The experience of temporal passage

Frischhut, Akiko M. (2013) The experience of temporal passage. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (2MB) | Preview


In this thesis I analyse the notion of temporal passage (the passage of time), our (alleged) experience of it, and whether we can come to know anything about temporal passage through experience. The thesis is divided into two parts.
The first part concerns the metaphysics of temporal passage. I argue that temporal passage is a logically coherent notion, as long as it is understood as a change in what exists (exists simpliciter) within a presentist framework. A core element of part one is my reconstruction of McTaggart’s (1908; 1927) infamous argument against temporal passage as a special case of the problem of change. I argue that McTaggart’s argument requires a view of time according to which all times exist (A-eternalism), and temporal passage as a qualitative change of terms in the time-series with regards to pastness, presentness and futurity (A-properties). I provide a limited defence of the paradox within McTaggart’s framework, where I interpret it as a regress of mutually dependent, merely relational changes. The regress I say is vicious, due to the dependencies between its different stages: every change in terms of A-properties involves the instantiation of mutually exclusive A-properties and must thus be qualified to different times, which must undergo the same kind of change. To maintain the dynamic of time while avoiding contradiction, none of these relational changes can occur without the next, where on each level of the regress the solution to the initial problem recreates the very same kind of problem. I then argue that temporal passage, understood as change in what exists simpliciter, or absolute becoming, avoids the paradox. This view is best accommodated by presentism, the view that only the present exists. The conclusion of part one is that temporal passage should be understood as absolute becoming of times within a presentist framework.
In the second part of the thesis I argue against a frequently found (but rarely explicitly analysed) argument, which states that we can infer that time passes from experience because the fact that time passes is the best explanation for having experiences of temporal passage. I argue that the argument fails because we either cannot experience temporal passage at all, or not in a way that allows us to infer that time passes from experience. I begin by discussing different types of experiences that are commonly mistaken for experiences of temporal passage: experiences of qualitative change and successive experiences of events as occurring now. I then argue that the only experience that could be best explained by the fact that time passes would be a perceptual experience of events undergoing absolute becoming. Whether we can perceptually represent the absolute becoming of events, or ‘A-change’, is then assessed in the light of three major accounts of temporal perception: the memory theory, the retentional theory and the extensional theory. None of those theories, I argue, can account for the required experience, at least not in the right way. The memory theory does not allow for experiences of A-change because it denies that we can have perceptual experiences of change in general. The retentional theory does not allow for experiences of A-change as A-change. The extensional theory proves to be incompatible with presentism and therefore with absolute becoming. I explore two non-standard forms of presentism that take the metaphysical present to be temporally extended (in different ways) and that are, for this reason, prima facie compatible with the extensional theory. One of these views turns out to be incoherent. Combined with the extensional theory, the other one does not allow us to perceptually represent absolute becoming either. Given all major theories of temporal perception, we cannot infer that time passes from experience. In the last section I defend my argument against two objections, one involving ‘high level properties’, and one involving ‘present-as-absent’ representation in experience. I conclude that we cannot infer from experience whether time passes or not.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: The thesis was written in a joint-supervision agreement with the University of Geneva.
Keywords: Metaphysics of time, temporal perception,presentism, McTaggart, regress, absolute becoming, change, relational change, perceptual experience of change, temporally extended present
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Humanities > Philosophy
Supervisor's Name: Correia, Professor Fabrice and Macpherson, Professor Fiona
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Ms. Akiko M. Frischhut
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4103
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Apr 2014 07:40
Last Modified: 24 Apr 2014 07:45

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year