The Science of Consciousness 2020

Loews Ventana Canyon


TSC 2020 Workshop

Monday, April 13

9 a - 1 p




Time and Consciousness


Time is one of the key topics for physics, biology, psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience as well as for the philosophy of mind and of science. Yet there are numerous important differences between the concept of physical time, neural time, and the time that we experience as present or as passing. This workshop is designed to address these different points of view. Carlo Rovelli will begin with an account of the various layers of temporality from quantum physics to psychological capacities such as memory and expectation. Dean Buonomano focuses on biological clocks at a number of scales which, irrespective of their similar functions, are based on different principles. Sylvie Droit-Volet will talk about how the representation of time and its passage are embodied and, alluding to the phenomenology of time experience, presents a recently developed general model of judging time intervals. Finally, Harald Atmanspacher will present a formal argument based on temporal Bell inequalities that can serve to identify a kind of temporal nonlocality expressing the idea of a nowness with extended duration and without internal temporal structure.


Workshop Presenters:

Harald Atmanspacher (chair)

Collegium Helveticum

University and ETH Zurich, Switzerland


Dean Buonomano

Brain Research Institute

UC Los Angeles, USA


Sylvie Droit-Volet

Social and Cognitive Psychology

University of Clermont Auvergne, France


Carlo Rovelli

Center for Theoretical Physics

Univesity of Marseille, France


Harald Atmanspacher

Temporal Bell Inequalities and Temporal Nonlocality

The concept of nonlocality is firmly established as a key feature of quantum physics, where it has been demonstrated many times by violations of Bell-type inequalities. Analogous to this spatially conceived nonlocality, one can formulate temporal Bell inequalities, whose violation would imply a temporal kind of nonlocality. It entails that states of a system are not crisply localized in time but range over a temporal interval of non-vanishing duration, expressing the idea of an extended present. Corresponding ideas have often been discussed in phenomenological analyses of mental states, in both Eastern and Western traditions. This presentation will take the concept of temporal nonlocality from phenomenology to psychophysics, more specifically to the study of bistable perception. A quantum-inspired model of bistable perception, the Necker-Zeno model, violates temporal Bell inequalities properly tailored to the perception of ambiguous stimuli. It offers options to test such violations experimentally and at the same time emphasizes particular difficulties in such experiments.


Dean Buonomano

How Does the Brain Tell Time?

Since the dawn of civilization humans have embarked on a quest to measure time with increasing accuracy and precision: from sundials to pendulum clocks, to modern day atomic clocks. As a result of these efforts, today we can track time with more precision than we can measure any other physical quantity. But far before humans begun developing human-made clocks, evolution “developed” biological mechanisms to tell time. The emergence of biological clocks was driven by the fact that telling time and predicting the future provided a powerful evolutionary adaptation. Do biological clocks and human-made clocks rely on similar principles? We will see that despite their shared function, biological and human-made clocks rely on fundamentally different principles. Furthermore, there is no central or master clock in the human brain, but rather an array of different mechanisms that tell time on different scales. Indeed, the brain‘s circadian clock does not have a second hand, and the neural circuits that tell time on the order of seconds do not have an hour hand.


Sylvie Droit-Volet

The Conscious Judgment of Time

Researchers have spent decades demonstrating the amazing abilities of humans to judge short durations ranging from a few hundred milliseconds to several seconds. They then assumed that humans, like other animals, would have an internal clock system that would allow them to process all durations, even those of several minutes. Their main and difficult task now is to try to understand how this time system works in the brain. However, humans are special animals who

are conscious of being “finite beings” (“etre de finitude”, Heidegger 1927), and who have constructed a representation of time. They are also aware of the passage of time and its fluctuations, as if time sometimes stretched or contracted. This feeling of passage of time would result from the awareness of the body-self in time. The aim of this contribution is to present the results of our recent studies on the different forms of time judgment and their relationships, and to try to discuss a general model of time judgment which goes beyond the simple model of an internal clock, and takes into account the fact that psychological time is “elastic” and that awareness of the passage of time can have an impact on temporal judgments, especially for long durations of several minutes.


Carlo Rovelli

Disentangling the Layers of Temporality

The time we experience is a complex reality formed by a number of different layers. Some of these are anchored in fundamental physics, others depend on approximations such as neglecting relativistic or quantum effects, others rely on the thermodynamical disregard of microphysics, many depend on the specific structure of our brain, based on memory and expectations. Disentangling the layers is essential, to avoid the common mistake of trying to understand aspects of temporality at the wrong layer, namely with the wrong science.