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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Australasian Philosophical Review

For a Special Issue on

Jenann Ismael, ‘The Open Universe: Totality, Self-reference and Time'

Abstract deadline
23 June 2023

Manuscript deadline
15 September 2023

Cover image - Australasian Philosophical Review

Special Issue Editor(s)

Heather Dyke, University of Otago
[email protected]

Raamy Majeed, University of Manchester
[email protected]

Cei Maslen, Victoria University of Wellington
[email protected]

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Jenann Ismael, ‘The Open Universe: Totality, Self-reference and Time'

Much current work in the philosophy of time is focused on attempting to reconcile the scientific image of time with time as it is experienced by us. According to the scientific image, since at least Einstein, time is one dimension of a four-dimensional spacetime manifold, which lacks an objective present, and is static, not dynamic. Furthermore, the fundamental laws of our classical theories are symmetric in time. According to our ordinary experience of time, however, time divides objectively into past, present and future, and we experience a “relentless forward temporal progression, according to which potentialities seem to be transformed into actualities” (Roger Penrose, 1979, ‘Singularities and Time-Asymmetry.’ In Hawking and Israel (eds.) General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey. Cambridge University Press, p. 591). On the face of it these two accounts of time are in conflict. Assuming we accept the scientific image, an explanation for this “psychological arrow”, is needed. In this paper, Jenann Ismael proposes a new solution to this problem, arguing that the key insight that will resolve it is the recognition that we are part of the universe, so any attempt to model it as a totality will inevitably involve self-reference. This unavoidable self-reference, when considered against the background of a thermodynamic gradient, creates an epistemic instability for any embedded agent that gives rise to the sense that the future remains open for her, and the passage of time emerges as the transformation of open future into fixed past. However, Ismael cautions against understanding this solution in a too thinly epistemic way. There is a real sense in which having many future possibilities is more than simply an artifact of our embedded perspective, which arises from the fact that we are a part of the universe we are trying to describe. The additional, substantial ingredient concerns the fact that the part we play in the universe is that of agent, engaged in bringing about the future.

The invited commentaries address different elements of Ismael’s paper. Carlo Rovelli focuses on the notion of interference that arises from the recognition that the representations of embedded agents are themselves part of what is represented, and that knowledge is embodied in the physical world, with the thermodynamic gradient as a background. He sees this insight, as developed by Ismael, as having wider ramifications in the resolution of other philosophical problems. Miller and Braddon-Mitchell address the idea in Ismael’s paper that what prevents us from taking an “Olympian” conception of the world and our place in it is not merely epistemic. They tackle the questions of what it would mean to say that these constraints are not merely epistemic, and how far these constraints get us in explaining why we experience the world in the various asymmetric ways that we do. Christoph Hoerl distinguishes between what he labels empiricist and rationalist approaches to the idea of the flow of time. He criticises empiricist views that assume that conscious experience presents us with apparent empirical evidence of the flow of time, and develops an alternative, rationalist approach, according to which the belief that time passes is integral to what it is to have a conscious point of view on the world in the first place. He finds the elements of this view in Ismael’s paper. Huw Price takes aim at Ismael’s notion of ‘the practical arrow’ which, she argues, is responsible for our sense that the past is fixed and the future open. He draws a more full-bodied distinction than she does between agents and mere observers, and uses it to argue that Ismael’s explanation of the practical arrow is incomplete. The notion of the temporal orientation of agents, he argues, is the missing ingredient.

The lead article can be accessed here:


Submission Instructions

Proposal abstracts should be brief (200-500 words), stating clearly the aspects of the lead article that will be discussed, together with an indication of the line that will be taken. Selection of commentators depends upon weighing a range of factors, including balance of approaches and points of view, and other considerations about academic diversity.

Things to bear in mind:

1. Do NOT write a commentary instead of a proposal.

2. Be succinct: somewhere between 200 and 500 words. 

3. Clearly state which aspects of the target article you intend to discuss, and indicate the line that you intend to take. We will only publish commentaries that respond to the lead article.

4. We are happy to receive proposals for co-authored commentaries. However, we will NOT publish more than one commentary that has your name on it in any given issue.

5. There will be blind review of proposals. Make sure that you do not include identifying material in your proposal.

6. There are no barriers to repeat commentary: those who have recently published commentaries are welcome to submit proposals for commentaries in upcoming issues.

7. When submitting a proposal through ScholarOne, authors should use this link <https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/rapr>. Please select ‘Proposal’ as the article type. Then select ‘Yes’ that the proposal is a candidate for a special issue, then select the surname of the Curator from the special issue drop-down. 

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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