The times of science

In regard to the object, the working, the realization and the precondition of science, it is necessary to differentiate between a series of different times:

  1. the time of physical and psychological events in history (Voegelin’s “factual level of history”1) as the explanandum of science.2
  2. the time of laws below history that account for such events as their explanans (Voegelin’s “level of essence”) — eg, H + O => H20, which is always the case at the level of essence, but at the factual level will be expressed only within a complex of other factors which may or may not modify that expression.3
  3. the time of the discovery of such laws, which is a different time from the expression of laws at the factual and essential levels (even though the discovery happens in factual time and consists of insight into the essential level) — eg, all physical events have always obeyed the laws of chemistry, but chemistry itself was discovered only in the nineteenth century.
  4. the time of reality itself that enables such correlations between the factual and essential levels as well as the discovery of the laws of those correlations. The latter is another sort of correlation — between human insight and the correlations of the factual and essential levels of history. Now in order for these different sorts of correlations to be, they must themselves first of all be real possibilities. That is, such dynamics must be rooted in the nature of reality itself and this implicates another sort of time, since it cannot be the case that reality either holds seamlessly to itself or that it only fragments away from itself. In the first case, nothing else would be. In the second, correlation would not be. Reality itself is both irreducibly plural and integral, such that its very form is this dynamic knot of going out from itself while remaining correlated to itself. But dynamically going out from itself while staying correlated to itself is just what time is. Time ‘marches on’ as time. All time goes out from itself as its way of remaining itself. There is, then, a fundamental relation between being and time — both go out to go in — and it is this dynamic figure that underlies all the other times of science together with their correlations.4 

The time of the “factual level of history” is ever-changing or horizontal; the time of the “level of essence” is always the case or vertical; the time of discovery is horizontal/vertical, the moment in horizontal time when insight into timeless laws is achieved; the time of reality is the expression of all of these senses at once in a knot that is at once ‘on its own’ and yet tied through a possibility that is anything but its own. 

The history of philosophy, and of all the human sciences, might be told in terms of confusions between these different times. This is particularly to be seen in the reading of Hegel where the third level has nearly always been confused with the fourth, leading to the supposition that he either properly, or absurdly, foresaw “the end of history”. Instead, what Hegel foresaw is that the laws of the psychological/spiritual field would come to be known in a similar fashion to the way the chemical laws of physical materials began to be uncovered in his lifetime. What would end would not be all history, but the history of our ignorance of the interlocked factual and essential levels of spiritual reality. Not only would history not end, but a whole new history turning on this discovery would thereby begin. This would lead to ever-increasing insight into these spiritual levels and this, in turn, would lead to ever-increasing insight into all of the levels of time(s), but especially into level four — since our reflections about reality itself would at last be open to collective research.5

The times of the developments foreseen by Hegel are particularly knotted (hence also his exposition of them) since the eventual actualization of insight into the laws of spiritual reality depends on the prior possibility of this event in reality itself.  But this prior possibility in reality itself can be seen only after the actualization of such insight. As McLuhan often remarked, the effect comes before the cause. Such is the knot of time(s).

In fact, the Greeks had already come across these abysmal questions (perhaps in train of millennia-old traditions) and attempted to formulate them. When Whitehead observed that the history of western philosophy was a series of footnotes to Plato, he might equally have said that the dire history of our wars and social problems is a history of our continuing failure to understand the complications of times and therefore of our continuing inability to investigate that history scientifically.

The very existence of the human species, and perhaps even of the biosphere itself, may depend, as Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus remarks, on our awaking at last from the nightmare of this — correlated? — history of ignorance.

  1.  See Voegelin and the question of “intelligible units” for citation and discussion. See this same post for explanandumexplanans and Voegelin’s “level of essence”.
  2. All of the times considered here are knotted. At the factual level, for example, everything that happens is an expression of laws at the essential level.  But these are never known completely and may remain without theoretical elaboration for great stretches of time: most modern sciences have been known only for a small fraction of the time the human species has existed. And, indeed, how many undiscovered disciplines may be implicated in the factual level of events without our knowledge of them? As DNA-based genetics did until recently. And this complex of times could itself not exist except as something in being. The identity of times, their knot, must therefore always be borne in mind as their differences are interrogated.
  3. This is the difference between Saussure’s “langue” vs “parole”.
  4. Cf Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters (letter 11): “It is only in the absolute subject alone that its external determinations remain with it even as they flow out of it.” Original: “In dem absoluten Subjekt allein beharren mit der Persönlichkeit auch alle ihre Bestimmungen, weil sie aus der Persönlichkeit fließen.”
  5. Hans-Georg Gadamer used to call this imperatively needed collective research into fundamentals the “Dialog der Weltreligionen” or, in short, “die Sprache”.