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Subproject a: Time—Perspectives on a Fundamental Dimension of Our World

Time is a fundamental dimension in our encounter with the world in which we live both as biophysical and as mental beings. And time appears in different guises: for instance, as physical time, as perceived time, as social-intersubjective time, and as historical time. Accordingly, time was and is a prominent theme of fundamental discussions in various philosophical subdisciplines, such as metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, history of philosophy, and ethics. Comparatively little attention, however, has been devoted to the communalities and interconnections between these discussions. The present project aims to partially fill this gap. The project intends to show how particular assumptions and presuppositions about time, stemming from one of these subdisciplines or from one specific philosophical tradition, do have consequences regarding assumptions about other subdisciplines. By doing this, the project develops its own multiperspectival view on time, without falling prey to a premature philosophical reductionism.

One of the concrete questions to be dealt with in the present project concerns the relation between time and suffering. Very often these two concepts were and are considered to be closely related: with regard to history one might think of Plato, Boehme, and Spinoza, for instance; with regard to contemporary philosophy one might think of such different traditions as phenomenology and analytic philosophy. Here an often heard claim is that the ability to suffer presupposes a particular kind of awareness of past and future events. And it is in this border region (where questions from metaphysics, questions from the philosophy of mind and normative questions meet) that the approaches and insights from the different traditions can be brought into fruitful contact and can lead to a mutual enrichment.

Besides, the present project will lead toward a distinction between alterable and unalterable (invariant) aspects of our temporal awareness. Such a distinction might then function as a starting point for a philosophical revisionism. A trivial example in case would be the talk about time as being a material substance or as being an economic resource. Just think of expressions such as "time pressure", "time costs", "time saving", and "lack of time". Such expressions are not only systematically misleading, they also easily induce suffering. Fortunately, however, talking about time in terms of particular metaphors is surely an alterable aspect of temporal awareness – and hence capable of (and worth) revision.

Interviews and publications:

  • N. Sieroka (2019): Verloren, vertrieben, gewonnen, genossen – wie die Zeit unser Leben taktet.
    (Interview für Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 21.09.2019)
  • N. Sieroka (2019): Zeitreisen. Kurz-Interview für Radio Zürisee, 28.08.2019.
  • N. Sieroka (2019): Ein feines Gehör für Zeitreisen oder wie die Zeiten wirklich ticken. Bericht und Interview in: ETH News, 22.08.2019.
  • N. Sieroka (2019): Zeitreisen werden ein Traum bleiben. Interview in: Tagblatt der Stadt Zürich, 21.08.2019, S. 9.
  • N. Sieroka (2019): Und immer wieder spukt die Zeit. Interview für ETH Globe, 2/2019, S. 25-27.
  • N. Sieroka (2019). Zeit in der Physik und der Philosophie. Podcast Gesprächszeit, Hochschule für Gestaltung, Schwäbisch Gmünd (Alissa Beer / Dominikus Frank).
  • N. Sieroka (2019): Tickt die Zeit noch richtig? Interview in: Top Leader (Journal für Führungskräfte, Österreich), Jahrbuch 2019, S. 274-278.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Das ewige Jetzt. Interview für Medicojournal (Kulturmagazin für Ärzte, Schweiz), November 2018.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Philosophie der Zeit. Grundlagen und Perspektiven (Reihe C.H. Beck Wissen). Beck-Verlag, München 2018.
    Reviews: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (18. Dezember 2018), Philosophie Magazin (Heft 6, 2018).
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Immer schneller? – Die Zeit. Interview-Sendung Das Philosophische Radio, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR5), 28.09.2018.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): "Man kann keine Zeit verlieren": Der Philosoph und Physiker Norman Sieroka über die Zeit und den Umgang mit ihr. Interview in: Doppelpunkt (Kulturmagazin, Schweiz), 43/2018, S. 18-21.
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Zeit-Gedanken. Interview für enorm (Businessmagazin), 3/2018, S. 58-65 (64).
  • N. Sieroka (2018): Der Zeit auf der Spur. Interview in: Ladies Drive (Businessmagazin), Nr.42, 2018, S. 18-20.
  • N. Sieroka (2017/2018): Ganz Ohr – Echtes Zuhören kann die Welt verändern. Interview für ein Radioessay zum Thema Hören und Zeit von Doris Weber, Bayerischer Rundfunk/Saarländischer Rundfunk, 26.12.2017 bzw. 27.01.2018.
  • N. Sieroka (2017): Time and Suffering: False Metaphors, (De)synchronous Times, and Internal Dynamics. In: Space, Time, and the Limits of Human Understanding, ed. by S. Wuppuluri and G. Ghirardi. Springer, Dordrecht, pp. 371-380.
  • N. Sieroka (2016): "… heisst sterben lernen". In: Schönheit, Blog-Serie des Tagesanzeiger, 29.07.2016. Article online
  • N. Sieroka (2016): Phänomenale Zeit, Leid und Leidvermeidung – Eine Bestandsaufnahme. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 70 (1), pp. 47-73.
  • N. Sieroka (2016): Die Endlichkeit des eigenen Lebens. In: Mensch, Blog des Swiss Portal for Philosophy, 25.01.2016.
  • N. Sieroka (2015): Was Zeit (nicht) ist und wie wir sie erleben. In: Philosophie im Alltag, Blog des Swiss Portal for Philosophy, 21.06.2015.
  • N. Sieroka (2014): Haben wir wirklich Zeitnot? Und warum mögen wir keine defekten Uhren? bso Journal 4/2014, pp. 6-10.
  • N. Sieroka (2014): Was ist Zeit? Interview/Gesprächsrunde in der Fernsehsendung "scobel", 3sat, 25.09.2014. (YouTube)
  • N. Sieroka (2014): Hört, Hört! (Interview). Tresor 01/2014, pp. 5-7.
  • N. Sieroka (2013): Zeitgefühl – Zeit wahrnehmen. Interview für die Radiosendung "Input", Schweizer Radio SRF 3, 08.12.2013.

Subproject b: Quantum Clocks—An Operationalist Approach towards Time in Quantum Mechanics (in preparation)

Time plays a crucial role in our understanding of the world around us and we constantly experience things as evolving, continuing, and perishing. Within quantum mechanics, however, time is not usually treated as an observable quantity; it enters merely as a parameter in the laws of motion of physical systems. This is a very dissatisfying tension which, according to our understanding, asks for an operationalist approach to time. By this we mean an approach which focuses on the conditions of concrete interactions between observers and quantum systems; and which distinguishes itself from, e.g., approaches which start from inner-theoretical considerations about the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics.

More specifically, in this project we consider the conditions under which quantum systems can generate an observable time scale. That is, we investigate the most general requirements or criteria for something to count as a quantum clock. We then study the quality of such clocks in terms of their ability to establish an earlier-later relation and to stay synchronised. Thus, this project is also highly relevant for current and much broader debates about the emergence of a statistical arrow of time and about retrocausality as a means for overcoming the so-called measurement problem.

This project is conducted in collaboration with the Quantum Information Theory group at ETH Zurich (Prof. Dr. Renato Renner).

Subproject c: (Un-)conscious Perception and Time—Leibniz, Husserl and Neurophysiology (closed)

This project is about the relations between perception, consciousness, and time. It refers to Leibniz not for philological reasons but to work towards a philosophical orientation (in Wittgenstein's terms a "übersichtliche Darstellung") in a conceptual maze in which Leibniz already tried to find his way and found some very useful paths. Therefore his work shaped much of the later discussions, and seems still to be defensible as a very useful compass in many respects. This methodical approach is similar to the one Sellars, Mackie and Strawson had each chosen when they referred to Kant and Locke.

The first aim is to argue against a concept of perception that (i) is restricted to conscious states and/or (ii) views consciousness as a result of "outer" or "sense" perception. This will be done on the basis of Leibniz’s notion of unnoticeable perceptions and by looking at recent neurological research. Leibniz in his idea of a parallelism (a "pre-established harmony") between mental and bodily states thought very thoroughly about what a physical correlate of a mental (perceptual) state could mean; and his anti-reductionistic reflection will be taken up again against the background of recent empirical findings in psychophysics and neurophysiology. This leads to an interpretational framework in which certain brain responses are understood as physical correlates of unnoticeable perceptions. So, for instance, the interpretation of the experiments by Libet et al. turns out to be about (the mental accessibility of) perception and not—or at least not directly—about free will.

The next step is to argue that consciousness can be understood as being a result of (unnoticeable) perceptions. Here Leibniz's concepts of representational content and appetitive structure of perception can be understood as constituting an elementary form of intentionality. So, apart from obvious relations to contemporary analytic philosophy of mind, recourses to phenomenology are also possible, and indeed helpful to further explicate a Leibnizian position. In particular, considered in the light of Husserl’s analysis of time consciousness, it is argued that temporal awareness (as an appetitive structure) is constitutive of perception and therefore also of consciousness. What follows is a so called tensed view of time with respect to perception.

In the final part of the project this has to be related back to brain responses, i.e. the physical correlates of Leibnizian perceptions. It will be argued that their temporal order is tenseless; i.e., that physical events—other than contents and appetitions of perceptions—are not fundamentally past, present or future. There are then two types of temporal order (namely tensed and tenseless) which underlie the difference between the realms of perception and of physics. So instead of referring to God as a "pre-establisher" of the parallelism between perceptual (including mental) states and bodily states, this parallelism can be interpreted as a consequence of a homeomorphism between tensed and tenseless temporal relations.


  • N. Sieroka (2016): Retrospective Analogies: Means for Understanding Leibniz's Metaphysics. In: "Für unser Glück oder das Glück der Anderen" (Vorträge des X. Internationalen Leibniz-Kongresses), ed. by W. Li. Olms, Hildesheim, Band IV, pp. 285-299.
  • N. Sieroka (2015): Leibniz, Husserl, and the Brain. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
    Reviews: Journal of Consciousness Studies (24(3-4), 2017), Neuroforum (23(2), 2017), Phenomenological Reviews (2015)
  • M. Andermann, R. Patterson, M. Geldhauser, N. Sieroka, A. Rupp (2014): Duifhuis Pitch: Neuromagnetic Representation and Auditory Modeling. Journal of Neurophysiology 120 (10), pp. 2616-2627.
  • N. Sieroka (2011): Neurophenomenology of Hearing: Relations to Intentionality and Time Consciousness. XXII. Deutscher Kongress für Philosophie (available online:
  • N. Sieroka (2011): Leibniz' Theorie der Wahrnehmung und ihre aktuelle Relevanz für die Philosophie des Geistes. In: Natur und Subjekt (IX. Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress), ed. by H. Breger, J. Herbst und S. Erdner. Hannover, pp. 1090-1099.
  • N. Sieroka (2009): Ist ein Zeithof schon genug? – Neurophänomenologische Überlegungen zum Zeitbewusstsein und zur Rolle des Auditiven. Philosophia Naturalis 46 (2), pp. 213-249.
  • A. Rupp, N. Sieroka, A. Gutschalk, T. Dau (2008): Representation of Auditory Filter Phase Characteristics in the Cortex of Human Listeners. Journal of Neurophysiology 99 (3), pp. 1152-1162.
  • N. Sieroka, H.G. Dosch (2008): Leibniz's "Perceptions Insensibles" and Modern Neurophysiology. Studia Leibnitiana 40 (1), pp. 14-28.
  • N. Sieroka, H.G. Dosch, A. Rupp (2006): Semirealistic Models of the Cochlea. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA) 120 (1), pp. 297-304.
  • N. Sieroka (2005): Quasi-Hearing in Husserl, Levinson, and Gordon. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 36 (1), pp. 4-22.
  • N. Sieroka (2004): Neurophysiological Aspects of Time Perception. Dissertation, Universität Heidelberg.