2019 Jan 10


Investigating the hypotheses underlying the notions and images of “time”.

Prof. Dr. Eva Runhau

One of the most basic and enigmatic concepts of humankind is the concept of “time”. In a first reflection, I want to investigate the hypotheses underlying the notions and images of “time”.


The following temporal notions are common to all cultures when humans interact in social contexts: sequential structure, duration, planning, repetition, synchronization and temporal perspective. The ideas of time are used as instruments of power to build cultures and technologies changing the world. A brief outline of early images of time, the development of time measuring instruments, their use in social-industrial synchronization of humans and the important change of the time concept in the modern computerized world is given. 


To avoid the many conceptual confusions in the description of our human experience as well as in the attempts to deal with time in the sciences and philosophy, a clarification the concept of time is necessary. A classification of the concept of time in a threefold way “Time, Temporality and Now” will be introduced. 


“Time” will be the concept as it is formulated in physics. “Temporality” is associated – though not exclusively – with the human mind. The “Now” is not correlated as usually with the present and the human mind, it is considered here as absolute non-temporality in the sense that there exists neither succession nor duration.


With respect to “Time”, several aspects in physics will be outlined, from classical mechanics to quantum mechanics, from special to general relativity and cosmology, from thermodynamics to dissipative systems and from the break-down of “Time” and its disappearance in the emerging field of quantum gravity.


“Temporality” is regarded here as necessarily experiential. Within the elementary building block of “Temporality”, the present, there is no subject-object separation. Such a separation occurs only retrospectively when experience has turned into observation leading then to the comprehension of past-present-future. Concerning “Temporality”, modern brain science can provide interesting clarifications.


To understand the “Now”, we have to turn to philosophy. In describing reality, we face the problem that our language and logic is inherently dualistic. One of the most fundamental generating dichotomies is the complementary pair “permanence and change”. Western philosophy has mostly taken permanence as the dominant concept leading to the substance-view of reality, neglecting a process-view of reality. It will be shown that this reduction of reality entails the subject-object duality and a dualistic description of substantialized time as “Time” (the counting of successive objective factual states) and the “Now” (as unifying power, the representative of the subject in objectified reality).


In a second step, after reflecting the hypotheses in our description and understanding of “time”, the human activities leading to these hypotheses are considered. Using the Aristotelian distinction poiesis - praxis, producing – acting will show us that we should not only view the world mostly in the category of objects, but also within the category of “Gestalt”. The discussion about the limits of growth (its negation) should be complemented with the affirmation to preserve and create “Gestalt”. This will give us (hopefully) new ideas and instructions to decide and to deal with our present situation on this globe.

Suggested Readings

  1. Arendt, H. (1998). The Human Condition. The University of Chicago Press 
  2. Dogen. The Shobogenzo or The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Treachings. 
  3. Hawking, S.W. (1988). A brief history of time. New York: Bantam Books.
  4. Levine, R. (2006). A Geopraphy of Time. Oneworld Publications Oxford
  5. Loy, D. (1988). Nonduality. A study in comparative philosophy. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. 
  6. Nowotny, H. (1994). Time: The modern and postmodern experience.
  7. Rifkin, J. (1989). Time Wars: The primary conflict in human history.
  8. Rovelli, C. (2018). The Order of Time. Penguin Books
  9. Ruhnau, E. (1995). Time Gestalt and the Observer. Reflexions on the tertium datur of consciousness. In: T. Metzinger (Ed.), Conscious Experience, Imprint Academic.
  10. Ruhnau, E. (1997). The Deconstruction of Time and the Emergence of Temporality. In: H. Atmanspacher & E. Ruhnau (Eds.), Time, Temporality, Now. Berlin: Springer, 53-69.
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