Arrived in Sydney for a 2-month Fellowship

[Quite jet-lagged, so can’t vouch for the clarity of what’s written here. Probably re-edit or delete this in the future some time.]

Since early Sunday morning Sydney-time, I’ve been in Sydney. Arrived at 5am following a 19-hour flight where I slept only a few hours. Stayed awake when I got here until last night about 8.30pm. Spent  the day in daylight in a park outside the city. (The wildlife and the light very different here. I’ll write about that soon on my other, more personal site).

I’ve come to Sydney for a 2-month fellowship to the Centre for Time, funded by the SCFS ( , with the intention of doing collaborative research with…everyone I can, I guess, on time, and in particular on the (a) issues bothering me about time and (b) solutions offered by the most plausible positions on time.

What issues bother me about time? In brief, issues which arise from either ignoring or assuming plausible concepts of (especially physical) time, concepts which have significantly different ontological implications from those which are alleged to be intuitive concepts of time.

Similarly, solutions offered by the most plausible positions on time are those driven by physical concepts of time. So: relativistic physics.

The issues and solutions I focus on are those related to (i) how to conceive of these concepts of time and (ii) how one’s concept of time may affect modelling and thinking about other things. Out of all these, I pick out experience — but I’m also thinking of experience as a exemplary case, not a unique case.

Here are some of the specific issues:

1. Relativistic Physics
Nonsymmetric velocity time dilation

(a)…and the Structure of Human-Scale Things

….in particular, the structure and models of experience in general. If there’s no simultaneity, or simultaneity is only relative, why ever assume it in a model of anything? Wouldn’t you have to assume some frame of reference? And why assume a particular frame of reference?

This was my main concern in my early work. Generally, I don’t think we should assume simultaneity in any of this. As such, when I think about the structure of things and the explanations of phenomena — even things and phenomena  we might otherwise think we can explain —  I never consider simultaneity to matter at all.

In contrast, that things happen or seem to happen at different times is not something that should be explained. It is how thing are. Instead, we need a reason to hold that two things happen at the same time, and we need to explain why they seem to happen at the same time, e.g., as I argue in my 2010 regarding Libet’s evidence of apparent (volition being simultaneous with a clockhand’s position): we don’t assume this apparent simultaneity is simultaneity; it isn’t (and so the typical conclusion is irrelevant). But need to explain its appearance (which is easy, as it seems only to be a non-appearance of duration or order).

Given how much we experience seems non-simultaneous, thinking about things in terms as involving simultaneous elements is a problematic mistake, and one which needlessly complicates models of experience (although, also — I bet it’s intuitive, and so is a common mistake to assume simultaneity, explicit as that assumption might be).

In short, modelling things — even slow and macroscopic things — with simultaneous elements is pointless. Do it if it’s handy, but don’t treat it like you’ve actually gotten at the structure of things.

I’m interested to know is thinking this way about it is mistaken itself actually, and if so in what way.

(b)… and Entanglement

We might be wrong because — for some reason — big things aren’t constrained by relativity. I don’t think that’s likely — but anyway.

Here’s another reason: Given the Aspect experiments, Bell’s inequality, and relativistic simultaneity, I worry that we must deny relative simultaneity and hold that there is absolute simultaneity (privileged frame-type or otherwise), even if we can — and should — abandon tense theory or presentism. I’ve spoken about this here.


2. Static/Dynamic Time vs Static/Dynamic World

The way in which some philosophers of time refer to the opposing theories of tense theory and tenseless theory as, respectively, a dynamic and static theory. What bothers me here is the idea that this static/dynamic concerns the structure of the world or things in it.

For example, one might think the tenseless theory is the position that the world (or something in it) is static or the world (or something in it) does not change. Yet, the tenseless theory has change in the world; it’s tenseless change (what I’ve called elsewhere B-change).

So why do we talk about static/dynamic theories of time? Here’s maybe why:  (a) the tense is a dynamic view because it is the view that events change their positions in real time; (b) the tenseless is a static view because it is the view is that events do not change their positions in real time. Then, there’s the idea that the latter is denying change while the former is allowing change. And since it is intuitive to believe that there is change, the former is intuitive and the latter is not.

That would be fine as it stands if both theories had the same idea of what real time, the time in which events do or do not change, is conceived to be. But they don’t:

  1. Real time for the tense theorist is the A/tense series: the past, present and future. As such, events change their positions in being in the past, present and future.
  2. But real time for tenseless theorists is the B/tenseless series: the before, after, or simultaneous. As such, events do not change their positions in being before, after, or simultaneous.

Understood like this, if we’re going to go on about intuition, it is as intuitive to deny change in the sense of ‘2’ as to admit it in the sense of ‘1’.

  • It is weird to counter-intuitive that events change in their positions in a tenseless series, e.g., that my birth changes from being before my death to being after it.
  • And actually, I don’t find the idea that events really change positions in time intuitive at all. If we’re going to go there, my intuition that an apple is raw before it is ripe is more intuitive and clear than any intuition I might have that the ripening of the apple is becoming past. The latter seems at best metaphorical (and I think that this is why some linguists think we frequently think of time in metaphors).

This makes the accusation of tenseless theory as counter-intuitive because it is a static concept of time baffling to me. (Recently, Oaklander has begun thinking something similar, although he decided to treat it as separate to standard tenseless theories —  calling it R-theory instead — but I don’t see a need to do that.)

So what am I missing in the views of those who say such things?


3. Time and Experience

How does the study of time (e.g., of temporal order, duration, tense, and more broadly, simultaneity) relate to the study of experience (or perception, memory, introspection)?

  1. Is it just some kind of content, of which the study of time and experience is merely a subset of  the study of experience? In thinking about time and experience, we just fill in the ‘x’ in ‘the experience of x’ with something to do with time (e.g., ‘the experience of simultaneity’ or ‘the experience of duration’) — just as we might, in thinking about colour and experience, just fill in the ‘x’ in ‘the experience of x’ with something to do with colour (e.g. ‘the experience of red saturation’).
  2. Or is it only something which itself structures experience, in which the study of time and experience is only about time as it structures experience, e.g., the temporal order of the constituents (or elements, or parts) of experience. It is never about time as content. We don’t experience time.
  3. Or is it both? The study of time and the study of experience concern time as content and time as constituent; it also includes a study of the relationship between temporal content and temporal constituent (and so extends to time as it relates to the ‘obvious parts‘ (or what I once called ‘phenomenal parts’) of experience.)

I think it’s both, although I’m more interested in ‘2’, as it generalizes much more than ‘1’. However, I also suspect it isn’t something many people have thought about, so I guess I’d like to see where I’ve gone wrong in thinking it’s more interesting (or, even possibly, where others have gone wrong….)

There are lots more I’m thinking about than this (I’ve started thinking about the relationship between memory experience and perceptual experience, for example). But this is a start which indicates some of the things I am thinking about.


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