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appeared in: The Temporalization of Time. Basic Tendencies in Modern Debate on Time in Philosophy and Science, Lanham and New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Mike Sandbothe

The Temporalization of Time

Basic Tendencies in Modern Debate on Time in Philosophy and Science

Translated by Andrew Inkpin



Introduction -page 3-

Chapter I. The Objective Temporalization of Time in Physics -page 7-

  1. The Concept of Reversible Time as the Fundament of Classical Thermodynamics -page 7-
  2. The Introduction of Irreversible Time in Physics: On the Emergence and Scientific Establishment of Thermodynamics -page 16-
    1. The Emergence of Thermodynamics in the 19th Century -page 18-
    2. The Scientific Establishment of Thermodynamics and the Debate Concerning the Time- theoretical Assumptions of Dynamics -page 34-
  3. The Self-organization of Time and Prigogine’s Theory of Dissipative Structures -page 45-
    1. Linear Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics and the Creativity of the Arrow of Time -page 46-
    2. Non-linear Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics and the Temporality of Dissipative Structures -page 50-
  4. The Objective Temporalization of Time in Physics and the Concept of Irreversible Time -page 61-

Chapter II. The Reflexive Temporalization of Time in Philosophy -page 65-

  1. Kant’s Theory of Time as the Starting Point of the Reflexive Temporalization Tendency -page 65-
  2. Between the Temporalization and Essentialization of Time: Bergson and Husserl -page 71-
    1. Bergson, Husserl and Heidegger in Context -page 72-
    2. Bergson’s Theory of Pure Duration -page 76-
    3. Husserl’s Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time -page 80-
  3. The Reflexive Temporalization of Time in Heidegger’s Analysis of Temporality -page 86-
    1. Fundamental Ontology and the Analysis of Dasein: the Pragmatic Approach to its Interpretation -page 86-
    2. On the Systematic Position of the Problem of Time within the Architectonics of Being and Time -page 93-
    3. Pragmatic Interpretation of Heidegger’s Analysis of Temporality -page 98-
  4. The Reflexive Temporalization Tendency and its Relation to Objective Temporalization -page 109-

Quoted Literature -page 116-

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In the current situation, one characterized by a plurality of heterogeneous time concepts, cross- disciplinary discussion about the problem of time assumes particular importance.1 The central problem for current debate on time is to relate the varying concepts of time developed in individual scientific disciplines both to one another and to everyday experience (cf. Baumgartner, 1993; Burger, 1993; Le Poidevin/McBeath, 1993; Mainzer, 1996; Gimmler/Sandbothe/Zimmerli, 1997; Baert, 1999).2 In the attempt to solve this task different approaches can be distinguished. They are embedded in two lines of development, to be outlined below, which determine current time theory.

The first basic tendency in contemporary philosophy of time may be described as the tendency to unify and to universalize our understanding of time. The protagonists of this tendency are convinced that the aspect of time is to be considered a new Archimedean point, unifying our everyday experience of self and the world with scientific theories about humankind and nature. This point of unity, they contend further, has been highlighted over and over again in philosophy (for instance by von Baader, Schelling, Bergson, Whitehead or Heidegger), but has been ignored for far too long by science and technology. It was not until the second half of this century that a global time concept was developed and mathematically operationalized at the interface between physics, chemistry and biology within the framework of the so-called theories of ‘self-organization’ (cf. Griffin, 1986 and Krohn/Küppers/Nowotny, 1990). According to the proponents of the unification tendency, this new conception of time enables the old duality between natural time and historical time to be overcome and marks the beginning of the resolution of the conflict between physical and philosophical thinking about time which had been characteristic of time theories at the start of the 20th century. In this sense the German philosopher of time and history Hermann Lübbe observed in his book In the Course of Time ‘that even the temporal structure of historicality, which, according to Heidegger and the hermeneutic theory that followed him, results exclusively from the subject’s relationship to itself and its constituting of meaning, is in reality a structure indifferent to subject matter, belonging to all open and dynamic systems’ (Lübbe, 1992, p. 30).

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Lübbe’s convergence theorem can draw support from the deliberations of one of the founders of self-organization theory. Already in 1973, the Nobel prize-winning physicist and chemist Ilya Prigogine noted with his theory of irreversible structures in mind: ‘Whatever the future of these ideas, it seems to me that the dialogue between physics and natural philosophy can begin on a new basis. I don't think that I can exaggerate by stating that the problem of time marks specifically the divorce between physics on one side, psychology and epistemology on the other. (...). We see that physics is starting to overcome these barriers’ (Prigogine, 1973, p. 590f.). Prigogine further developed the specific signature of the current debate on time in the closing chapter of his 1984 revision to the German edition of Being and Becoming:3 ‘It is remarkable to recognize the extent to which some of the recent results [of natural science, MS] had been anticipated by philosophers like Bergson, Whitehead and Heidegger. The main difference consists of the fact that they could reach such conclusions only in contrast to natural science, whereas we are now observing that these insights emerge so to speak from scientific research’ (Prigogine, 1988, p. 262). And Prigogine’s convergence theorem is found again, more precisely formulated, in an essay he published together with Serge Pahaut in 1988: ‘Both classical and relativistic or quantum physics concentrated on time considered as motion. It seemed as if time as qualitative change lie outside its horizon. From this there results on one side the temptation, which we meet even with Einstein, to deny the existence of time or history, and on the other side there result from this the objections of philosophers like Bergson, Whitehead, Husserl or Heidegger, who see the pauper’s oath of the scientific method in this denial. Strangely enough we can today set our sights on the possibility of a synthesis linking these two aspects of time with each other’ (Prigogine/Pahaut, 1985, p. 26).

The second line of development in contemporary theory of time is best seen when one reconsiders the assumptions common to the advocates of the unification and universalization tendency. Time is considered by them to be a uniform universal base structure which disavows itself of historical contingency and cultural change. Thus Lübbe and Prigogine consider the ‘ontological universality of

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the temporality aspect’ (Lübbe, 1992, p. 31) of self-organization’s ‘participatory universe’ (Prigogine/Stengers, 1981, pp. 267ff., 287f.; cf. also Wheeler, 1979, pp. 407ff.) to be evident. Advocates of the second basic tendency, a tendency to historize and relativize time, proceed from the basic idea that the role played by time in human understanding of self and the world is one aspect of a system of practical and technical habits which diverges between cultures and changes within a culture in contingent conditions over history.

This approach is advocated with particular refinement by the American pragmatist Richard Rorty. The basic premise of Rorty’s thinking is ‘that a belief can still regulate action, can still be thought worth dying for, among people who are quite aware that this belief is caused by nothing deeper than contingent historical circumstances’ (Rorty, 1989, p. 189). According to Rorty radically temporal thinking must do away with the theologically founded conception that time and eternity come together in man (Rorty, 1995). Instead Rorty demands ‘that we [should] try to get to the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi divinity, where we treat everything - our language, our conscience, our community - as a product of time and chance’ (Rorty, 1989, p. 22). According to Rorty we will succeed in this only when we no longer mystify time, but understand it in a radically reflexive way as being a product of chance (Gimmler/Sandbothe/Zimmerli, 1997, pp. 1-78; cf. Janich, 1996).

The interrelations between the different concepts of time currently being discussed in the sciences, as well as the question of the relationship between academic and everyday perceptions of time, are to be dealt with pragmatically on the basis of the historization tendency advocated by Rorty. Convergence between different vocabularies of time is, from Rorty’s perspective, by no means proof of an intrinsic coincidence between natural and historical time. The mathematical and technological operationalization and successful functionalization of the vocabulary of time that until now had served us only for the purposes of self-description indicates only the historical transformability, inner flexibility and contextual boundness even of such highly attuned vocabularies as those of physics, mathematics or logic. The different vocabularies we make use of for differing purposes and in varying contexts are subject to change over time, through which they are respectively related to and distinguished from one another in a varying and contingent way in different historical situations.

The radical temporalization of time expressed in these deliberations had already been outlined in

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literature by the Austrian novelist Robert Musil. In his novel The Man without Qualities he writes, ‘The train of events is a train unrolling its rails ahead of itself. The river of time is a river sweeping its banks along with it. The traveller moves about on a solid floor between solid walls; but the floor and the walls are being moved along too, imperceptibly, and yet in very lively fashion, by the movements that his fellow-travellers make’ (Musil, 1954, p. 174).4 Within modern philosophy the inner reflexivity of the modern apprehension of time, articulated here by Musil, was founded by Martin Heidegger. In the following considerations the developmental lines highlighted in current theory of time will be set in the context of two basic tendencies that pervade modernity’s thinking on time altogether. These basic tendencies of the modern time debate can be described as two ways of temporalizing time (cf. Sandbothe, 1994, 1997). The objective temporalization of time in physics contrasts with the reflexive temporalization of time in philosophy.

The different ways of temporalizing time appear with particular clarity in the time theories of Martin Heidegger and Ilya Prigogine which form the focus of the present work. Both authors have been prominent advocates of pioneering concepts of time in the 20th century. The philosophical analysis of temporality presented by Heidegger in his early main work Being and Time (1927) may be considered the Magna Carta of the philosophy of time in the 20th century. The Nobel Prize winning chemico-physical research carried out by Prigogine in the second half of the century has, from the side of thermodynamics, destabilized the time concepts in the physical disciplines of dynamics, quantum theory and cosmology. The present work historically situates Heidegger’s and Prigogine’s time concepts in the context of the basic tendencies of modern debate on time and uses this basis to relate them to one another systematically. The physical temporalization of time is examined as a historical process taking place at the object level of natural scientific research and culminating in Prigogine’s work. The reflexive temporalization of time in philosophy is set alongside the objective temporalization of time in physics as a set of intellectual instruments allowing the objective understanding of time of physics to be critically reinterpreted.

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1 For a comprehensive bibliography on the subject of time arranged by discipline, see Macey, 1991.

2 I have followed up the influence of electronic media on the scientific concept of time and everyday experience of time in Sandbothe, 1996, 1999. See also Sandbothe/Zimmerli, 1994.

3 There is in general no throughgoing correspondence between the German and English editions of the various works of Prigogine referred to by the author in the present work. Wherever possible I have referred to English versions; where, however, this has not proved possible I translate the German. In the case of Being and Becoming a revised German edition appeared in 1984. This added a new concluding chapter ‘Irreversibility and Space-Time Structure’ – referred to here – to the previous German edition, which had been based on the English edition of 1980. The 1980 English edition has not been similarly revised [trans.].

4 I am grateful to Wolfgang Welsch for pointing out this quote to me.

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