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Institute of Advanced Study

Dr Simon Prosser

IAS Fellow at St. Mary’s College, Durham University (October – December 2012)


Simon Prosser is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. Following a childhood interest in astronomy he studied physics at the University of Birmingham, graduating with a BSc in Physics with Theoretical Physics. He eventually realised that the kinds of questions that had initially drawn him to physics and astronomy were really philosophical questions rather than scientific ones. He then studied philosophy at the University of Warwick, and soon became interested in many further philosophical questions, mostly concerning the mind and its relation to the experienced world.

He graduated from Warwick with a PhD in Philosophy in 2002, with a thesis concerning the nature of concepts. During his doctoral studies he also spent one year in Paris at the CREA research centre (CNRS/École Polytechnique), funded by an Entente Cordiale scholarship (which he was surprised to get, given the pigeon French that he spoke at the interview). Following graduation he was employed at the University of St Andrews, first as a temporary Teaching Fellow and then in a permanent position since 2006.

His research interests range over a number of topics in the philosophy of mind and metaphysics. One major research interest concerns the nature of conscious experience and the relation between the subjective character of experience and its representational content - the way it represents the world as being. This interest covers all forms of experience, but Prosser also has a particular interest in the nature of our experience of time. He is an advocate of the B-theory of time, according to which although times or events exist and are ordered relative to one another by relations of earlier and later, there is no objective present, and hence no metaphysical asymmetry between the present and other times; what we call the ‘present’ is simply the time at which a given ‘now’-thought occurs, in much the same way that what we call ‘here’ is the place at which a given ‘here’-thought occurs. It follows that there is no genuine passage of time, and that the apparent passage of time is an illusion. Prosser is currently working on an explanation for this illusion – an account of why time seems to us to pass, given the view that that there is no real passage of time.

Prosser’s work has been published in prominent philosophy journals including, among others, The Philosophical Quarterly, Mind & Language, Philosophical Studies, Noûs, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research and The Philosophical Review. While at the IAS in Durham he will be working on issues relating to the perception of change and the doctrine of the ‘specious present’, according to which conscious perceptual experience encompasses an extended interval of time rather than an instant. To this end, as well as consulting existing philosophical work, he will be reading up on a variety of work in psychology and cognitive science concerning short-term memory and the perception of change.

Fellow's Public Lecture - Does Time Really Pass
20th November 2012, 17:15, Kenworthy Hall, St Mary's College

We are all familiar with the notion that time passes. But what does this really mean? In this lecture Dr Prosser shall outline some philosophical theories of temporal passage along with a class of theories according to which time does not pass. Dr Prosser shall then describe a serious problem for the claim that time passes.

The best reason for thinking that time passes is that we experience it passing. But shall also argue that, despite appearances to the contrary, it is not possible to experience time passing. Our apparent experience of time passing is an illusion. It follows that time does not pass, or so Dr Prosser shall argue. If these conclusions are correct then it is an important project for philosophers and psychologists to explain why it seems to us that time passes.

Listen to the lecture in full.


Time a conversation with Dr Simon Prosser

Time a conversation with Dr Simon Prosser

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Dr Simon Prosser Publications

Prosser, S. (2016) Experiencing Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Prosser, S. (2013) ‘Experience, thought, and the metaphysics of time’ in Jaszczolt, KM., de Saussure, L (eds) Time: Language, Cognition & Reality. London: Oxford University Press, pp. 157 – 174

Prosser, S. (2013) 'The Passage of Time', in Dyke, H., Bardon, A (eds.) A Companion to the Philosophy of Time. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 315-327

IAS Insights Paper


According to the doctrine of the ‘specious present’ the content of conscious experience comprises a brief but extended interval of time, not just an instant. One standard argument for this view appeals to the fact that change always takes time. In this paper I suggest that this argument is a poor one; it conflates the properties of the stimulus with the properties of the experience. I then outline a simple way in which certain kinds of change could be experienced even if experience did not have a temporally extended content. I stop short of arguing directly against the specious present however; my aim here is more to challenge the argument than to challenge its conclusion.

Insights Paper