UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The fountainhead of the river of time Van Wijk, Brendan


The brute sensation that time passes, or flows, is a compelling feature of our daily experience. We have a sense that there is a "moving now" that glides inexorably into the future, a sense so strong and basic that only a philosopher is likely to question whether what is given in our experience of time is best understood as anything akin to motion. However, questions of this kind are not without motivation. The prevailing philosophical and scientific conceptions of time are of structures in which the notion of objective "passage", or "becoming", has no obvious place. The phenomenology of time, and the metaphysics of time, are in apparent conflict. Why should time seem to flow, i f indeed static models of time are the closest approximations we have of the truth? Attempts to resolve this conflict in the literature to date have been few and preliminary. It is possible, however, to reconcile the apparent flow of time with an objective model in which the notion of passage is entirely neglected. Firstly, an examination of an idealized structure, the experience-at-a-time, leads to its characterization as a single, enduring set of temporally-related phenomena, whose varying locations are instants of time. The change of this set's position within our scheme of temporal representation as a function of time is perceived as motion, of sorts. Secondly, an examination of certain very basic factors that contribute to the long-term success of a population of biological organisms, as dictated by selection pressures within an environment in which certain key processes are de facto irreversible, provides an explanation of why it is that the "now" should be perceived to move into the future, and not into the past. Combining the results of these examinations yields an account of time's peculiar phenomenological character, in a world in which time is most conveniently treated as a static structure.

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