Exploring people’s beliefs about the experience of time

Synthese 198 (11):10709-10731 (2021)
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Philosophical debates about the metaphysics of time typically revolve around two contrasting views of time. On the A-theory, time is something that itself undergoes change, as captured by the idea of the passage of time; on the B-theory, all there is to time is events standing in before/after or simultaneity relations to each other, and these temporal relations are unchanging. Philosophers typically regard the A-theory as being supported by our experience of time, and they take it that the B-theory clashes with how we experience time and therefore faces the burden of having to explain away that clash. In this paper, we investigate empirically whether these intuitions about the experience of time are shared by the general public. We asked directly for people’s subjective reports of their experience of time—in particular, whether they believe themselves to have a phenomenology as of time’s passing—and we probed their understanding of what time’s passage in fact is. We find that a majority of participants do share the aforementioned intuitions, but interestingly a minority do not.

Author Profiles

Jack Shardlow
University of Edinburgh
Christoph Hoerl
University of Warwick
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