Time Will Tell: A Series on the Philosophy of Time | Blog of the APA

The Blog of the APA is happy to announce “Time Will Tell,” a series of interviews about the philosophy of time. The interviews were conducted by Dr. Chris Rawls of Roger Williams University. To introduce the series, Rawls talked with the Blog about how her interest in temporality developed and where she would like studies of time to go in the future.

What is the purpose of this series, “Time Will Tell”? Describe how the series will work.

“Time Will Tell” is a series of professional interviews with scholars, both within and outside of philosophy and all with a social justice conscience, all academics who work on some aspect of time and/or temporality and human consciousness. Having worked on the concept for my Master’s thesis in 2004, I’m very interested in everything related to time. We all think about time. The four scholars who graciously agreed to the interviews are doing important and often utterly fascinating work on these topics.

How did you develop an interest in the concept of time?

As a young child, I had mini seizures occasionally. I had (and still have) a language difference/disability where I heard words backwards, but by syllable! It’s not that way today, of course, but the things my brain did to create what it needed in order to understand external language are unique. It is a form of Auditory Processing Disorder, but I’ve been calling it auditory dyslexia most of my life. The science on it only began in real depth about two decades ago. There is much disagreement still. I’ve recently learned of cutting edge neural mapping research that proves folks with APD have unique neuron development that is not like your average human brain development. This is both good and bad. It does not make me special. We all have individual, fluid brains (plasticity) because we all have individual, personal, emotional experiences. I’ve suffered and struggled because of the learning differences with language all my life, especially with communication. I’m being tested by specialists currently for the first time in my life. I also don’t think in images very easily most of my waking hours, but I dream vividly and often can recall my nightly dreams. This is known as partialAphantasia. Good health insurance and having the funds to get tested is needed for all this, which should give us pause. Both of these differences combined altered as I learned to read, write, speak, but they have always caused difficulties in reading, writing and communicating into adulthood, enough to cause a lot of unnecessary pain and struggle for myself and others. I wish I could have been tested decades ago.

It’s a small miracle I finished the doctorate in philosophy at all, and I didn’t do it alone. It was a really rough road and I would never have made it if my professors didn’t believe in me or find ways to hold me up, even if some worried about me circa 2009 when I lost a potential Fulbright scholarship and a scholar in residence position in Holland. This is important and related to consciousness for me personally not only because time will tell, but also because I survived horrific crime in Holland, an experience that caused not only time to stop for me but that caused others to question the validity of my actual conscious and bodily experiences. Duquesne University philosophy professors helped me stay in the PhD program. Sometimes I think only my former dissertation director, who I had worked with from 2004 to 2015 on and off, could understand my language. He used to translate for others what I was trying to say. I mention all this because the seizures in childhood, as well as what I went through in Holland, are what forced me to think about time and consciousness.

If we learn language and words by sound and image, and we then attach those sounds to meaning and memory, and if I had a brain difference related to both sound andimages, not to mention anxiety which can also effect memory, then it makes some real sense that I had to find novel ways to understand, interpret, memorize, read, write, and describe what I was learning. I often used my own symbolism, much based on sound and feeling or emotionally oriented experiences. It took five years to write, organize, and defend the dissertation on Spinoza. I had three editors for spelling, grammar, and organization in addition to the thesis committee. To this day I still struggle with spelling and grammar. APD Specialist Dr. Teri James Bellis writes: “But the distinction between ‘language-like’ and ‘auditory-like’ is extremely fuzzy and involves subtle judgements, not scientific distinctions.” Bellis is referencing the challenging testing and diagnosis process. The meanings I attach to vocabulary are, primarily, my own and not what culture has shaped necessarily.

The main point is that when the childhood seizures occurred I felt time as delayed. I visually saw things unfold in real time, but auditorily time was experienced as delayed. I heard sounds around me as if they were one connected whole on the wrong speed of a record player, like a sound image in slow motion that I was having an experience of while also functioning within clock time. This only lasted a few minutes. So, I was directly aware of two experiences of time simultaneously, but the seizures were uncomfortable and frightening. I couldn’t find the right words to describe them and we didn’t have any money for testing. It was always just chalked up to stress, something some still do today around me. I was forced to pay attention to the changes in my temporality specifically. The slowing down of time, and the intervals in-between, fascinated me even as a child. Studying, reading, writing, and teaching philosophy has helped my mind, brain and body make even more progress, but so many have accused or labeled my challenges as a mental health issue. Not knowing about my APD, and the challenges that caused, is the most difficult experience I have ever had next to attempting to write the doctorate.

I like to think about time, temporality, and consciousness together, especially as we all start taking more seriously such topics as advanced AI, quantum computing, or even the scientific studies on evidential mediumship, and there is legitimate science about the latter. William James knew. These topics can get wild when combined with the reality of what Antonio Damasio, the Spinozist that he is, calls “extended consciousness,” as opposed to “core consciousness.” Damasio has one of the most credible explanations on human consciousness of the past two decades. Briefly, Extended Consciousness is an individual autobiographical, rolling, flexible experience that cannot be coded as the same for any two humans. Sort of like, or possibly related to, having a soul some might say, metaphorically speaking or otherwise. The implications of such combinations are significant. Alternatively, the functions of Core Consciousness are what can be replicated by AI, but extended consciousness cannot. Recently, I started making podcasts for my students and for coping through Anchor. The international magazine New Philosopher tweeted one of my episodes on Kant about some of these new questions which was a silver lining in these challenging times.

We can read what top consciousness researchers or scholars say, such as bell hooks, Robert Lanza, Antonio Damasio, David Chalmers, Ernst Sosa, Tom Nagel, Patricia Churchland, Time Crane, Daniel Dennett, Patricia Hill Collins, Kelly Oliver or Judith Butler, as some important examples, but we can also legitimately consider the work of Jim Tucker at the University of Virginia, Dean Radin (massive, amazing history and scientific work), Gary Swartz, Lynn Buchanan of The Seventh Sense or study the results of those scientists who test individuals for what is sadly called ‘super-natural’ abilities, such as former Navy commander (and highest ranking female Navy officer in U.S. history) now turned evidential medium, Suzanne Geisemann. There’s always the work of Husserl, Heidegger, McTaggert, Sartre, etc. on human temporality that is also incredible, some of which I have studied, but it seems we might want to talk about other, more controversial theories too, those that apply to recent work in animal consciousness and intelligence, as another example, or current discoveries on the Observer Effect (OE) in quantum physics (thinking here of the work Biocentrism), the possibility of time travel that even Einstein took seriously, or more studies on human consciousness done by those who work specifically on near death or life after death phenomena (such as those who die on operating tables yet survive surgery only to somehow be able to report back to doctors exactly what occurred when they were otherwise reported as “brain dead”).  The OE is a series of verified experiments in physics (to say nothing of the research of the PEARS experiments at Princeton U.) that have concluded ‘matter’ understood in a deterministic (physicalist) way is just not enough. It’s not that materialism or determinism is wholly wrong, not at all. We know it works and is real, but only that it’s not the whole explanation of actual reality and the experiences of human beings. Consciousness and the brain are separate, but work together, often for biological reasons, but not only for these reasons according to this kind of research. It’s incredible and a game changer for all fields of study if so. The annual IANDS conference, the International Association of Near Death Studies, this past year had its largest attendance to date of researchers, neurosurgeons, philosophers, psychologists, and more. I was there for some of it with my friend and fellow Spinoza philosopher, Neal Grossman, now retired, but who worked for decades alongside both Ed Curley and Charles Mills at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Neal has a new book that deals directly with the philosophical problems involved in these areas of interest and experience titled Conversations with Socrates and Plato.

How does time influence contemporary philosophical studies?

The past few centuries have seen intellectual and scientific revolutions on the nature of time, including especially in philosophy and physics, not to mention quantum computing currently. I’m thinking here of the systems of Leibniz, Newton, Kant, Bergson, Einstein, Husserl, Heidegger, or Deleuze on the time image. I’m an advocate of bridging the gaps between Continental and Analytic methods. Studies on time, temporality, and consciousness have already been used by several philosophers to bridge these types of methodological gaps, for example, in the philosophy of film or the film as philosophy (FAP) problem. Artists and film makers know how to think about time! So too do surgeons for that matter. Of course, St. Augustine and other philosophers knew a lot about time many centuries ago, a point some Western philosophers always seem to enjoy bringing up repeatedly when you mention someone new who we should know about on this topic. Some even say Plato was a mystic, in the Eternalist sense…and I’m starting to believe they’re correct. If so, he was both inside and outside of time! His work is timeless, no? I think he was a mystic.

What thinkers or methodologies have you found most useful in pursuing your studies of temporality?

Time vs. temporality, as we are well aware in philosophy, address very different problems. When you add in human consciousness….the challenging logic problems multiply. An example can be found in both Spinoza and Bergson, as well as W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon, Ralph Ellison. The ‘argument against the man’ used in formal logic, as another example, is still valid in certain settings, but it doesn’t work at all as an objective rule (nor should it be used) when talking about and studying certain philosophical problems in the critical philosophy of race and whiteness studies or phenomenology, for example. As Ralph Ellison writes in The Invisible Man, “Did the word apply to an invisible man? Could they recognize choice in that which wasn’t seen…?” Which logic do you put first? Although, I wrote my doctoral thesis on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology found in his Ethics, I am also a race theorist and studied and grew with and because of George Yancy’s mentorship. There’s so much to think about here yet.

In Spinoza, we learn that the laws of Nature for human beings are all we have access to, but that temporality and our experience of time is both in accordance with these laws of Nature as an experience of the partially imaginative sort, as well as a kind of necessary, partial negation (i.e. limited, individual sense data, a singular expression of partial knowledge of a mode of substance conceived through its two attributes respectively, etc.). Spinoza provided an exhaustively rigorous, systematic philosophical text on the logical possibilities and limitations of human knowledge and the Laws of Nature before some of what Leibniz and Kant would attempt next. At the end of the day, I am not a Spinozist in the modern materialist sense, no matter how much I love Lucretius and those who taught me Spinoza. I’m more of a misfit metaphysician, but I definitely understand today’s ingenious atomist arguments, and my mentors are great at understanding this kind of materialism in affectively creative ways. There’s an interview coming up in this series for the APA on some of these topics with Thomas Nail.

I’ve always felt and worked in the capacity of interdisciplinary interests regarding time, and ideas or research others ignore. I know some would say that I waste time (some track my time stamps), and I do, especially when overwhelmed, but it’s just that time, as a sort of metaphysical illusion in some respects, slows one down to consider it to begin with (just like my mini seizures did as a child), and if you are having certain kinds of rare experiences that do not have full explanations (still today!) that satisfy even the best of philosophers around you, then it seems there’s a lot left to discuss. Even Roger Penrose said in a recent interview this year that we do not have a sufficient explanation for consciousness yet, as he works on quantum consciousness and the microtubials of neuron cells. So more neuron mapping please!

Practices such as meditation, as another example, slow down our pre-frontal cortex’s need for speedy, linear temporality and future oriented goals or tasks. Our bodies benefit from meditative practices within and without our direct awareness (science now validates this). So, are we only future temporally driven? No. Human bodies, brains, and souls also respond to not being future oriented, which is why meditation works so well. It builds new gray matter scientists now know, and we become more present when we meditate. One is truly not thinking about what’s next, biologically or otherwise, unless forced to or when the meditation moment ends. I like this kind of experience. Always planning ahead has its benefits, obviously, but it’s not all we are or do or need. Not at all.

Some of these experiences change, nonetheless, if you live in a continuously threatening environment, for anyone. Yet, a person of color in America is forced to face death every single day one way or another, much more immanently than a white man. #justiceforgeorgefloyd. Think about who is dying the most, too, with Covid-19 and why. The research on and experience of time (and space), as well as of one’s temporality, has limits based on the current acceptable paradigms of thought in Western science, but one’s environment can also alter these experiences drastically, including altering one’s sense of space and time, literally altering one’s experience of what it is to live each day. Lacan’s categories of the Imaginary, Symbolic, and Real need re-thinking, mostly because of, at the least, the new metaphysics research in science and metaphysics.

Kelly Oliver has a new essay in Sophia on what she calls “social melancholy” and how it, as a real experience, drastically differs from the psychoanalyst version of melancholia. I think she’s on to something. One legitimate critique of psychoanalytic theories and practices regarding temporality and consciousness are the above experiences I have had in combination. How would folks of this theory account for meaning, symbolic or otherwise, when I had my own language, including problems with the usual social language and, give or take, always have? The thing about learning disabilities/differences is that they are, sadly, often filled with tremendous shame, loneliness and/or isolation. The learning differences are also not uniform across tasks. Just because I can read philosophy doesn’t mean I can read all philosophical texts, or that I can read and understand anything else as complex either just because philosophers rely on the use of intense and rigorous logic, much of which I can systematically unpack. My philosophy skills are limited and yet, at times, not limited. It’s hard to track fully.

I’m now ready, knowing the name of my diagnoses, such as APD, to grow, to expand, to add to understanding, and to work even harder within the use of the tools that I need or that help, such as audio books! I had to solve this puzzle alone. There is no shame in using audio books, especially if you need to, but it can get expensive. Learning of any kind (in almost any creative or healthy way) is good. Yet, imagine asking for even more help in a well-known PhD program in philosophy, that you need audio books, editors, and testing to accompany the reading of the usual and expected texts, not to mention to complete all your work to the best of your ability? There was no real funding or money (or public understanding) yet for all that and as I tried in any way I could to explain, my words just dragged on and on. It seems one might need to be able to have and use internal, mental images in order to develop their language skills and use? To this day I cannot internally produce or think in images regularly.

Where would you like studies of time, both in philosophy and other disciplines, to go in the future?

Everywhere, especially in environmental ethics or the philosophy of quantum physics, or our criminal justice system and its insane need for complete reform, including eradicating solitary confinement, something philosopher Lisa Gunther works so hard on. AI is an interesting and important place to look as we move into more of a technologically infused and rapidly advancing society. I often ask students on the first day of class where space goes or to put their ideas in my hand? They get the rational point immediately, in an instant, if you will. I ask them to think deeply about infinity and our ideas about such things as space, and then to pay attention to their existential and often biologically oriented anxieties that set in which can be observed in reflection when one realizes we don’t know where space ‘goes.’ Physics and philosophy have a lot in common, they always have. Any aspect of interdisciplinarity with an emphasis on creativity have profound effects in furthering understanding (or at least add to it), especially for our university students. And now that Covid-19 is here and all forms of education are transforming radically and immediately, we have new things to think about and need to come up with novel, creative ways to teach, both virtually and otherwise. We have a chance to improve centuries old binary methods that have not worked for so many different reasons.

I like how John McCumber once addressed the Continental-Analytic divide by asking each group to take up the study of time more fully. Analytic philosophers could benefit, he noted, from reading more continentals or pragmatists on time and temporality. Continental philosophers can benefit from looking into the new problems of time in theoretical physics or the philosophy of mathematics. There’s something to be said for theories of reverse causation in Hegel, for example, a topic I have written a paper on that I’m particularly proud of and was asked to present at an APA Eastern conference with the North American Society of Hegel Studies once. Perhaps, if we pay as much attention as we can to social justice and environmental ethics and ills (as in it’s way overdue), we could eradicate some of the diseases of the human species that involve extreme forms of cruelty, human suffering, and irrationality. We are capable of affirmative action and rational organization on large scales and with highly rational, compassionate groups of individuals, as long as we have the information correct and are loving in our ways. Look at the world-wide protests now for #BLM in the midst of a global pandemic! Incredible. We can change the course of time…and we can do it with heart. Something I wish I understood better in the past. However small the gesture, we have the ability (i.e. the motion, options, action) to become healthier, happier, and truly, qualitatively enlivened with safety and fun together. And we need this now more than ever, some might say, as we are all facing the perfect storm, economically and otherwise, that is Covid-19.

Who are you interviewing for the series and what do readers have to look forward to?

I’m thrilled about these interviews! They are with Prof. Kristie Miller, Co-Director at the Center for the Study of Time, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, Prof. Thomas Nail from the University of Denver, and Prof. Boram Jeong, University of Colorado at Denver, who are all practicing philosophers. The series will end with a provocative interview with the biological anthropologist, Prof. Michael Masters, on human evolution, time, and aliens, a theory and recent book his Dean congratulated him for.

Prof. Miller is at the forefront of the study of the philosophy of time with the many different aspects of research that are being done at the University of Sydney. Her interview addresses some of the more traditional problems with the philosophy of time and temporality, but in novel ways. Prof. Nail’s work is ground breaking, especially Being and Motion, and his work on Lucretius, not to mention immigration. I have audio booked B&M, which I felt, sound wise, was a great way to get through it while literally being in motion (walking in the sunshine while thinking, while learning, instead of sitting reading as sitting still is a challenge ironically), and I have used various audio clips with permission in my Anchor podcasts. Many philosophers and artists, not to mention some scientists, will enjoy reading, hearing, and thinking about Nail’s important (and what will be) lasting contributions to the history of thought. Prof. Jeong’s interview and contributions are also relevant to our time. They are important contributions to very specific areas of philosophy, and, as she addresses the connections between time, money, freedom, Deleuze, race, and philosophy, we can all also benefit from her research and insights, and will be reading her philosophy about the future indefinitely I feel.

Prof. Masters has a new, interdisciplinary work on how humans might naturally evolve into a technologically advanced (alien) species. It’s wild, and awesome. His logic is valid and sound, and his research is currently being internationally recognized, including by philosophers and scientists alike. All interviews, including my own, are somewhat personal and about each scholar’s individual interpretations on time, temporality, and consciousness. I’m thrilled they agreed to do this series and I hope all will enjoy reading the interviews. I thank all the contributors for sharing their work.

Chris Rawls 

Chris Rawls teaches philosophy full time at Roger Williams University. Chris received her Ph.D. in philosophy in 2015 from Duquesne University writing on Spinoza’s dynamic epistemology. Chris recently co-edited an interdisciplinary anthology Philosophy and Film: Bridging Divides with Routledge Press’s series Research on Aesthetics (an experiment for the ages!) with Diana Nieva and Steven Gouveia. Chris also studies/teaches within the Critical Philosophy of Race and Whiteness Studies since 2006 and helped co-found the Society for Women in Philosophy (SWIP) archive at the Pembroke Center for Feminist Theory, Brown University.