How long is “now”? Phenomenology and the specious present

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Abstract

The duration of “now” is shown to be important not only for an understanding of how conscious beings sense duration, but also for the validity of the phenomenological enterprise as Husserl conceived it. If “now” is too short, experiences can not be described before they become memories, which can be considered to be transcendent rather than immanent phenomena and therefore inadmissible as phenomenological data. Evidence concerning (a) the objective duration of sensations in various sensory modalities, (b) the time necessary for sensations to enter consciousness and (c) the variability in the subjective sense of time's passing under different conditions is used to conclude that the duration of “now” can actually vary under normal conditions from about 10 ms to several seconds and in extreme cases up to several hours. Thus the immanent moment can be long enough to encompass a report of the contents of consciousness, making phenomenology a viable project. A further speculation from the evidence described is that consciousness takes discrete samples of the external world, at a rate inversely proportional to the duration of the “now” moment.