Analysing time-consciousness: a new account of the experienced present
McKenna, Camden Alexander
This thesis presents a novel theory of temporal experience. While time as measured by the clock is a perennially popular topic, the time of experience remains relatively neglected and poorly understood despite its centrality to our existence. This thesis therefore sets out to address the following questions: 1) How should we characterize experiential time and the experienced present? 2) How might such distinctively temporal experience arise in the first place? While the first of these is a “what is it like” question, and thus in the realm of phenomenological analysis, the second is ostensibly closer to the realm of scientific inquiry in that it concerns an empirical phenomenon. The goal of this thesis is to synthesize plausible answers to both of these questions. As to the first question, there is already a lively debate ongoing in the philosophy of mind between various camps, each offering what they see as the most plausible analysis of the phenomenology of time. Regarding the second, there is an interdisciplinary investigation of mechanisms at various levels of abstraction, notably the levels of neurophysiology and information processing. This thesis proposes, among other contentions, that the time of experience is best characterized by a combination of retentional and extensional phenomenological analyses. This means the actual temporal extension of experience and its correlates determines, to some degree, the felt temporal character of experience. At the same time, perhaps the greater part of temporal phenomenology is determined by content: mental processes can be about temporal properties in addition to their primary contents and the way they are so partially determines the temporal character of experience as well. This analysis dovetails nicely with contemporary theories of consciousness that maintain the brain is fundamentally a complex predictive engine actively and adaptively guiding behavior. The thesis thus represents a multi-level framework for understanding the experience of time and the mechanisms underpinning it. It is my hope this perspective advances the debate on time-consciousness and can guide further work towards understanding this most fundamental aspect of our lives.