Archive for July, 2012

Time and perceptual time

July 21, 2012

I’ve spent a lot of time (!) thinking about time in the last few weeks. Not that I’m serving time At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, as they say or anything like that, but on the nature of time, or rather on the nature of the neural construction of perceptual time. I even went as far as submitting a paper to the Artificial General Intelligence forthcoming at the end of the year in Oxford UK, about it. It’s one aspect of┬áperception, and one that’s largely ignored.

To put it simply, perceptual time is related to physical time, but is different from it. In a similar way, perceptual reality is related to physical reality, but again, is different from it. The nature of these differences leads one initially into perceptual Psychology, but eventually into the murky realms of 1st person science, otherwise the realm of philosophy or perhaps theology. And that’s where it becomes tricky. But it’s still important, particularly for any system that would like to call itself sentient, or even (artificially) intelligent – hence the submission to AGI2012.

Yet there’s a huge set of possibilities there. Why the particular nature of human time perception? Earlier work suggests at least two levels of human perpetual time, one at about 40 to 50 ms, which might be thought of as an instant, and one at about 3 seconds, which one might think of as the “present instant” (discussed further in the paper). Is it different for other animals?

Is it the same for all humans? Might there be other entities out there with different views of time? our perhaps we already interact with other living entities with different view of time, like insects, or Gaia?

And if we met alien life systems would we even recognise them as such if their view of time was very different fom ours? Indeed, one might consider whole cultures and their view of the cultural present, which takes one into quite different areas of philosophy, and perhaps provides a novel perspective on the effects of the movement from oral additions, to written cultures, to the spread of mass literacy, to digital cultures and the spread of the immediate availability of huge volumes of cultural context. Perhaps for another day, perhaps for discussion with AKL!

Another issue is whether we would even recognise living entities elsewhere in the universe if their perceptual was sufficiently ddifferent from ours. But that’s matter perhaps for a story. Yet, particularly after finishing Mieville’s Embassytown, I was left wondering if the way forward for this line of reasoning was perhaps to try to write it as a story, rather than as a scientific paper: the ideas are not really suitable for a presentation with results and graphs, nor yet for a mathematical equational approach!