Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls: Motion Aftereffects and the Dynamic Snapshot Theory of Temporal Experience

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12 (4):825-845 (2020)
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The philosophical investigation of perceptual illusions can generate fruitful insights in the study of subjective time consciousness. However, the way illusions are interpreted is often controversial. Recently, proponents of the so-called dynamic snapshot theory have appealed to the Waterfall Illusion, a kind of motion aftereffect, to support a particular view of temporal consciousness according to which experience is structured as a series of instantaneous snapshots with dynamic qualities. This dynamism is meant to account for familiar features of the phenomenology of time, such as succession, continuity, and change. Previous theories have typically appealed to a subjective present occupying an interval of time; that is, a “specious present.” I argue, through analysis of motion aftereffect illusions and the rare condition of akinetopsia, i.e. motion-blindness, that the Waterfall Illusion fails to support the dynamic snapshot theory as intended. Furthermore, I suggest that future theories of subjective time should see temporal phenomenology as the result of non-localised processes closely tied to the mechanism underlying consciousness generally.

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Camden McKenna
University of Edinburgh

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