The Folk Concept(s) of Time

What do people think time, in our world, is like?

We investigated, experimentally, the contention that the folk view, or naïve theory, of time, amongst the population we investigated (i.e. U.S. residents) is dynamical. We found that amongst that population, (i) ~70% have an extant theory of time (the theory they deploy after some reflection, whether it be naïve or sophisticated) that is more similar to a dynamical than a non-dynamical theory, and (ii) ~70% of those who deploy a naïve theory of time (the theory that have on the basis of naïve interactions with the world and not on the basis of scientific investigation or knowledge) deploy a naïve theory that is more similar to a dynamical than a non-dynamical theory. Interestingly, while we found stable results across our two experiments regarding the percentage of participants that have a dynamical or non-dynamical extant theory of time, we did not find such stability regarding which particular dynamical or non-dynamical theory of time they take to be most similar to our world. This suggests that there might be two extant theories in the population—a broadly dynamical one and a broadly non-dynamical one—but that those theories are sufficiently incomplete that participants do not stably choose the same dynamical (or non-dynamical) theory as being most similar to our world. This suggests that while appeals to the ordinary view of time may do some work in the context of adjudicating disputes between dynamists and non-dynamists, they likely cannot do any such work adjudicating disputes between particular brands of dynamism (or non-dynamism). 

Latham, A. J., Miller, K and Norton, J. (2019) “Is Our Naïve Theory of Time Dynamical?”. Synthese. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-019-02340-4

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Do People Think Dynamism is Essential to Time? 

Recent research (Latham, Miller and Norton, 2019) reveals that a majority of people represent actual time as dynamical. But do they, as suggested by McTaggart and Gödel, represent time as essentially dynamical? This paper distinguishes three interrelated questions. We ask (a) whether the folk representation of time is sensitive or insensitive: i.e., does what satisfies the folk representation of time in counterfactual worlds depend on what satisfies it actually—sensitive—or does is not depend on what satisfies it actually—insensitive, and (b) do those who represent actual time as dynamical, represent time in all possible worlds as dynamical—what we call insensitive dynamism—or do they represent time in all possible worlds as dynamical only conditional on the actual world in fact being dynamical—what we call sensitive dynamism and (c) do dynamists and non-dynamists deploy two different representations of time, or deploy the same representation, but disagree about what actually satisfies that representation? We found no evidence that the folk representation of time is sensitive, or that the folk representation of time is essentially dynamical in either sense, though we did find evidence of a shared representation, on which dynamical features are sufficient, but not necessary, for time.

Do the Folk Represent Time as Essentially Dynamical? 

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Do People Think Direction is Essential to Time? 

This paper empirically investigates one aspect of the folk concept of time (amongst US residents), by testing how the presence or absence of directedness impacts judgements about whether there is time in a world. Experiment 1 found that dynamists (those who think the actual world contains an A-series), showed significantly higher levels of agreement that there is time in dynamically directed (growing block) worlds than in non-dynamical non-directed (C-theory) worlds. Comparing our results to those of Latham et al. (ms), we report that while ~70% of dynamists say there is time in B-theory worlds,

only ~45% say there is time in C-theory worlds. Thus, while the presence of directedness makes dynamists more inclined to say there is time in a world, a substantial subpopulation of dynamists judge that there is time in non-directed worlds. By contrast, a majority of non-dynamists (those who deny that the actual world contains an A-series) judged that there was time in both growing block worlds (78.1%—80.5%) and C-theory worlds (70.7%—75.6%), with no significant differences between these judgements. Experiment 2 found that when participants are only presented with non-dynamical worlds—namely, a directed (B-theory) world and a non-directed (C-theory) world—they report significantly higher levels of agreement that there is time in B-theory worlds. However, the majority of participants (67.2%—73.8%) still judge that there is time in C-theory worlds. We conclude that while the presence of directedness bolsters judgements that there is time, most people do not judge it to be necessary for time.

 

Latham, A.J., Miller, K. and Norton, J. (2020). “An empirical investigation of the role of direction in our concept of time”. Acta Analytica. DOI: 10.1007/s12136-020-00435-z

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Do People Think Instants Need to be Ordered for There to be Time?

What it would take to vindicate folk temporal error theory? This question is significant against a backdrop of new views in quantum gravity—so-called timeless physical theories—that claim to eliminate time by eliminating a one-dimensional substructure of ordered temporal instants. Ought we to conclude that if these views are correct, nothing satisfies the folk concept of time and hence that folk temporal error theory is true? In light of evidence we gathered, we argue that physical theories that entirely eliminate an ordered substructure vindicate folk temporal error theory. 

Latham, A. J and Miller, K. (2020). “Quantum Gravity, Timelessness and the Folk Concept of Time”. Synthese.  DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-020-02650-y

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Does there Need to Be More Than One Instant For There to Be Time?

Many philosophers hold that ‘one-instant worlds’—worlds that contain a single instant—fail to contain time. We experimentally investigate whether these worlds satisfy the folk concept of time. We found that ~50% of participants hold that there is time in such worlds. We argue that this suggests one of two possibilities. First, the population disagree about whether at least one of the A-, B-, or C-series is necessary for time, with there being a substantial sub-population for whom the presence of neither an A-, B-, nor C-series, is necessary for time, and hence those folk have a radically more minimal concept of time than has been attributed to them by philosophers. Or, second, the population do not disagree about whether at least one of the A-, B-, or C-series is necessary for time, but disagree about what it takes for a world to fail to contain even a C-series. 

Latham, A. J and Miller, K. (2020). “Time in a One Instant World” Ratio.  DOI: 10.1111/rati.12271

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