Wandering Mazes Lost: Why Existence?
The question of why there is something rather than nothing? is apt to strike most people as rather outmoded. Centre for time researcher and director Dean Rickles aims to restore the question back to its rightful position as the most fundamental of all, and one of central importance for understanding both our place in the universe and the nature of the universe.
This project will modernise the question and remodel its landscape, considering the state of the art in terms of both formulations and responses, and offering up the best possible solutions on the basis of present knowledge. The project will bring together philosophy, physics, cosmology, mathematics, neuroscience, logic, and more. Expected outcomes of this project include new insights into the nature of existence, including the relationship between time and existence.
Agency and Time
The story of our lives is one that unfolds through time; ever changing and updating as we add to the store of memories through which we understand our past selves, and our store of intentions, through which we shape our future selves. Or so it seems. Yet there is disagreement about the nature of time: about what time is and whether, in fact, it really exists at all.
Kristie Miller explores the connection between theories of time and timelessness in metaphysics and physics, and our lived experience as agents. This project aims to determine what structure the temporal dimension must have if it is to support agents like us, and whether, if there is no temporal dimension, as some physicists suggest, we can make any sense of our lived experience.
Being Biased in Time
A plethora of psychological research shows that people think about and respond to events differently, depending on their relative temporal location. We know that people tend to discount future events: they prefer positive events to be located near to them, rather than further away.
Philosophers have hypothesised that people will typically also prefer to have positive experiences located in their future, and negative experiences in their past. People like this are said to be future bias,
Kristie Miller, Preston Greene, Christian Tarsney, Andrew Latham and James Norton are empirically investigating the phenomena of future bias. They are interested in whether people do systematically show future bias, and in whether there are differences shown in future bias for different kinds of events
Time and Physics
Our lives seem to be lived in an asymmetric temporal dimension in which past and future seem to us very different. Yet our everyday experience of the world conflicts with many (if not all) of the theories of time presented to us by contemporary physics.
In this project, researchers at the Centre, Kristie Miller, David Braddon-Mitchell, Sam Baron, Craig Callender, Helen Beebee, Alastair Wilson and Jonathan Tallant consider three very different physical theories, each of which reconciles quantum mechanics and general and special relativity in a different way.
This project will explore the tension between these physical theories and provide a range of ways of bridging them with our lived experience, with a view to determining where we can, and should, transform scientific theory, and where we should transform our understanding of ourself and our experiences.
HTemporal experience may be unified and continuous, but the information processing underpinning it is not.
Alex Holcombe is studying the relation between the dynamics of perception, attention, and cognition. As one's eyes move over the words in a sentence like this one, we know that at the brain's first stages two words are processed in parallel, but find evidence that at later stages processing proceeds from left to right over the pre-processed words, contributing to the sequencing important for comprehending text. The intermittent, serial sampling involved seems to be driven by brain oscillations, which are also being investigated for moving stimuli, where the experiential facade of continuous motion conceals the critical role played by an intermittent sampling process. International collaborations include work with stroke patients whose parietal lobe damage perturbs their processing dynamics.
Within the philosophy of time there has emerged a debate about whether our temporal phenomenology is such that it seems to us as though time passes. Some think it does. If so, then either that seeming is veridical, because there is temporal passage, or it is a systematic and pervasive illusion. According to other philosophers, it does not even seem as though time passes; instead, individuals mistakenly believe that it seems this way. Researchers at the Centre (see Kristie MillerandAlex Holcombe) are pursuing a research project which aims to use psychological experimental methodologies to investigate whether it really does seem to people as though time passes, or, instead, if they simply mistakenly believe that it seems this way.