Aug 21

How does an online conference work?

You may be unfamilar with the idea of an online conference. We’re trying it out ourselves.

Here’s how it’s meant to work:

  • Various Philosophers contribute written papers on a given theme (in this case, the Growing-Block view of time).
  • Those participating in the conference are given access to the papers, through a different page for each paper.
  • Participants comment on the papers in the comments thread on the relevant page, and the authors reply.


The contributors are located in various places around the world. The conference lasts a week (24th-30th August) to give each of the contributors a chance to look at comments, think about them, and reply, while repecting the fact that we don’t all live in the same timezone.

How to access the papers:
Each page has the title and abstract of the paper on it, and there will be a dropbox link on that page to a pdf of the associated paper. Clinking on the link should take you to the paper. It may well ask you to sign up to dropbox. This is not needed to access the papers.

The pdfs are password protected. This is because the papers are works in progress, and we don’t want to distribute them as if they were the authors final thoughts on the matter. Hopefully there will be a book, and we don’t want to preempt that. To get the password to access the papers, e-mail Graeme A Forbes at G.A.Forbes@kent.ac.uk. You don’t need to sign-in to anything to access the pages on the blog.

Comment ettiquette:

This is an online conference. That means it is on the internet, and you can’t see each other face to face. Nonetheless, this is meant to have the same virtues as a good conference. Discussion of the papers should be collegial, constructive, and charitable. The point of the conference, and of letting people comment on work-in-progress, it to make the papers better. Comments that are not in the spirit of the conference will be deleted.

Your comments may not show up immediately. The commenting parameters have been set so the first comment that you make is pre-moderated, this is mainly to prevent spam.


  1. Kristie Miller

    Peter Forrest: he Napoleon Problem and the Deliquescent Unity of Consciousness.

    I wanted to start off by getting completely straight on the argument found in Peter’s paper (and indeed, replies to questions from Peter are interspersed in what follows).

    The argument (roughly) as I understand it:

    1. The unity of consciousness is not the result of mental states being states of the one thing: the self.
    2. Instead, the self is a fiction: it is a fiction, or illusion, generated by/constituted by the existence of a unity of a mental state at a time.
    3. The unity of consciousness derives from the unity of that of which there is consciousness—the unity of consciousness depends on the absence of future events/states.
    4. The unity of consciousness depends on the absence of future events/states because (a) there must be a natural division in the stream of consciousness into intervals, such that these natural divisions correspond to unities (otherwise there is no real unity). But (b) consciousness is not quantized so (c) the only way that there could be such natural intervals is that there is an important future boundary (the non-existence of future events/states) which carves out an interval of consciousness as being a natural division.
    5. So only present conscious states are unities, and these extend back (from the edge of the block) a small interval (the specious present).
    6. There exist past streams of consciousness and conscious states, but since these are not bounded by an absence of future events, they are not unified and therefore lack the illusion of self/agency.
    7. Since only selves/agency can have thoughts, in the past while there are conscious states, there are no selves having any thoughts, and thus they are not wondering whether they are now.

    Is this roughly the right characterisation of the master argument?

    P.F. Yes that is correct

    Assuming that it is, here are a few questions
    (a) What hangs on the fact that the self is a fiction? Could we say that the self comes into existence when the relevant unity exists (perhaps it just is that unity) and then the self no longer exists when the relevant unity no longer exists? So there really is a self, it’s just that being a self consist in there being the relevant unity. Or is this just a redescription of the view, with a different semantics for what it would take for “there exists a self” to come out as true, so that instead of being error theorists we are realists of a different stripe?
    P.F. My chief reason for not suggesting this is that I want to defend the fixity of the past, but I guess I could allow that there are entities that depend in part on absences and so can cease to exist.

    (b) Could you say a bit more about what it would be for consciousness to be quantized? The idea is that there would need to be ‘natural’ divisions in the consciousness stream from which we get the unity. I’m not sure what (at the level of brain processes etc.) would be required to count as having such resources. For instance, suppose there is a continuous stream of consciousness, and continuous processing, but there are also various meta-processes that “pull together” the first order processes by way of some kind of temporal binding. That too might be continuous. That would appear to give rise to bound chunks of mental state (albeit ones that are overlapping). Would that count as (a) quantization or (b) not count as quantization and not be enough to get you unity?
    P.F. Provided the bound chunks fail to overlap that would be enough, I think. But what do you think?
    I’m wondering if you think that there is any empirical tractability of this issue. I don’t know this literature on binding at all well, and I know that psychologists and neuroscientists have a big task in trying to figure out how we do bind together into a coherent whole the massive flood of inputs we get. But suppose they had some story (I take it they do have proto stories about this). Do you think that, of necessity, any such story must involve quantization of some kind, and so either they find quantization of consciousness or something like the growing block story must be true OR, is there some chance that there is some way of explaining the binding even in continuous terms (but you think this is unlikely). That is, how much of this do you think is open to empirical investigation, and what would we need to find to decide things either way?
    P.F. I think the phenomenology sets up a presumption against quantisation , but this could be overcome by an empirical result. I would be looking at(some of?) those with Tourettes , who can go the wrong way through revolving doors. asking if they experience time differently, with very short specious presents. If so is there some clue in the brain activity.

    My overall thought on this is that it’s interesting that the primary argument in favour of the GB theory is, for Peter, now subject to empirical investigation. At least, the argument could be shown to fail if it turns out that consciousness is quantised (though I take it that most B-theorists will argue that the failure of quantisation is not good grounds to prefer the GB theory – they will need to appeal to some other account of unity that doesn’t appeal to non-existence as a natural bound between conscious states).

    1. Graeme A Forbes

      Kristie: You appear to have posted this as a reply to ‘How does an online conference work’ rather than to Peter’s page (http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/growingblock/forrest/). Was there a problem posting replies there?

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