UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Time in mind : the cognitive science of temporal representation Viera, Gerardo


Philosophers and cognitive scientists have always been interested in how people come to mentally represent time. Surprisingly though, contemporary philosophers have largely neglected the wealth of relevant empirical research coming from neuroscience, computational psychology, zoology and related fields. My dissertation is meant to remedy this neglect by bringing together major strands in the philosophical and empirical literatures on temporal representation in order to show how both fields can mutually benefit one another. Chapter 1 describes what I call the temporal coordination problem and provides the needed philosophical background on mental representation that frames the majority of the thesis. Chapter 2 provides a taxonomy of the general approaches to explaining how animals coordinate their behaviors with the temporal structure of the world around them. Chapter 3 argues that part of the explanation for how animals come to mentally represent time is through the operation of a genuine sense of time centered on the circadian systems that provides animals with information about the approximate time of day. Chapters 4 and 5 argue for what I call the fragmentary model of temporal perception – temporal perception is not a unified capacity but is importantly fragmented. Chapter 4 argues that the fragmentary model undermines the central debate in the philosophical literature over the mirroring constraint. I conclude that there simply is no single story to be told about how the temporal structure of experience itself relates to the temporal content of experience. While chapter 4 emphasizes the fragmentary nature of temporal perception, chapter 5 emphasizes the way in which time appears unified in perception and cognition and proposes an explanation of how this apparent unity comes about. Here I highlight how literature more commonly found in the history and philosophy of science on the unitization of measurement actually informs current understanding of the mind. In particular, I argue that the brain comes to integrate the temporal information encoded in various time keeping devices by unitizing time in a manner that parallels how our cultural time keeping practices have unitized time. Finally, chapter 6 concludes by recapping many of the major conclusions of the thesis.

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