Time, consciousness and scientific explanation
To date, there is no universal and coherent theory concerning the nature or the function of time. Furthermore, important and unresolved controversies raging within both philosophy and the natural sciences apparently indicate that there is little hope of constructing a single, unified theory. Even so-called "folk" theories of time, embedded within different cultural traditions, show no common elements, and therefore can not provide a pre-theoretical description of time, towards which an explanatory framework could be constructed. This lack of consensus indicates that the concept as it is currently being used is ill defined, and, at the very least, needs to be considerably revised. The conceptual disarray surrounding time has aided and abetted the arguments of certain thinkers, especially Ricoeur, working within the phenomenological tradition who make de principe claims that there can not be a single theory of time. My intention is not to try and to produce a concept of time that was capable of unifying all these different elements. Rather, Ricoeur's arguments and those of others working in the phenomenological tradition dissatisfied me. I believed that their arguments were informed by a myopic, muddled and positively 19th Century understanding of the scientific project. Hence, my aim is to show that Ricoeur's claim will not stand up to scrutiny, and that there are no principled arguments against the possibility of a unified theory of time. We examine the major arguments against unification in general, and also with particular reference to theories of time, such as Husserlian phenomenology, conventionalism, instrumentalism, anti-reductive positions in general, as well as the specific problem of reducing subjective experience to objective description. We demonstrate that none of these objections constitutes a watertight a priori argument against a unified theory of time. Furthermore, we demonstrate that recent developments in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of mind have made such a unified theory a plausible goal. We argue that post-positivist philosophy of science, with its emphasis on research programmes, the co-evolution of theories and super-empirical rational support, opens the way for new types of evidence to be brought to bear on questions about time. Also, recent developments in the brain sciences mean that a neurologically plausible and fully naturalised analysis of our experience of time is being developed. Although much work in this direction has begun, we argue that it is fragmented, partly through the limitations of our current knowledge, but more particularly through an inadequate background of coherent philosophical thought. This has lead both philosophers and scientists to attempt grand metaphysical answers to muddled philosophical questions which threaten the progress which natural science and the philosophy of science have offered in the second half of the twentieth century.