Being present in the world

"Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?"

Hamlet, scene II

This has been a wide ranging discussion bringing together neurological studies, ontological perspectives and cognitive science. The argument was based on three premises, namely, to witness is to be present, that which is witnessed must be available, and witnessing requires a record or representation of what has been witnessed.
Taking each of these in turn we have had to define presence, availability and representation to reflect what these means for Dasein.

We began by describing presence as an active phenomenon and treating it as readiness to encounter other beings (entities). In this respect it shares many of the characteristics with familiarity. Accepting that presence is directed at the world, it then possesses intentionality. Intentionality connects us to the world and when we witness something we ‘inherit’ this intentionality, so that the physiological and psychological states associated with witnessing are similarly intentional.

Next we considered the nature of the things (beings) we witness. Again by definition they must be available, proximal, and ready-to-hand. We then equated our experience of their availability with Gibson’s concept of affordance, which we have extended beyond the natural world of surfaces and edges to include many aspects of our human-made worlds.

Finally, the third aspect of this discussion concerns the nature of the representation associated with witnessing. We adopted Clark’s distinction between strong (genuine) representation and weak representation to suggest that when we witness something it is associated with this latter form, while when we recall what we have witnessed we rely on the strong form as evidenced by the manipulation that these recollection are subject to. Again we extended this idea of Clark’s to suggest that the affordances themselves serve as an external representation, indeed a kind of recursive representation of themselves. While this suggestion may be anathema to affordance purists it does serve to connect the phenomenological with the cognitive.

This special issue of the journal AI & Society on Witnessed Presence has given us an opportunity to consider real world presence or to re-phrase this in Heideggerian language, it has disclosed the nature of presence and one of the consequences of being present in the world.

Sincere thanks to the reviewers of this paper and the editors of this special issue for their help in the preparation of this manuscript. Thanks also to Professor John Waterworth for his kind permission to reproduce figure 1.

Phil Turner