Home > Programs > Zenith Grants > Zenith Grant Awardee

Zenith Grant Awardee

Craig Callender

University of California, San Diego

Project Title

The Flow of Time, Physics, and Observation

Project Summary

Is the flow of time an illusion? If so, what is its explanation? Given that the flow of time seems to be a deep, mysterious and universal aspect of human life, we ought to investigate its origin. The present project draws on insights from psychology, biology and physics to understand why creatures model time as flowing — even if, as physics suggests, it isn\'t.

Technical Abstract

As we navigate through life we employ a model of time with features etched into it that are not found in physical time. Call this the flowing now conception of time. It manifests itself throughout our language, thought and behavior and is bound up with thoughts about the universe, personal identity, freedom and the self. Many claim the flowing now is an illusion. Few, however, try to explain this phenomenon with any rigor. A relatively new observer-based approach seeks to explain the flowing now as an interaction effect arising from the interaction of an observer and the physics of the world. Time in a relativistic manifold, to the extent that we can even separate it from spacetime, does not flow. But throw an information gathering and utilizing system (IGUS) into such a spacetime. Embed that spacetime with physical systems obeying the laws of thermodynamics. Ask IGUS to communicate with other IGUSes. Ask it to build coherent models of the world despite all the discordant signals bombarding it. Ask it to thrive and survive. Will modeling tie as flowing emerge as a natural reaction to these challenges? The aim of this project is to find out.

Skip to content