27 January 2022

Carlo Rovelli's misreading of Being and Time

Ereignis beyng.com has published an English translation of a short article by Carlo Rovelli on his reading of Heidegger's Being and Time. that was originally published in Corriere della Sera on 6 Dec 2020.

Here I want to make only two critical comments on how Rovelli misreads Being and Time. The first is that he misunderstands Dasein, whose analysis constitutes the first part of BT, as a subject:

"The point is that now Being and Time becomes extraordinarily interesting. because it is a genuine exploration of reality as it manifests itself to the subject, full of remarkable surprises. For example, in order to understand the relationship between the subject and the outside world, we must not focus on knowledge, as did— and here Heidegger convinced me — so much Western philosophical tradition. What matters is something else. What matters is, in fact, what matters to the subject. The 'outside' world is not for us what we see, just because it is out there. It's made from what we take care about, what's of interest to us."

With this statement, Rovelli perpetuates the inside/outside split between subject and object that has plagued modern ontology at the latest since Descartes and has become a fixed, immovable dogma for all mainstream philosophy as well as for all modern science: the subject is inside with its consciousness and the world is outside with its objective objects. Moreover, although Rovelli insists that Being and Time adopts the personal viewpoint of "a single human being with his direct experience...", he talks nevertheless of how "we" see the world. Hence we always already share the world in some way prior to any encapsulation inside subjectivity. What constitutes this world-sharing in a primordial way?

Rovelli misses the point that Being and Time is underway toward recasting human being itself from subjectivity into Dasein. When Dasein is rendered in English as "being there", this is entirely misleading because 'there' suggests something spatial. But the title of Being and Time is Being and Time. Heidegger's question concerning the Sinn des Seins, the meaning of being itself, is answered: being means time. But this 'time' is not the time as traditionally conceived from Aristotle onward. 

Which leads me to my second critical remark on Rovelli's reading of BT, namely, the second part in which the treatise repeats the analysis of Dasein in the first part by embedding it more deeply in time, namely, in Dasein's temporality.

Rovelli claims that Heidegger "interprets time as the coming of events; then, since for him events are experiential, he reduces it to time lived. Reducing time to events is not his original idea. It is the pre-Newtonian conception of time, as found for example in Aristotle,... " But it is precisely with Aristotle that Heidegger radically breaks. Dasein's temporality, Heidegger shows, is "stretched" (erstreckt), namely, into the three temporal dimensions of present, past and future through which Dasein, as long as it exists, continually passes. The very word 'dimension' comes from the Greek for 'to pass through'. Hence Dasein is always already stretched into these three temporal dimensions and therefore "ecstatic" (ekstatisch, literally 'standing outside' in 3D-time). This temporal standing-out is the reason why, in the very first place, Dasein is not a subject. Since we all as human beings stand out into this openness of three-dimensionally stretched time, Dasein is always already shared, prior to any possible individuation.

As a physicist, Rovelli is wedded to the conceptions of time that predominate in this science, which is a 1D-linear conception. If one goes along with Einstein's relativistic conception of time, this time is thoroughly subjectivistic and linearly successive. Time is measured by a clock in the observing subject's frame of reference when a light-signal carrying information is received as an event in spacetime (x,y.z.t). It is also spatialized because in relativity theory, time is cast as the path of light at the speed of light, no matter whether this path is straight (special relativity) or curved (general relativity). Especially because this relativistic time is spatialized (derived from the motion of light in space), it fails to capture the phenomenon of time itself.

Already Aristotle misses the phenomenon of time by reducing it to a number read off movement. Time thereby becomes derivative of movement, rather than conversely. Namely, it is time in its three-dimensional ecstatic openness that enables any movement at all to be experienced by human being at all. It makes no sense to try to imagine what could 'be' beyond the limits of any experience whatsoever. The limits of our human imagination are identical with the limits of the three-dimensional openness into which we 'stand out'.

Further reading: Movement and Time in the Cyberworld.

A Question of Time .

1 comment:

  1. your analysis points to how deeply rooted aristotelean concepts are: especially among scientists. it is amazing that heidegger's invocation to us to THINK is so completely ignored, even among those who claim to understand him well enough to publish commentaries. traditional dualism reigns (on our parade?).