The best books on time and our perception of time

Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I teach courses in the philosophy of space and time, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of science. In addition to several authored and edited books on the philosophy of time, I have published many scholarly articles on time, perception, knowledge, and the history of the philosophy of time. I have always been attracted to the philosophy of time because time is quite simply at the root of everything: through the study of time we confront and illuminate the deepest possible questions both as to the nature of the physical world and as to the nature of human existence.


I wrote...

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

By Adrian Bardon,

Book cover of A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

What is my book about?

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time is a short introduction to the history, philosophy, and science of the study of time-from the pre-Socratic philosophers through Einstein and beyond.

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time covers subjects such as time and change, the experience of time, physical and metaphysical approaches to the nature of time, the direction of time, time travel, time and freedom of the will, and scientific and philosophical approaches to eternity and the beginning of time. I use illustrations and keep technical language to a minimum in bringing the resources of over 2500 years of philosophy and science to bear on some of humanity's most fundamental and enduring questions.

The Books I Picked & Why

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What Makes Time Special?

By Craig Callender,

Book cover of What Makes Time Special?

Why this book?

Our best physical understanding of the universe has no place for the passage of time as a distinct dynamical process. What time it is ‘now’ is no more a fundamental aspect of the universe than what place is ‘here’. This strikes many as counter-intuitive or impossible. Philosopher Craig Callender takes the reader on a very thorough examination of modern physical theories of time in search of an explanation as to why the time of physics seems to diverge from the time of human experience. He argues that, due to the way the laws of physics are constituted, time is just the dimension that allows for the most informative explanations for physical phenomena.


Felt Time

By Marc Wittmann, Erik Butler (translator),

Book cover of Felt Time: The Science of How We Experience Time

Why this book?

What is our ‘sense of time’, and why does it vary so much depending on circumstances and our state of mind? Cognitive psychologist Marc Wittmann explores the relationship between consciousness and the sense of being an embodied agent persisting through time. Drawing on cognitive science and neuroscience, he investigates the many factors that affect our experience of time, such as occupation, impulsivity, and mindfulness.


How Physics Makes Us Free

By J.T. Ismael,

Book cover of How Physics Makes Us Free

Why this book?

Philosophers for thousands of years have wondered how we can have free will in a deterministic universe. If all events are explained by natural laws, then isn’t the future inflexibly determined by the past? Philosopher Jenann Ismael argues persuasively that (1) human freedom and control over events is only possible if all events are caused, and (2) that giving up on the objective passage of time is to acknowledge a world where the future determines the past just as much as the past determines the future. The actions of human beings help tell the story of both the future and the past, and so our own decisions help form the timeless patterns in the universe that we then call its “laws”.


Relativity Visualized

By Lewis Carroll Epstein,

Book cover of Relativity Visualized

Why this book?

Relativity Visualized is simply the secret weapon for understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity. Professor of physics Lewis Carroll Epstein uses brilliant, accessible visualizations (and no equations!) to help any reader to a good conceptual grasp of special and general relativity. If you want relativity without the math, this is the one.


The Order of Time

By Carlo Rovelli,

Book cover of The Order of Time

Why this book?

The ultimate answer to the nature of the universe depends on quantum physics. Most proposed solutions to the problem of quantum gravity either eliminate time altogether or downgrade it to a merely emergent property of a fundamentally timeless system. Leading theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli draws a picture as to how we might understand time (or the lack thereof) through the lens of quantum physics. He finishes by proposing that our perception of time really has to do with emotion and our individual relation to events.


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