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Time and Experience

Sean D. Kelly

Thursday, September 30, 2004, 12:00pm - 07:00pm

Princeton University, Philosophy and Neuroscience

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The experience of time is fundamental to all experience.  Without it we could not perceive the length ofa note, the movement of a ball, the progression of a melody, or even the unity of an object.  And yet it is a deep puzzle that we are able to experience time at all.  For how is it possible to have experiences as of continuous, dynamic, temporally structured unified events given that we start with (what at least seems to be) a sequence of independent and static snapshots of the world at a time?  This puzzle about temporal experience is not much discussed today, and it is different from more familiar problems that have been discussed by Bertrand Russell and Daniel Dennett.  Still, philosophers have long known about the puzzle that I describe, and their theories about it break down into two groups:  Specious Present Theories and Retention Theories.  I show that neither of these approaches makes any progress on the puzzle, and that current neuroscientific work on time perception misses the point in similar ways.  I conclude witha conceptual distinction which, if valid, will help us to make some progress.

Sean D. Kelly