Technology and Justice: The Philosophy of Authenticity and Democratic Theory
Part II: Modern Consciousness
2: From Time to Ecstatic Time 15
2.1 Historical Overview
The question of time is frequently relegated by many philosophers, especially those dealing with politics and ethics.16 This is not to say that they do not address it in their own fashion. The mannerisms of time have been characterized in many ways; as history, as progressive, as deterministic, as emancipatory, categorical, and dialectical. Yet the question of time's nature, its essence outside of our historical understandings, has been passed off as a question for speculation and perhaps theoretical physics. Theoretical physics in the past century has developed a conception of time synthesized dimensionally with space as space-time, a conception which is radically different from the Newtonian model which had such an impact on thinkers from Hume to Kant.
And yet, the impacts of this re-conceptualization have yet to be fully felt in philosophy, in no small part because the methodology and mathematical explications of physics have developed to such a point that the complexities of its language and models demand both extensive training and great creativity. None the less it is undeniably strange that this re-conceptualization has had such little impact, for the Newtonian concept of time, derived in no small part from Aristotle's, has had an immense impact on philosophy in all of its disciplines. The renunciation of this model in science has not resulted in the subsequent collapse of those philosophical models which knowingly or unknowingly are constructed on or around this foundation.
This can largely by attributed to the sensibleness of the Newtonian idea; that the universe operates in the same temporal sphere. Time is considered an independent universal category like space, and thus is fixed and can be measured regardless of one's position in the cosmos. Our reality is encompassed in time, floating through it like a pebble down the stream, or a train along a track. Indeed, these metaphors have become so pervasive that who would bother to deny the validity of those philosophical models which are constructed around it? To do so would seem both impractical, especially for an ethicist whom must deal so intimately with the immediate psychology of man, and unreasonably arduous.
And yet, in denying the importance of the question of time, we deny the importance of a force whose effect on mankind is incalculable in ways both open and closed to our understanding. Indeed, so important is this question that Heidegger famously dismisses the relevance of space as a cognitive category, instead maintaining that it is Dasein`s relationship with time that must be explored to understand man's relationship with others, and more generally, with Being. The way in which we project ourselves is not understood unless we understand the cognitive temporal field in which that projection takes place. More importantly for our purposes, the relationship of man to Being, and thus to knowledge/power and language cannot be understood unless we understand the temporal nature in which we regard ourselves as existing and projecting ourselves.
Einstein himself says our classic conception of time,
"That we have not been accustomed to regard the world in this sense as a four-dimensional continuum is due to the fact that in physics, before the advent of the theory of relativity, time played a different and more independent role…The four-dimensional mode of consideration of the "world" is natural on the theory of relativity, since according to this theory time is robbed of its independence."17
Indeed, modern physics argues that so important is the understanding of time that it shapes our conception and knowledge of the world not only from a social standpoint, but a physical one as well. Scientists now believe that matter as we know it is energy, and energy matter. Which one it is depends entirely on the manner in which we choose to temporalize it. Materialism, it would appear, and the logical-analytic approach to understanding language and knowledge associated with it, has been disproved by its own mathematical methodology of quantification. This is not however to suggest a return to Husserlian influenced philosophy of consciousness where mere cognition attains lexical primacy, but rather emphasizes the need to analyze the bicameral relationship of thought to thought's object in a Kantian fashion.
We would be wise to look carefully at how the systems of modern physics can act as a clue to resolving the issue of knowledge/power reinforcement through language, and ultimately serve to emancipate human beings from its discipline. Indeed, the traditional conception of time, far from simply concealing these problems, reinforces and perpetuates them in the broadest sense possible. So pervasive and powerful is the common sense conception of time that it makes difficult even the possibility of overcoming the structures of knowledge/power that are premised on these same conceptions.
If this sounds farfetched, that is because we are so entirely convinced of the rightness and sense of these concepts that we rarely even ponder the mysterious sway they have over our thoughts. But one need only look at the many ways a concept of time guides our most intimate wisdom. Whenever one says "they have only one life to live," that this is "their time" or that something has "passed," the Newtonian conception shows its sway.
Contrasted to this is the cyclical concept of time and life prevalent in the Buddhist and Hindu cultures—a concept which encourages self reflection and examination of an entirely different sort than that conducted by many of the intellectuals in the West, whose metaphysics concerns distinction and analytic distillation of moments and lives. This is not to say that the cyclical concept of time is philosophically or scientifically more correct than the linear one; however, its value lies in the fact that it dynamically stresses that the past, present and future are never distinct from one another, a wisdom which is largely missing in traditional Western metaphysics.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves; in illustrating culturally the power the idea of time holds over us we have moved to a normative assessment of these concepts prematurely. Before assessing the power of these concepts we must ask: what is their genealogy?
Aristotle, in his seminal Physics describes time as such.
"Hence time is not a movement, but only movement in so far as it admits of enumeration. A proof of this: we discriminate the more of the less by number, but more or less movement by time. Time then is a kind of number. (Number we must note, is used in two senses—both of what is counted or the countable, and also of that which we count. Time obviously is what is counted, not that with which we count: these are different kinds of thing."18
St Augustine does not deviate significantly from this model, though he understands far better than Aristotle the significance the idea of temporality plays in our lives. He famously wrestled intensely with the limitations of this idea of time at the end of the Confessions, a struggle we have yet to emulate significantly in contemporary society.
"What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not: yet I say boldly, that I know, that if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming, a time to come were not, and if nothing were, time present were not. Those two times then, past and to come, how are they, seeing past now is not, and that to come is not? But the present, should it always be present, and never pass into time past, verily it should not be time, but eternity."19
None the less, he endorsed the linear model, in no small part because it accommodated so well the theology that God ordained a beginning and an end to time, during which the free activity of humankind would play its part in the ordained divine plan. At the culmination of his plan, this temporal reality would vanish with the return of Christ, and the eternal City of God would replace the decadent City of Man. This sense of passing away, of temporal progression, has framed Western ontology for millennia.
Newton, who was a deeply pious Christian, transformed our concepts of motion and quantity, but did not move significantly from the Aristotelian-Christian model of time, except to universalize it as encompassing the whole of an increasingly complex universe; much like a shell encompasses an egg.
This model of time was unchallenged until Einstein, who revolutionarily argued that, far from being universal, time as traditionally conceived was relative. The Special Theory of Relativity showed the immensely artificial nature of our ideas of temporality through a sequence of brilliant mathematical formulations and thought experiments. He illustrated that space and time were fundamentally connected, so much so that they only appeared distinct from the relative point of view of a given place in totality of reality. The General Theory of Relativity expanded this idea significantly by maintaining that all matter-energy was simply a manifestation of space-time itself, the points we see ourselves occupying shaping our perception of our spatio-temporal identity within the totality. None the less, the truth of time, and the ability to visualize this totality, will likely remain a distant ambition for pure physics.
As a consequence of his conclusions, Einstein was deeply deterministic. However, his determinism was distinct from Newtonian determinism, which was based solely on the idea of linear causal relations, the law of reactivity. Einsteinian determinism maintained that this idea of linear causal relationships is overly narrow. Time does not flow, and neither therefore do events take place in a linear sequence. Space-time is organic and internally dynamic—indeed Heidegger best characterizes the new idea of time as a giving in his famous essay on Time and Being as ecstatic.
"Approaching, being not yet present, at the same time gives and brings about what is no longer present, the past, and conversely what has been offers future to itself. The reciprocal relation of both at the same time gives and brings about the present. We say 'at the same time' and thus ascribe a time character to the mutual giving to one another of future, past and present, that is, to their own unity."20
Despite this, in no small part because of our inability to perceive ecstatic time, but only understand it mathematically, the traditional conception articulated by Aristotle and his disciples remains prevalent. What are the consequences of this to our understanding?
History has been characterized by thinkers from Aristotle onwards as a sequential force. While more creative thinkers, from Hegel to Nietzsche, have understood that the past does not necessarily disappear just as the future does not simply arrive, it is still largely understood sequentially. Indeed, the dialectical process of Hegel can be characterized as not just horizontally immanent, but vertically as well. Spirit, as conceptualized by the thinker, at every level of its manifestations, is evolving through the resolution of its contradictions to a purity, at which point time itself will end having reached the point at which it can progress no further.
"The absolute Idea, as the rational Notion that in its reality meets only with itself, is by virtue of this immediacy of its objective identity, on the one hand the return to life; but it has no less sublated this form of its immediacy, and contains within itself the highest degree of opposition. The notion is not merely soul, but free subjective Notion that is for itself and therefore possesses personality-the practical, objective Notion determined in and for itself which, as person, is impenetrable atomic subjectivity—but which, none the less is not exclusive individuality, but explicitly universality and cognition, and its other has its own objectivity for its object. All else is error, confusion, opinion, caprice and transitoriness; the absolute Idea alone is being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and is all truth21."
However, both Hegel and Nietzsche were well aware of the vacuity of this linear concept, though Hegel built his entire system around it, and Nietzsche employed it with his genealogical method.
Hegel, like his predecessor Kant, understood that this process of temporality, which spirit observes and participates in, was categorical rather than empirical. Like Plato, his ontology was premised on a scale of reality, with those lower spheres where linear time is violent in its manifestations possessing less reality because they were less complete than those at a higher level. While Hegel understood their importance, he felt that philosophers must understand the transition away from the dialectical method itself, with the ultimate aim being the attainment of absolute knowledge outside of time which could only reflect on itself. Once this aim was achieved, it was possible to see the process which came before, for all its complexity, as merely the unfolding of necessary transitory unreality.
However, Hegel felt that this understanding of temporality's falseness could only be achieved by progressing through temporality dialectically—a paradox which is the fundamental characteristic of human, and indeed all, of existence. In this sense his thinking remains close to Augustine and the Christians, whom similarly felt that linear time existed simply for man to develop the spiritual capacities necessary for viewing eternity as God does. Hegel's arrival at absolute knowledge is, like the Second Coming of Jesus in Christianity, a return into that from which the past sprung, a return which signals the end of time. Time has fulfilled its eschatological function by allowing man to grasp the essence of God through first conceiving of it in fractured moments.
Nietzsche's conception of time is even more complex, in no small part due to his superior psychological analysis. Indeed, Nietzsche views temporality from several different viewpoints, well aware that, whatever their relative correctness, the impact different views of temporality can have on our "value positing" and "will to power" are hugely significant. Time, for Nietzsche, may be deconstructed linearly, when philosophizing with a hammer through the genealogical method. But this only serves to reinforce the vacuity of the linear model of time. Nietzsche was well aware that time, and the events which correspond with its conceived moments, never truly passes away. The idea of the "eternal recurrence of the same," perhaps his most profound interpretation of the subject of temporality, Nietzsche called in Thus Spoke Zarathustra the "heaviest thought." In fact, so important is Nietzsche's conception of time to his entire philosophy that Heidegger characterized the former's idea of the "eternal recurrence of the same" as the fundamental thought of his entire thinking.
"The eternal recurrence of the same is the supreme triumph of the metaphysics of the will that eternally wills its own willing. Delivering from revenge is the transition from the will's revulsion against time and its "It was," to the will that eternally wills the recurrence of the same and in this willing will itself as its own ground. Deliverance from revenge is the transition to the primal being of all beings."22
The person who reconceptualized time, whom freed themselves from "revenge," from the idea of a mere past to which we are bound, would become the Superman, the long awaited individual whom willed only their own will. Nietzsche's entire philosophy was centered on the idea of individualization through understanding, by a genealogical deconstructive process, the past's presence within us, and thence recognizing its falseness and discarding it. Understanding time as not passing away, but persisting in our values, was a necessary prerequisite to their reconstitution by a truly individual being.
Nietzsche was concerned about the psychological toll this would take on his Superman, whom after all, was still human. He was well aware that the burden that came with willing one's own will would be immense, and was one which humanity was not necessarily prepared to bear, then or now. Nietzsche characterizes Zarathustra as the last man not simply because he is the man who will transcend the idea of revenge, but because humanity will now be faced with an unending task of repositing value upon the world as an individual.
This task would never end, but would face each human being, for eternity. It is this weight, and the diminution of progressive ideas of collective history, that Nietzsche called the "heaviest burden" which arose when one thought of the eternal recurrence of the same. In Part Four of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, entitled the Drunken Song, the titular prophet reflects on the necessity of the eternal recurrence to overcome the sadness of progressive life.
"Woe says 'Be gone! Away all woe!' But all that suffers wants to live, that it may become ripe and joyful and full of yearning.—yearning for what is farther, higher, brighter. 'I want heirs' says all that suffers. 'I want children, I do not want me'—But joy does not want heirs, nor children—joy wants itself, wants eternity, wants recurrence, wants all eternity self same. Woe says 'Break, bleed, heart! Wander leg! Wing fly! Onward! Upward pain!' Well then! Come now! Oh my old heart: Woe says be gone!"23
The idea that each human being must will his own will each day, and that this process would continue on forever after the passing of the last man, was for Nietzsche the ultimate affirmation of a life lived for itself rather than for power. While like Hegel he understood the power and influence of historical spirit, especially as it manifested itself culturally as slave moralities, Nietzsche radically breaks with Hegel by arguing that, far from a necessary process, the highest goal of man must be to break from dialectics of history.
Like the arch-individualist Kierkegaard, whose work will be examined later in this paper, Nietzsche detested the Hegelian notion of freedom as being unrestrained in enacting ones role in the pattern of history. Instead mankind must embrace the artificiality of its notions as a form of will to power. The will to power at its highest was the will to will oneself, as opposed to having power, in all of its complexity, shape one's conceptions.
It was also the greatest burden, for it meant to Nietzsche that man must now live for himself, the responsible master of his entire existence, an existence which was shaped by a coming to be of everything, a universal will to power on the part of all creation. Nietzsche was well aware of the consequences his philosophy might have, which is why he spent the last years of his life planning a triumphant magnum opus, the Will To Power, which would provide mankind with a new morality to replace the one which was being undermined. However, this was never completed, and the notes his sister later published under the same title bear only passing resemblance to the systematized destruction of all systems envisioned by the philosopher.
However, despite his attempts to wrestle with the subject of time, and the radically different emphasis he places on it compared to the Ancients and even Hegel, Nietzsche's conception of temporality remains somewhat conservative. While disparaging of the idea of purely linear historical time in favour of the eternal recurrence of the same, his genealogical approach and even many of the positive elements of his philosophy retain many of the conditions of this paradigm. Specifically, he looks primarily to the past as that which shapes our current perceptions, and in doing so, sees time only from a certain angle, much as one only sees the rays of white light which enter a prism and then only the colours after. However, if a true process of authenticity is to be achieved, time must be understood ecstatically and the traditional understanding of teleology reformatted. Even from a cognitive point of view, we cannot deny the very present role the future plays in our development as human beings.Continued on Next Page »