Time Itself

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The past could not be the past without the present. The present could not be the present without the future. What is determinative, what is prior in terms of the constitution of reality, is not always what comes first chronologically, particularly if chronology is represented by a one-dimensional timeline on which a point merely precedes or follows another. Time is not made up of a succession of nows; it is not pieced together out of seconds, minutes, years, centuries. Radiocarbon dating, the tempo meted out by a metronome, what we apprehend when we look at our watch and observe that “it is now one-o’clock” — all of these represent punctuality and are based on the movement of bodies within time, on natural processes, on quantification. They should not be confused with time itself.

In its one-dimensionality, a mere succession of moments could never disclose a multidimensional present. The present does not merely follow the past, the future does not merely follow the present. But where something of the past is retained in memory and a future is anticipated in apprehension, we get the sort of overlapping that constitutes time authentically. The dimensions of time are, of course, the three tenses of past, present, and future. But, to be true dimensions, they must be thought in their essential unity. The interpenetration of time’s dimensions only occurs in consciousness, which, by anticipating and retaining, synthesizes and constitutes the phenomenal reality of the living present.

Consciousness is, therefore, itself an essential dimension of time. Without it, a present could not take place as the “here and now,” as that in which things are actually present. The here and now. These go together. But the here is only possible relative to an embodied (or otherwise self-localized) consciousness. By having a here, consciousness also determines a there. Inanimate beings (closed as they are to space, to time, to themselves, and, in short, to everything) have no here or there. Their location is determined exclusively within the “over there” of living beings that have a here relative to which objects can be located.

Genuine time must be conceived before any punctuality and segmentation, before any division into… Of course, years follow one another and seem to divide time into determinate lengths that succeed each other linearly. The years correspond to the seasons, which are not time itself but natural processes that occur in time. As the seasons pass, we age. Yet aging is not time either, but a process that happens to bodies in time.

Time is duration. Not the duration of things, but the duration of the openness in which things endure and perish, in which mutability takes place, the projective interplay of the three tenses in their essential unity within consciousness. Since none of the time dimensions can exist without the simultaneous participation of the others, the overlapping of the dimensions is necessary.

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