I’m going to be blogging through this new book “Out Of Time” about whether time exists from the point of view of philosophy and physics, and what that can teach us about the cosmological argument.
One current popular argument by theists is the cosmological argument, and its reasoning is fairly straightforward. To explain it to a child, you might give the prompt: I am your parent, and my parents had parents, and their parents had parents, … so where does this lead us? Obviously, we keep going back in the chain of causes and effects to a first cause that did not itself, so to speak, have parents. It simply was. Now, this might be called Being, or God, or the eternal stomach vomiting up the universe into existence, but something along those lines is “obviously” the case. Now this may be obvious, but is it true? Derrida pointed out the history of philosophy has been the overturning of foundations once thought to be self-evident.
One thing that was interesting in the history of philosophy and physics in the last century is that fundamental concepts such as Time and Substance With Properties started becoming more problematic when applied to the most fundamental levels of reality: the extremely small.
In traditional Philosophy, a fundamental distinction in Being is made between “what” something is, its essentia, and “how” or the manner in which something appears to us, its existentia. For example, a tv may be brown and hard in terms of “what” it is, and badly positioned or boring (in the sense of Langeweile: the stretching out of time) in terms of “how” or the manner in which it appears to us. Initially and to begin with, time doesn’t seem to have to do with the “what” of things, since as Heidegger says, a lecture, for instance, has the same “what” or content regardless of whether it was given three days ago in our memory of it, is being given right now in our making-present of it, or will be given later next week as we anticipate it. So, initially a being’s intra-temporality or being-in-time seems to do with “how” a being appears to us.
We certainly experience “something” with time, such as a subtle drawing/stretching out and flow, and in fact REALLY experience this in certain cases like a child’s fidgety Time-Out punishment facing the corner, or Cabin Fever in a rainy cottage. The German word for Boredom conveys this: Langeweile, the stretching out of time. Likewise, we can severely alter the nature of our experience of time, such as through psychedelic drugs. This leaves unclear what we are experiencing when we encounter Time. What do all these have in common? As a starting point, let’s consider a general overview of some of the modern insights into time from contemporary Physics and physicist Carlo Rovelli, and then see how this approach may help as a framework/context to illumine the historical approach to the phenomenology of time (how time appears or shows itself) in Philosophers like Aristotle.
Perhaps one of the key discoveries of modern physics is that there is no “One Time Thing” that uniformly flows. For instance, we can measure that time speeds up the higher you go on earth, and slows down the lower you are. It reflects gravity. This had to be taken into account when they were developing GPS satellite technology. Analogously, for instance, the flow of time passes at a significantly slower rate close to the gravity pull near a black hole, as opposed to far away from it. “Time” actually seems to relate gravity, not a being in itself or structure of reality. Physicist Carlo Rovelli, in “The Order Of Time (2018)” further points out that all of the important equations describing reality in Physics before the 1960’s described how things change in time (velocity/acceleration, etc), but more recently some equations of quantum gravity (such as the Wheeler–DeWitt equation) can be written without any reference to time at all.
Rovelli explains that when traditional physics begins by describing the motion of a swinging pendulum while comparing it to a clock, it is a misunderstanding to think the pendulum is really held up to “objective time,” but rather the movement of the pendulum is held up to the movement of the hands on a clock. Similarly, saying I woke up at 8:00 am really means I woke up when the sun was at such and such a position. We seem to hold onto the belief of time as an objective entity because we fail to clarify what we mean when we invoke time as an explanation. And, at the level of the very small (the quantum level), our everyday descriptive category of time doesn’t work well any more to describe reality, because while at the macro level everything seems to move according to one time (though, as I said, it really doesn’t), at the micro level everything doesn’t.
Rovelli says time isn’t an objective thing, or part of the structure of reality, but rather a useful model for organizing our daily experiences, analogous to the spatial categories of high and low. And, just as the categories of high and low become meaningless in outer space, so too is time meaningless at the micro level. Modern physics is beginning to really see the implications of Einstein’s insight that the past and future are illusions, which makes good sense in light of Husserl’s point that we never can leave the Living Present: The past is just a past present, and the future a future present, so they may only have “being” in memory and anticipation. Physicist Rovelli argues that the hypothesis that time is a mind-independent thing, or even part of the structure of reality, will one day be abandoned as so many other concepts and hypotheses have as our philosophical and scientific knowledge has grown and progressed.
Given this basic framework of the phenomenology Time as a way beings show themselves rather than Time as a being-in-itself, or a structure of reality as many, including Einstein, thought, we will now use this as a framework to phenomenalize Heidegger’s reading of the history of the phenomenology of time with Aristotle.
In his lecture course The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger outlines Aristotle’s philosophy of time that time is somehow with things, although not the same as them: time is everywhere (pantachou), not in one definite place, and it is not in the moving thing itself but beside it, in some way close by it. Aristotle said Motion and Time differ in how they belong to the moving thing, to that which is in Time, things we call intra-temporal. However, and importantly, Aristotle said Time is also in the soul. Time is inherently countable, and counting takes place in the soul. Heidegger explains the odd sounding point that for Aristotle without the counter to count time there is no time. This means, for instance, without the person to experience/count the stretching out of time in Langeweile/boredom, there is no boredom/stretching out of time, and in enjoyment/absorption when time vanishes a [lack of] perceiving is required. Analogously, from one point of view, I experience time as a “now” or “present” flowing forward (Monday, Then Tuesday, etc.), but paradoxically from another point of view I experience it flowing in the opposite direction, as backward flowing out of the future toward me and passing away behind me (eg Christmas is coming; has arrived; has gone).
As modern thinkers, part of the difficulty in understanding Aristotle’s explanation of time is that we have been thrown into a Philosophical framework that was foreign to Aristotle with an artificial “Self-Other” distinction. Specifically, there is Descartes’ fundamental distinction between Thinking Substance (res cogitans) and Extended Substance (res extensa), combined with Heidegger’s teacher Husserl and Husserl’s Cartesian fundamental distinction between Perceiving (intentio) and Perceived (intentum). It was precisely on this issues of Descartes/Husserl’s distinctions here that Heidegger objected that Descartes/Husserl don’t provide us with an adequate framework for understanding what Heidegger called the topic of Attunement, which is what time is, and so Heidegger, to use Derrida’s translation, deconstructed the Self/Other distinction for the sake of what Heidegger called a more fundamental being-in the-world framework/distinction, with which as we shall see, Heidegger meant to bring out the lost ancient Greek context that Aristotle operated in.
At the foundation of this Heideggerian/Greek approach is thinking more originally than the consciousness/lack of consciousness distinction (because, for instance, we can be asleep but still very aware and absorbed in a dream), with Heidegger’s distinction between Dasein (being-there = being caught-up-in-awareness) and Weg-Sein/ Nicht-Da-Sein (losing absorption and being away, eg., when one’s mind wanders). This Heideggerian distinction is time-infused, because the relative experience of time changes depending on how caught up or bored we are in a particular awareness. Heidegger tries to dissolve the rigid modern dichotomy of Self/Other with his concept of Attunement, the original Unity whereby the various poles of an awareness vibrate in tune with one another (so to speak).
The ancient Greek poet Homer illustrates and emphasizes this attunement context (which Aristotle assumed) when Homer says “the gods don’t appear to everyone enargeis,” in reference to Odysseus experiencing a woman as though she was an avatar for the presencing of Divine Beauty itself, even though the other person there beside Odysseus didn’t experience the woman in that way. Experiencing some one or thing “as sexy” is similar, and so a homosexual man isn’t aroused by a gorgeous female movie star, or someone finding a bridge or tower arousing if they have a particular kind of Objectophilia. I certainly experience/feel sexiness to be a quality of the movie star, even though it really isn’t, since there is no reason to suppose the next person will have a similar experience. Experiencing something “as beautiful” is similar, like one person experiencing a mansion as “Now that’s a House,” though the next person may not experience the presencing of the category “House” in the same way. They may experience the mansion “as” gawdy. Of course, this all is pure will to power as imposing form.
This helps us to understand Aristotle/Heidegger’s point that time is everywhere, but also in the soul, and without the counter there is no counted. We ”feel” real contact with time as Other, such as (i) in the felt stretching of time in boredom or (ii) the exciting anticipatory flow of time as Christmas approaches, or (iii) the monotonous flow as the work week inches/moves forward. The usual modern everyday interpretation of time by the common person mis-takes this “felt-contact with something” to be contact with a mind independent objective reality, and so our everyday modern understanding naturally thingifies/reifies time so we see time as a “thing,” like a chair or mountain, or a general and absolute basic feature of reality, because moderns following Descartes and Husserl simply assume as fundamental the twofold Self/Other distinction and so don’t have the framework/concepts/language to interpret the phenomenon of time in all its richness or even accurately.
So, what makes the false usual modern interpretation of time as an objective thing of nature possible to conceive? Time is experienced in many ways, and one common way is to interpret it spatially. So, we (1) experience the flow of time as a living present that marches on into the future (Monday, then Tuesday, then Wednesday, etc), which is a spatial schematization often mis-taken to be an Objective-Time-Thing of nature. But, time experienced as flowing in this way is not simply an objective feature of reality as most everyday moderns assume, but represents a way humans organize/schematize their experience, which is why (2) we can just as easily experience time from a contrary point of view flowing in the opposite direction from out of the future, to arriving in the present, to passing away into the past by (eg., Christmas is coming, has arrived, has gone). In these two contrary cases, which would be incompossible if time was a single entity that flowed uniformly, the two experienced flows of time are actually ways in which the mind organizes/schematizes spatially, but in different ways:
(1) For the first case above, we are implicitly assuming an organizing principle the likes of which I would find on a soccer field kicking a ball away from myself = consciously or unconsciously fixing the origination point of my kicking of the ball in memory, and mentally stretching from there with the ball as it rolls away from me, while
(2) in the second case above we are framing the flow like being a goaltender, with a ball being kicked at me from a distance by a friend, the ball arriving at me, and passing away through my legs and into the net.
Time schematized spatially basically means consciously or unconsciously fixing a point and stretching from that point, spatially schematized temporality being the speed of that stretch. Number 1 above is what is generally reified/thingified into being “real” or “objective” time by modern people, while in truth it is just a practical way to “calendar-ize” our life.
To recapitulate, it is extremely problematic to try to argue time is an objective mind-independent reality when it does not flow uniformly but reflects changes in gravity, can be experienced as flowing forward or backward depending on your point of view, and seems to formally include human experiences like boredom and time flying when you are having fun. Many are shocked when they go under general anesthetics and wake up an hour later in what feels like an instant. The vanishing of time in certain cases of dreamless sleep are common experiences, and the mind seamlessly creates the experience of time in dreaming.
But do we not also experience objective time in science, such as with rule governed cause and effect in going from cause to effect either from change from one place to another or from one state to another? This would lead into the question of Kant’s encounter with Hume that Kant said awoke him from his dogmatic slumbers and was the catalyst for his critical period.
NEXT TIME, CHAPTER 1 of “Out Of Time”