Ted Hunt & the Philosophy of Time

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Our first Nutshell features Ted Hunt, an independent speculative/discursive/critical designer living and working in London and currently a resident of Somerset House Studios. A successfully graphic designer, Ted has recently turned his attention to an exploration of time, how we conceive of it, and how we mark it, visually.

Ted Hunt | King’s Cultural Institute | CPA

The Philosophy of Time

We tend to view our lives as a single stream narrative with milestones marking out the significant events or change points. This practice begins in early childhood, waking to alarm clocks, bell chimes for mealtimes, dashing to and fro between timetabled lessons and examination schedules. Named events dominate the way we syncopate our activities and they shape the way we conduct ourselves privately.  But, why should our sense of time be dominated by the march of the hours, minutes and seconds?  Can we experience it differently?

This initial questioning can be developed along various routes. Why is our experience of past events different to our imaginings of future ones? Is the past any more ‘real’ than the future? Does time depend on space or movement? Would time continue if the universe ‘froze’? Are we ‘in time’ when immersed in a novel, lost in thought or contentedly engaged in the present?

Sometimes, articulating these questions can be as tricky as attempting to answer them. So coming to understand the various perspectives on time is a project that needs a guide. Ted Hunt, a Graphic Artist and creative problem articulator, is one such guide. Unlike the orthodox philosopher, his medium is visual rather than textural.

Ted joins a rich heritage of thinkers who have grappled with the difficulties of conceptualizing time. His latest project, About Time, investigates the following: how does the way we view time govern or influence how we occupy time? In answering this, Ted questions our assumptions that time is objective, measurable or even linear. What would happen if our concept of time shifted? Would we be happier, more productive? Could we encourage a more cross generational view of time? Should we pay closer attention to our bodily (circadian) time? Is time external to us?

As part of the project, he has developed a series of alternative clock faces, which work on circadian, emotional and even sensuous experiences of time. Ted’s aim is to move the humble watch beyond being a device that tells us what time it is, to one that helps us think about what time is.

Transcript excerpts from Interview

  • VB: Vanessa Brassey (Philosophy, King’s College, London)
  • TD: Ted Hunt (Creative Articulator, Time Lord).

VB: Hi Ted, thanks for coming along today. We arranged to meet at 2pm and we both arrived here ‘on time’. Is that because time is something that exists, like chairs or tables, and we just plot events against it?

TH: Hello, pleasure to be here. That’s really the issue I’m teasing out. We’ve come to think, following Isaac Newton, that time is something absolute in reality, regardless of human perception. So yes, as if it’s a linear, progressive part of the fabric of reality.

VB: And you are questioning this view of time?

TH: I think there is a profound difference between our lived experience of time and what we might call the scientific or theoretical idea of it. It seems like fertile territory for creative exploration.


© Ted Hunt

VB: So how did you begin the project?

TH: I was taking a Masters at the RCA with Anthony Dunne called Speculate Everything. The purpose of the course was to leverage our skills as designers or problems solvers, to pose problematic questions and get people thinking. We were working on ways to create ideas, set problems out, not solve or design things. A chance conversation with Anthony Dunne one lunchtime in the canteen, during my first year really stuck with me. We had a conversation about perspectives – you know the kind of perspective drawings used by architects. Anthony was talking about multiple perspective drawings, those that do not lead to a single vanishing point. It struck me that just as we illustrate space from many perspectives, so we can conceptualize time from multiple perspectives. It was really a very informal chat. No academic grounding. Just big ideas. That’s probably why I liked it. You see artists like Hockney are well into this now – it’s like a spiritual investigation of space – the polaroid was just the starting point. Anyway, a year or so later I was reading a novel about different notions of time that reminded me of the chat with Anthony and put ideas in my head, unresolved and interesting ideas.

VB: At this point what was your primary interest?

TH: The multiple perspectives we take on it [time] and how you might communicate that with a wider audience. So, really, can we investigate time philosophically without relying on the tyrannical text and academic methods of quotation and citation. Can we just be shown the big ideas, the possibilities and then think our way into it? I thought by turning the ideas into a visual narrative, into graphics, we might find something new or new things might emerge from the process. I got started with these simple and I thought intuitive illustrations. But I came across some limitations – mainly to do with how immediately the central idea was getting recognized. It forced me to put the project on hold for a couple of years. But I later revisited it. The bigger insight at that stage that allowed me to continue was moving from diagrammatic illustration to the clock face – the round format being the classical way we ‘check’ time. I think it’s impacted on the way we experience time. So I decided to use that as a springboard format. It seemed like it would be more universally relatable. The illustrations had been too heavily loaded with psychology and philosophy. The clock face was self-explanatory.


© Ted Hunt

VB: So, how did you end up working with Prof. Matthew Soteriou?

 TH : I had a very productive season when I was moored up near Harlow [Ted lives on a canal boat]. But I felt the project would benefit from academic input. I googled academics at King’s College, London and found Matt. [Prof. Soteriou is a world expert in the philosophy of perception and temporal phenomenology, among other debates in the philosophy of mind]. We met up over coffee and shared ideas and at that point, I started to appreciate a new angle for the project. A theoretical basis for the visualizations I was constructing.

VB: How did working with Matt influence your process?

TH: One of the things I noticed early on was that Matt was able to convey complex ideas without being partisan to any particular view. So it was an incredible opportunity to explore and think about the issue without feeling there was any particular favoured solution. Since this project is about posing the question, or articulating the problem so that others can think about time more freely, this kind of carefully told backstory has been invaluable. It’s been like having a series of 1-1 seminars. We found a point at which both our interests profoundly intersected. This was the issue of perspective and value – what do we lose access to by objectifying time. We agreed that the different mediums could usefully shed light on each other’s research. How do we investigate the mystery of time, where can we stand to get a view of it? We’ve run workshops with philosophers and artists and the results have been illuminating.


© Ted Hunt

VB: In what way?

TH: Well most recently a philosopher at King’s, Alice, came to a visualization workshop. Afterwards, she sent me a well-considered email pointing out how time has been co-opted in colonization. That was a refreshing take – the idea that labour organization was subjugated using a completely alien (to that society) sense of time.


© Ted Hunt

VB: What’s next for the project?

 TH: Haha, good question, and ironically, the project will conclude after 6 months since there are some hardwired time constraints. The goal, however, is to arrive at a ‘call to thought’ [a play on the marketing slogan ‘call to action’]. We’ll present the final visualization and the public should be able to understand the questions they pose. And hopefully, respond to those by reflecting on their own sense of time. That would be the realization of one of the main tenants of the Dunne project – to create questions, not things. I suppose, if one guy with a laptop can question time, taking on the mighty Isaac Newton, that’d be a pretty amazing result.

Further Reading

Amis, Martin. Times Arrow. A reverse chronology narrative and a classic novel.

Callender, Craig, and Ralph Edney. Introducing Time, Totem Books, USA, 2001. A cartoon-style book covering a broad range of topics within the philosophy of time in a more elementary way. Each page is two-thirds graphics and one-third text.

Damasio, Antonio R. “Remembering When,” Scientific American: Special Edition: A Matter of Time, vol. 287, no. 3, 2002; reprinted in Katzenstein, 2006, pp.34-44. Damasio, an engaging writer and neuroscientist, provides an interesting insight into the way our brain organises our experiences into the (familiar) temporal order and the radical implications this has for the philosophical issue of free will.

Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Tenth Anniversary Edition, Bantam Books, 1996. Hawking presents some introductory chapters on space and time, black holes, the origin and fate of the universe, the arrow of time, and time travel.