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January 31st and February 1st, 2016
philosophy of mental time IV:
time, experience, and consciousness
CALL FOR PAPERS (note that the deadline of this CFP has passed)
We invite philosophers, cognitive (neuro-) scientists, and others to contribute to a symposium/workshop intended to promote communication between disciplines on topics related to the experience and awareness of time. The workshop/symposium will consist of two parts – the first focusing on the “specious present” and related ideas and research findings; the second discussing mental time travel and self-consciousness in animals and humans. Scientists and philosophers interested in presenting a paper (in English) in this workshop/symposium are invited to submit a short abstract before December 6th, 2015.
I - the specious present
We only perceive what is present (i.e. what is “now”), but we perceive motion and motion implies duration, and therefore, the experienced present must have duration. Similarly, we experience certain kinds of temporally extended events, such as a short musical phrase, to be wholly in the present. William James (1890) called this the “specious present”. The notion of the specious present raises a number of questions, however, both for philosophers and for cognitive (neuro-) scientists.
(1) Recent research by Shigeru Kitazawa (2013) has shown that the present in visual perception has a duration of between 100 and 300 ms, but this is significantly shorter than the duration of even a very short musical phrase. Hence, if the specious present is tied to these perceptual moments, then either aural moments last (much) longer than visual moments, or the specious present consists of a series of these perceptual moments. In the latter case: how are those grouped; what bounds (together) the specious present?
(2) Even within the specious present there is a temporal order: the notes in a short phrase do not sound together (i.e. they are separate notes rather than a chord). This seems contradictory: how can something both be temporally ordered and wholly present? A possible answer is that our minds operate with two different notions of “present” simultaneously – one extended and one non-extended – that are used in different cognitive systems.
(3) If a short musical phrase is wholly experienced in the present, does that mean that a melody consisting of a series of phrases is experienced as a discontinuous series of “presents” like a string of pearls? Or is the specious present more like the view from a train window, “showing” the melody in passing, one overlapping phrase after the other? Typical arguments for the specious present seem more in line with the first of these options, but that option raises questions about the boundaries and identities of these “presents”. Such “presents” are events and the same is true for the perceptual moments mentioned above (and any other duration). Since Donald Davidson (1967) argued that our ordinary language commits us the existence of events, a burgeoning literature on the metaphysics of events has evolved, and much of this literature focuses on problems similar to those mentioned here: the identity (criteria) of events.
(4) People suffering from motion blindness experience the world temporally fragmented. What – if anything – does this imply for (theories of) the specious present?
II - mental time travel and self-consciousness in animals and humans
Human beings can imagine themselves to be at different times (and places). For example, memories can take the form of imagining oneself to be at the time of some past event, and people can imagine the consequences of their actions by imagining themselves to be in the future. This ability of “mental time travel” is often considered to be a necessary (and perhaps even sufficient) condition of self-consciousness. Whether there are other animals that have this ability is uncertain. Does instinctive storing of food imply planning for the future and does that imply mental time travel? Do certain kinds of memory imply mental time travel? In what sense can what kind of animals be said to be capable of mental time travel?
Conceptual and empirical difficulties preclude straightforward answers to these questions, but trying to answer them is an important project. If some species of non-human animals are capable of mental time travel (to some extent), that might imply that they are self-conscious. Whether that implication would follow, however, depends on whether the ability of mental time travel is indeed a condition of self-consciousness, and if so, what kind (e.g. necessary or sufficient), and that is itself an open question.