Time, Magic and the Self (I/III)

January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

There is.

Isn’t it? Would you agree? Well, I would not. In other words, to say ‘There is.’ is infinitesimally close to a misunderstanding. Or a neglect, if you prefer. It is not the missing of a referent, though, at least not in first instance. The problem would be almost the same if we would have said ‘There is x’. It is the temporal aspect that is missing. Without considering the various aspects of temporality of the things that build up our world, we could neither understand the things nor the world.

Nowadays, the probability for finding some agreement for such a claim is somewhat higher than it once was, in the high tides of modernism. For most urbanists and architects, time was nothing but a somewhat cumbrous parameter, yet nothing of any deeper structural significance. The modern city was a city without time, after breaking the traditions, even not creating new ones. Such was the claim, which is properly demonstrated by Simon Sadler [1] citing Ron Herron, group member of Archigram.

“Living City”1 curator Ron Herron described his appreciation of “Parallel of Life and Art”: It was most extraordinary because it was primarily photographic and with apparently no sequence; it jumped around like anything.

Unfortunately, and beyond the mere “functioning,” the well-organized disorg-anization itself became a tradition. Koolhaas called it Junkspace [2]. Astonishingly, and not quite compatible to the admiration of dust-like scatterings that negate relationality, Archigram claims to be interested in, if not focused to life and behavior. Sadler summarizes (p.55)

“Living City” and its catalogue were not about traditional architectural form, but its opposite: the formlessness of space, behavior, life.

Obviously, Sadler himself is not quite aware about the fact that behavior is predominantly a choreography, that is, it is about form and time as well as form in time. The concepts of form and behavior as implied by Archigram’s utopias are indeed very strange.

Basically, the neglect of time beyond historicity is typical for modern/modernist architects, urbanists and theorists up to our days, including Venturi [2], Tschumi [4] or Oswald [5]. Even Koolhaas does not refer expressis verbis to it, albeit he is constantly in a close orbit of it. This is astonishing since key concepts in the immediate neighborhood of time such as semiotics, narration or complexity are indeed mentioned by these authors. Yet, without a proper image of time one remains on the level of mere phenomena. We will discuss this topic of time on the one side and architects and architecture on the other later in more detail.

Authors like Sigfried Giedion [6] or Aldo Rossi [7] didn’t change much concerning the awareness for time in the practice of architecture and urbanism. Maybe, partly because their positions have been more self-contradictive than consistent. On the one hand they demanded for a serious consideration of time, on the other hand they still stuck to rather strong rationalism. Rationalist time, however, is much less than just half of the story. Another salient reason is certainly given by the fact that time is a subject that is notoriously difficult to deal with. As Mike Sandbothe cites Paul Ricoeur [8]:

Ultimately, for Ricoeur time marks the „mystery“ of our thinking, which resists representation by encompassing our Dasein in a way that is ineluctable for our thinking.2

This Essay

One of the large hypotheses that I have been following across the last essays is that we will not be able to understand the Urban3 and architecture without a proper image of differentiation. Both parts of this notion, the “image” and the “differentiation” need some explication.

Despite “differentiation” seems to be similar to change, they are quite different from each other. The main reason being that differentiation comprises an activity, which, according to Aristotle has serious consequences. Mary Louise Gill [9] summarizes his distinction as follows:

Whereas a change is brought about by something other than the object or by the object itself considered as other (as when a doctor cures himself), an activity is brought about by the object itself considered as itself. This single modification yields an important difference: whereas a change leads to a state other than the one an object was previously in, an activity maintains or develops what an object already is.4

In other terms, in case of change it is proposed that it is relatively unconstrained, hence with less memory and historicity implied, while activity, or active differentiation implies a greater weight of historicity, less contingency, increased persistence and thus an increased intensity of being in time.

Besides this fundamental distinction we may discern several modes of differentiation. The question then is, how to construct a proper “whole” of that. Obviously we can think of different such compound “wholes,” which is the reason for our claim that we need a proper image of differentiation.

Now to the other part of the notion of the “image of differentiation,” the image. An “image” is much more than a “concept.” It is more like a diagram about the possibility to apply the concept, the structure of its use. The aspect of usage is, of course, a crucial one. Actually, with respect to the relation between concepts and actions we identified the so-called “binding problem”. The binding problem claims that there is no direct, unmediated way from concepts to actions, or the reverse. Models are needed, both formalizable structural models, being more close to concepts, and anticipatory models, being more close to the implementation of concepts. The operationalization of concepts may be difficult. Yet, action without heading to get contact to concepts is simply meaningless. (The reason for the emptiness of ‘single case’-studies.) Our overall conclusion regarding the binding problem was that it is the main source for frictions and even failure in the control and management of society, if it is not properly handled, if concepts and actions are not mediated by a layer of “Generic Differentiation.” Only the layer of “Generic Differentiation” with its possibility for different kinds of models can provide the basic conditions to speak about and to conceive any of the mechanisms potentially relevant for the context at hand. Such, the binding problem is probably one of the most frequent causes for many, many difficulties concerning the understanding, designing and dealing with the Urban, or its instances, the concrete city, the concrete settlement or building, the concrete neighborhood.

This transition between concept and action (or vice versa) can’t be fully comprised by language alone. For a certain reasons we need a diagram. “Generic Differentiation”, comprising various species of probabilistic, generalized networks, is conceived as part of a larger compound—we may call it “critical pragmatics”—, as it mediates between concepts and actions. Finally we ended up with the following diagram.

Figure 1: “Critical Pragmatics for active Subjects.” The position of Generic Differentiation is conceived as a necessary layer between the domains of concepts and actions, respectively. See text below for details and the situs where we developed it.

basic module of the fractal relation between concept/conceptual, generic differentiation and operation/operational comprising logistics and politics that describes the active subject urban reason 4t

Note, that this diagram just shows the basic module of a more complete diagram, which in the end would form a moebioid fractal due to self-affine mapping: this module appears in any of the three layers in a nested fashion. Hence, a more complete image would show this module as part of a fractal image, which however could not be conceived as a flat fractal, such like a leaf of fern.5 The image of pragmatics as it is shown above is first a fractal due to the self-affine mapping. Second, however, the instances of the module within the compound are not independent, as in case of the fern. Important traces of the same concepts appear at various levels of the fractal mapping, leading to dimensional braids, in other words to a moebioid.

So, as we are now enabled for approaching it, let us return to the necessity of considering the various aspects of temporality. What are they in general, and what in case of architecture, the city, the Urban, or Urban Reason? Giedion, for instance, related to time with regard to the historicity and with regard to an adaptation of the concept of space-time from physics, which at that time was abundantly discussed in science and society. This adaptation, according to Giedion, can be found in simultaneity and movement. A pretty clear statement, one might think. Yet, as we will see, he conceived of these two temporal forms of simultaneity and movement in a quite unusual way that is not really aligned to the meaning that it bears in physics.

Rossi, focusing more on urban aspects, denotes quite divergent concepts of time. He did not however clearly distinguish or label them. He as well refers to history, but he also says that a city has “many times” (p.61 in [7]), a formulation that reminds to Bergson’s durée. Given the cultural “sediments” of a city within itself, its multiply folded traces of historical times, such a proposal is easy to understand, everybody could agree upon it.

Besides the multiplicity of referential historical time—we will make the meaning of this more clear below—, Rossi also proposes implicitly a locality of time through the acceleration of urbanization through primary elements such as “monuments”, or building that own a “monumental” flavor. Unfortunately, he neither does refer to an operationalization of his time concept nor does he provide his own. In other words, he still refers to time only implicitly, by describing the respective changes and differentiations on an observational level.

These author’s proposals provide important hints, no doubt. Yet, we certainly have to clarify them from the perspective of time itself. This equals firstly an inversion of the perspective from architectural or urbanismic vantage point taken by Giedion and Rossi, who in both cases started from built matter. Before turning to architecture, we have to be clear about time. As a second consequence, we have to be cautious when talking about time. We have to uncover and disclose the well-hidden snares before we are going to push the investigation of the relation between temporality and architecture further down.

For instance, both Giedion and Rossi delivered an analysis. This analyticity results in a pair of consequences. Either it is, firstly, just useful for sorting out the past, but not for deriving schemes for synthesis and production, or, secondly, it requires an instantiation that would allow to utilize the abstract content of their analysis for taking action. Such an instantiation could produce hints for a design process that is directed to the future. Yet, neither Giedion [6] nor Rossi [7] did provide such schemes. Most likely precisely due to the fact that they did not refer to a proper image of time!

This essay is the first of two in a row about the “Time of Architecture”. As Yeonkyung Lee and Sungwoo Kim [10] put it, there is much need for its investigation. In order to do so, however, one has to be clear about time and its conception(s). Insofar we will attempt to trace time as a property of architecture and less as an accessory, we also have to try to liberate time from its distinctive link to human consciousness without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human.

Hence, the layout of this essay is straightforward.

(a) First we will introduce a synopsis on various conceptions of time as brief as possible, taking into account a few, and probably the most salient sources. This will equip us with possible distinctions about modes or aspects of time as well as the differences between and interdependencies of time and space.

In architecture and urbanism, almost no reference can be found to philosophical discourses about time. Things are handled intuitively, leading to interesting but not quite valuable and usable approaches. We will see that the topic of “time” raises some quite fundamental issues, reaching at least into the field of hermeneutics, semiotics, narratology, and of course philosophy as well. The result will be a more or less ranked list of images of time as it is possible from a philosophical vantage point.

(b) Before the background of this explication and the awareness for all the possible misunderstandings around the issue of time, we will introduce a radically different perspective. We will ask how nature “creates time”. More precisely, we will ask about the abstract elements and mechanisms that are suitable for “creating time.” As weird this may seem at first, I think it is even a necessary question. And for sure nobody else posed this question ever before (outside of esoterics, perhaps, nut we do not engage in esoterics here!).

The particularity of that approach is that the proposed structure would work as a basis for deriving an operationalization for the interpretation of material systems as well as an abstract structure for a foundation of philosophical arguments about time. Of course, we have to be very careful here in order to avoid falling back into naturalist or phenomenological naiveties. Yet, carefulness will allow us to blend the several perspectives onto time into a single one, without—and that’s pretty significant—reducing time to either space or formal exercises like geometry. Such, the reward will be a completely new image of time, one that is much more general than any other and which overcomes the traditional separations, for instance that which pulls apart physical time and time of experience. Another effect will be that the question about the origin of time will vanish, a question which is continuously being discussed in cosmology (and theology, perhaps, as well).

(c) From the new perspective then we will revisit architecture and the Urban (in the next essay). We will not only return to Giedion, Rossi, or Koolhaas but we also will revisit the “Behavioral Turn that we have been introducing some essays ago.

Displayed in condensed form, our program comprises the following three sections:

  • (a) Time itself as a subject of philosophy.
  • (b) The creation of time.
  • (c) Time of Architecture.

Before we start a few small remark shall be in order. First, it may well appear as somewhat presumptuous to try to handle time in sufficient depth within just one or two sections of a single essay. I am fully aware about this. Yet, the pressure to condense the subject matter also helps to focus, to achieve a structural picture on the large scale. Second, it should be nevertheless clear that we can’t provide a comprehensive overview or summary about the various conceptions of time in philosophy and science, as interesting this would have been. It would exceed even the possibilities of a sumptuous book. Instead, I will lay out my arguments by means of a purposeful selection, enriched with some annotations.

On the other hand this will provide one of the very rare comprehensive inquiries about time, and the first one that synthesizes a perspective that is backward compatible to those authors to whom it should.

Somewhat surprising, this could even include (theoretical) physics. Yet, the issue is quite complex and very different from mainstream, versions of which you may find in [27, 28]. Even as there are highly interesting and quite direct links to philosophy, I decided to put this into a separate essay, which hopefully will happen soon. Just to give you a tiny glimpse on it: Once Richard Feynman called his mentor and adviser John Wheeler in the middle of the night, asking him, “How many electrons are there in the universe?” According to the transmission Wheeler answered: “There is exactly one.” Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Nevertheless it may be that there are indeed only a few of them, according to Robbert Dijkgraaf, who also proposes that space-time is an emergent “property,” while information could be conceived as more fundamental than those. This, however, has a rather direct counterpart in the metaphysics of Spinoza, who claimed that there is only 1 single attribute. Or (that’s not an unhumbleness), take our conception of information that we described earlier. Anyway, you may have got the point.

The sections in the remainder of this essay are the following. Note that in this piece we will provide only chapter 1 and 2. The other chapters from “Synthesis” onwards will follow as a separate piece.

1. Time in Philosophy—A Selection

Since antiquity people have been distinguishing two aspects of time. It was only in the course of the success of modern physics and engineering that this distinction has been gone forgotten in the Western world’s common sense. The belief set of modernism with its main pillar of metaphysical independence may have been contributing as well. Anyway, the ancient Greeks assigned them the two gods of chronos and kairos. While the former was referring to measurable clock-time, the second denoted the opportune time. The opportune time is a certain period of time that is preferential to accomplish an action, argument, or proof, which includes all parts and parties of the setting. The kairos clearly exceeds experience and points to the entirety of consummation. The advantage of taking into account means and ends is accompanied by the disadvantage of a significant inseparability.


Aristotle, of course, developed an image of time that is much richer, more detailed and much less mystical. For him, change and motion are apriori to time [11]. Aristotle is careful in conceiving change and motion without reference to time, which then gets determined as “a number of change with respect to the before and after” (Physics 219 b 1-2). Hence, it is possible for him to conceive of time as essentially countable, whereas change is not. Here, it is also important to understand Aristotle’s general approach of hylemorphism, which states that—in a quite abstract sense—substance always consists of a matter-aspect and a form-aspect [11]. So also for time. For him, the matter-aspect is given by its kinetic, which includes change, while the form aspect shows up in a kind of order6. Time is a kind of order is not, as is commonly supposed, a kind of measure, as Ursula Coope argues [13]. Aristotle’s use of “number” (arithmos) is more a potential for extending operations, as opposed to “measure” (metron), which is imposed to the measured. Hence, “order” does not mean that this order is necessarily monotone. It is an universal order within which all changes are related to each other. Of course, we could reconstruct a monotone order from that, but as said, it is not a necessity. Another of the remarkable consequences of Aristotle’s conception is that without an counting instance—call it observer or interpretant —there is no time.

This role of the interpreter is further explicated by Aristotle with respect to the form of the “now”. Roark summarizes that we have understand that

[…] phantasia (“imagination”) plays a crucial role in perception, as Aristotle understands it, and therefore also in his account of time. Briefly, phantasia serves as the basis for both memory and anticipation, thereby making possible the possession of mental states about the past and the future. (p.7)

Actually, the most remarkable property of Aristotle’s conception is that he is able to overcome the duality between experience and physical time by means of the interpretant.


It is not by chance alone that Augustine denied the Aristotelian conception by raising his infamous paradox about time. He does so from within Christian cosmogony. First he argues that the present time vanishes, if we try to take close look. Then he claims that both past and future are only available in the present. The result is that time is illusory. Many centuries later, Einstein would pose the same claim. Augustine transposed the problem of time into one of the relation between the soul and God. For him, no other “solution” would have been reasonable. Augustine instrumentalises a misunderstanding of references, established by mixing incompatible concepts (or language games). Unfortunately, Augustine inaugurated a whole tradition of nonsense, finally made persistent by McTaggart’s purported proof of the illusion of time [14] where he extended Augustine’s already malformed argument into deep nonsense, creating on the way the distinction between A-series (past, present and future) and B-series (earlier, later) of time. It is perpetuated until our days by author’s like Oaklander [15][16] or Power [17]. Actually, the position is so nonsensical and misplaced—Bergson called it a wrong problem, Wittgenstein a grammatical mistake—that we will not deal with it further7.


Heidegger explicitly refers to phenomenology as it has been shaped by Edmund Husserl. Yet, Heidegger recognized that phenomenology—as well as the implied ontology of Being—suffers from serious defects. Thus, we have to take a brief look onto it.

With the rise of phenomenology towards the end of the 19th century, the dualistic mapping of the notion of time has been reintroduced and reworked. Usually, a distinction has been made between clock-time on the one hand and experiential time on the other. This may be regarded indeed as quite similar to the ancient position. Yet, philosophically it is not interesting to state such. Instead we have to ask about the relation between the two. The same applies to the distinction of time and space.

There are two main positions dealing with this dualism. On the one side we find Bergson, on the other Brentano and Husserl as founders of phenomenology. Both refer to consciousness as an essential element of time. Of course, we should not forget that this is one of the limitations we have to overcome, if we want to achieve a generalized image of time.

Phenomenology suffers from a serious defect, which is given by the assumption of subjects and objects as apriori entities. The object is implied as a consequence of the consciousness of the subject, yet this did not result in a constructivism à la Maturana. Phenomenology, as an offspring of 19th century modernism and a close relative of logicism, continued and radicalized the tendency of German Idealism to think that the world could be accessed “directly”. In the words of Thomas Sheehan [19]:

And finally phenomenology argued that the being of entities is known not by some after-the-fact reflection or transcendental construction but directly and immediately by way of a categorical intuition.

There are two important consequences of that. Firstly, it violates the primacy of interpretation8 and has to assume a world-as-such, which in other words translates into a fundamentally static world. Secondly, there is no relation between to appearances of an object across time.

Heidegger, in “Being and Time” [21] (original “Sein und Zeit” [22]), tried to correct this defect of phenomenology and ontology by a hermeneutic transformation of phenomenology. This would remove the central role of consciousness, which is replaced by the concept of the “Being-there” (Dasein) and so by the “Analysis of Subduity.” He clearly states (end of §3 in “Being and time”) that any ontology has to be fundamental ontology. The Being-there (Dasein) however needs— in order to be able to see its Being—temporality.

The fundamental ontological task of the interpretation of being as such, therefore, includes working out the Temporality of being. The concrete answer to the question of the sense of being is given for the first time in the exposition of the problematic of Temporality. ([22], p.19)

How is temporality described? In §65 Heidegger writes:

Coming back to itself futurally, resoluteness brings itself into the Situation by making present. The character of “having been” arises from the future, and in such a way that the future which “has been” (or better, which “is in the process of having been”) releases from itself the Present. This phenomenon has the unity of a future which makes present in the process of having been; we designate it as “temporality”.9

Time clearly “delimits” Being as a conditioning horizon:

[…] we require an originary explication of time as the horizon of the understanding of being in terms of temporality as the being of Dasein who understands being. ([22], p.17)

Heidegger examines thoroughly the embedding of Being-there into time and the conditioning role of “time.” For instance, we can understand a tool only with respect to its future use. Temporality itself is seen as the structure of “care”, a major constitutive of the being of Dasein, which similarly to anticipation carries a strong reference to the future:

The originary unity of the structure of care lies in temporality” ([22], p.327).

Temporality is the meaning and the foundation of Being.10 Temporality is an Existential. Existential analysis claims that Being-there does not fill space, it is not within spatiality (towards the end of §70):

Only on the basis of its ecstatico-horizontal temporality is it possible for Dasein to break into space. The world is not present-at-hand in space; yet, only within a world does space let itself be discovered. The ecstatical temporality of the spatiality that is characteristic of Dasein, makes it intelligible that space is independent of time; but on the other hand, this same temporality also makes intelligible Dasein’s ‘dependence’ on space—a ‘dependence’ which manifests itself in the well-known phenomenon that both Dasein’s interpretation of itself and the whole stock of significations which belong to language in general are dominated through and through by ‘spatial representations’. This priority of the spatial in the Articulation of concepts and significations has its basis not in some specific power which space possesses, but in Dasein’s kind of Being. Temporality is essentially deterioriating11, and it loses itself in making present; […]

This concept of temporality could have been used to overcome the difference between “vulgar time” (chronos) and experiential time, to which he clearly sub-ordinated the former. Well, “could have been” if Heidegger’s program would have been completable. But Heidegger finally failed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary. There are several closely related aspects for this failure. Ultimately, perhaps, as Cristina Lafont [24] argues, it is impossible to engage in a radical program of detranscendentalization and at the same time to try to achieve a fundamental foundation. This pairs with the inherited phenomenological habit to disregard the primacy of interpretation. The problem for Heidegger now is that the sign in the language is already in the world which has to be subdued. As Lafont brilliantly revealed, Heidegger still adheres to the concept of language as an “ontic” instrument, as something that is found in the outer world. Yet, this must count simply as a highly inappropriate reduction. Language constantly and refracted points towards the inwardly settled translation between body and thought and the outward directed translation between thought and community (of speakers), while translation is also kind of a rooting. Such we can conclude that ultimately Heidegger therefore still follows the phenomenological subject-object scheme. His attempt for a fundamental foundation while avoiding any reference to transcendent horizons must fail, even if this orientation towards the fundamental pretends to just serve as an indirect “foundation” (see below).

There is a striking similarity between Augustine and Heidegger. We could call it metaphysical linearity as a cosmological element. In case of Augustine it is induced by the believe in Salvation, in case of Heidegger by the believe into an absolute beginning paired with a (implicit) believe to step out of language. In a lecture held in 1963, that is 36 years after Being and Time, titled “Time and Being”, Heidegger revisits the issue of time. Yet, he simply capitulated from the problem of foundations, referring to “intuitional insight” as a foundation. In the speech “Time and Being” hold in 1962 [25], he said

To think the Being in its own right requires to dismiss Being as the originating reason of being-Being (des Seienden), in favor of the Giving that is coveredly playing in its Decovering (Entbergen), i.e. of the “There is as giving fateness.”12 (p.10)13

Here, Heidegger refutes foundational ontology in favour of the communal and external world by he concept of the Giving14. Yet, the step towards the communal still remains a very small step, since now not only the Other gets depersonalized as far as possible. The real serious issue here is that Heidegger now replaces the ontological conception of “ontic” language by the “ontic” communal. He still does not understand the double-articulation of the communal through language. We may say that Heidegger is struck by blindness (on his right eye).

Inga Römer [47] detects a certain kind of archaism throughout the philosophy of Heidegger, which comes along as a still not defeated thinking about origins.

Finally, in „Being and Time“ Heidegger detects the origin of time in the event, which he dedicatedly determines as the provider [m: the Giving] of Being and time. This Giving is seen as being divested from itself. The event, determined by Heidegger elsewhere as a singular tantum, is eliminated from itself—and nevertheless the event is conceived as the origin of time.15 (p.289)

Many years after the publication of “Being and Time”, in the context of the seminar “Time and Being” Heidegger claimed that he did not conceive fundamental ontology as kind of a foundation. He described the role of the Daseins-analytics as proposed in “Being and Time” in the following way [23]:

Being and Time is in fact on the way to find, taking the route through the timeness of Dasein in the interpretation of Being as temporality, a conception of time, that Owned of “time”, whence “Being” reveals itself as Presenting. Such however it is said that the fundamental mentioned in the fundamental ontology can’t take reference and synthesis. Instead, the whole analytics of Dasein ought to be repeated, subsequent of possibly having thrown light upon the sense of Being, in a more pristinely and completely different manner.16

Indeed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary, Heidegger recognized the inherent incompatibility of the still transcendental alignment with the conception of the Dasein and was hence forced to shift the target of the Daseins-analytics [26](p.99). Being is not addressed from the vantage point of being-Being (Seiendes) anymore. It resulted in a replacement of the sense of Being by the question about the historical truth of Being as fateness. In the course of that shift, however, temporality lost its role, too, and was replaced by a thinking of a historized event. This event is conceived as kind of a non-spatial endurance [25]:

Time-Space (m: endurance) now denotes the open that in the mutually-serving-one-another of arrival, having been (Gewesenheit) and present clears itself. Only this open spacingly allows (räumt ein) the ordinarily known space its propagation. (p.19)17

As far as this move could be taken as a cure of the methodological problems in “Being and Time,” it turned out, however, to be far detrimental for Heidegger’s whole philosophy. He was forced to determine man by his ecstatic exposition and being-thrown (tossed?) into nothingness. Care as kind of cautious anticipation was replaced first by angst, then by incurable disgust through Sartre. While the early Heidegger precisely tried to cure the missing of primal relationality in phenomenology, the later Heidegger got trapped by an even more aggressive form of singularization and denial of relationality at all. This whole enterprise of existential philosophy suffers from this same deep disrespect if not abhorrence of the communal, of the practice of sharing joyfully a common language that turns into the Archimedic Point of being human. Well, how could he think differently given his particular political aberrancy?

Anyway, Heidegger’s shift to endurance brings us directly to the next candidate.


Politically, in real life, Heidegger and Bergson could not be more different. The former more than sympathizing (up to open admiration) with totalitarianism in the form of Hitlerism and fascism, thereby matching his performative rejection of relationality, the latter engaging internationally in forming the precursor of the UN.

But, how does Bergson’s approach to time look like? For Bergson, logicism and the subject-object dichotomy are thoughts that are alien to him. Both actually have to assume a sequential order that yet have to be demonstrated in its genesis.18 The starting point for Bergson is the diagnosis that measurable time, or likewise measuring time, as it is done in physics as well by any clock-time introduces homogeneity, which in turn translates into quantificability [31]. As such, time is converted into a spatial concept, as these properties are also properties of space as physics conceives it. The consequence is that we create pseudo-paradoxes like that which has been explicated by Augustine. To this factum of quantificability Bergson then opposes qualitability. For him, quality and quantity remain incommensurable throughout his works.

At any rate, we cannot finally admit two forms of the homogeneous, Time and Space, without first seeking whether one of them cannot be reduced to the other […] Time, conceived under the form of an unbounded and homogeneous medium, is nothing but the ghost of space, haunting the reflective consciousness. ([32] p. 232)

So we can fix that time is essential a qualitative entity, or in other words, an intensity that is, according to Bergson, opposed to the extensity of spatial entities. Spatial entities are always external to each other, while for intensive entities—such as time—such an externalization is not possible. They can be thought only as a mutually interpenetrating beside-one-another, which however should be thought as an aterritorial “beside”. As Friedrich Kuemmel puts it, intensity, for Bergson, can be detached from extensity.19 Intensity then is being equipped by Bergson with a manifoldness or multiplicity that consequently establishes a reality apart from physical spatiality with its measurable time. This reality is the reality of consciousness and the soul. Bergson calls it “durée”, which of course must not be translated into “duration” (or into the German “Dauer”). Durée is more like the potential for communicable time, or in Deleuze’s words, a “potential number” ([33] p.45), to which we can refer in language literally as “referential time.”

Bergson’s notion of durée is quite easily determined (p.37)

It [durée] is a case of “transition,” of a “change,” a becoming, but it is a becoming that endures, a change that is substance itself. […] Bergson has no difficulty in reconciling the two fundamental characteristics of duration; continuity and heterogeneity. However, defined in this way, duration is not merely lived experience; […] it is already a condition of experience.

As a qualitative multiplicity, durée is opposed to quantitative multiplicity. For Bergson, this duality is a strict and unresolvable one, yet it does not set up an opposition, it is not subject of dialectic. It does, however, follow the leitmotif of Bergson, according to Deleuze ([33] p.23): People see quantitative differences where actually are differences in kind. (RRR)

Deleuze emphasizes that the two multiplicities have to be strictly distinguished ([33] p.38).

[…] the decomposition of the composite reveals to us two types of multiplicity. One is represented by space […]: it is a multiplicity of exteriority, of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, of order, of quantitative differentiation, of difference in degree; it is a numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual. The other type of multiplicity appears in pure duration: It is an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.

Here we may recall Aristotle’s notion of time as kind of order. This poses the question whether duration itself is a multiplicity. As Deleuze carves it out ([33] p.85):

At the heart of the question “Is duration one or multiple?” we find a completely different problem: Duration is a multiplicity, but of what type? Only the hypothesis of a single Time can, according to Bergson, account for the nature of virtual multiplicities. By confusing the two types – actual spatial multiplicity and virtual temporal multiplicity- Einstein has merely invented a new way of spatializing time.

Pushing Bergson’s architecture of time further, Deleuze develops his first accounts on virtuality. It becomes clear, that durée is a virtual entity. As such, it is outside of the realm of numbers, even outside of quantificability or quantitability. Speaking in Aristotelian terms we could say that time is a smooth manifold of kinds of orders. Again Deleuze (p.85):

Being, or Time, is a multiplicity. But it is precisely not “multiple”; it is One, in conformity with its type of multiplicity.

For Bergson, tenses are already actualizations of durée. The past is conceived as being different from the present in kind, and could not be compared to it. There is also possibility for a transition from a “past” to a “present.” It is the work of memory (as an abstract entity) that creates the link. Memory extends completely into present, though. Its main effect is to recollect the past. In this sense, memory is stepping forward. Durée and memory are co-extensive.

As we have seen, Bergson’s conception of time is strongly linked to consciousness and its particular memory. We also have seen that he considers physical time as a kind of a secondary phenomenon. He thinks that things surely have no endurance in the sense of a capability to actualize durée into an extended present.

This poses a problem: What is time in our outside? In Time and Free Will he writes [32],

Although things do not endure as we do ourselves, nevertheless, there must be some incomprehensible reason why phenomena are seen to succeed one another instead of being set out all at once. (p.227)

Well, what does this claim “things do not endure as we do ourselves” refer to? Is there endurance of things at all? And what about animals, thinking animals, or epistemic machines? As Deleuze explains, Bergson is able to solve this puzzle only by extending his durée into a cosmic principle ([33], pp.51). Yet, I think that in this case he mixes immaterial and material aspects in a quite inappropriate manner.

Bergson’s conception of time certainly has some appealing properties. But just as its much less potent rival phenomenology it is strongly anthropocentric. It can’t be generalized enough for our purposes that follow the question of time in architecture. Of course, we could conceive of architecture as a thing that is completely passive if nobody looks onto it or thinks about it. But what is then about cities? The perspective of passive things has been largely refuted, first by Heidegger through his hermeneutic perspective, and in a much more developed manner, by Bruno Latour and his Agent-Network-Theory.

In still other terms, we could say that Bergson’s philosophy suffers from a certain binding problem. I think it was precisely the binding problem that caused the hefty dispute between Einstein and Bergson. Just to be clear, in my opinion both of them failed.

Thus we need a perspective that allows to overcome the binding problem without sacrificing either the experiential time, or durée or the measurability of referential time. This perspective is provided by the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce.


Peirce was an engineer, his formal accounts thus always pragmatic. This sets him apart from Bergson and his early devotion to mathematics. Where the former sees processes in which various parts engage, the latter sees abstract structures.

Being an engineer, Peirce looked at thought and time in a completely different manner. He starts with referential time, with clock-time. He does not criticize it at first hand as Bergson would later do.

The first step in our reconstruction of Peircean time is his move to show that neither thought nor, of course, consciousness can take place in an instant. Consciousness must be a process. Else, thought is a sign. One has to know that for Peirce, a sign is not to be mistaken as a symbol. For him it is an enduring situation. We will return to this point later.

In MS23720 (chapter IV in Writings 3) his primary concern is to explain how thinking could take place

A succession in time among ideas is thus presupposed in time-conception of a logical mind; but need this time progress by a continuous flow rather than by discrete steps?

Of course, he concludes that a “continuous time” is needed. Yet, at this point, Peirce starts to depart from a single, univoke time. He continues

Not only does it take time for an idea to grow but after that process is completed the idea cannot exist in an instant. During the time of its existence it will not be always the same but will undergo changes. […] It thus appears that as all ideas occupy time so all ideas are more or less general and indeterminate, the wider conceptions occupying longer intervals.

This way he arrives at a time conception that could be characterized as a multiplicity of continua. Even if it would be possible to determine a starting time and a time of completion for any of those intervals, it still remains that all those overlapping thoughts form a single consciousness.

Chapter 5 in “Writings 3” (MS239), titled “That the significance of thought lies in reference to the future” [35], starts in the following way.

In every logical mind there must be 1st, ideas; 2nd, general rules according to which one idea determines another, or habits of mind which connect ideas; and, 3rd, processes whereby such habitual connections are established.

The second aspect strongly reminds to our orthoregulation and the underlying “paradox of rule-following” first clearly stated by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1930ies [36]. The section ends with the following reasoning:

It appears then that the intellectual significance of all thought ultimately lies in its effect upon our actions. Now in what does the intellectual character of conduct consist? Clearly in its harmony to the eye of reason; that is in the fact that the mind in contemplating it shall find a harmony of purposes in it. In other words it must be capable of rational interpretation to a future thought. Thus thought is rational only so far as it recommends itself to a possible future thought. Or in other words the rationality of thought lies in its reference to a possible future.

In this brief paragraph we may find several resemblances to what we have said earlier, and elsewhere. First, Peirce’s conception of time within his semiotics provide us a means for referring to the binding problem. More precisely, thought as sign process is itself the mechanism to relate ideas and actions, where actions are always preceded, but never succeeded by their respective ideas.

Second, Peirce rejects the idea that a single purpose could be considered as reasonable. Instead, in order to justify reasonability, a whole population of remindable purposes, present and past, is required; all of them overlapping, at least potentially, all of them once pointing to the future. This multiplicity of overlapping and unmeasurable intervals creates a multiplicity of continuations. Even more important, this continuation is known before it happens. Hence, the present extends into the past as well as into the future. Given the fact that firstly the immediate effect of an action is rarely the same as the ultimate effect, and secondly the ultimate effect is often quite different to the expectation related to the purpose, we often do even not know “what” happened in the past. So, by applying ordinary referential time, our ignorance stretches to both sides of present, though not in the same way. It even exceeds the period of time of what could be called event.

Yet, by applying Peirce’s continuity, we find a possibility to simplify the description. For we then are faced by a single kind of ignorance that results in the attitude that Heidegger called “care” (Sorge).

The mentioned extension of the experienced ignorance as an ignorance within the present into the past and the future does not mean, of course, to propose a symmetry between the past and the future with respect to present, as we will see in a moment. Wittgenstein [40] is completely right in his diagnosis that

[…] in the grammar of future tense the conception of “memory” does not occur, even not with inverted sign.21 (p. 159)

The third issue, finally, concerns the way re relates rationality to the notion of “possible future.” This rationality is not claiming absolute objectivity, since it creates its own conditions as well as itself. Peirce’s rationality is a local one, at least at first sight. It is just this creating of the possible future that provides the conditions for the possibility of the experiencibility of future affairs.

The most important (methodological) feature of Peircean semiotics is, however, the possibility to jump out of consciousness, so to speak. Sign situations occur not only within the mind, they are also ubiquitous in interpersonal exchange, and even in the absorption of energy by different kinds of matter. Semiotics provides a cross-medial continuity. This argument has been extended later by John Dewey [37][38], Peirce’s pragmatist disciple .

Such we could say that, if (1) thought comprises signs, and (2) signs are sign situations, then it does not make sense to speak about “instantaneous” time regarding thought and consciousness in particular, but also regarding any interpretation in general, as interpretation is always part of a sign (-situation). Then, we also can say that presence lasts as long as a particular interpretation is “running”. Yet, signs refer to signs only. Interpretations are fundamentally open in its beginning as well as in its end. They are nested and occur in parallel, and are more broken than finished just contingently. Once the time string, or the interpretive chain, respectively, has been broken, past and future appear literally in their own right, i.e. de iure, and only by a formal act.22

The consequence of all that the probabilistic network of interpretations gives rise to a cloud of time strings, any of them with indeterminable ends. It is clear that signs and thus thinking would be absolutely impossible if there would be just one referential clock-time. But even more important, without the inner multiplicity of “sign time” there would be only the cold world of a single strictly causal process. There would be no life and no information. Only a single, frozen black hole.

Given the primacy of the cloud of time strings, it is easy to construct referential time as a clock-time. One just needs to enumerate the overlapping time strings in such a way that enumeration and counting coincide. Once this is done it is possible to refer to a clock. Yet, the clock would be without any meaning without such a enumerative counting. The clock the is suitably actualized in a more simple way by a perfectly repetitive process, that is, a process that actually is outside of time, much as Aristotle thought it is the case for celestial bodies. And once we have established clock time we can engage in interpersonal synchronization of our individual time string populations.

Peircean sign time thus not only allows to reconcile the two modi of time, the experiential time and referential time. It is also possible to extend the same process into historical time, rooting historicity in an alternative and much more appealing manner than it was proposed by Heidegger.


All the positions we met so far can be split into two sets. In the first part we find fundamental ontology and existential philosophy (Heidegger), analytic ontology (Oaklander), “folk approaches” (Augustine), idealistic conceptions (McTaggart) and physics with its reductionist perspective . In the second subset we find Aristotle, Bergson and Peirce.

The difference between the two parties lies in the way they root the concept of time. The former party roots it in reality; hence they ask about the inner structure of time, much like one would ask about the inner structure of wood. For the proponents of the second class time is primary experiential time and such always rooted in the interpretant, i.e. some kind of active observer, whether this refers to observers with or without consciousness. For all of them, though in different ways, the present is primary. For Aristotle it is kind of a substance, for Bergson durée, for Peirce the sign as process.

Wittgenstein does not say much time, since he seems to be convinced that there is not so much to say. He simply accepts the distinction between referential time of physics and experiential time and considers them to be incommensurable. [39]

Both ways of expressing it are okay and equitable, yet not blendable.23 ([40], p.81-82)

Already in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein wrote

We cannot compare any process with the “passage of time”—there is no such thing—but only with another process (say, with the movement of the chronometer).24 (TLP 6.3611)

Here it becomes clear that clock-time is nothing “built into matter”, but rather a communally negotiated reference, or in short, referential time. We all refer to the same particular process, whether this is length of a day or the number of state changes in Cs-133.25 Experiential time, on the other hand, can’t be considered as a geometrical entity, hence there is no such thing as a “point” in present. In experience, there is nothing to measure. The main reason for this being that experience is tightly linked to (abstract) modeling, and thus to the choreosteme. In short, experience is a self-generating process without an Archimedean Point.

“Now” does not denote a point in time. It is not a “name of a moment in time.”26 ([43], 157)

[…] yet it is nonsense to say ‚This is this‘, or ‚This is now‘.27 ([43], 159)

„Now“ is an indexical term, just as „I“, „this“ or „here“. Indexical terms do not refer to an index. Quite in contrast, sometimes, in more simple cases, they are setting an index, in more complicated cases indexical terms just denote the possibility for imposing an index onto a largely indeterminate context. Hence, it is for grammatical reasons that we can’t say “this is now.” Time is not an object. Time is nothing of which we could say that it does exist. Thus we also can not ask “What is time?” as this implies the existentialist perspective. The question about the reality of time is ungrammatical, it is like trying to play Chinese checkers28 on a chess board, or chess on a soccer field.

More precisely, there is no possibility to speak about “time as an object” in meaningful terms. For language is (i) a process itself, (ii) a process that intrinsically relates to the communal (there is no private language), and (iii) language is a strongly singular term. Thus we can conclude that there is no such thing as the objectification of time, or objective time.

Examples for such an objectification are easy to find. For instance, it is included in the question posed by Augustine “What is time?”  (Wittgenstein’s starting point for the Philosophical Investigations.) It is also included in the misunderstanding of an objective referential time. Or in the claim that time itself is flowing (like a river). Or in the attempt to proof that time itself is continuous.29

Instead, “now” is used as an indication of—or a pointer to—the present and the presence of the speaker. Its duration in terms of clock-time is irrelevant. It would be nonsense to attempt to measure this duration, because it would mean to measure the speaker and his act itself.

Accordingly, the temporal modi in language, the tenses, such as past, present time, future, reflect to the temporal modi of actions—including speech acts—, which take place in the “now” and are anchored in the future through their purpose ([42] p.142).

Confusing and mixing the two conceptions of time—referential time and experiential time—is the main reason, according to Wittgenstein, for enigmas and paradoxes regarding time (such as the distinction of A-series and B-series by McTaggart and in ontology).

For there is no such thing as the objectification of time, time is intrinsically a relational “entity”. As Deleuze brilliantly demonstrates in his reflections about Bergson [33], time can be thought only as durée, or in my words, as a manifold of anobjected time strings, that directly points to the virtual, which in turn is not isolated, but rather an intensity within the choreosteme.

The idealistic, phenomenological and existential approaches to temporality are deeply flawed, because it is not possible to take time apart, or to take time out of the game. Wittgenstein considers such attempts as a misuse of language. Expressions like „time itself“ or questions like “What is time?” are outside of any possible language.

In the ‘Philosophical Remarks’ he says

What belongs to the essence of the world could not be expressed by language. Only what we could imagine as being different language is able to tell.30 ([40] p.84).

Everything which we are able to describe at all, could also be different.31 ([45],p .173).

In order to play the game of “questioning reality of X” in a meaningful manner it has to be possible that it is not real, or partially. An alternative is needed, which however is missing in existential questions or attempts to find the essence. Thus it is meaningless (free of sense) to doubt (even implicitly) the reality of time, whether as present, as past or as future. It is similar to Moore’s paradox of doubting of having an arm. In the end, at least after Wittgenstein, one always have to begin with language. It is nonsense to begin with existence, or likewise essence.

Wittgenstein rejects the traditional philosophical reflection that always tried to find the eternal, necessary and general truth, essence or “true nature” as opposed to empirical—and pragmatical—impressions. The attempt to determine the reality of X as a being-X-as-such is a misuse of language, it is outside of the logic of language.

For Wittgenstein, the more interesting part of time points to memory, as clock-time is a mere convention. For him, memory is the sourcing wellspring (“Quelle”) of time, since the past is experienceable just as a recall of the past ([40] p.81f). Bergson called it recollection.

I think that there are one major consequence of Wittgenstein’s considerations. Time can be comprehended only as a transcendent structural condition of establishing a relation, hence also acting, speaking and thinking. Without such conditioning it is simply not possible to establish a relation. This extends, of course, also to the realm of the social [46]. Here we could even point to physics, particularly to the maximum speed of light, that is the maximum speed of exchanging information, which translates to the “establishment of time” as soon as a relation has been built. This includes that this building of a relation is irreversible. Within reversibility it does not make sense to speak about time. Even shorter, we could be tempted to say that within information there is no time, if it would be meaningful to think something like “within information”. Information itself is strictly bound to interpretation, which brings us back to Peircean semiotics.

Such we could say that we as humans “create” time mainly by means of language, albeit it is not the only possibility to “create” time. Yet, for us humans (as a collective individual beings32) there is hardly another possibility, for we can’t step out of language. Different languages and different uses of language “create” different times. It is this what Helga Nowotny calls “Eigenzeit” [46] (“self-owned time”).

It is rather important to understand that by means of these argument we don’t refer any more to something like “historical time” or “natural time”. Our argument is much more general.

Secondarily, then, we may conclude that we have to ask about the different ways we use the language game “time”.


As other authors Paul Ricoeur proposes a strict discontinuity between historical time (“historicality”) and physical time. The former he also calls “time with present”, the latter “time without present.” Yet, unlike other authors he also proposes that this discontinuity can’t be reconciled or bridged. This hypothesis he proceeds to formulate by means of three aporias [47].

  • – Aporia 1, duality: Subjective time and objective time can’t be thought together in a single conception, and even more, they obscure them mutually.
  • – Aporia 2, false unity: Despite we take it for granted that there is one single time, we can’t justify it. We even contradict the insight—which appears as trivial—that there is subjective and objective time.
  • – Aporia 3, inscrutability: Thought can not comprehend time, since its origin can’t be grasped. Conceptually, time is ineluctable. Whenever philosophical thought starts to think about time, this thinking is already too late.

Ricoeur is the second author in our selection who takes a phenomenological stance. Heidegger’s “Being and Time” serves as his point of reference. Yet, Ricoeur is neither interested in the analysis of Being nor of the having-Been. The topic to which he refers in Heidegger, and at the same time his vantage point, is historicality, which he approaches in a very different manner. For Ricoeur, history and historicality can not only be understood just through narrativity; there is even a mutual structural determination. Experience of time as the source of historicality as well as the soil of it gets refigurated through narration. In the essay “On Narrative” [49] that he published while his major work “Time and Narration” [48] was in the making we can find his main hypothesis:

My […] working hypothesis is that narrativity and temporality are closely related—as closely as, in Wittgenstein’s terms, a language game and a form of life. Indeed, I take temporality to be that structure of existence that reaches language in narrativity and narrativity to be the language structure that has temporality as its ultimate referent. Their relationship is therefore reciprocal. (p.169)

Concerning narrativity, Ricoeur draws a lot, of course, on the structure of language and the structure of stories. On both levels various degrees of temporality and nonchronological proportions appear. On the level of language, we find short-range and long-range indicators of temporality, beyond mere grammar. Long-range indicators such as “while” or adverbs of time (“earlier”) do not have a clear boundary, neither structurally nor semantically. The same can be found on the level of the story, the plot as Ricoeur calls it. Here he distinguishes a episodic from a configurational dimension, the former presupposing ordinary, i.e. referential time. Taking into account that

To tell and to follow a story is already to reflect upon events in order to encompass them in successive wholes. (p.178)

it follows that any story comprises a

[…] twofold characteristic of confronting and combining both sequence and pattern in various ways.

In other words, a story creates a multiplicity of possible sequences and times, thereby opening a multiplicity of “planes of manifestation,” or in other words, a web of metaphors33.

[…] the narrative function provides a transition from within-time-ness to historicality.

Yet, according to Ricoeur the configurational dimension of the story has a particular effect on the ordinary temporality of a story as it is transported by the episodics. Through the triggered reflective act, the whole story may condense into a single “thought”.

Finally, the recollection of the story governed as a whole by its way of ending constitutes an alternative to the representation of time as moving from the past forward into the future, according to the well-known metaphor of the arrow of time. It is as though recollection inverted the so-called natural order of time. […] A story is made out of events to the extent that plot makes events into a story. The plot, therefore, places us at the crossing point of temporality and narrativity.

This single thought, the plot of a story as whole now is confronted particularly with the third aporia of inscrutability. Basically, for Ricoeur “not really thinking time” when thinking about time is aporetic. (fTR III 467/dZE III, 417) The aporia

[…] emerges right in that moment, where time, which eludes any attempt to be constituted, turns out to be associated to a constitutive order, which in turn always and already is assumed by the work of that constitution.

Any conception that we could propose about time is confronted with the impossibility of integrating this reflexively ineluctable reason. We never can subject time as an object of our reflexions completely. Inga Römer emphasizes (p.284)

Yet, and this is a crucial point for Ricoeur, “what is brought to its failure here is not thinking, in all its meanings, but rather the drive, better the hubris that our thinking seduces to attempt to dominate sense”. For this failure is only a relative one, the inscrutability is not faced with a lapse into silence, but rather with a polymorphy of arrangements and valuations.34

The items of this polymorphy are incommensurable for Ricoeur. Now, for Ricoeur this polymorphy of time experience is situated in a constitutive and reciprocal relationship with narrativity (see his main hypothesis in “On Narrative” that we cited above). Thereby, our experience of time refigurates and reconfigurates itself continuously. In other words, narration represents a practical and poetic mediation of heterogeneous experiences of time. This interplay, so Ricoeur, can overcome the limitations of philosophical inquiries of time.

Interestingly, Ricoeur rejects any systematicity of his arguments, as Römer points out: (p.454)

This association of withdrawal of grounds at the one hand and the challenge for a thinking-more and thinking-different is the strongest argument for Ricoeur’s explicit refusal of a system regarding the three aporias of time as well as their narrative answers.35 (p.454)

The result of this is pretty clear. The Ricoeurean aporetics starts to molt itself into a narration, constantly staggering and oscillating between its claiming, its negation, its negative positivity and its positive negativity, beginning to dazzle and getting incomprehensible.

Temporality tends to get completely merged in narrativity, which in turn becomes synonymous with the experience of time. Such, there are only two possibilities for Ricoeur, neither of which he actually did follow. The first is the denial of temporality that could be thought independent of narration. The second would be that life is equated with narration.

I think, Ricoeur would favour the second alternative. As Römer summarizes:

Historical practice allows us to mediate experienced time with linear time in its own creation, the historical time.36 (p.326)

Such, however, Ricoeur would introduce a secondary re-mystification, which actually is even an autolog one, since Ricoeur has been starting with it as an inscrutability. At this point, all his arguments vanish and turn into a simple pointing to experience.

In the end, the notion of historical practice remains rather questionable. Ricoeur uses the concepts of witness or testimony as well as “trace,” which of course reminds to Derrida’s infamous trace: an uninterpretable remnant of history. Despite Ricoeur emphasizes the importance of the reader as the situs of the completion of text, he never seems to accept interpretation as a primacy. Here, he closely follows the inherited phenomenological misconceptions of the object that exists independent from and outside of the subject. Other difficulties of it is the denial of transcendence and abstraction, which together with its logicism causes the wrong problem of freedom. Phenomenology never understood, whether in Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, Ricoeur or analytic philosophy, that comparing things can’t take place on the same level as the compared things. Even the most simple comparison implies the Differential, requiring a considerable amount of constructive activity.

Outside phenomenology, Ricoeur’s attempt is only little convincing, albeit he describes many interesting observations around narration and texts. His aporetics of time appears half-baked, through and through, so to speak. Poisoned by phenomenology, and strangely enough forgetting about language in the formulation of his aporias, he commits almost all of the possible mistakes already in his premises. He objectifies time and he treats it as an existential, which could be explained. After all, his main objection that we “can’t really think time”, does not hit a unique. case. Any thinking of any concept is unable to “really think it.”

Our conclusion is not a rejection of Ricoeur’s basic idea of a mutual relationship between “thinking time” and narration. Yet, obviously thinking about narration and phenomenology is an impossibility itself.

One of interesting observations around narration is the distinction between the episodic and the configurational dimension of a plot. This introduces multiplicity, reversibility, and extended present as well as an additional organizational layer. Yet, Ricoeur failed to step out of his affections with narration in order to get aware of the opportunities attached to it.


Introducing transcendence into our game, we have to refer to Kant, of course, and his conception of time in his “Transzendentale Ästhetik der Kritik der reinen Vernunft”. Kant’s merit is the emancipation of transcendental thinking from the imagined divinity, albeit he did not push this move far enough.

By no means Kant demonstrated the irreality of time, as Einstein as well as McTaggard boldly claim. Kant just demonstrated that time can’t “have” a reality independent from a subject. Accordingly, the idea of an illusionary or irreal time itself is based on a fiction: the fiction of naïve realism. It claims that there is the possibility of an access to “nature” in a way that is independent of subject. Conversely, this does not mean that time as a reality is constructed by human thinking, of course.

The reason for misunderstanding Kant lies in the fact that Kant still argues completely within the realm of the human, while physicists like Einstein talk about the fiction of primarily unrelated entities. It is a major methodological element of the theoretic constitution of physics to assume so, in order to become able, so the fiction, to describe the relations then objectively. Well, actually this does not make much sense, yet physicists usually believe in it.

Far from showing that time is illusionary, Kant tried to secure the objectivity of time under conditions of empirical constitutions, that is, after the explicit and final departure from still scholastic pre-established harmonies that are guaranteed by God. In order to accomplish that he had to invent kind of an intrinsic transcendentality of empirical arrangements. This common basis he found in the transcendent sensual intuition.

For Kant time is a form of intuition (Anschauung), or more precisely, a transcendental and insofar pure form of sensual intuition. It is however of utmost importance, as Mike Sandbothe writes, that Kant himself relativized the universality that is introduced by the transcendentality of time, or in still other words, the intuition of the transcendental subject.

[…] die Form der Anschauung bloss Mannigfaltiges, die formale Anschauung aber Einheit der Vorstellung gibt.” ([47]p.154, B 160f)

The formal account in the intuition now refers to the use of symbols. Thus, it can’t be covered completely as a subject by the pure reason. Here, we find a possible transition to Wittgenstein, since symbols are symbols by convention. Note that this does not refer to a particular symbol, of course, but to the symbolicity that accompanies any instance of talking about time. On the one hand this points towards the element of historicity, which has been developed by Heidegger in a rather limited manner (because he restricted history to the realm of the Dasein, i.e. consciousness).

On the other hand, however, we could extend Kant’s insight of a two-fold constitution of time into more abstract, and this means a-human regions. In a condensed way Kant shows that we need sensual intuitions and symbolicity in order to access temporal aspects of the world. Sensual intuitions, then, require, in the widest sense, kind of match between sensed and the sensing. In human thinking these are the schemata, in particle physics it is the filter built deeply into matter. We could call this transverse excitability. In physics, it is called quantum.

Yet, the important thing is the symbolicity. We can immediately translate this into quantificability and quantitability. And again we are back at Aristotle’s conception.

2. Synopsis

So, after having visited some of the most important contributions to the issue of time we may try to approach a synopsis of those. Again, we have to emphasize that we disregarded many highly interesting ideas, among others those of Platon in his Timaios with his three “transcendental” categories of Being, Space and Becoming, or those of Schelling (cf. in [31]); or those of Deleuze in his cinema books, where he distinguished the “movement image” (presupposing clock time) from the “time image” that is able to provide a grip onto “time itself,” which, for Deleuze, is the virtual to which Bergson’s durée points to; likewise, any of the works by the authors we referred to should have been discussed in much more detail in order to do justice to them. Anyway.

Our intermediate goal was to liberate time from its human influences without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human. We need to do so in order to investigate the relation between time and architecture. This liberation, however, still has to obey to the insight of Wittgenstein that we must not expect to find an “essence” of time. Taking all the aspects together, we indeed may ask, as careful as possible,

How should we conceive of time?

The answer is pretty clear, yet, it comes as a compound consisting of three parts. And above all it is also pretty simple.

(1) Time is best conceived as a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation.

This “transcendent condition” is not possible without a respective plane of immanence, which in turn comprises the unfolding of virtuality. Much could be said about that, of course, with respect to the philosophical implications, its choreostemic references, or its architectonic vicinity. For instance, this determination of time suggests a close relationship to the issue of information and its correlate, causality. Or we could approach other conceptions of time by means of something like a “reverse synthesis.”

It is perhaps at least indicated to emphasize—particularly for all those that are addicted to some kind of science—that this transcendent condition does not, by no means, exclude any consideration of “natural” systems, even not in its material(ist) contraction. On the other hand, this in turn does not mean, of course, that we are doing “Naturphilosophie” here, neither of the ancient nor the scholastic type.

It is clear that we need to instantiate the subjects of this conception in order to achieve a practical relevance of it. It is in this instantiation that different forms of temporality appear, i.e. durée on the one hand and clock-time on the other. Nothing could be less surprising, now, as an incompatibility of the two forms of temporality. Actually, the expectation of a compatibility is already based on the misunderstanding that claims the possibility of a “direct” comparison (which is an illusion). Quite to the contrast, we have to understand that the phenomenal incommensurability just points to a differential of time, which we formulated as a transcendent condition above.

Now, one of the instantiations, clock-time, or referential time, is pretty trivial. We don’t need to deal with it any further. The other branch, where we find Peirce and Bergson, is more interesting.

As we have seen in our discussion about their works, multiplicity is an essential ingredient of relational time. Peirce and Bergson arrived at it on different ways, though. For Peirce it is a consequence of the multiplicity of thoughts about something, naturally derived from his semiotics. For Bergson, it is a multiplicity within experience, or better the experiencing consciousness. So to speak, they take inverse positions regarding the mediality. We already said that we prefer the Peircean perspective due to its more prominent potential for generalization. Yet, I think the two perspectives could be reconciled quite easily. Both conceptions conceive primal time as “experiential” time (in the widest sense).

Our instantiation of time as a transcendent condition is thus:

(2) Transcendent time gets instantiated as a probabilistic, distributed and manifold multiplicity of—topologically spoken—open time strings.

Each time string represents a single and local present, where “local” does not refer to a “spatial place”, but rather to a particular sign process.

This multiplicity is not an external multiplicity, despite it is triggered or filled from the external. It is also not possible to “count” the items in it, without loosing present. If we count, we destroy the coherence between the overlapping strings of present, thus creating countable referential time. This highlights a further step of instantiation, the construction of expressibility.

(3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific space of expressibility.

Symbolization may be actualized by means of numbers, as already mentioned before. This would allow us to comprehend and speak of movement. We also have seen that we could construct a web of proceeding metaphors and their virtual movement. This would put us in midst the narration and into metaphoricology, as I call it, which refers to the perspective that conceives of being human and of human beings as parts of lively metaphors. In other words, culture itself becomes the story and the narrative.

As still another possibility we could address the construction of a space of expressibility of temporality quite directly. Such a space need to be an aspectional space, of course. Just keep in mind that the aspectional space is not a space of quantities, as it is the case for a Cartesian space. The aspectional space is a space that is characterized by a “smooth” blending of intensity and quantity. We may call it intensive quantities, or quantitable intensities. It is a far-reaching generalization of the “ordinary” space conceptions that we know from mathematics. As the aspects —the replacement of dimensions—of that space we could choose the modes of temporality—such as past, present, future—, the durée, the referential time, or implicit time as it occurs and shows up in behavior or choreostemic space. We also could think of an aspection that is built by a Riemannian manifold, allowing to comprise linearity and circularity as just a single aspect.

The tremendous advantage of such a space is manifold, of course, because an infinite amount of particular time practices can be constructed, even as a continuum. This contiguous and continuous plurality is of a completely different kind as the unmediatable items in the plurality of time conceptions that has been proposed by Mike Sandbothe [8].

The aspectional space of transcendent time offers, I mentioned it, the possibility for expressing time, or more precisely, a particular image of time. There are several of those spaces, and each of them is capable to hold an infinite number of different images of time.

It is now easy to understand that collapsing the conditions for building relations with the instantiation into a concrete time form, or even with the action (or the “phenomenon”) results in nothing else than a terrible mess. Actually, it is precisely the mess that physicists or phenomenology create in different ways. “Phenomenal” observables of this mess are pseudo-paradoxes or dualities. We also could say that such mess is created due to a wrong application of the grammar of time.

There is one important aspect of time and temporality, or perspective onto them, that we mentioned only marginally so far, the event. We met it in Heidegger’s “Being and Time” as the provider [m: the Giving] and insofar also the origin of Being and time. We also saw that Ricoeur uses them as building bricks for stories that combine them into successive wholes. For Dewey (“Time and Individuality”, “Context of Thought”) the concept of an event involves both the individual pattern of growth and the environmental conditions. Dewey, as Ricoeur, emphasizes that there is no geometrical sequence, no strict seriality to which events could be arranged. Dewey calls it concurrence, which could not be separated from occurrence of an event.

Yet, for both of them time remains something external to the conception of event, while Heidegger conceives it as the source of time. Considering our conception of time as a proceeding actualization of Differential Time we could say the the concept of event relates to the actualization of the relation within the transcendence of its conditions. Such it could be said to accompany creation of time, integrating transcendent and practical conditions as well as all the more or less contingent choices associated with it. In some way we can see that we have proceduralized (differentiated) Heidegger’s “point of origin”.37. Marc Rölli [52] sharpens this point by referring to Deleuze’s conception as “radically empiricist”, dismissing Heidegger through the concepts of actuality and virtuality. Such we can see that the immediate condition that is embedding the possibility of experience is the “event,” which in turn can be traced back to a proper image of time. Time, as a condition, is mediated towards experience by the event, as a condition. Certainly, however, the “event” could not be thought without an explicitly formulated conception of time. Without it, a multitude of misunderstandings must be expected. If we accept the perspective that insofar time is preceding substance, which resolves of course into a multiplicity in a Deleuzean perspective, we also could say that the trinity of time, event and experience contributes to the foil of immanence, or even builds it up, where experience in turn refers to the choreostemic constitution of being in the world.

In order to summarize our conception as an overview… here is how we propose to conceive of time

  • (1) Time is a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation, or likewise a quality.
  • (2) It gets instantiated as a probabilistic multiplicity of open time strings that, by the completion of all instantiations, present presence.
  • (3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific, aspectional space of expressibility.
  • (4) Any particular “choice” of a situs in this space of intensive quantities represents the respective image of time, which then may emerge in worldly actualizations.

Particularly regarding this last element we have to avoid the misunderstanding of a seriality of the kind “I choose then I get”. This choice is an implicit one, just as the other instantiations, and can be “observed” only in hindsight, or more precise, they show themselves only within performance. Only in this way we can say that it brings time into a particular Lebenswelt and its contexts as a matter (or subject) of design.

Nevertheless, we now could formulate kind of a recipe for creating a particular “time”, form of temporality, or “time quality.” This would work also in the reverse direction, of course. It is possible to construct a comparative of time qualities across authors, architects or urban neighborhoods. Hopefully, this will help to improve urban practices. In order to make this creational aspect more clear, we now have to investigate the possibilities to create time “itself”.

to be continued …

(The next part will deal with the question whether it could be possible to identify the mechanisms needed to create time…)


1. “Living City” was Archigram’s first presentation to the public, which has been curated by Ron Herron in 1963. 

2. German orig.: „Zuletzt markiert die Zeit für Ricoeur das “Mysterium” unseres Denkens, das sich der Repräsentation verweigert, indem es unser Dasein auf eine für das Denken uneinholbare Weise umgreift.“

3. As in the preceding essays, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept in the vicinity of Urban Reason, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

4. remark about state and development.

5. We discussed them in the essay about growth patterns. The fractal is a consequence of self-affine mapping, roughly spoken, a local replacement by a minor version of the original diagram.

6. It is tempting to relate this position to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Yet, we won’t deal with contemporary physics here, even as it would be interesting to investigate the deficiencies of physical conceptions of time.

7. McTaggart paper about time that has been cited over and over again and became unfortunately very influential. Yet, it is nothing but a myth. For a refutation see Tegtmeier [18]. For reasons of its own stupidity and the boldly presented misinterpretation of the work of Kant, McTaggart’s writing deserves the title of a “most developed philanosy” (Grk: anoysia ανοησία, nonsense, or anosia, immunity). It is not even worthwhile, as we will see later through our discussion of Wittgenstein’s work regarding time, to consider it seriously, as for instance Sean Power does .

8. There is a distant resemblance to Georg Berkley’s “esse est percipi.” [20] Yet, in contrast to Berkley, we conceive of interpretation as an activity that additionally is deeply rooted in the communal.

9. German original: SZ: 326: „Zukünftig auf sich zurückkommend, bringt sich die Entschlossenheit gegenwärtigend in die Situation. Die Gewesenheit entspringt der Zukunft, so zwar, dass die gewesene (besser gewesende) Zukunft die Gegenwart aus sich entlässt. Dies dergestalt als gewesend-gegenwärtigende Zukunft einheitliche Phänomen nennen wir die Zeitlichkeit.

10. One has to consider that Heidegger conceives of Being only in relation to the Being-there (“Dasein”), while the “Being-there” is confined to conscious beings.

11. The translators used ”falling”, which however does not match the German “verfallend”. (Actually, I consider it as a mistake.) Hence, I replaced it by a more appropriate verb.

12. Note that Heidegger always used to write in a highly ambigue fashion, which makes it nearly impossible to translate him literally from German to English. In everyday language “Es gibt” is surely well translated by “There is.” Yet, in this text he repeatedly refers to “giving”. Turning perspective to “giving” opens the preceding “Es” away from its being as impersonate corpuscle towards impersonal “fateness”. This interpretation matches the presentation of the affair in [24].

13. German original: “Das Sein eigens denken, verlangt, das Sein als den Grund des Seienden fahren zu lassen zugunsten des im Entbergen verborgen spielenden Gebens, d.h. des „Es gibt“.“

14. see also: Marcel Mauss, Die Gabe. Form und Funktion des Austauschs in archaischen Gesellschaften. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2009 [1925].

15. German orig.: „In “Zeit und Sein” schliesslich sieht Heidegger den Ursprung der Zeit im Ereignis, welches er ausdrücklich als den [sich ] selbst entzogenen Geber von Sein und Zeit bestimmt. Das Ereignis, von Heidegger andernorts bestimmt als singulare tantum, ist selbst grundsätzlich entzogen – und dennoch ist das Ereignis der Ursprung der Zeit.“

16. German original (my own translation): “Sein und Zeit ist vielmehr dahin unterwegs, auf dem Wege über die Zeitlichkeit des Daseins in der Interpretation des Seins als Temporalität einen Zeitbegriff, jenes Eigene der “Zeit” zu finden, von woher sich “Sein” als Anwesen er-gibt. Damit ist aber gesagt, daß das in der Fundamentalontologie gemeinte Fundamentale kein Aufbauen darauf verträgt. Stattdessen sollte, nachdem der Sinn von Sein erhellt worden wäre, die ganze Analytik des Daseins ursprünglicher und in ganz anderer Weise wiederholt werden.“ [21]

17. German original (my translation): “Zeit-Raum nennt jetzt das Offene, das im Einander-sich-reichen von Ankunft, Gewesenheit und Gegenwart sich lichtet. Erst dieses Offene und nur es räumt dem uns gewöhnlich bekannten Raum seine mögliche Ausbreitung ein.“

18. This also holds for any of the attempts hat can be found in physics. The following sources may be considered as the most prominent sources, though they are not undisputed: Carroll [22], Price [23][24], Penrose [25]. Physics always and inevitably conceives of time as a measurable “thing”, i.e. as something which already has been negotiated in its relevance for the communal aspects of thinking. See Aristotle’s conception of time.

19. hint to Schelling, for whom intensity is not accessible at all, but could be conceived only as a force that expands into extensity.

20. You will find Peirce’s writings online here: http://www.cspeirce.com/; the parts reference here for instance at http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/bycsp/logic/ms237.htm,

21. German original (my transl.): „Denn in der Grammatik der Zukunft tritt der Begriff des ,Gedächtnis’ nicht auf, auch nicht mit umgekehrten Vorzeichen.“

22. In meditational practices one can extend the interpretive chain in various ways. The result is simply the stopping of referential time.

23. German orig.: „Beide Ausdrucksweisen sind in Ordnung und gleichberechtigt, aber nicht miteinander vermischbar“.

24. German orig.: „Wir können keinen Vorgang mit dem ,Ablauf der Zeit’ vergleichen – diesen gibt es nicht – sondern nur mit einem anderen Vorgang (etwa mit dem Gang des Chronometers).“ translation taken from here.

25. 1 second is currently defined as the duration of 9192631770 transitions between two energy levels of the caesium-133 atom. [39] Interestingly, this fits nicely to Aristotle’s conception of time. The reason to take the properties of Cs-133 as a reference is generality. The better the resolution of the referential scale the more general it could be applied.

26. German orig.: „„Jetzt“ bezeichnet keinen Zeitpunkt. Es ist kein „Name eines Zeitmomentes“.“

27. German orig.: „[…] es ist aber Unsinn zu sagen ‘Dies ist dies’, oder ‘Dies ist jetzt’.“

28. In German “Halma”.

29. Much could be said about physics here, regarding the struggling of physicists to “explain” the so-called arrow of time, or regarding the theory of relativity or quantum physics with its Planck time, but it is not close enough to our interests here. Physics always tries to objectify time, which happens through claiming an universally applicable scale, hence they run into paradoxes. In other terms, the fact of the necessity of conceptions like Planck time, or time dilatation, is precisely that without observer there is nothing. The mere possibility of observation (and the observer) vanishes at the light of speed, or at the singularity “within” black holes”. In some way, physics all the time (tries to) proof(s) their own nonsensical foundations.

30. German orig.: „Was zum Wesen der Welt gehört, kann die Sprache nicht ausdrücken. (…) Nur was wir uns auch anders vorstellen können, kann die Sprache sagen.”

31. German orig.: ,,Alles was wir überhaupt beschreiben können, könnte auch anders sein”.

32. Note that in case of a city we meet somewhat the inverse of it. We could conceive of a city as “an individual being made from a collective.”

33. see also Paul Ricoeur (1978), “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” Critical Inquiry, 1978.

34. German orig.: „Aber, und das ist für Ricoeur entscheidend, “was hier zum Scheitern gebracht wird, ist nicht das Denken, in allen Bedeutungen des Wortes, sondern der Trieb, besser die hybris, die unser Denken dazu verleitet, sich zu Herrn des Sinns zu machen“. Aufgrund dieses nur relativen Scheiterns stehe der Unerforschlichkeit kein Verstummen, sondern vielmehr eine Polymorphie der Gestaltungen und Bewertungen der Zeit gegenüber.“

35. German orig.: „Diese Zusammengehörigkeit von Entzug des Grundes und Herausforderung um Mehr- und Andersdenken ist der stärkste Grund für Ricoeurs explizite Ablehnung eines Systems sowohl der drei Aporien der Zeit selbst wie auch ihrer narrativen Antworten.“

36. German orig.: „Historische Praxis erlaubt uns, die erlebt Zeit mit der linearen Zeit in einer ihr eigenen Schöpfung, der historischen Zeit, zu vermitteln.“

37. Much more would be to say about the event, of course (cf. [51]). Yet, I think that our characterization not only encompasses most conceptions or fits to most of the contribution to the “philosophy of the event,” it also clarifies and sheds light (kind of x-rays?) on them.


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Waves, Words and Images

April 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

The big question of philosophy, and probably its sole question,

concerns the status of the human as a concept.1 Does language play a salient role in this concept, either as a major constituent, or as sort of a tool? Which other capabilities and which potential beyond language, if it is reasonable at all to take that perspective, could be regarded as similarly constitutive?

These questions may appear far off such topics like the technical challenges to program a population of self-organizing maps, the limits of Turing-machines, or the generalization of models and their conditions. Yet, in times where lots of people are summoning the so-called singularity, the question about the status of the human is definitely not exotic at all. Notably, “singularity” is often and largely defined as “overwhelming intelligence”, seemingly coming up inevitably due to ever increasing calculation power, and which we could not “understand” any more.  From an evolutionary perspective it makes pretty little sense to talk about singularities. Natural evolution, and cultural evolution alike, is full of singularities and void of singularities at the same time. The idea of “singularity” is not a fruitful way to approach the question of qualitative changes.

As you already may have read in another chapter, we prefer the concept of machine-based episteme as our ariadnic guide. In popular terms, machine-based episteme concerns the possibility for an actualization of a particular “machine” that would understand the conditions of its own when claiming “I know.” (Such an entity could not be regarded as a machine anymore, I guess.) Of course, in following this thread we meet a lot of already much-debated issues. Yet, moving the question about the episteme into the sphere of the machinic provides particular perspectives onto these issues.

In earlier times it has been tried, and some people still are trying today, to determine that status of the “human” as sort of a recipe. Do this and do that, but not that and this, then a particular quality will be established in your body, as your person, visible for others as virtues, labeled and conceived henceforth as “quality of being human”. Accordingly, natural language with all its ambiguities need not be regarded as an essential pillar. Quite to the opposite, if the “human” could be defined as a recipe, then our everyday language has to be cleaned up, made more close to crisp logic in order to avoid misunderstandings as far as possible; you may recognize this as the program of contemporary analytical philosophy. In methodological terms it was thought that it would be possible to determine the status of the human in positively given terms, or short, in a positive definite manner.

Such positions are, quite fortunately so, now recognized more and more as highly problematic. The main reason is that it is not possible to justify any kind of determination in an absolute manner. Any justification requires assumptions, while unjustified assumptions are counter-pragmatic to the intended justification. The problematics of knowledge is linked in here, as it could not be regarded as “justified, true belief” any more2. It was first Charles S. Peirce who concluded that the application of logic (as the grammar of reason) and ethics (as the theory of morality) are not independent from each other. In political terms, any positive definite determination that would be imposed to communities of other people must be regarded as an instance of violence. Hence, philosophy is not any more concerned about the status of the human as a fact, but, quite differently, the central question is how to speak about the status of the human, thereby not neglecting that speaking, using language is not a private affair. This looking for the “how” has to obey, of course, itself to the rule not to determine rules in a positive definite manner. As a consequence, the only philosophical work we can do is exploring the conditions, where the concept of “condition” refers to an open, though not recursive, chain. Actually, already Aristotle dubbed this as “metaphysics” and as the core interest of philosophy. This “metaphysics” can’t be overtaken by any “natural” discipline, whether it is a kind of science or engineering. There is a clear downstream relation: science as well as engineering should be affected by it in emphasizing the conditions for their work more intensely.

Practicing, turning the conditions and conditionability into facts and constraints is the job of design, let it manifest this design as “design,” as architecture, as machine-creating technology, as politician, as education, as writer and artist, etc.etc.  Philosophy can not only never explain, as Wittgenstein mentioned, it also can’t describe things “as such”. Descriptions and explanations are only possible within a socially negotiated system of normative choices. This holds true even for natural sciences. As a consequence, we should start with philosophical questions even in the natural sciences, and definitely always in engineering. And engaging in fields like machine learning, so-called artificial intelligence or robotics without constantly referring to philosophy will almost inevitably result in nonsense. The history of these fields a full of examples for that, just remember the infamous “General Problem Solver” of Simon and Newell.

Yet, the issue is not only one of ethics, morality and politics. It has been Foucault as the first one, in sort of a follow-up to Merleau-Ponty, who claimed a third region between the empiricism of affections and the tradition of reflecting on pure reason or consciousness.3 This third region, or even dimension (we would say “aspection”), being based on the compound consisting from perception and the body, comprises the historical evolution of systems of thinking. Foucault, together with Deleuze, once opened the possibility for a transcendental empiricism, the former mostly with regard to historical and structural issues of political power, the latter mostly with regard to the micronics of individual thought, where the “individual” is not bound to a single human person, of course. In our project as represented by this collection of essays we are following a similar path, starting with the transition from the material to the immaterial by means of association, and then investigating the dynamics of thinking in the aspectional space of transcendental conditions (forthcoming chapter), which build an abstract bridge between Deleuze and Foucault as it covers both the individual and the societal aspects of thinking.

This Essay

This essay deals with the relation of words and a rather important aspect in thinking, representation. We will address some aspects of its problematics, before we approach the role of words in language. Since the representation is something symbolic in the widest sense and that representation has to be achieved autonomously by a mainly material arrangement, e.g. called “the machine”4, we also will deal (again) with the conditions for the transformation of (mainly) physical matter into (mainly) symbolic matter. Particularly, however, we will explore the role of words in language. The outline comprises the following sections:

From Matter to Mind

Given the conditioning mentioned above, the anthropological history of the genus of homo5 poses a puzzle. Our anatomical foundations6 have been stable since at least 60’000 years, but contemporary human beings at the age of, let me say, 20 or 30 years are surely much more “intelligent”7. Given the measurement scale established as I.Q. in the beginning of the 20th century, a significant increase can be observed for the supervised populations even throughout the last 60 years.

So, what makes the difference then, between the earliest ancient cultures and the contemporary ones? This question is highly relevant for our considerations here that focus on the possibility of a machine-based episteme, or in more standard, yet seriously misplaced terms, machine learning, machine intelligence or even artificial intelligence. In any of those fields, one could argue, researchers and engineers somehow start with mere matter, then imprinting some rules and symbols to that matter, only to expect then the matter becoming “intelligent” in the end. The structure of the problematics remains the same, whether we take the transition that started from paleo-cultures or that rooted in the field of advanced computer science. Both instances concern the role of culture in the transformation of physical matter into symbolic matter.

While philosophy has tackled that issue for at least two and a half millennia, resulting in a rich landscape of arguments, including the reflection of the many styles of developing those arguments, computer science is still almost completely blind against the whole topic. Since computer scientists and computer engineers inevitably get into contact with the realm of the symbolic, they usually and naively repeat past positions, committing naïve, i.e. non-reflective idealism or materialism that is not even on a pre-socratic level. David Blair [6] correctly identifies the picture of language on which contemporary information retrieval systems are based on as that of Augustine: He believed that every word has a meaning. Notably, Augustine lived in the late 4th till early 5th century A.C. This story simply demonstrates that in order to understand the work of a field one also has, as always, to understand its history. In case of computer sciences it is the history of reflective thought itself.

Precisely this is also the reason for the fact that philosophy is much more than just a possibly interesting source for computer scientists. More directly expressed, it is probably one of the major structural faults of computer science that it is regarded as just a kind of engineering. Countless projects and pieces of software failed for the reason of such applied methodological reductionism. Everything that gets into contact with computers developed from within such an attitude then also becomes infected by the limited perspective of engineering.

One of the missing aspects is the philosophy of techno-science, which not just by chance seriously started with Heidegger8 as its first major proponent. Merleau-Ponty, inspired by Heidegger, then emphasized that everything concerning the human is artificial and natural at the same time. It does not make sense to set up that distinction for humans or man-made artifacts as well, as if such a difference would itself be “natural”. Any such distinction refers more directly than not to Descartes as well as to Hegel, that is, it follows either simplistic materialism or overdone idealism, so to speak idealism in its machinic, Cartesian form. Indeed, many misunderstandings about the role of computers in contemporary science and engineering, but also in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of information can be deciphered as a massive Cartesio-Hegelian heir, with all its drawbacks. And there are many.

The most salient perhaps is the foundational element9 of Descartes’ as well as Hegel’s thoughts: independence. Of course, for both of them independence was a major incentive, goal and demand, for political reasons (absolutism in the European 17th century), but also for general reasons imposed by the level of techno-scientific insights, which remained quite low until the mid of the 20th century. People before the scientific age had been exposed to all sorts of threatening issues, concerning health, finances, religious or political freedom, collective or individual violence, all together often termed “fate”. Being independent meant a basic condition to live more or less safely at all, physically and/or  mentally. Yet, Descartes and Hegel definitely exaggerated it.

Yet, the element of independence made its way into the cores of the scientific method itself. Here it blossomed as reductionism, positivism and physicalism, all of which can be subsumed under the label of naive realism. It took decades until people developed some confidence not to prejudge complexity as esotericism.

With regard to computer science there is an important consequence. We first and safely can drop the label of  “artificial intelligence” or “machine learning” just along with the respective narrow and limited concepts. Concerning machine learning we can state that only very few of the approaches to machine learning that exist so far is at most a rudimentary learning in the sense of structural self-transformation. The vast majority of approaches that are dubbed as “machine learning” represent just some sort of advanced parameter estimation, where the parameters to be estimated are all defined (i) apriori, and (ii) by the programmer(s). And regarding intelligence we can recognize that we never can assign concepts like artificial or natural to it, since there is always a strong dependence on culture in it. Michel Serres once called written language the first artificial intelligence, pointing to the central issue of any technology: externalization of symbol-based systems of references.

This brings us back to our core issue here, the conditions for the transformation of (mainly) physical matter into (mainly) symbolic matter. In some important way we even can state that there is no matter without symbolic aspects. Two pieces of matter can interact only if they are not completely transparent to each other. If there is an effective transfer of energy between those, then the form of the energy becomes important, think of it for instance as wave length of some electromagnetic radiation, or the rhythmicity of it, which becomes distinctive in the case of a LASER [9,10]. Sure, in a LASER there are no symbols to be found; yet, the system as a whole establishes a well-defined and self-focusing classification, i.e. it performs the transition from a white-noised, real-valued randomness to a discrete intensional dynamics. The LASER has thus to be regarded as a particular kind of associative system, which is able to produce proto-symbols.

Of course, we may not restrict our considerations to such basic instances of pan-semiotics. When talking about machine-based episteme we talk about the ability of an entity to think about the conditions for its own informational dynamics (avoiding the term knowledge here…). Obviously, this requires some kind of language. The question for any attempt to make machines “intelligent” thus concerns in turn the question about how to think about the individual acquisition of language, and, of course, with regard to our interests here how to implement the conditions for it. Note that homo erectus who lived 1 million years ago must have had a clear picture not only about causality, and not only individually, but they also must have had the ability to talk about that, since they have been able to keep fire burning and to utilize it for cooking meal and bones. Logic has not been invented as a field at these times, but it seems absolutely mandatory that they have been using a language.10 Even animals like cats, pigs or parrots are able to develop and to perform plans, i.e. to handle causality, albeit probably not in a conscious manner. Yet, neither wild pigs nor cats are able for symbol based culture, that is a culture, which spreads on the basis of symbols that are independent from a particular body or biological individual. The research programs of machine learning, robotics or artificial intelligence thus appears utterly naive, since they all neglect the cultural dimension.

The central set of questions thus considers the conditions that must be met in order to become able to deal with language, to learn it and to practice it.

These conditions are not only “private”, that is, they can’t be reduced to individual brains, or a machines, that would “process” information. Leaving the simplistic perspective onto information as it is usually practiced in computer sciences aside for the moment, we have to accept that learning language is a deeply social activity, even if the label of the material description of the entity is “computer”. We also have to think about the mediality of symbolic matter, the transition from nature to culture, that is from contexts of low symbolic intensity to those of high symbolic intensity. Handling language is not an affair that could be thought to be performed privately, there is no such thing as a “private language”. Of course, we have brains, for which the matter could still be regarded as dominant, and the processes running there are running only there11.

Note that implementing the handling of words as apriori existing symbols is not what we are talking about here. As Hofstadter pointed out [12], calling the computing processes on apriori defined strings “language understanding” is nothing but silly. We are not allowed to call the shuffling of predefined encoded symbols forth and back “understanding”. But what could we call “understanding” then? Again, we have to postpone this question for the time being. Meanwhile we may reshape the question about learning language a bit:

How do we come to be able to assign names to things, classes, types, species, animals and other humans? What is role of such naming, and what is the role of words?

The Unresolved Challenge

The big danger when addressing these issues is to start too late, provoked by an ontological stance that is applied to language. The most famous example probably being provided by Heidegger and his attempt of “fundamental ontology”, which failed glamorously. It is all too easy to get bewitched by language itself and to regard it as something natural, as something like stones: well-defined, stable, and potentially serving as a tool. Language itself makes us believe that words exist as such, independent from us.

Yet, language is a practice, as Wittgenstein said, and this practice is neither a single homogenous one nor does it remain constant throughout life, nor are the instances identical and exchangeable. The practice of language develops, unfolds, gains quasi-materiality, turns from an end to a means and back. Indeed, language may be characterized just by the capability to provide that variability in the domain of the symbolic. Take as a contrast for instance the symbolon, or take the use of signs in animals, in both cases there is exactly one single “game” you can play. Only in such trivial cases the meaning of a name could be said to be close to its referent. Yet, language games are not trivial.

I already mentioned the implicit popularity of Augustine among computer scientists and information systems engineers. Let me cite the passage that Wittgenstein chose in his opening remarks to the famous Philosophical Investigations (PI)12. Augustine writes:

When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shewn by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires.

Wittgenstein gave two replies, one directly in the PI, the other one in the collection entitled “Philosophical Grammar” (PG).

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects—sentences are combinations of such names.—In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.

Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word. If you describe the learning of language in this way you are, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like “table,” “chair,” “bread,” and of people’s names, and only secondarily of the names of certain actions and properties; and of the remaining kind of words as something that will take care of itself. (PI §1)

And in the Philosophical Grammar:

When Augustine talks about the learning of language he talks about how we attach names to things or understand the names of things. Naming here appears as the foundation, the be all and end all of language. (PG 56)

Before we will take the step to drop and to drown the ontological stance once and for all we would like to provide two things. First, we will briefly cite a summarizing table from Blair [1]13. Blair’s book is indeed a quite nice work about the peculiarities of language as far as it concerns “information retrieval” and how Wittgenstein’s philosophy could be helpful in resolving the misunderstandings. Second, we will (also very briefly) make our perspective to names and naming explicit.

David Blair dedicates quite some efforts to render the issue of indeterminacy of language as clear as possible. In alignment to Wittgenstein he emphasizes that indeterminacy in language is not the result of sloppy or irrational usage. Language is neither a medium of logics nor a something like a projection screen of logics. There are good arguments, represented by the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, late Hilary Putnam and Robert Brandom, to believe that language is not an inferior way to express a logical predicate (see the previous chapter about language). Language can’t be “cleared” or being made less ambiguous, its vagueness is a constitutive necessity for its use and utility in social intercourse. Many people in linguistics (e.g. Rooij [13]) and large parts of cognitive sciences (e.g. Alvin Goldman [14]14), but also philosophers like Saul Kripke [16] or Scott Soames [17] take the opposite position.

Of course, in some contexts it is reasonable to try to limit the vagueness of natural language, e.g. in law and contracts. Yet, it is also clear that positivism in jurisdiction is a rather bad thing, especially if it shows up as a pair with idealism.

Blair then contrasts two areas in so-called “information retrieval”15, distinguished by the type of data that is addressed: structured data that could be arranged in tables on the one hand, Blair calls it determinate data, and such “data” that can’t be structured apriori, like language. We already met this fundamental difference in other chapters (about analogies, language). The result of his investigation he summarized in the following table. It is more than obvious that the characteristics of the two fields are drastically different, which equally obvious has to be reflected in the methods going to be applied. For instance, the infamous n-gram method is definitely a no-go.

For the same reasons, semantic disambiguation is not possible by a set of rules that could be applied by an individual, whether this individual is a human or a machine. Quite likely it is even completely devoid of sense to try to remove ambiguity from language. One of the reasons is given by the fact that concepts are transcendental entities. We will return to the issue of “ambiguity” later.

In the quote from the PG shown above Wittgenstein rejects Augustine’s perspective that naming is central to language. Nevertheless, there is a renewed discussion in philosophy about names and so-called “natural kind terms”, brought up by Kripke’s “Naming and Necessity” [16]. Recently, Scott Soames explicitly referred to Kripke’s. Yet, as so many others, Soames commits the drastic mistake introduced along the line formed by Frege, Russell and Carnap in ascribing language the property of predicativity (cf. [18]  p.646).

These claims are developed within a broader theory which, details aside, identifies the meaning of a non-indexical sentence S with a proposition asserted by utterances of S in all normal contexts.

We won’t delve in any detail to the discussion of “proper names”16, because it is largely a misguided and unnecessary one. Let me just briefly mention three main (and popular) alternative approaches to address the meaning of names: the descriptivist theories, the referential theory originally arranged by John Stuart Mill, and the causal-historical theory. They are all not tenable because they implicitly violate the primacy of interpretation, though not in an obvious manner.

Why can’t we say that a name is a description? A description needs assignates17, or aspects, if you like, at least one scale. Assuming that there is the possibility for a description that is apriori justified and hence objective invokes divinity as a hidden parameter, or any other kind of Fregean hyper-idealism. Assignates are chosen according to and in dependence from the context. Of course, one could try to expel any variability of any expectable context, e.g. by literally programming society, or some kind of philosophical dictatorship. In any other case, descriptions are variant. The actual choice for any kind of description is the rather volatile result of negotiation processes in the embedding society. The rejection of names as description results from the contradictory pragmatic stances. First, names are taken as indivisible, atomic entities, but second descriptions are context-dependent subatomic properties, which by virtue of the implied pragmatics, corroborates the primary claim. Remember that the context-dependency results from the empirical underdetermination. In standard situations it is neither important that water consists as a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, nor is this what we want to say in everyday situations. We do not carry the full description of the named entity along into any instance of its use, despite there are some situations where we indeed are interested in the description, e.g. as a scientist, or as a supporter of  the “hydrogen economy”. The important point is that we never can determine the status of the name before we have interpreted the whole sentence, while we also can’t interpret the sentence without determining the status of the named entity. Both entities co-emerge. Hence we also can’t give an explicit rule for such a decision other than just using the name or uttering the sentence. Wittgenstein thus denies the view that assumes a meaning behind the words that is different from their usage.

The claim that the meaning of a proper name is its referent meets similar problems, because it just introduces the ontological stance through the backdoor. Identifying the meaning of a label with its referent implies that the meaning is taken as something objective, as something that is independent from context, and even beyond that, as something that could be packaged and transferred *as such*. In other words, it deliberately denies the primacy of interpretation. We need not say anything further, except perhaps that Kripke (and Soames as well, in taking it seriously) commits a third mistake in using “truth-values” as factual qualities.18 We may propose that the whole theory of proper names follows a pseudo-problem, induced by overgeneralized idealism or materialism.

Names, proper: Performing the turn completely

Yet, what would be an appropriate perspective to deal with the problem of names? What I would like to propose is a consequent application of the concept of “language game”. The “game” perspective could not only be applied to the complete stream of exchanged utterances, but also to the parts of the sentences, e.g. names and single words. As a result, new questions become visible. Wittgenstein himself did not explore this possibility (he took Augustine as a point of departure), and it could not be found in contemporary discourse either”19. As so often, philosophers influenced by positivism simply forget about the fact that they are speaking. Our proposal is markedly different from and also much more powerful than the causal-historical or the descriptivist approach, and also avoids the difficulties of Kripke’s externalist version.

After all, naming, to give a name and to use names, is a “language game”. Names are close to observable things, and as a matter of fact, observable things are also demonstrable. Using a name refers to the possibility of a speaker to provide a description to his partner in discourse such that this listener would be able to agree on the individuality of the referenced thing. The use of the name “water” for this particular liquid thing does not refer to an apriori fixed catalog of properties. Speaker and listener even need not agree on the identity of the set of properties ascribed to the referred physical thing. The chemist may always associate the physico-chemical properties of the molecule even when he reads about the submersed sailors in Shakespeare’s *tempest*, but nevertheless he easily could talk about that liquid matter with a 9 year old boy that does neither know about Shakespeare nor about the molecule.

It is thus neither possible nor is it reasonable to try to achieve a match regarding the properties, since a rich body of methods would be necessarily invoked to determine that set. Establishing the identity of representations of physical, external things, or even of the physical things themselves, inevitably invokes a normative act (which is rather incommensurable to the empiricists claims).

For instance, saying just “London”, out of the blue, it is not necessary that we envisage the same aspects of the grand urban area. Since cities are inevitably heterotopic entities (in the sense of Foucault [19, 20], acc. to David Graham Shane [21]), this agreement is actually impossible. Even for the undeniably more simple minded cartographers the same problem exists: “Where” is that London, in terms of spheric coordinates? Despite these unavoidable difficulties both the speaker and the listener easily agree on the individuality of the imaginary entity “London”. The name of “London” does not point to a physical thing but just to an imaginative pole. In contrast to concepts, however, names take a different grammatical role as they not only allow for a negotiation of rather primitive assignates in order to take action, they even demonstrate the possibility of such negotiation. The actual negotiations could be quite hard, though.

We conclude that we are not allowed to take any of the words as something that would “exist” as a, or like a physical “thing”. ­­­­Of course, we get used to certain words, the gain a quasi-materiality because a constancy appears that may be much stronger than the initial contingency. But this “getting used” is a different topic, it just refers how we speak about words. Naming remains a game, and as any other game this one also does not have an identifiable border.

Despite this manifold that is mediated through language, or as language, it is also clear that language remains rooted in activity or the possibility of it. I demonstrate the usage of a glass and accompany that by uttering “glass”. Of course, there is the Gavagai problematics20 as it has been devised by Quine [22]. Yet, this problematics is not a real problem, since we usually interact repeatedly. On the one hand this provides us the possibility to improve our capability to differentiate single concepts in a certain manner, but on the other hand the extended experience introduces a secondary indeterminacy.

In some way, all words are names. All words may be taken as indicators that there is the potential to say more about them, yet in a different, orthogonal story. This holds even for the abstract concepts denoted by the word “transcendental” or for verbs.

The usage of names, i.e. their application in the stream of sentences, gets more and more rich, but also more and more indeterminate. All languages developed some kind of grammar, which is a more or less strict body of rules about how to arrange words for certain language games. Yet, the grammar is not a necessity for language at all, it is just a tool to render language-based communication more easy, more fast and more precise. Beyond the grammars, it is the experience which enables us to use metaphors in a dedicated way. Yet, language is not a thing that sometimes contains metaphors and sometimes not. In a very basic sense all the language is metaphorical all the time.

So, we first conclude that there is nothing enigmatic in learning a language. Secondly, we can say that extending the “gameness” down to words provides the perspective of the mechanism, notably without reducing language to names or propositions.

Instead, we now can clearly see how these mechanisms mediate between the language game as a whole, the metaphorical characteristics of any language and simple rule-based mechanisms.

Representing Words

There is a drastic consequence of the completed gaming perspective. Words can’t be “represented” as symbols or as symbolic strings in the brain, and words can’t be appropriately represented as symbols in the computer either. Given any programming language, strings in a computer program are nothing else than particularly formatted series of values. Usually, this series is represented as an array of values, which is part of an object. In other words, the word is represented as a property of an object, where such objects are instances of their respective classes. Such, the representation of words in ANY computer program created so far for the purpose of handling texts, documents, or textual information in general is deeply inappropriate.

Instead, the representation of the word has to carry along its roots, its path of derivation, or in still other words, its traces of precipitation of the “showing”. This rooting includes, so we may say, a demonstrativum, an abstract image. This does not mean that we have to set up an object in the computer program that contains a string and an abstract image. This would be just the positivistic approach, leaving all problems untouched, the string and the image still being independent. the question of how to link them would be just delegated to the next analytic homunculus.

What we propose are non-representational abstract compounds that are irrevocably multi-modal since they are built from the assignates of  abstract “things” (Gegenstände). These compounds are nothing else than combined sets of assignates. The “things” represented in this way are actually always more or less “abstract”. Through the sets of assignates we actually may combine even things which appear incommensurable on the level of their wholeness, at least at first sight. An action is an action, not a word, and vice versa, an image is neither a word nor an action, isn’t it? Well, it depends; we already mentioned that we should not take words as ontological instances. Any of those entities can be described using the same formal structure, the probabilistic context that is further translated into a set of assignates. The probabilistic context creates a space of expressibility, where the incommensurability disappears, notably without reducing the comprised parts (image, text,…) to the slightest extent.

The situation reminds a bit synesthetic experiences. Yet, I would like to avoid calling it synesthetic, since synesthecism is experienced on a highly symbolic level. Like other phenomenological concepts, it also does not provide any hint about the underlying mechanisms. In contrast, we are talking about a much lower level of integration. Probably we could call this multi-modal compound a “syn-presentational” compound, or short, a “synpresentation”.21

Words, images and actions are represented together as a quite particular compound, which is an inextricable multi-modal compound. We also may say that these compounds are derived qualia. The exciting point is that the described way of probabilistic multi-modal representation obviates the need for explicit references and relations between words and images. These relations even would have to be defined apriori (strongly: before programming, weakly: before usage). In our approach, and quite to the contrast to the model of external control, relations and references *can be* subject to context-dependent alignments, either to the discourse, or the task (of preparing a deliverable from memory).

The demonstrativum may not only refer to an “image”. First note that the image does not exist outside of its interpretation. We need to refer to that interpretation, not to an index in a data base or a file system. Interpretation thus means that we apply a lot of various processing and extraction methods to it, each of them providing a few assignates. The image is dissolved into probabilistic contexts as we do it for words (footnote: we have described it elsewhere). The dissolving of an image is of course not the endpoint of a communicable interpretation, it is just the starting point. Yet, this does not matter, since the demonstrativum may also refer to any derived intension and even to any derived concept.22

The probabilistic multi-modal representation exhibits three highly interesting properties, concerning abstractness, relations and the issue of foundations. First, the  abstractness of represented items becomes scalable in an almost smooth manner. In our approach, “abstractness” is not a quality any more. Secondly, relations and references of both words and the “content” of images are transformed into their pre-specific versions. Both, relations and references need not be implemented apriori or observed as an apriori. Initially, they appear only as randolations23. Thirdly, some derived and already quite abstract entities on an intermediate level of “processing” are more basic than the so-called raw observations24.

Words, Classes, Models, Waves

It is somewhat tempting to arrange these four concepts to form a hierarchical series. Yet, things are not that simple. Actually, any of the concepts that appear more as a symbolistic entity also may re-turn into a quasi-materiality, into a wave-like phenomenon that itself serves as a basis for potential differences. This re-turn is a direct consequence of the inextricable mediality of the world, mediality understood here thus as a transcendental category. Needless to say that mediality is just another blind spot in contemporary computer sciences. Cybernetics as well as engineering straightaway exclude the possibility to recognize the mediatedness of worldly events.

In this section we will try to explicate the relations between the headlined concepts to some extent, at least as far as it concerns the mapping of those into an implementable system of (non-Turing) “computer programs”. The computational model that we presuppose here is the extended version of the 2-layered SOM, as we have it introduced previously.

Let us start with first things first. Given a physical signal, here in the literal sense, that is as a potentially perceivable difference in a stream of energy, we find embodied modeling, and nothing else. The embodiment of the initial modeling is actualized in sensory organs, or more generally, in any instance that is able to discretize the waves and differences at least “a bit more”. In more technical terms, the process of discretization is a process that increases the signal-noise ratio. In biological systems we often find a frequency encoding of the intensity of a difference. Though the embodiment of that modeling is indeed a filtering and encoding, hence already some kind of a modeling representation, it is not a modeling in the more narrow sense. It points out of the individual entity into the phylogenesis, the historical contingency of the production of that very individual entity. We also can’t say that the initial embodied processing by the sensory organs is a kind of encoding. There is no code consisting of well-identified symbols at the proximate end of the sensory cell. It is still a rather probabilistic affair.

This basic encoding is not yet symbolic, albeit we also can’t call it a wave any more. In biological entities this slightly discretized wave then is subject of an intense modeling sensu strictu. The processing of the signals is performed by associative mechanisms that are arranged in cascades. This “cascading” is highly interesting and probably one of the major mandatory ingredients that are neglected by computer science so far. The reason is quite clear: it is not an analytic process, hence it is excluded from computer science almost by definition.

Throughout that cascade signals turn more and more into information as an interpreted difference. It is clear that there is not a single or identifiable point in this cascade to which one could assign the turn from “data” to “information”. The process of interpretation is, quite in contrast to idealistic pictures of the process of thinking, not a single step. The discretized waves that flow into the processing cascade are subject to many instances and very different kinds of modeling, throughout of which discrete pieces get separated and related to other pieces. The processing cascade thus is repeating a modular principle consisting from association and distribution.

This level we still could not label as “thinking”, albeit it is clearly some kind of a mental process. Yet, we could still regard it as something “mechanical”, even as we also find already class-like representations, intensions and proto-concepts. Thinking in its meaningful dimension, however, appears only through assigning sharable symbols. Thinking of something implicitly means that one could tell about the respective thoughts. It does not matter much whether these symbols are shared between different regions in the brain or between different bodily entities does not matter much. Hence, thinking and mental processes need to be clearly distinguished. Yet, assigning symbols, that is assigning a word, a specific sound first, and later, as a further step of externalization, a specific grapheme that reflects the specific sound, which in turn represents an abstract symbol, this process of assigning symbols is only possible through cultural means. Cats may recognize situations very well and react accordingly, they may even have a feeling that they have encountered that situation before, but cats can’t share they symbols, they can’t communicate the relational structure of a situation. Yet, cats and dogs already may take part in “behavior games”, and such games clearly has been found in baboons by Fernando Colmenares [24]. Colmenares adopted the concept of “games” precisely because the co-occurrence of obvious rules, high variability, and predictive values of actions and reactions of the individual animals. Such games unfold synchronic as well as diachronic, and across dynamically changing assignment of social roles. All of this is accompanied by specific sounds. Other instances of language-like externalization of symbols can presumably be found in grey parrots [25], green vervet monkey [26], bonobos, dolphins and Orcas.

But still… in animals those already rather specific symbols are not externalized by imprinting them into matter different from their own bodies. One of the most desirable capabilities for our endeavor here about machine-based episteme thus consists in just that externalization processes embedded in social contexts.

Now the important thing to understand is that this whole process from waves to words is not simply a one-way track. First, words do not exist as such, they just appear as discrete entities through usage. It is the usage of X that introduces irreversibility. In other words, the discreteness of words is a quality that is completely on the aposteriori side of thinking. Before their actual usage, their arrangement into sentences words “are” nothing else than probabilistic relations. It needs a purpose, a target oriented selection (call it “goal-directed modeling”) to let them appear as crisp entities.

The second issue is that a sentence is an empirical phenomenon, remarkably even to the authoring brain itself. The sentence needs interpretation, because it is never ever fully determinate. Interpretation, however, of such indeterminate instances like sentences renders the apparent crisp phenomenon of words back into waves. A further effect of interpretation of sentences as series of symbols is the construction of a virtual network. Texts, and in a very similar way, pieces of music, should not be conceived as series, as computer linguistics is treating them. Much more appropriately texts are conceived as networks, that even may exert there own (again virtual) associative power, which to some extent is independent from the hosting interpreter, as I have argued here [28].

Role of Words

All these characteristics of words, their purely aposteriori crispness, their indeterminacy as sub-sentential indicators of randolational networks, their quality as signs by which they only point to other signs, but never to “objects”, their double quality as constituent and result of the “naming game”, all these “properties” make it actually appear as highly unlikely and questionable whether language is about references at all. Additionally, we know that the concept of “direct” access to the mind or the brain is simply absurd. Everything we know about the world as individuals is due to modeling and interpretation. That of course concerns also the interpretation of cultural artifacts or culturally enabled externalization of symbols, for instance into the graphemes that we use to represent words.

It is of utmost importance to understand that the written or drawn grapheme is not the “word” itself. The concept of a “word-as-such” is highly inappropriate, if not bare nonsense.

So, if words, sentences and language at large are not about “direct” referencing of (quasi-) material objects, how then should we conceive of the process we call “language game”, or “naming game”? Note that we now can identify van Fraassen’s question about “how do words and concepts acquire their reference?” as a misunderstanding, deeply informed by positivism itself. It does not make sense to pose that question in this way at all. There is not first a word which then, in a secondary process gets some reference or meaning attached. Such a concept is almost absurd. Similarly, the distinction between syntax and semantics, once introduced by the positivist Morris in the late 1940ies, is to be regarded as much the same pseudo-problem, established just by the fundamental and elemental assumptions of positivism itself: linear additivity, metaphysical independence and lossless separability of parts of wholenesses. If you scatter everything into single pieces of empirical dust, you will never be able to make any proposition anymore about the relations you destroyed before. That’s the actual reason for the problem of positivistic science and its failure.

In contrast to that we tend to propose a radically different picture of language, one that of course has been existing in many preformed flavors. Since we can’t transfer anything directly into one’s other mind, the only thing we can do is to invite or trigger processes of interpretation. In the chapter about vagueness we called words  “processual indicative” for slightly different reasons. Language is a highly structured, institutionalized and symbolized “demonstrating”, an invitation to interpret. Richard Brandom investigated in great detail [29] the processes and the roles of speakers and listeners in that process of mutual invitation for interpretation. The mutuality allows a synchronization, a resonance and a more or less strong resemblance between pairs of speaker-listeners and listener-speakers.

The “naming game” and its derivative, the “word game” is embedded into a context of “language games”. Actually, word games and language games are not as related as it might appear prima facie, at least beyond their common characteristics that we may label “game”. This becomes apparent if we ask what happens with the “physical” representative of a single word that we throw into our mechanisms. If there is no sentential context, or likewise no social context like a chat, then a lot of quite different variants of possible continuations are triggered. Calling out “London” our colleague in chatting may continue with “Jack London”  (the writer), “Jack the Ripper”, Chelsea, London Tower, Buckingham, London Heathrow, London Soho, London Stock Exchange, etc. but also Paris, Vienna, Berlin, etc., choices being slightly dependent on our mood, the thoughts we had before etc. In other words, the word that we bring to the foreground as a crisp entity behaves like a seedling: it is the starting point of a potential garden or forest, it functions as the root of the unfolding of a potential story (as a co-weaving of a network of abstract relations). Just to bring in another metaphorical representation: Words are like the initial traces of firework rockets, or the traces of elementary particles in statu nascendi as they can be observed in a bubble chamber: they promise a rich texture of upcoming events.

Understanding (Images, Words, …)

We have seen that “words” gain shape only as a result of a particular game, the “naming game”, which is embedded into a “language game”. Before those games are played, “words” do not exist as a discrete, crisp entity, say as a symbol, or a string of letters. Would they, we could not think. Even more than the “language game” the “naming game” works mainly as an invitation or as an acknowledged trigger for more or less constrained interpretation.

Now there are those enlightened language games of “understanding” and “explaining”. Both of them work just as any other part of speech do: they promise something. The claim to understand something refers to the ability for a potential preparation of a series of triggers that one additionally claim to be able to arrange in such a way as to support the gaining of the respective insight in my chat partner. Slightly derived from that understanding also could mean to transfer the structure of the underlying or overarching problematics to other contexts. This ability for adaptive reframing of a problematic setting is thus always accompanied by a demonstrativum, that is, by some abstract image, either by actual pictorial information or its imagination, or by its activity. Such a demonstrativum could be located completely within language itself, of course, which however is probably quite rare.


It is clear that language does not work as a way to express logical predicates. Trying to do so needs careful preparations. Language can’t be “cured” and “cleaned” from ambiguities, trying to do so would establish a categorical misunderstanding. Any “disambiguation” happens as a resonating resemblance of at least two participants in language-word-gaming, mutually interpreting each other until both believe that their interest and their feelings match. An actual, so to speak objective match is neither necessary nor possible. In other words, language does not exist in two different forms, one without ambiguity and without metaphors, and the other form full of them. Language without metaphorical dynamics is not a language at all.

The interpretation of empirical phenomena, whether outside of language or concerning language itself, is never fully determinable. Quine called the idea of the possibility of such a complete determination a myth and as the “dogma of empiricism” [30]. Thus, given this underdetermination, it does not make any sense to expect that language should be isomorphic to logical predicates or propositions. Language is basically an instance of impredicativity. Elsewhere we already met the self-referentiality of language (its strong singularity) as another reason for this. Instead, we should expect that this fundamental empirical underdetermination is reflected appropriately in the structure of language, namely as analogical thinking, or quite related to that, as metaphorical thinking.

Ambiguity is not a property of language or words, it is a result, or better, a property of the process of interpretation at some arbitrarily chosen point in time. And that process takes place synchronously within a single brain/mind as well as between two brains/minds. Language is just the mediating instance of that intercourse.


It is now possible to clarify the ominous concept of “intelligence”. We find the concept in the name of a whole discipline (“Artificial Intelligence”), and it is at work behind the scenes in areas dubbed as “machine learning”. Else, there is the hype about the so-called “collective intelligence”. These observations, and of course our own intentions make it necessary to deal briefly with it, albeit we think that it is a misleading and inappropriate idea.

First of all one has to understand that “intelligence” is an operationalization of a research question, allowing for a measurement, hence for a quantitative comparison. It is questionable whether the mental qualities can be made quantitatively measurable without reducing them seriously. For instance, the capacity for I/O operations related to a particular task surely can’t be equaled with “intelligence”, even if it could be a necessary condition.

It is just silly to search for “intelligence” in machines or beings, or to assign more or less intelligence to any kind of entity. Intelligence as such does not “exist” independently of a cultural setup, we can’t find it “out there”. Ontology is, as always, not only a bad trail, it directly leads into the abyss of nonsense. The research question, by the way, was induced by the intention to proof that black people and women are less intelligent than white males.

Yet, even if we take “intelligence” in an adapted and updated form as the capability for autonomous generalization, it is a bad concept, simply because it does not allow to pose further reasonable questions. This directly follows from its characteristics of being itself an operationalization. Investigating the operationalization hardly brings anything useful to light about the pretended subject of interest.

The concept of intelligence arose in a strongly positivistic climate, where the positivism has been practiced even in a completely unreflected manner. Hence, their inventors have not been aware of the effect of their operationalization. The concept of intelligence implies a strong functional embedding of the respective, measured entity. Yet, dealing with language undeniably has something to do with higher mental abilities, but language is a strictly non-functional phenomenon. It does not matter here that positivists still claim the opposite. And who would stand up claiming that a particular move, e.g. in planning a city, or dealing with the earth’s climate, is more smart than another? In other words, the other strong assumption of positivism, measurability and identifiability, also fails dramatically when it comes to human affairs. And everything on this earth is a human affair.

Intelligence is only determinable relative to a particular Lebensform. It is thus not possible to “compare the intelligence” across individuals living in different contexts. This renders the concept completely useless, finally.


The hypothesis I have been arguing for in this essay claims that the trinity of waves, words and images plays a significant role in the ability to deal with language and for the emergence of higher mental abilities. I proposed first that this trinity is irreducible and second that is responsible for this ability in the sense of a necessary and sufficient condition. In order to describe the practicing of that trinity, for instance with regard to possible implementations, I introduced the term of “synpresentation”. This concept draws the future track of how to deal with words and images as far as it concerns machine-based episteme.

In more direct terms, we conclude that without the capability to deal with “names”, “words” and language, the attempt to mapping higher mental capacities onto machines will not experience any progress. Once the machine will have arrived such a level, it will find itself exactly in the same position as we as humans do. This capability is definitely not sufficiently defined by “calculation power”; indeed, such an idea is ridiculous. Without embedding into appropriate social intercourse, without solving the question of representation (contemporary computer science and its technology do NOT solve it, of course), even a combined 1020000 flops will not cause the respective machine or network of machines25 “intelligent” in any way.

Words and proper names are re-formulated as a particular form of “games”, though not as “language games”, but on a more elementary level as “naming game”. I have tried to argue how the problematics of the reference could be thought of to disappear as a pseudo-problem on the basis of such a reformulation.

Finally, we found important relationships to earlier discussions of concepts like the making of analogies or vagueness. We basically agree on the stance that language can’t be clarified and that it is inappropriate (“free of sense”) to assign any kind of predicativity to language. Bluntly spoken, the application of logic is the mind, and nowhere else. Communicating about this application is not based on a language any more, and similarly, projecting logic onto language destroys language. The idea of a scientific language is empty as it is the idea of a generally applicable and understandable language. A language that is not inventive could not be called such.


1. If you read other articles in this blog you might think that there is a certain redundancy in the arguments and the targeted issues. This is not the case, of course. The perspectives are always a bit different; such I hope that by the repeated attempt “to draw the face” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, ) the problematics is rendered more accurately. “How can one learn the truth by thinking? As one learns to see a face better if one

draws it.” ( Zettel §255, [1])

2. In one of the shortest articles ever published in the field of philosophy, Edmund Gettier [2] demonstrated that it is deeply inappropriate to conceive of knowledge as “justified true belief”. Yet, in the field of machine learning so-called “belief revision” is precisely and still following this untenable position. See also our chapter about the role of logic.

3. Michel Foucault “Dits et Ecrits” I 846 (dt.1075)  [3] cited after Bernhard Waldenfels [4] p.125

4. we will see that the distinction or even separation of the “symbolic” and the “material” is neither that clear nor is it simple. Fomr the side of the machine, Felix Guattari argued in favor for a particular quality [5], the machinic, which is roughly something like a mechanism in human affairs. From the side of the symbolic there is clearly the work of Edwina Taborsky to cite, who extended and deepened the work of Charles S. Peirce in the field of semiotics,

5. particularly homo erectus and  homo sapiens spec.

6. Humans of the species homo sapiens sapiens.

7. For the time being we leave this ominous term “intelligence” untouched, but I also will warn you about its highly problematic state. We will resolve this issue till the end of that essay.

8. Heidegger developed the figure of the “Gestell” (cf. [7]), which serves multiple purposes. It is providing a storage capacity, it is a tool for sort of well-ordered/organized hiding and unhiding (“entbergen”), it provides a scaffold for sorting things in and out, and thus it is working as a complex constraint on technological progress. See also Peter Sloterdijk on this topic [8].

9. elementarization regarding Descartes

10. Homo floresiensis, also called “hobbit man”, who lived on Flores, Indonesia, 600’000y till approx. 3’000y ago. Homo floresiensis derived from homo erectus. 600’000 years ago they obviously built a boat to transfer to the islands across a sea gate with strong currents. The interesting issue is that this endeavor requires a stable social structure, division of labor, and thus also language. Homo floresiensis had a particular fore brain anatomy which is believed to provide the “intelligence” while the overall brain was relatively small as compared to ours.

11. Concerning the “the enigma of brain-mind interaction” Eccles was an avowed dualist [11]. Consequently he searched for the “interface” between the mind and the brain, in which he was deeply inspired by the 3-world concept of Karl Popper. The “dualist” position held that the mind exists at least partially independently from and somehow outside the brain. Irrespective his contributions to neuroscience on the cellular level, these ideas (of Eccles and Popper) are just wild nonsense.

12. The Philosophical Investigations are probably the most important contribution to philosophy in the 20th century. The are often mistaken as a foundational document for analytic philosophy of language. Nothing is more wrong as to take Wittgenstein as a founding father of analytic philosophy, however. Many of the positions that refer to Wittgenstein (e.g. Kripke) are just low-quality caricatures of his work.

13. Blair’s book is a must read for any computer scientist, despite some problems in its conceptualization of information.

14. Goldman [14] provides a paradigmatic examples how psychologists constantly miss the point of philosophy, up today. In an almost arrogant tone he claims: “First, let me clarify my treatment of justificational rules, logic, and psychology. The concept of justified or rational belief is a core item on the agenda of philosophical epistemology. It is often discussed in terms of “rules” or “principles” of justification, but these have normally been thought of as derivable from deductive and inductive logic, probability theory, or purely autonomous, armchair epistemology.”

Markie [15] demonstrated that everything in these claims is wrong or mistaken. Our point about it is that something like “justification” is not possible in principle, but particularly it is not possible from an empirical perspective. Goldman’s secretions to the foundations of his own work are utter nonsense (till today).

15. It is one of the rare (but important) flaws in Blair’s work that he assimilates the concept of “information retrieval” in an unreflected manner. Neither it is reasonable to assign an ontological quality to information (we can not say that information “exists”, as this would deny the primacy of interpretation) nor can we then say that information can be “retrieved”. See also our chapter about his issue. Despite his largely successful attempt to argue in favor of the importance of Wittgenstein’s philosophy for computer science, Blair fails to recognize that ontology is not tenable at large, but particularly for issues around “information”. It is a language game, after all.

16 see Stanford Encyclopedia for a discussion of various positions.

17. In our investigation of models and their generalized form, we stressed the point that there are no apriori fixed “properties” of a measured (perceived) thing; instead we have to assign the criteria for measurement actively, hence we call these criteria assignates instead of “properties”, “features”, or “attributes”.

18. See our essay about logic.

20. See the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Quine. Quine in “Word and Object” gives the following example (abridged version here). Imagine, you discovered a formerly unknown tribe of friendly people. Nobody knows their language. You accompany one of them hunting. Suddenly a hare rushes along, crossing your way. The hunter immediately points to the hare, shouting “Gavagai!” What did he mean? Funny enough, this story happened in reality. British settlers in Australia wondered about those large animals hopping around. They asked the aborigines about the animal and its name. The answer was “cangaroo” – which means “I do not understand you” in their language.

21. This, of course, resembles to Bergson, who, in Matter and Memory [23], argued that any thinking and understanding takes place by means of primary image-like “representations”. As Leonard Lawlor (Henri Bergson@Stanford) summarizes, Bergson conceives of knowledge as “knowledge of things, in its pure state, takes place within the things it represents.” We would not describe out principle of associativity as it can be be realized by SOMs very differently…

22. the main difference between “intension” and “concept” is that the former still maintains a set of indices to raw observations of external entities, while the latter is completely devoid of such indices.

23. We conceived randolations as pre-specific relations; one may also think of them as probabilistic quasi-species that eventually may become discrete on behalf of some measurement. The intention for conceiving of randolations is given by the central drawback of relations: their double-binary nature presumes apriori measurability and identifiability, something that is not appropriate when dealing with language.

24. “raw” is indeed very relative, especially if we take culturally transformed or culturally enabled percepts into account;

25. There are mainly two aspects about that: (1) large parts of the internet is organized as a hierarchical network, not as an associative network; nowadays everybody should know that telephone network did not, do not and will not develop “intelligence”; (2) so-called Grid-computing is always organized as a linear, additive division of labor; such, it allows to run processes faster, but no qualitative change is achieved, as it can be observed for instance in the purely size-related contrast between a mouse and an elephant. Thus, taken (1) and (2) together, we may safely conclude that doing wrong things (=counting Cantoric dust) with a high speed will not produce anything capable for developing a capacity to understand anything.


  • [1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel. Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1967. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe.
  • [2] Edmund Gettier (1963), Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? Analysis 23: 121-123.
  • [3] Michel Foucault “Dits et Ecrits”, Vol I.
  • [4] Bernhard Waldenfels, Idiome des Denkens. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2005.
  • [5] Henning Schmidgen (ed.), Aesthetik und Maschinismus, Texte zu und von Felix Guattari. Merve, Berlin 1995.
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  • [7] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Harper, New York 1977.
  • [8] Peter Sloterdijk, Nicht-gerettet, Versuche nach Heidegger. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2001.
  • [9] Hermann Haken, Synergetik. Springer, Berlin New York 1982.
  • [10] R. Graham, A. Wunderlin (eds.): Lasers and Synergetics. Springer, Berlin New York 1987.
  • [11] John Eccles, The Understanding of the Brain. 1973.
  • [12] Douglas Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. Basic Books, New York 1996.
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  • [14] Alvin I. Goldman (1988), On Epistemology and Cognition, a response to the review by S.W. Smoliar. Artificial Intelligence 34: 265-267.
  • [15] Peter J. Markie (1996). Goldman’s New Reliabilism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Vol.56, No.4, pp. 799-817
  • [16] Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity. 1972.
  • [17] Scott Soames, Beyond Rigidity: The Unfinished Semantic Agenda of Naming and Necessity. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.
  • [18] Scott Soames (2006), Précis of Beyond Rigidity. Philosophical Studies 128: 645–654.
  • [19] Michel Foucault, Les Hétérotopies – [Radio Feature 1966]. Youtube.
  • [20] Michel Foucault, Die Heterotopien. Der utopische Körper. Aus dem Französischen von Michael Bischoff, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2005.
  • [21] David Grahame Shane, Recombinant Urbanism – Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory. Wiley Academy Press, Chichester 2005.
  • [22] Willard van Orman Quine, Word and Object. M.I.T. Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1960.
  • [23] Henri Louis Bergson, Matter and Memory. transl. Nancy M. Paul  & W. Scott Palmer, Martino Fine Books, Eastford  (CT) 2011 [1911].
  • [24] Fernando  Colmenares, Helena Rivero (1986).  A conceptual Model for Analysing Interactions in Baboons: A Preliminary Report. pp.63-80. in: Colgan PW, Zayan R (eds.), Quantitative models in ethology. Privat I.E, Toulouse.
  • [25] Irene Pepperberg (1998). Talking with Alex: Logic and speech in parrots. Scientific American. avail online. see also the Wiki entry about Alex.
  • [26] a. Robert Seyfarth, Dorothy Cheney, Peter Marler (1980). Monkey Responses to Three Different Alarm Calls: Evidence of Predator Classification and Semantic Communication. Science, Vol.210: 801-803.b. Dorothy L. Cheney, Robert M. Seyfarth (1982). How vervet monkeys perceive their grunts: Field playback experiments. Animal Behaviour 30(3): 739–751.
  • [27] Robert Seyfarth, Dorothy Cheney (1990). The assessment by vervet monkeys of their own and another species’ alarm calls. Animal Behaviour 40(4): 754–764.
  • [28] Klaus Wassermann (2010). Nodes, Streams and Symbionts: Working with the Associativity of Virtual Textures. The 6th European Meeting of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, Riga, 15-19 June, 2010. available online.
  • [29] Richard Brandom, Making it Explicit. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1998.
  • [30] Willard van Orman Quine (1951), Two Dogmas of Empiricism. Philosophical Review, 60: 20–43. available here


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