Time, metaphysics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-N123-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 14, 2024, from

4. The B-theory and temporal experience

As well as appealing to the fact that language and thought is tensed, and irreducibly so, to support their theory, A-theorists also appeal to the fact that our temporal experience strongly suggests that time is dynamic. This too can be seen as a challenge to the B-theorist to provide an adequate explanation of why we seem to experience time as flowing if it doesn’t really flow.

There are two features of our temporal experience that need to be explained if the B-theory is true. First, there is the fact that experience seems to occur only in the present. Secondly, there is the fact that we seem to experience time as flowing. B-theorists generally explain the first of these features by appeal to the fact that our span of direct awareness, or ‘specious present’ is very brief (Dainton 2001). Since, at any one time, we are only aware of what is going on in a very limited period of time, it can seem to us that what is located within that very brief timespan is all that is really going on. However, just because we are unable to perceive events that are happening at other times doesn’t mean they are not happening at those times.

The B-theorists’ explanation for the apparent experience of temporal passage is often given in terms of the fact that our memories accumulate over time (Mellor 1998). Suppose you perceive an event, e1, and then shortly after, you perceive another event, e2, These experiences are not totally isolated from each other. Your perception of e2 is accompanied by a memory of having already perceived e1. According to the B-theorist, our sense of the passage of time is, at least in part, to be explained by the fact that our memories of our experiences accumulate in this way.

Citing this article:
Dyke, Heather. The B-theory and temporal experience. Time, metaphysics of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-N123-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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