Fast Post: Towards a Science of Consciousness, TSC, 2015

Due to work commitments, I have been incredibly slow and irregular at updating this site.

Or, alternatively, I have been very regular and quick in updating this site but, from a typical point of view, my method of measuring time is relatively slow/irregular with respect to standard time.

Who can say?

This month, I gave a talk at Towards a Science of Consciousness (TSC) in Helsinki, as part of a symposium with other philosophers of time (chair: Valtteri Arstila, other speakers: Bruno Moelder, Michal Klincewicz, Julian Kiverstein).

My paper was titled ‘Arguments Against Illusions of Duration’. It is going to be an upcoming paper. A PDF of the slides is on my site.

It went well I think–although you can never really tell with these things. People were unsatisfied with my answers to their questions, but I was satisfied with the way they were unsatisfied; it kind of spoke to the point of the paper, one way of putting it which is:

If you describe your experience of time in terms of clock time, it is common that your description fails to match that of any standard clock. But that should be no surprise; your experience of time is not a clock, is not calibrated to standard time, should not be judged by it. It is no error that your experience of time diverges from a clock, and so this divergence is no example of illusion. It is an error to hold that whatever you are describing in describing experienced time should be an example of clock time.

I also talked a bit about the conditions of illusion (an topic which is unexamined but which has implications for the metaphysics of perception). At least one psychologist changed his way of describing differences between clock time and experienced time. This made me proud and boastful, and disparaging of others. For a bit.

Everyone else’s papers were great, and seemed to go down well. They were also part of an earlier pre-conference workshop (I arrived too late), there was a dinner (I didn’t attend), and many stayed on to the very end (I left early). Unfortunately, I thought I would not be able to spend long there, so I kind of snuck in for my own talk, then set myself to leave as soon as possible. I figured I’d be very uncomfortable there, given that I am not academically employed. But I was generally fine, and could have stayed longer.

Keynote speakers that stood out for me: Susan Blackmore, David Chalmers, Patricia Churchland — all fascinating and engaging; Deepak Chopra also a keynote speaker, indifferent in his own talk, not particularly insightful, then kind of rude during question time.

Churchland was combative and disagreeable about the philosopher’s viewpoints, attacking modal/possible world arguments outright, then remarkably sensitive when a nervous audience member claimed to have had experiences of her dead son.

There were lots of other symposia with time in them — two at the same time, at 9am on the Saturday morning, which meant, after only 3 hours post-many-beers sleep, I had to run between two rooms on separate floors. The topics I caught were:

  • The most common contemporary metaphysical positions on time (Adrian Bardon). Very clear talk, covering all the main points–although how others took it I can’t say because I had to run out during question time to get to the other session….
  • Chronesthesia and illusions of duration (Ronald Gruber, Bloch, Bach)….which was interesting, although I didn’t see much need for their definition of illusion (‘percept irrespective of stimulus source’). A basic concept of illusion is easy: illusion of x means seemingly x, but not x. Any development beyond that should still contain that, and their definition doesn’t.
  • The difference between duration appearances/judgements in cases where one acts voluntarily and involuntarily (Matti Vuorre). Nice paper it was: evidence suggests that we can discriminate finer durations between events when we interact with them voluntarily than when we don’t.

Reminded me of  Eagleman’s experiment to see if we could discriminate more events under stress. In that case, he dropped people off a crane, and they couldn’t discriminate; maybe he should have asked them to jump…

  • A paper arguing…..(Jonathon Schooler) I must confess I came in half-through and didn’t grasp it. Something about how subjective time perception can be explained using the interaction of events — and then something involving multiple universes.

There was a nice bit about how human and fly perceptions of time are very different – fly ones being much faster (which is why it’s difficult to swat them). But I didn’t see what had to do with the particular argument. Such differences seem explicable in all models of perception.

(The only ones they wouldn’t work for would be those that hold the human limit of temporal discrimination (when two non-simultaneous events seem simultaneous) to be real limits. No-one thinks that now. They might have thought it once–but not since decades before the photographer Muybridge.)

  • An argument from experience and intuition for holding that there is a privileged frame of reference, and abandoning relative simultaneity (Tam Hunt). This was a good talk, although It seems to me everything the speaker said has been said before.

Hunt started with the typical claims that: our experience of time should be met by physics etc.; eternalism doesn’t do it; presentism does; relativity doesn’t do it; privileged frames does. Except for the first, I disagree with a lot of those claims (as I’ve argued….pretty much in all of my publications).

Less of an issue–but I must think about it — I don’t think we get rid of such disparities if we move to privileged frames, because–given the likelihood of our relationship to the privileged frame, the real spacetime values won’t correspond to any apparent values for us–unless what constitutes us is point-like or rigid, and at rest in privileged frames (meaning we are not parts of our bodies….I’ve talked about this in my JCS,  a note in EJOP and, in more detail, my PhD thesis).

Hunt also talks about the astronomical concept of cosmic time as maybe being a good privileged frame. Following Godel, I think is a bad idea if cosmic time is what I think it is: something derived from the mean motion of matter in the universe. This is an abstraction, like the average global salary; it would be a hell of a coincidence if it was also the privileged frame.

There were a lot of talks which showed me, at least, that there isn’t yet a shared set of research on time and consciousness. Husserl and James, maybe, but even they seemed to be ignored here –

For example, Timo Laiho spoke on music and perceived time. Laiho seems to be well-established, thoughtful and interesting – yet he raised a puzzle which seemed to just be the puzzle of the specious present.

Then again, this may have been due to the speaking times – 25 minutes each, 5 minutes for questions – combined with a mixed audience.  You may not want to explain concepts which you don’t know if they are needed or if you can explain to a mixed audience (still, the specious present is really quite simple, even if it is commonly misunderstand…. ok, maybe there’s more to it….).

There were lots more talks I missed. If I ever go to such a thing again, hopefully I’ll have more energy, time and money to engage more fully. Despite enjoying it, I don’t feel I did it right this time (my first time).

As an example, I didn’t book to go to the dinner. I came later when non-diners were invited to attend, to an after event at 10.30 billed as a night of ‘zombie poetry’ or something like that. It turned out it was indeed a night of poetry and music on the themes of consciousness (and philosophical zombies). This was my second proper night there, my first properly mixing with the general crowd (our symposium – and friends! – went out on our own the night before), and I was interested to talk to many people from other backgrounds. So I was talking to people at the back of the hall. I and others there were asked to go out (by, incidentally, a quite famous academic) because we were talking and the people at the front couldn’t hear the poetry/music.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.