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- Perceptive time, 1996
Sofia University, Bulgaria
In this article I suggest a new phenomenological notion of time. Time is contraflow “between” life and world, expansion and entropy, order and chaos. It has an theleological form. This form is “transcendental phenomenological” structure. A new idea is, that life is not only a quality of the transcendental (Husserl), but also its form.
1. The living corporaly stated mind “flows” from past through present to future. We were born in the past, we are living now and we will die sometime in the future. We expect the future and remember the past. This asymmetry we call “unidirectedness and irreversibility of the time”. The calendar reflects namely this unidirectedness and irreversibility – the dates are ordered one after another, they change consecutively – the higher numbers follow the little ones. The phenomenological time starts to “flow” from the date of birth. From that time on the new-born baby begins its life as a “restraint” against the chaos, which is running backward, and, in the same time, gives in to it. Eventually, time collapses along with the death.
2. The external world flows from future through present to past. The things and events come across from the future (we expect them in the future), go through us (we experience the present) and fade behind us (we remember and forget the past). Thus one and the same consequence is represented in two different ways.
How to explain this ambiguity?
Neither Immanuel Kant, nor Edmund Husserl bring up the problem concerning the temporal “upstreaming” of the corporaly stated Mind and the world. But these clarifications have already got over the concept about the world as a pure empty form in which the stream of the internal life can be felt (Kant). As it turns out, Kant is a captive of the peculiar to the Modern time philosophy prejudice that the “experience” and the “reason” are two different “instances”. If the space and the time were notions, coming not “from” the experience, they should be defined as a priori forms. But in such a way a third possibility is being missed – to accept that space and time are forms of experience which do not come from it and its conditions, but are the experience’s telos.
Husserl concentrates his efforts upon the precise description of the structure of the act of becoming aware of time (Zur Pänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins”). He
* draws a line between sensitive time and perceptive time as “subjective” and “objective” time – subjects of research respectively of psychology and phenomenology;
* brings the problem concerning the “origin of time” to the initial evidences-formations of the awareness of time. The problem is distinguished from the empirical issue about the origin of the sensations of time. This artificial demarcation bars the way to the understanding the form of time and the form of consciousness in general – as a live human form;
* sets as a premise the direction and the structure of time: past – present – future as laws that stand to reason. It goes without saying that: the steady time order is an endless one, an order of two dimensions; two different times can never be simultaneous; the relationship between them is an asymmetrical one (ungleichseitiges); there is a transitivity; to every single time belongs something earlier or something later.
3. Explanation. The mind moves against the world or the world moves “against” the mind through the fact that the mind is “incorporeal” while the world, brought together with the “belonging” to the body, is “corporal”.
Mind, together with the live body, goes from “the past” through “the present” to “the future” only if something else – a lifeless world – moves from future through present to past as seen from the point of view of the mind.
4. Continuation of the phenomenological explanation. Therefore time does not flow. If the time “flows”, it must be thought as an object replaced through time. Then we must explain the time through meta-time which is nonsense. The world flows. This stream is irreversible like the orientation of the field of vision. The field of vision is orientated by the locality of the mind whose body is directed to the periphery, forward, to the horizon: from here to there. The field of time has an asymmetric form: past-present-future. This form is obtained by the chronodefiniteness present which is directed from past to future and is, simultaneously, constant. The future is a positive quantity and is “fitted” in at the front; the past is a negative quantity and is “fitted” in at the back. This forward orientation is an organic fact: we expand “forward”, over against the world which, in this way, flows out backward. The expansion of life against the chaos (phys. entropy) is the “reason” for the space and time irreversibility. Life flows against the chaos. This is a reproduction and expansion against the unconditional entropy. This upstreaming calls into being our sensation and perception of time. We can give ourselves an account of the fact that if there were no entropy and no life expansion, as opposite to the entropy process, time wouldn’t “flow”.
Thus we have a phenomenological explanation of the time asymmetry as we have a phenomenological explanation of the space asymmetry. We can avoid drawing a parallel between the phenomenological explanation and the biological one. But the biological explanation of life as a process, contrary to the entropy, is founded on fundamental laws of the contemporary science and describes the most significant characteristic of life from the point of view of the physical term for irreversibility – The Second Law of Thermodynamics. It is not redundant to a phenomenology, which does not accept the transcendental position as an exceptional one and not connected with the “transcendent knowledge” (Husserl), to compare it mind to the science.
5. Our mind – the witness, the pure self, the consciousness, seems to be most steady in the process of growth, growing age and dying. Thus, for example the consciousness is not hurt when the body feels pain. And the pain is an immediate sense of the line that separates us from the world; it is a sense of the “friction”.
In my study I use “mind” in the same way I use “sensation” and “perception”. There is no other precise word since “thought” and “reason” have already got the meanings of degrees of the sensible. There are no degrees as far as the mind is represented as an unified instance.
6. Every “forward” in time – for the lifeless world which surrounds the live form it is past and for the live corporal mind it is future – is a definiteness; in contrary, every “backward” is an indefiniteness (possibility). Maybe right this fact tells why the entropy grows infinitely and why it decreases in the live body. While we are swimming against the stream of the “river”, we encounter more and more indefiniteness, but we create more and more definiteness. In this way we can explain why we create science. Contrariwise, the river flows to more and more indefiniteness, leaving to us a part of its definiteness.
It is necessary for us to base on the argument of Henri Bergson on the matter of the time problem, of the duration (durèe) as a definition of consciousness. In his lecture “Life and consciousness” Henri Bergson says:
“. . . Consciousness signifies, above all, memory. The memory may not be very extensive; it may embrace only a very small section of the past, nothing indeed but the immediate past; but, in order that there may be consciousness at all, something of this past must be retained, be it nothing but the moment just gone by. A consciousness which retained nothing of the past /…/ would be a consciousness that died and was re-born every instant – it would be no longer consciousness… All consciousness, then, is memory; all consciousness is a preservation and accumulation of the past in the present…
But, on the other hand, all consciousness is an anticipation of the future. Analyze your mental state when you hear someone speaking: you are intent on what is being said, but also on what is coming; and even the present only interests you in so far as it will profit the immediate future. We are essentially drawn and, as it were, inclined towards the future, because we are creatures of action, and every action is like a leap into the future – into the next moment.
. . . Practically, what we call our present is something that has a certain length or breadth of duration, and is composed of two halves, one being our immediate past, the other our immediate future.”
According to the teleological explanation given by Bergson consciousness is, most of all, consciousness of time. The consciousness of time and the perceptive time itself are explainable through the expansion which make possible the recovery of the form of the perceiving subject in the circumstances of problematical life, of spontaneous disintegration of every form.
7. Just like the space, the time is being perceived from a position of the corporal perceiver, which position we mark with “now”. “Now” constructs a temporal perceptive model, which “backward”, conversely to the expansion, in the memory, means the “past”. The meaning of the “past” is that it doesn’t come forward, it is being memorized. It doesn’t exist somewhere as “objective”. This is the power of the phenomenological explanation: it explains not only the unidirectedness and irreversibility of the time but it also explains the fact that the future and the past somehow vaguely “does not exist”. This ambiguity, which, finally, annihilates the time, while destroying the future and the past as non-existent and while bringing the present to a fixed point, finds its solution. Simply, any statement concerning the “objective existence” of the past, the present and the future has no sense at all. The present has its firm existence as unconditional time center, which is a mode of the corporal (or corporaly placed) Mind. The future and the past exist as back- and forth-reverberating field elongation: life “illuminates” weaker and weaker from the center – now in two directions – to the past and to the future, backward and forward, through the memory and through the expectancy. Thus, spreading backward and forward, the consciousness ray succeeds in embracing and rendering an account of our motion against the chaos; owing to it we become acquainted with the events in the time stream – this ray organizes them so, that we can survive. (According to Martin Heidegger the timeliness of the being is a feature of the human being, which is a being towards death (“Being and Time”).
Thus the Husserlian “horizon” can be explained. In this horizon the current perception of the time – the intention – and the notions of the past and future – the retention and the protention – are complement of one another. All the three modes are understandable through the purpose of the perception to the expansion. We “illuminate” most powerfully the field of “now”, in which our current action, or simply orientation, goes off. Our energy is limited. In order to “illuminate” the future and the past our energy allocates with a decrease to the periphery of the “horizon”. Time has no sense when the whole horizon is not given. Time wouldn’t exist, if we didn’t expect and remember, but only “subsisted”. And we expect and remember in order to arrange our life actions in such a way so that we could keep our transient corporal form.
8. A physical theory – the Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – promotes the Western notion from the false “absolute time”, which seems to be closer to the every-day notion but deprives this notion from a center, towards the differing centered and orientated notion: time is being established and measured only by means of one starting-off system – just like the space.
“Let there is a clock at the spaceship and let this clock be constructed in the same way as the clocks on Earth. . . Thus the observer, who stands on Earth, is able to control the correctness of the ship clock by analyzing the received data from the ship. The observer is going to reach the conclusion that the clock works a little bit slower than the same clock, which stands on Earth. The spaceman, who receives signals from Earth and can compare the motion of the Earth clock too, is going to conclude just the opposite: for him the Earth clock works slower. Then, how is it possible and reasonable at all to compare the time on the Earth to the time at the ship? When should we call two events “simultaneous”, if the first one happened on Earth and the second one happened far away from the Earth – at a spaceship?. . . In principle, it is impossible to define where the point of simultaneousness is placed in this interval. For the purpose of our discussion it is enough to point out the circumstance that the word “simultaneousness“ has, in principle, lost its sense in the new realm of the experience – the same happens at the spaceship, where the terms “up” and “down” completely loses its sense. . .”
9. The perceiver changes his position in the space towards this “here” and goes to the other “here” so that he is able to come back to this “here” again. The perceiver moves in time without the participation of the will and he moves ceaselessly from one to another and to the next “now”, which, as though, follows a certain “objective scale”. Such is the Bergsonian “duration” (duree). The Mind cannot move from the next “now” to the already passed “now”. Man cannot get younger but constantly grows old.
10. Man expands in all directions into the space and arbitrarily changes his point of view while, in contrast, he has no choice when time is concerned. Time is the “fate” of the transient corporal creature. Only in a flowing world (such as the corporal one) man becomes temporally limited creature. Only the stream is able to draw the human way from birth to death. When this stream – the corporal life – stops, time simply disappears. And only in the three-dimensional space world man is restricted and man is organical.
11. Phenomenological, time is completely dependent on the corporal Mind. There is no sense to talk about time outside the life world which is structured around the Mind. The consequence is: every temporal relationship of simultaneousness and succession has sense only to a certain Mind or for a group of perceivers in a certain physical field (certain starting-off system).
12. The life time has got, respectively, two modes: duration (duree – Bergson) and sequence. The duration is a token of the ceaseless historicity of life. There is no interrupting and there is no breaking of this line, while life is flowing. The line is being drawn with no foresight and cannot be decomposed to elements. It is not a summing up of parts (Henri Bergson, Oswald Spengler).
The speed of duration is quantitatively defined by the intensity of the life stream, by the expansion quantity per unit of time. Life rhythms in their sequence are determined by the features of organization. Every action has its own organic place. The more intensive life is, the more considerable is the extent of recovery of the form and, respectively, of assimilation (ordering in accordance with this form) of new spaces.
13. Mind – the witness of pain and pleasure – is not directly organically determinated. It is, as though, out of time and space organization, although senses depend on this organization. The difference between senses and mind is that senses are corporal and mind is not. Mind understands even things which are not given by senses and not perceived by perception. Mind doesn’t feel joy and pain. This directs at the thought that mind is not submitted to time and space organization. The stream flows “backward” through us because we “reject” it. But there is one moment – our death – when the stream overtakes us. Then time stops flowing – we have rowed against the tide but the stream sweeps us away; the pure Mind, if it remains at all, remains non-temporal – the stream vanishes for it.
14. If the mind exists independently of the body and if it is eternal (Buddhism), then the live body is the form in which it projects itself in this world. Through this body the mind adapts and “recover its sight” in “the physical world”. Mind stays eternal (Skr. dharma-kaya, Buddha’s cosmic body), but it is incarnated in a body and makes it resistible (Skr. samsara). This body, however, is perishable and resists only to a certain extent (Stcherbatsky, Th., The Conception of Buddhist Nirvana, Leningrad, 1927). “The consisting of elements (Skr. dharma) disintegrates” (Mahaparinibbana-sutta). Time drag it down.
(According to the Buddhist doctrine mind incarnates and acquires earthly life, it is dragged because it gauges an external sensory world – world of passions. Mind is misguided (Skr. avidya) and warms up to the whirlpool of the sensuous lifetime after lifetime owing to the force of its active causality (Skr. karma). In principle, mind lies in the eternity and there is no sense to incarnate, because every incarnation is sorrow, a hopeless fight against the chaos of the world. Such is the main idea of the late Buddhism). If we interpret the Buddhist notion phenomenologicaly, then, in our lives, we are going towards the start of the time stream, to the beginning of the world which disintegrates and we are searching for the sources of order. And when our human body leaves us like a broken raft, we desert it down the river and maybe gain a new body with which we go on over against the stream of the time, of the world, of the chaos. Finally, we abandon every corporeality, every incarnated life and thus every temporally arranged stream onward to new horizons and onward to the future. Thereby the life world, as we describe it, disappears. Time, space, nature, perception, based on corporal senses – they all disappear.
15. Time is organized, firstly, as a form which is coordinated with the fixed human form. Secondly, time, as the space does, form a hierarchy of art-orders, interpretations. These interpretations are cultural facts.
According to Spengler “Egypt immortalizes”. There are proves – the pyramids and the mummies, but it is not all of it. The exact data of the governing structures are known. The face lines are immortalized. In the same time there are not even names left by the Dorian kings. India does not know exactly its own history and does not write it. The “calpa” is an undetermined period of time. For these people a matter of importance is the act of setting against the stream and the eternity, against the wheel of samsara and the rest of the nirvana. The Western world measures the time and lives in a ruled time. In this respect the “Apollo” (ancient) culture differs from the “Fasts” (modern time) one in a certain way – as the first one lives in a organic and closed space-time (Cosmos), the second one lives in amorphous, opened, extreme mathematical space-time. Namely in view of that the Modern time world is dominated by the mathematical physics of Galileo.
16. Stephen Hawking is one of the physicist who say something essentially new, from philosophical point of view, on the time-problem.
“At the singularity, general relativity and all other physical laws would break down: one couldn’t predict what will come out of the singularity. As explained before, this means that one might as well cut the big bang, and any events before it, out of the theory, because they can have no effect on what we observe. Space-time would have a limited – a beginning at the big bang.
Science seems to have uncovered a set of laws that, within the limits set by the uncertainty principle, tell us how the universe will develop with time, if we know its state at any one time. These laws may have originally been decreed by God, but it appears that he has since left the universe to evolve according to them and does not intervene in it. But how did he choose the initial state or configuration of the universe? What were the “boundary conditions” at the beginning of time? [...]
The laws of science do not distinguish between the forward and backward directions of time. However, there are at least three arrows of time that do distinguish the past from the future. They are the thermodynamic arrow, the direction of time in which disorder increases; the psychological arrow, the direction of time in which we remember the past and not the future; and the cosmological arrow, the direction of time in which the universe expands rather than contracts. I have shown that the psychological arrow is essentially the same as the thermodynamic arrow, so that the two would always point in the same direction. The no boundary proposal for the universe predicts the existence of a well-defined thermodynamic arrow of time because the universe must start off in a smooth and ordered state. And the reason we observe this thermodynamic arrow to agree with the cosmological arrow is that intelligent beings can exist only in the expanding phase. The contracting phase will be unsuitable because it has no strong thermodynamic arrow of time.[...]
The laws of gravity were incompatible with the view held until quite recently that the universe is unchanging in time: the fact that gravity is always attractive implies that the universe must be either expanding or contracting. According to the general theory of relativity, there must have been a state of infinite density in the past, the big bang, which would have been an effective beginning of time. Similarly, if the whole universe recollapsed, there must be another state of infinite density in the future, the big crunch, which would be an end of time. Even the whole universe did not recollapse, there would be singularities in any localized regions that collapsed to form black holes. These singularities would be an end of time for anyone who fell into the black hole. At the big bang and other singularities, all the laws would have broken down, so God would still have had complete freedom to choose what happened and how the universe began.”
Stephen Hawking, in his contentions on the beginning and the end of the universe, suggests the following points of this study which are of great importance:
1. Physic’s refusal to deal with the rise and the extinction as with “singularities”, in which simply there are no physical laws, means that science cannot talk theoretically about the beginning and the end as boundaries of the world – the only object it studies. There cannot be a theory of something rising, just like there cannot be a theory of something extincting. Therefore there cannot be a theory of birth and death. There cannot be a theory of the limit.
2. In the singularity of the big bang, namely, the universe had been defined as “smooth”, “ordered”, starting off from a low level of entropy to a gradual disorder and chaos. Therefore, the origin of order and thereby the origin of life in the universe and on Earth are transcendent events, which cannot be explained. Physical laws and constants, on their own, cannot become an object of explanation. They are, as though, a fruit of the Creator’s will.
Or, as Ludwig Wittgenstein considers, the answer to the question “what the world is” stands out of the world.
Published: „Перцептивното време”. Философски алтернативи, V, 4/1998, 63–70
Bergson, H., Melanges, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1972, p. 918-919.
2 Heisenberg, W., Sprache und Wirklichkeit in der modernen Physik, Schritte uber Grenzen, Piper, Munchen, 1971, S. 167-168.
 Hawking, S. W., A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes, Oxford, 1989, pp. 158, 196, 220.