Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 485–500 | Cite as

On being stuck in time

  • Christoph HoerlEmail author


It is sometimes claimed that non-human animals (and perhaps also young children) live their lives entirely in the present and are cognitively ‘stuck in time’. Adult humans, by contrast, are said to be able to engage in ‘mental time travel’. One possible way of making sense of this distinction is in terms of the idea that animals and young children cannot engage in tensed thought, which might seem a preposterous idea in the light of certain findings in comparative and developmental psychology. I try to make this idea less preposterous by looking into some of the cognitive requirements for tensed thought. In particular, I suggest that tensed thought requires a specific form of causal understanding, which animals and young children may not possess.


Mental time travel Tensed thought Causal understanding 



Many of the lines of thought developed in this paper emerged from discussions I have had over the years with Teresa McCormack. The paper itself started life as my contribution to a symposium on mental time travel that she organized at the 2006 meeting of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, where the other symposiasts were Cristina Atance and Thomas Zentall. Later versions of the paper were also presented at seminars at Macquarie University, Sydney, and at the Australian National University, Canberra. I am very grateful to the audiences at those different occasions, and to two anonymous referees for this journal, for a variety of helpful comments. Work on this paper took place within the context of the AHRC Project on Causal Understanding.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WarwickCoventryUK

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