12 Oct2018Talk: Professor Thomas Benda
2018.10.12 Time as continuous passing
Professor Thomas Benda (Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Congnition, National Yang Ming University)
In science, including cognitive science, usually the B-view of time (according to McTaggart's famous classification) is adopted, which speaks of a static, tenseless temporal set-up. Thereby time is neatly integrated in four-dimensional spacetime and thus obtains a similar character as space. The notions of the present and of an intentional directedness towards a future are not part of that picture, If they are to matter, they are hoped to be derivable from the set-up of the spacetime manifold.
But several concepts which are crucial for our view of the world are foreign to the eternalist B-view and it is hard to see how they can emerge from it. First, temporal directedness cannot be based on physical laws due to their temporal symmetry. So, commonly, emergence of temporal directedness is postulated and commonly pushed up the time scale towards sensorimotor integrative processes and the development of an internal narrative, which happen within tenths of seconds, and several seconds, respectively. Those processes, however, can be interpreted as they are only if temporal asymmetry is already built in. Similarly, the awareness of succession, which is fundamental for our interaction with the world, requires a pre-existing concept of a present that is more than indexical as well as of succession and hence of directedness. Further on, free will, even if epiphenomenal due to the famous Libet experiments, as a notion still requires a forward-looking mental perspective. Finally, and technically a little harder to understand, our indispensable concept of change necessitates acknowledging of fundamental temporal continuity.
If we adopt the principle "concepts which we easily understand and are strongly inclined to entertain and the understanding and entertaining of which which nevertheless do not grant us any biological evolutionary advantage ought to be taken metaphysically serious", then the B-view turns out to be at least incomplete.
That suggests adopting of the A-view as more basic, which characterizes time by no more than present, future and past and viewing of time as a parameter of change and being an abstraction from the intentional forwardness of our thoughts. Acknowledging the primacy of the A-view is facilitated by construction of (relativistic) spacetime on the basis of continuous time.