Laurie Paul on Temporal Experience

A summary of Laurie Paul’s Temporal Experience:

Antireductionists about time hold that our experience of the nowness and passage of events are best explained by events really having mind-independent nowness and mind-independent temporal passage.

Reductionists reject mind-independent nowness and mind-independent passage for reasons of ontological parsimony.   Instead, what exists is a tenseless, four-dimensional universe of unchanging events that stand in an earlier than, later than, or simultaneous with relation with other events, where no event has a privileged ontology.

The antireductionist argument:

  1. We have experiences as of the nowness of events.
  2. We have experiences as of passage (and as of change ) .
  3. The thesis that there are temporal properties of nowness and passage provides the only reasonable explanation of why we have these experiences.
  4.  The thesis that there are temporal properties of nowness and passage provides the best explanation of why we have these experiences.
  5. Hence, there are temporal properties of nowness and passage (p. 338.)

Most reductionists and antireductionists accept temporal experience as of change (Christoph Hoerl being an exception), so Paul aims to argue against premise 3 by offering a reductionist explanation for our temporal experience as of change.

The first issue Paul tackles is the experience of nowness.  On the reductionist view, temporal experience is part of phenomenological experience in general, and doesn’t require the attribution of nowness and passage onto the mind-independent ontology of time.  For example, consider the experience of seeing something red.  We not only experience a red quale, but we also experience a nowness quale.  In other words, the what-it’s-likeness of experience contains within it nowness quale without the need for the attribution of nowness onto the mind-independent ontology of time.

(In a footnote, Tyler Doggett points out that the experience of hereness doesn’t imply a mind-independent property of hereness, so why should it be any different with nowness?)

The second issue is the experience of temporal passage.  Antireductionists typically take temporal passage to be more than the seeing of change (e.g., seeing the spinach leaf change from crisp to wilted).   Consequently, even without experiencing change we could experience passage.   Paul is skeptical that we can experience passage without change. What we do is we experience change and infer temporal passage not from the experience of temporal passage but from the experience of change.  If that’s right, the challenge to the reductionist reduces to explaining the experience of change (leaving temporal passage aside.)  To do this, Paul brings up the color phi experiment in cognitive science to show how we can have the experience of change given static images.  In this experiment, a static blue dot then a static red dot is shown, but the perceiver has an illusion of motion nonetheless.  (Similar things happen with the illusion of motion on computer screens.)


The reductionist can use this as an analogy to how we can have the illusion of temporal change given a static sequence of times.  If the animated character of experience is illusory in the color phi case, there is no reason to think that it is any less illusory in a case with a persisting object that is actually moving.

In this paper, Paul isn’t offering a full defense of all the intuitions concerning reductionism versus antireductionism.  Instead, Paul is arguing against the intuitions regarding temporal experience that lead to antireductionism.

Paul, Laurie, Temporal Experience.

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