Time, Phenomenologically.


Phenomenological philosophy claims that time is not the place, the scene, the container or the medium for events (changes), nor a dimension along which everything flows. According to Jean-Toussaint Desanti, a French scholar of Husserl, we should forget “the ordinary meaning of the preposition “in” we spontaneously use when we talk about our experience of time. It is even this use, so ancient that should be the subject of our review. Really it would be strange that what we have learned to call “time” can contain anything. And yet we say without anxiety: “It is time that everything goes.”

But what is happening “in” time does not remain as a place. In fact, this is the major objection of Bergson against Einstein’s Special Relativity, that he has dimensioned time, something immeasurable in the same way as space, which is, of course (in everyday life), measurable. This kind of reasoning in phenomenology is not that far from the one in modern physics.

As Smolin says,

There is a deeper problem, perhaps going back to the origin of physics… time is frozen as if it were another dimension of space. Motion is frozen, and a whole history of constant motion and change is presented to us as something static and unchanging… We have to find a way to unfreeze time — to represent time without turning it into space.

In the words of Carlos Rovelli,

Today, the novelty that comes from quantum gravity is that space does not exist. … But combining this idea with relativity, one must conclude that the non-existence of space also implies the non-existence of time. Indeed, this is exactly what happens in quantum gravity: the variable t does not appear in the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, or elsewhere in the basic structure of the theory. … Time does not exist.

The claim about the imaginary, surreal, even exotic nature of time is not new in philosophy and physics. Of course, there have always been, too, physicists defending the real existence of time, even so real to define such a quantum variable as the chronon with the idea in mind to reconcile special and general relativity with quantum field theory. This “atom” of time was supposed to be the duration for light to travel the distance of the classical (non-quantum) radius of an electron. This model implies a lowest level of actuality, as asserted in the Planck scale.

In his book “Time Reborn” Smolin argues that physicists have inappropriately banned the reality of time because they confuse their timeless mathematical models with reality. His claim was that time is both real (which means external to him) and fundamental, hypothesizing that the very laws of physics are not fixed, but evolve over time. This stance is not really a new one. But it means again an absolute external reference axis and a direction for placing events in a sequence, which phenomenologists decline as the only option. Some of them, partly inspired by the late works of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, approach time neither from the standpoint of simultaneity alone, nor from that of succession. For instance, the dualism of these two concepts is surpassed in favor of a temporal dialectic in which simultaneity and succession are entwined, without denying their separate meanings. Heidegger’s concept of “true time” speaks to this approach to phenomenology.


2 thoughts on “Time, Phenomenologically.

  1. […] Constructor Theory seeks to express all fundamental scientific theories in terms of a dichotomy betw…(Deutsch). Accordingly, a task A is said to be possible (A✓) if the laws of nature impose no restrictions on how (accurately) A could be performed, nor on how well the agents that are capable of approximately performing it could retain their ability to do so. Otherwise A is considered to be impossible (A✘). Deutsch argues that in both quantum theory and general relativity, “time is treated anomalously”. He sees the problem in that time is not among the entities to which both theories attribute “objective existence (namely quantum observables and geometrical objects respectively), yet those entities change with time”. Is not this an interesting appraisal? According to him “there is widespread agreement that there must be a way of treating time ‘intrinsically’ (i.e. as emerging from the relationships between physical objects such as clocks) rather than ‘extrinsically’ (as an unphysical parameter on which physical quantities somehow depend).” However, Deutsch reckons, it would be difficult to accommodate this in the prevailing conception, “every part of which (initial state; laws of motion; time-evolution) assumes that extrinsic status”. According to Constructor Theory it is “both natural and unavoidable to treat both time and space intrinsically: they do not appear in the foundations of the theory, but are emergent properties of classes of tasks …”. Note that the differentiation between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” has different meaning than the one used in phenomenological philosophy. […]

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