RESEARCH

I specialize in metaphysics and the majority of my research is in the philosophy of time and related areas of philosophy of physics and philosophy of mind. I am also interested in western and non-western theories of personal identity and death. The following are summaries of some of the topics of my research.

The nature of the passage of time

I defend a “revisionist” B-theoretic view of the passage of time, according to which passage is really the temporal succession of equally existing events. In other words, as long as events stand in temporal relations of “before” and “after” (“earlier than” and “later than”), there is passage. I thereby challenge the long-standing assumption that the passage of time is only compatible with the A-theoretic views—the views that hold that there is a single moment that is privileged over every other moment in virtue of its being present. Most analytic philosophers of time believe that passage is objective change in A-series properties, whereby moments and events change from being future to present to past. This assumes that the existence of passage depends on the truth of one of the A-theoretic views. In “A Defense of a B-theoretic View of the Passage of Time,” forthcoming in Chronos: Proceedings from the Philosophy of Time Society, I argue that the revisionist B-theoretic view of passage can account for the main things that A-theorists argue depend on (A-theoretic) passage: the direction of time, dynamic qualitative change over time, and temporal experience. I am continuing to expand on this research in a paper in which I specifically look at how the revisionist view of passage can address the claim that passage requires an “open future.”

Temporal experience

A-theorists argue that human temporal experience conflicts with the B-theory and favors the A-theory. B-theorists who define passage in the same way as A-theorists and deny that it exists respond by arguing that our experience of the passage of time is illusory, that it is simply a feature of our phenomenology that we project onto the external world. In contrast, B-theorists whose view of passage is similar to mine argue that to experience passage is simply to have successive experiences. In a paper that is currently under review, I offer an account of how the B-theory can accommodate our experience of the passage of time that combines elements of both of the above B-theoretic views. I argue that our experience of passage depends on the objective existence of temporal succession (i.e., B-theoretic passage) and on how we represent it. I argue that the overlapping content of successive specious presents gives rise to our experience that there is a continuous “flow” from one moment to the next.

The implications of the Special Theory of Relativity for the ontology of time and passage

I argue that the traditional formulation of the B-theory needs to be revised in light of implications of the Special Theory of Relativity (STR). In my paper, “Special Relativity, Multiple B-series, and the Passage of Time,” published in 2016 in American Philosophical Quarterly, I argue that it follows from STR that there are actually multiple B-series, rather than a single universal temporal order of all events. I also argue that STR has implications for the revisionist B-theoretic view of passage: in Minkowski spacetime, time only passes between events that are time-like related, because these events are genuinely temporally ordered. In contrast, passage does not occur between, nor does it span across, space-like separated events. Events that are space-like separated from each other can be assigned arbitrary time coordinates relative to inertial reference frames, but the order of these events varies relative to the frame of reference; there are no genuine temporal relations between them.

Personal identity, the nature of life and death, and the nature of consciousness

In my research on these topics, I am investigating what would be required for a person to survive bodily death. Before we can say whether and how a person could survive bodily death, we need to know what constitutes personal identity. Is personal identity a construction and, if so, is survival also largely a matter of convention? Or, is there a genuine persistent self and, if so, can this self survive bodily death? I believe the answers to these questions depend on the nature of consciousness and that until we have a better understanding of the nature of consciousness, we may not be able to know the full nature of personal identity or whether we can survive bodily death.

I am also interested in whether life and death can be defined and whether the concept of life can be applied to artificial objects such as cars, appliances, and robots, as well as the implications that this might ultimately have for views on whether personal identity is retained through artificial enhancements to the brain that aid in memory and other cognitive functions.

I have recently started to work on a project on Buddha’s theory of personal identity, and whether the body plays more of a role in his view than has previously been thought.

Dissertation

The Nature of the Passage of Time: A Defense of a Revisionist B-theoretic View of Passage, defended June 4, 2015

Advisors: Crawford Elder (chair), Donald Baxter, Joshua Mozersky

Abstract: The majority of philosophers of time hold that the passage of time is objective change in A-series properties. On this “traditional” view of passage, there is an objective, non-relative present moment (or set of simultaneous events) which continuously changes. The construal of passage in these A-theoretic terms makes its existence depend on the truth of one of the A-theoretic views of the ontology of time. The majority of B-theorists deny that time passes because they reject the A-theoretic views. I defend a “revisionist” B-theoretic view of the passage of time, wherein passage is temporal succession. In chapter one, I begin by defending the viability of the revisionist view as a view of the passage of time. Then I argue that since both the revisionist and traditional views of passage are viable as views of passage, which one is actually the correct view of passage depends on which view of the ontology of time is correct. I argue that the B-theory is the correct view of the ontology of time, first by showing in chapters two and three that there are several arguments that sink the A-theoretic views, then by showing in chapters four and five that the B-theory escapes its main objection: that it is incompatible with temporal experience, particularly with the experiences of the present and of the passage of time. Since the revisionist B-theoretic view of passage is a viable view of passage and since the B-theory is the correct view of the ontology of time, passage is temporal succession. Finally, I argue that events only occur in temporal succession if they are time-like related to each other and there are multiple series of time-like related events. The passage of time is not a uniform process across the universe because the passage of time does not span across events that are space-like separated.