Thursday, October 25, 2018

My experience of temporality

This morning I find myself feeling the force of presentism. I am finding it hard to see my four-dimensional worm theory as adequately explaining why my experience only includes what I am experiencing now, instead of the whole richness of my four-dimensional life. I am also finding it difficult to satisfactorily explain the sequentiality of my experiences: that I will have different experiences from those that I have now, some of which I dread and some of which I anticipate eagerly.

When I try to write down the thoughts that make me feel the force of presentism, the force of the thoughts is largely drained. After all, to be fair, when I wrote that I have am having trouble “explaining why my experience only includes what I am experiencing now”, shouldn’t I have written: “explaining why my present experience only includes what I am experiencing now”, a triviality? And that mysterious sequentiality, is that anything beyond the fact that some of my experiences are in the future of my present experience?

The first part of the mystery is due to the chopped up nature of my consciousness on a four-dimensional view. Instead of seeing my life as a whole, as God sees it, I see it in very short (but probably not instantaneous) pieces. It is puzzling how my consciousness can be so chopped up, and yet be all mine. But we have good reason to think that this phenomenon occurs outside of temporality. Split brain patients seem to have such chopped up consciousnesses. And if consciousness is an operation of the mind’s, then on orthodox Christology, the incarnate Christ, while one person, had (and still has) two consciousnesses.

Unfortunately, both the split brains and the Incarnation are mysterious phenomena, so they don’t do much to take away the feeling of mystery about the temporal chopping up of the consciousness of my four-dimensional life. But they do make me feel that there is no good argument for presentism here.

The second part of the mystery is due to the sequentiality of the experiences. As the split brain and Incarnation cases show, the sequentiality of experiences in different spheres of consciousness is not universal. The split brain patient has two non-sequential, simultaneous spheres of consciousness. Christ has his temporal sphere (or spheres, if we take the four-dimensional view) of consciousness and his divine atemporal sphere of consciousness. But seeing the contingency of the sequentiality does not remove the mystery in the sequentiality.

It makes me feel a little better when I recall that the presentist story about the sequentiality has its own problems. If my future experiences aren’t real—on presentism they are nothing but stuff in the scope of a modal “will” operator that doesn’t satisfy the T axiom—then what am I anticipating or dreading? It seems I am just here in the present, and when I think about this, it feels just as mysterious as on four-dimensionalism what makes the future impend. Of course, the presentist can give a reductive or non-reductive account of the asymmetry between past and future, but so can the four-dimensionalist.

So what remains of this morning’s presentist feelings? Mostly this worry: Time is mysterious and our theories of time—whether eternalist or presentist—do not do justice to its mysteriousness. This is like the thought that qualia are mysterious, but when we give particular theories of them—whether materialist or dualist—it feels like something is left out.

But what if I forget about standard four-dimensionalism and presentism, and just try to see what theory of time fits with my experiences? I then find myself pulled towards a view of time I had when I was around ten years old. Reality is four-dimensional, but we travel through it. Future sufferings I dread are there, ahead of me. But I am not just a temporal part among many: there is no future self suffering future pains and enjoying future pleasures. The past and future have physical reality but it’s all zombies. As for me, I am wholly here and now. And you are wholly here and now. We travel together through the four-dimensional reality.

But these future pains and pleasures, how can they be if they are not had by me or anyone else? They are like the persisting smile of the Cheshire cat. (I wasn’t worried about this when I was ten, because I was mainly imagining myself as traveling through events, and not philosophically thinking about my changing mental states. It wasn’t a theory, but a way of thinking.) Put that way, maybe it’s not so crazy. After all, the standard Catholic view of the Eucharist is that the accidents of bread and wine exist without anything having them. So perhaps my future and past pains and pleasures exist without anyone having them—but one day I will have them.

Even this strange theory, though, does not do justice to sequentiality. What makes it be the case that I am traveling towards the future rather than towards the past?

And what about Relativity Theory? Why don’t we get out of sync with one another if we travel fast enough relative to one another? Perhaps the twin who travels at near light speed comes back to earth and meets only zombies, not real selves? That seems absurd. Maybe though the internal flow of time doesn’t work like that.

I do not think this is an attractive theory. It is the theory that best fits most of my experience of temporality, and that is a real consideration in favor of it. But it doesn’t solve the puzzle of sequentiality. I think I will stick with four-dimensionalism. For now. (!)

1 comment:

Bogdan Faul said...

Dr. Pruss,

What if we think about the subjective experience as independent of tense? E.g. let us start with the fact that the experience is just given, and we don't know anything about time, present and so on. So, we can reformulate your first question as follows: Why the current experience is given (not given now), but not any other experience (e.g. experience of how I played the piano this morning)? On this view, our basic definition of "now" is based on what is given in general: by "now" we mean what is given. This does not seem to be trivial to me: we should explain why what is given in general is this particular flow of experience.

So, the main question is this: why what is given is particularly this flow of experience? We can also ask for an explanation of some general properties of our flow of experience: (1) Why what is given is given in a chopped way? (2) Why what is given is given in a sequential way? It seems to be possible to answer (2) in an illusionistic manner: every particular experience includes a memory of the "past" (this principle is violated in Slaughterhouse-Five). So, the sequential experience is subjectively indistinguishable from any other form of experience of time (e.g. you experience your 75th birthday, and after that, you immediately ''travel'' to your 10th birthday). However, I don't see how four-dimensionalism can answer (1) and the main question without crazy metaphysics. So, presentism seems to be better in this respect.

P.S. I am sorry for my English.