of Twos. Content in brackets added.) The process of the five aggregates (or five khandhas) or our combined ‘mental’: Form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness.

[28] (Michael C. Brannigan, Striking a Balance (Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books, 2010), 52.

[29] Amata is for many an attribute of nibbana (nirvana) but what must be differentiated is the deathlessness of the Tathagata while alive and after death or, the Arahant with fuel remaining or no fuel remaining. Frank Hoffman explains, “…it may seem as if the door to the deathless swings open to a ‘transcendental state’ of existence” Frank J. Hoffman, Rationality & Mind in Early Buddhism (Delhi, India: Motilal Banasaridass, 1987), 106….for the Arahant after death.

[30] Emmanuel Levinas, “Useless Suffering,” in The Provocation of Levinas: Rethinking the Other, ed. Robert Bernasconi, & Wood, David (NY: Routledge 1988), 156.

[31] “Useless Suffering,” 157.

[32] The term passivity used by Levinas in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being relates to being for the other—the giving up of active or even passive resistance to the other to serve the other. This passivity is the location from which the ethics of responsibility begins after the recognition of the face informs me that the other is present. The passivity in Useless Suffering he describes as, “In suffering sensibility is a vulnerability, more passive than receptivity; it is an ordeal more passive than experience” “Useless Suffering,” 157. This vulnerability does not seek to affirm the other, but is a regression into a state that questions the notion of yes, present here I am. What Levinas does not reconcile is the vulnerability to the self that is the subject of both notions of passivity. In the passivity for the other there is the possibility that the other will turn on me, but for Levinas this is non-useless suffering. It is when the other is suffering this is useless. As with reciprocity, Levinas declares passivity to be asymmetrical in that it is useless for the other, but for me. This asymmetry is a subject for another paper.

[33] “Useless Suffering,” 157.

[34] The Buddha explains one element of the eightfold path: right mindfulness, “And what, bhikkhus, is right mindfulness? Herein, O bhikkhus, a brother, as to the body, continues so to look upon the body, that he remains ardent, self-possessed and mindful, having overcome both the hankering and the dejection common in the world. And in the same way as to feelings, thoughts and ideas, he so looks upon each, that he remains ardent, self-possessed and mindful, having overcome the hankering and the dejection that is common in the world. This is what is called right mindfulness” (T. W. Rhys Davids Translation of The Dialogs of the Buddha Volume II, Chapter 14 The Mahapdana Sutta, The Sublime Story II, 21 [35]).

[35] Arvid Kappas, “Appraisals Are Direct, Immediate, Intuitive, and Unwitting … and Some Are Reflective …,” Cognition & Emotion 20, no. 7 (2006): 952.

[36] “Appraisals Are Direct, Immediate, Intuitive, and Unwitting … and Some Are Reflective …,” 954.

[37] “Appraisals Are Direct, Immediate, Intuitive, and Unwitting … and Some Are Reflective …,” 955.

[38] See: B. Libet, Wright, E.L.W.W., Feinstein, B. & Pearl, D.K., “Subjective Referral of the Timing for a Conscious Sensory Experience,” Brain 102, no. 1 (1979).; Benjamin Libet, “The Experimental Evidence for Subjective Referral of a Sensory Experience Backwards in Time: Reply to P. S. Churchland,” Philosophy of Science 48, no. 2 (1981).; Benjamin Libet, Curtis A. Gleason, Elwood W. Wright, & Dennis K. Pearl, “Time of Conscious Intention to Act in Relation to Onset of Cerebral Activity (Readiness-Potential),” Brain 106, no. 3 (1983).; Benjamin Libet, Dennis K. Pearl, David E. Moreledge, Curtis A. Gleason, Yoshio Hosobuchi, & Nicholas M. Barbaro, “Control of the Transition from Sensory Detection to Sensory Awareness in Man by the Duration of a Thalmic Stimulus,” ibid.114, no. 4 (1991).; Benjamin Libet, “How Does Conscious Experience Arise? The Neural Time Factor,” Brain research bulletin 50, no. 5 (1999).; “Time Factors in Conscious Responses: Reply to Gilberto Gomes,” Consciousness and Cognition 9, no. 1-12 (2000).; “The Timing of Mental Events: Libet’s Experimental Findings and Their Implications,” Consciousness and Cognition 11, no. 2 (2002).; Mind Time: The Temporal Factor in Consciousness (Harvard Univ Pr, 2004); “Do We Have Free Will,” Conscious will and responsibility  (2011).; Conscious Will and Responsibility: A Tribute to Benjamin Libet (Oxford University Press, 2011).

[39] “Time Factors in Conscious Responses: Reply to Gilberto Gomes,” 9-10.

[40] Based on his experiments and experimental protocol, Libet concludes, “The role of conscious free will would be, then, not to initiate a voluntary act, but rather to control whether the act takes place. We may view the unconscious initiatives for voluntary actions as “bubbling up” in the brain. The conscious will then selects which of these initiatives may go forward to an action or which ones to veto and abort, with no act appearing” “Do We Have Free Will,” 7.

[41] Papanicolaou explains, “Third, the design of all relevant experiments involves multicomponent tasks that require that the participants divide their attention among them. In the early experiments by Libet, these tasks included (a) choosing the time to make the movement; (b) identifying with (millisecond) precision when they so choose by perceiving the position of a dot moving around the face of a clock, or something analogous to it; (c) remembering the position of the dot at the end of the trial to report it; and (d) performing the movement and, in some cases also identifying when the movement was performed” Andrew C. Papanicolaou, “The Myth of the Neuroscience of Will,” Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice 4, no. 3 (2017): 313.

[42] John F Kihlstrom, “Time to Lay the Libet Experiment to Rest: Commentary on Papanicolaou (2017),” ibid.: 326.

[43] On free will, Papanicolaou says, “Although this may very well be the case, it is the aim of this essay to show that the aforementioned studies do not support such a conclusion; that the illusion of free will remains a mere hypothesis” Andrew C. Papanicolaou, “The Myth of the Neuroscience of Will,” ibid.: 310.” Kihlstrom says, “But it now appears that Libet’s experimental results were wholly an artifact of his method. Maybe we do not have free will, and conscious agency is an illusion, but the Libet experiment offers no warrant for thinking so, and it is time to lay it to rest” John F Kihlstrom, “Time to Lay the Libet Experiment to Rest: Commentary on Papanicolaou (2017),” ibid.: 327.

[44] D.J. Chalmers, “Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 2, no. 3 (1995): 201.

[45] To the extent that ‘fully’ can be realized. There is always some undiscovered subjectivity in any question and any experience.

[46] Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), Introduction.

[47] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” Social Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience 12, no. 1 (2017): 6.

[48] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 7.

[49] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 9.

[50] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 9.

[51] This notion of feedback, both positive and negative is just one of the building blocks that Walter J. Freeman has developed to describe intentionality, “The genesis of chaos as background activity by combining negative and positive feedback between three or more mixed excitatory-inhibitory populations” Walter J. Freeman, How Brains Make up Their Minds, ed. Steven Rose, Maps of the Mind (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 35. Freemen also discovered that when analyzing responses to learned and not otherwise known smells, that amplitude modulation patterns changed to reflect learning, How Brains Make up Their Minds, 78. This suggests that the feedback loop, as Barrett proposes, is constantly readjusting itself based upon new phenomenal experiences and is learning from these.

[52] See: Nigel R. Franks et al., “Information Flow, Opinion Polling and Collective Intelligence in House-Hunting Social Insects,” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 357, no. 1427 (2002).; Margaret K. Wray and Thomas D. Seeley, “Consistent Personality Differences in House-Hunting Behavior but Not Decision Speed in Swarms of Honey Bees (Apis Mellifera),” Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 65, no. 11 (2011).

[53] Martin Giurfa, “Cognition with Few Neurons: Higher-Order Learning in Insects,” Trends in neurosciences 36, no. 5 (2013): 285.

[54] Barrett, “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 11.

[55] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 12.

[56] “The Theory of Constructed Emotion: An Active Inference Account of Interoception and Categorization,” 13.

[57] Freeman, How Brains Make up Their Minds, 31.

[58] How Brains Make up Their Minds, 76.

[59] How Brains Make up Their Minds, 76.

[60] How Brains Make up Their Minds, 78.

[61] The question of the question as revealing itself fully produces the question of what does ‘fully’ or ‘completely’ mean. Likely the moment disappears before the question is asked in full, therefore the question is not a static ‘thing’ but a series of queries that does not conclude even with the completion of the phenomenological event. ‘Complete’ and ‘fully’ are therefore placeholders for the notion of question as having a shape or form, a beginning or end, which likely is not the case. In other words, like Heraclites’s river, the question is always flowing and changing, and the moment never is the moment. This is why Barbour’s notion of change producing time is important to this discussion, for like Barbour’s time, the question introduces the question what is it that is changing that also announces the temporality of change.

[62] For example, few embraced Husserl’s phenomenological reduction: Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology 2.

[63] Eugene Minkowski, Lived Time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological Studies, ed. John. Wild, trans. Nancy Metzel, Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 411.


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