Large Grants
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Previous Programs

2018 Agency in the Physical World
Awardees; RFP download

2016 Physics of the Observer
Awardees; RFP download

2015 The Physics of What Happens
Awardees; RFP download

2013 Physics of Information
Awardees; RFP download

2010 The Nature of Time
Awardees; RFP download

2008 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

2006 Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology
Awardees; RFP download

Craig Callender
University of California, San Diego

Project Title

What Makes Time Special

Project Summary

There is a gap between what we might call the 'manifest' and 'scientific' images of time. Physics sees time as like space. Yet experience regards them very differently: we behave as if the future is unreal, the present special, and time fundamentally directed. These features affect the way we live our lives; for instance, we dread future pain but feel relief when pain is past. Hence there is a significant gap between time as represented by experience and by physics. Closing this gap is the goal of my research. My work shows that time in physics is surprisingly different than space, even when united into spacetime -- despite conventional wisdom. In a very precise sense, physics is able to tell better narratives (make better predictions and explanations) in the timelike direction than spacelike directions. Our macroscopic environments then latch onto this difference to make a representation of time as different than space most natural. By looking at an interdisciplinary mix of fields, including cognitive science, evolution, and philosophy of time, I explain why we believe that there is a common now and also why we care more about the future than past.

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