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Source: University of Otago

What is time?
It is a question people often struggle to answer, says Jean Campos, who is working on a PhD on the philosophy of time.
The average person on the street has strong intuitions and feelings about time, as it affects how they communicate and how they measure longevity, he says.
However, when asked what time actually is, they are often flummoxed.
“Time is one of the most intriguing aspects of reality we can study because it is one of the most familiar features of reality and yet one of the most misleading notions.”
Campos says he developed an interest in the subject of time while completing his undergraduate degree in Brazil, where he is from, and reading about Bertrand Russell, who was one of the first philosophers to advocate the theory nowadays called eternalism.
Campos’ fascination with time was boosted by his supervisor for his undergraduate and master’s degrees in philosophy, Guilherme Ghisoni, whose research explores notions of time, memory, and photography.
Campos decided to do his PhD at the University of Otago as he wanted to work with Heather Dyke, a leading figure in the field of time who also supports eternalism. James Maclaurin is Campos’ co-supervisor, guiding his research, particularly in the philosophy of science.
To explain what he means by the philosophy of time – the area of research he is doing through the Philosophy Programme – he starts by defining philosophy as the act of thinking about a subject.
“Philosophy differs from other fields, such as physics, mathematics, and biology, because it does not have a unique subject matter,” he says.
The philosophy of time is the act of thinking about the nature of time, including the analysis of ontological and phenomenological questions about time.
Ontological questions address what exists—in this case, whether the past, present, and future moments have the same ontological status or only the present exists—while phenomenological questions address experience—do our temporal experiences accurately represent what time is?
The philosophy of time is not limited to fundamental questions about the nature of time, as in physics, but aims to achieve a complete understanding of the nature of time, Campos says.
His thesis is titled Two aspects of time: a defence of eternalism.
Eternalism is the philosophical thesis that all events share the same ontological status while upholding spatiotemporal and causal relations within a four-dimensional manifold.
Campos argues that the concept of time, as interpreted by physicists, seems incompatible with how people actually experience time.
“There is a tension between physical time – how physicists say what time is – and our temporal experiences – how we experience time.”
He hopes to make a significant advance towards a more rigorous explanation to resolve this tension between how people perceive time (mental time) and how time per se is (physical time), both prominent questions among philosophers.
People’s most basic conceptions about the nature of time may be illusions, but Campos hopes to come up with a stronger, more original, and scientifically informed response so he can understand the nature of time in an interdisciplinary way.
– Kōrero by internal communications adviser, Koren Allpress