Making more sense of time

24 November 2011

credit Flikr/Cory Vogelsonger
credit Flikr/Cory Vogelsonger

The University of Sydney has received US$1.5 million from the John Templeton Foundation to explore the nature of time and streamline worldwide academic research on the subject.

"Every human being has an intimate relationship with time, and yet it remains a profoundly mysterious subject," said project leader Professor Huw Price, from the Department of Philosophy.

"This project, New Agendas for the Study of Time: Connecting the Disciplines, will focus on asking which aspects of time belong to which disciplines in order to reinvigorate, and perhaps resolve, age-old puzzles. In achieving this, we will bring a new clarity to the study of time in a global sense, and set the agenda for the subject's future."

New Agendas for the Study of Time is based across the University's faculties of arts and science. Dr Kristie Miller from the Department of Philosophy and Dr Alex Holcombe from the School of Psychology join Professor Price and Dr Dean Rickles as principal investigators on the project.

Describing the motive for the project, its co-leader, Dr Rickles, from the Unit for the History and Philosophy of Science, said, "Even within physics there is deep disagreement about the proper aims of physics for the study of time.

"To resolve the disagreement within physics and other disciplines we need to step back and consider the question of what belongs where in the study of time from a broader interdisciplinary perspective, informed among other things by expertise on the psychology of how time is perceived and the metaphysics of time."

The project includes four postdoctoral fellowships, three international conferences in Cape Town, Sydney, and Cambridge and the awarding of grants for further research. The John Templeton Foundation, which is funding the project over three years, is an American philanthropic organisation.

The use of a multidisciplinary team is essential to the project's aims and success and it will be located in the Centre for Time within the Sydney Centre for the Foundations of Science (SCFS).

The SCFS is an interdisciplinary research centre exploring the underpinnings of science and medicine and supported by the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Science and the Sydney Medical School.

The excellence of SCFS research has also recently been further recognised with the awarding of over $4.7 million in Australian Research Council (ARC) funding.

As part of the funding, an ARC Laureate Fellowship of A$2.1 million was awarded to Professor Warwick Anderson, from the Department of History, for the project Southern Racial Conceptions: Comparative Histories and Contemporary Legacies which aims to reveal intense scientific debate about what it meant to be human in the southern hemisphere during the twentieth century, placing Australian racial thought in a new context. Professor Anderson was also funded for research into the autoimmune system.

The ARC grants also support research into the foundations of quantum theory, the philosophical aspects of mathematics, and cultural influences on psychiatric illness.

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