Quite generally, our conscious states, irrespective of their kind or character, seem to occur in the same temporal framework as the events in the wider world – even if their precise timing is not easy to ascertain. Our consciousness may be located within time, but there are also ways in which time or temporality might be regarded as manifest consciousness.While watching a two hour movie, we will generally remain aware how much of the two hour period remains, even if we are paying no attention to the plot.The story is still by no means complete, for temporality is manifest in consciousness in a further and more intimate way.
And of course there are past-oriented emotions, such as remorse or regret or shame: through these the past can influence our present feelings, often in powerful ways.
While there is no future-directed counterpart of memory, we can anticipate future happenings (more or less accurately, more or less eagerly), and experience future-directed emotions: fear, dread, hope – and these too can exert a powerful influence of our present states of consciousness.
We are thus confronted with a conundrum: it seems our awareness must extend over time, but it seems it can’t.
In grappling with this ‘paradox of temporal awareness’ as it is sometimes called, different philosophers have proposed quite different accounts (or models) of the structure of this form of temporal consciousness.
In this respect they are analogous to movies, which (as displayed) consist of rapid sequences of still images.
Retentional Model: our experiencing of change and succession occurs within episodes of consciousness which themselves lack temporal extension, but whose contents present (or represent) temporally extended intervals and phenomena.If temporally extended occurrences such as these can feature in our immediate experience, it is natural to conclude that our awareness must be capable of embracing a temporal interval.While this may seem obvious, it can also seem problematic.Or can we only assume that a partial ordering of events is known? Can they overlap in time and yet not be simultaneous?If they are not instantaneous, do we know the durations of events?In this brief paper, I will give a survey of the basic techniques available for representing time, and then talk about temporal reasoning in a general setting as needed in AI applications.