Existentialism Philosophy

Solipsism of time

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An important factor that both Heidegger and Sartre turn towards the search for the meaning of being is the idea of time. However, there are some faulty ideas about their visions on this concept. This is what I will discuss in this paper; that is, that their idea of time is solipsistic. By solipsism I mean that the past is created by thought and the only mode of time is the present, which is no a thought process. The present is simply consciousness-of. Contrasted with Heidegger and Sartre, I will show that the present has a duality, one being the imaginative present/past (solipsistic), and the other is the pure present. In this description, I will begin with Heidegger’s and Sartre’s basic theory of time, and then conclude with how these problems can be solved with my own idea regarding time. From here, I will discuss how solipsism occurs through imagination, distance (self-reflection), and then finally time. Through this process I will develop a definition of solipsism that will be beneficial while looking at the thoughts of Heidegger, who falls into solipsism by considering that potentiality is Dasein’s being. Also, Sartre is solipsistic because the self uses the past and other beings’ (usually the other is the self) points of view to consider what its being is and cannot be. Considering the conclusions from each of the sections (describing solipsism), I will be able to construct a formal definition of solipsism.
Heidegger’s basic thought is that Dasein’s being consists of “being-in, being-alongside, and being-ahead of itself” (Being And Time 237). These three characteristics are what Heidegger calls care. Care is the fundamental structure of Dasein, which exists because of Dasein’s fallen state into the world. In this description, Dasein automatically has the grasp of potentiality, which is Being-towards-death. This is Dasein’s being and can never be outstripped.
If we look at Heidegger’s idea that death is a part of our being, then we have to consider how possibility is our being. Being-towards-death can be defined as, “Being towards this possibility is anticipation of [death’s] possibility” (Being And Time 306). If anticipation is absolute and infinite (measureless), then the future will never be reached, and therefore, will always remain ahead of Dasein. Therefore, Heidegger concludes that, “Being-towards-death, as anticipation of possibility, is what first makes this possibility possible, and gets it free as possibility. Anticipation is the possibility of authentic existence” (Being And Time 307).
Heidegger’s guide to the authentic existence is shown through our “conscience [that] gives us something to understand; it discloses… conscience is revealed as call; call is a mode of discourse” (Being And Time 314). However, “vocal utterance is not essential for discourse or the call; it reaches who wants to be brought back” (Being And Time 316). Therefore, the call is the self in order to reach authenticity. Also, this call is “against our expectation and even against our will (Being And Time 320). Therefore, the call is not a choice made by Dasein but rather the call comes from being wrenched away from the they and seeing its utmost potentiality. Hence, Dasein calls itself in order to anticipate its demise to escape Being-in-the world because Dasein is in the “nothing[ness] of the world” (Being And Time 321), and this nothingness is its anxiety that Dasein tries to escape through death.
Now we are able to move forward to understand how Sartre sees Being and time. To grasp an overview of what Sartre tries to get across through his philosophy, we need to understand his idea of consciousness. For consciousness to occur merely as just consciousness (the reflecting, not reflection), then the pre-reflective consciousness must be examined. “Pre-reflective consciousness is self-consciousness without knowledge” (Being And Nothingness 123). This pre-reflective consciousness can be realized as the self’s for-itself, or, better yet, its own nothingness. However, a problem arises here. Sartre defines reflection (reflet) as “consciousness exists as a translucent consciousness of being other than the objects of which it is consciousness” (Being And Nothingness 806). Therefore, the pre-reflective consciousness is what enables the reflective consciousness to come about. Hence, the non-positional consciousness becomes positional through knowledge that I am not a certain object, which Sartre terms the reflecting-reflective dyad. The reflecting is consciousness, whereas reflection is the object in space that we are consciousness of.
Now it must be shown that Sartre’s view on knowledge of temporality is a synthesis of knowledge that shows itself.
When we think of a relation, or synthesis of a problem (the table is blue), Sartre claims that we do not add table and blue to get table-blue, but rather it is what shows itself in consciousness. This is why Sartre claims “knowledge is a mode of being. The for-itself has to be its being by making itself not be a certain being to which it is present” (Being And Nothingness 242). In other words, objects are how they appear without adding attributes to them, such as color.
We now have stumbled upon a difficult problem, how does the past, present, and future arise if it is a reflecting being? First of all, Sartre states, “I am not my past. I am not it because I was it” (Being And Nothingness 170). From this statement we can see that the past cannot determine being but rather being just has a past. While dealing with the present Sartre claims that the “present is the for-itself” (Being And Nothingness 175). Then Sartre continues, “It is impossible to grasp the Present in the form of an instant, for the instant would be the moment when the present is. The present is a perpetual flight in the face of being” (Being And Nothingness 179), or in other words, nothingness. So how would the present be known? The present, once one is conscious of it and connects the objects together (the bed is in this corner, the dresser is in that corner), the present would turn into the past.
We are now able to put together an idea where time is non-solipsistic and how we can avoid the solipsistic vision of time that was once us. Therefore, we will be able to conclude that the present is all that there is, which contains a duality of a pure present and an imagistic present.
To start off, the pure present is equal to pure consciousness. The pure is where appearances are not distinguished from one another; that is, the world and consciousness have no differentiation. We will see that in reality and in thought the future is impossible since the so-called future is actually a modified “past.” But what is the past? Is the past made up from imagination for it to resurface to our thought, or does it cling to our being like hair growing from our body -- meaning that is it an extension of our being? The first instance would make the “past” a creation that exists in the present that cannot be the same as who we are, while as the second condition is what Heidegger suggests, which is, “As long as Dasein factically exists, it is never past, but it always is indeed as having been, in the sense of the “I-am-having-been” (Being And Time 376). However, how can this having-been ever be known? Well, Heidegger suggests that Being-true (truth) of the assertion must be understood as Being-uncovering” (Being And Time 261). One important question that could be asked here is how can something become-uncovered? The world shows itself as is. There is nothing behind the world or in front of it. The same occurs with time and being -- meaning there is nothing behind being or in front of being. It can therefore be said that the idea of a past covers, or adds, to being, which is solipsistic.
However, in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, Heidegger does claim that time is an act of pure intuition, or that “the power of imagination can hence be called a faculty of forming” (89). Still, “the productive forming of the power of the imagination is never even “creative” in the sense that it can likewise form just the content of the image simply out of nothing” (90). However, imagination creates the past from the point of view of the self and we see ourself as somebody else; that is, we have a different experience than what occurred in the original happening. This is why the present can only occur, we are bringing a new event into the now just as we do when we draw a “self”-portrait; that is, we draw “ourself” looking at “ourself” in a mirror. However, the one in the mirror is not who we are, but rather an image-in-a-mirror-in-consciousness. Therefore, imagination of time is solipsistic in the way that it connects all these different beings of “ourself” as being us. The past is not a form that exists like this pen or paper – meaning in the present, which would be absurd (if it did then the essence of time would be like that of an animated cartoon where the flip cards would never flow into continuous motion).
It may seem like, on a certain level, that I am stating that time is a sequence of nows (what Heidegger blatantly disagrees with [Being And Time 377]), but the present is not a now that comes and goes, but rather is and always is. The pure present is pure without any addition from thought (only if it wants to stay clear of solipsism). The pure present is the world and consciousness combined with no division. One must imagine staring off into space where their whole being melts into the world (no distance from me to other objects). Consciousness is time, but only to the extent where consciousness does not reconstruct where one was or is (remember thinking where one is can only take on the significance through the past, or rather solipsistic. By constructing this “past” we are generating a present and calling the mirror image “I.” There is no past but only additions to the present (saying that the past is the self), which makes these new additions solipsistic.).
Therefore, Heidegger’s Being-towards-death is not how Dasein exists in its immediate state, but rather an addition to being that stands besides our true being. Potentiality is a mirror image of ourself, which cannot be termed as my being. Therefore, any attempt to grasp an idea of potentiality as the central point must come from the self, or solipsism, and also, any development from the self is solipsistic. Death can never be sought as mine because “I” never die, but “you” die. Being-towards-death can never be experienced since the very definition of death is the end of all experience. Hence, death cannot be a part of our Being-in-the-world as an immediate state. Also, the past (from where the future actually exists) is an imaginative act. The past can never exist outside of thought, and can never exist outside of the present. Therefore, even though the past does not describe the present, the imaginative act occurs in the present. We will never be able to escape the present, and the “past” will never be found since, no matter how we will look at, it having a connection to a past will always be imaginative, or, if you like, solipsistic.
We can now determine the future as not having-to-be, or not-yet, but rather it-could have-been, which in-turn throws light on that the future is the past. This is why the self-reflected being is in a state of trial-and-error for its choices. Our choices can only be an ideology system that has no value which tries to reach objectivity because our choices could be this way or another way (trial-and-error) only because its imagination cannot see what it is “doing,” only what it “was” doing. Therefore, our choices are solipsistic because they come from the self and see the self as a totality because the choices try to always benefit the one who chooses. Hence, if we dislike our original choice we can complete the contradiction (going to school and quitting school) to figure out what is best. But still, this best is not the future, but rather the “past” because we can only quit school if we “went” to school.
Another problem that arises is the notion of the future. As we will see later, the future can never be deduced. Take for instance the thought that the sun will rise tomorrow. In order to ever conjure up this thought, imagination must recreate the previous night and morning to know that the sun “has” done this act before. Therefore, it is difficult to say that the sun will rise the next day since all our speech is saying that it has risen “before.” The future is nothing more than the imaginative past in modification.
To take another stand that the future is nothing but the modified, ideological past, we can look at an event that the self has never experienced before, death. We can say that, “In the future I will die” (it is important here to not think of Heidegger’s potentiality-towards-death, but rather a situation that I have never been in myself). By saying I will die I have brought possibility into the world, but possibilities are made up of contradicting actualities in an imaginative act; that is, its opposite. If this is true, then the future is all the more made up of the past since I cannot know myself in a pure present, but only in an imaginative present, which is concretely found in terms of what “I have been.” Therefore, the past is a question of “what if I was somebody else.” Hence, the future is an ideological contradictory sense of the imaginative past, which in-turn could only thank the past for its existence.
To put this idea of the future more simply, the future as my not-yet can never be grasped since the future is infinite. Also, anticipation can only be related to the “past.” To anticipate the possibility of my death, I must bring the instance of death to thought. Therefore, anticipation will turn into expectation, and since anticipation is measureless, once we are conscious of our death, we automatically place distance between Dasein and death. If the future is absolute, then it cannot be part of our being because, once the future is thought. The future becomes reduced to one or two of our choices that we consider at a specific time. Therefore, the present is always known through pure consciousness (once it is known through self-reflection, time becomes imaginative), but the future never enters our thought. For example, I am sitting here thinking up plans for tomorrow and I decide to either stay in or go out with my friends. What is occurring is that I am bringing the two thoughts into existence into the present; that is, I am conscious of the plans in the now as I am conscious of the paper in front of me. Feeling the object does not bring awareness into existence, but rather consciousness of the object does. Therefore, the not-yet can never be in consciousness because once I “think ahead” the not-yet is in the present, which is instantaneous. Hence, we are never conscious of a not-yet. The event or idea automatically jumps into the imaginative present.
We are now able to understand that the idea of death as being-towards death is unable to be anticipated since anticipation directs our being to be reflected on, and therefore our Being can never see itself in the past since imagination constructs a new being and places the being in the world in the imaginative present. Hence, death only has existence because it is the contradiction of our imaginative past (life) so the anticipation of death is the ideological thought of this imaginative past.
Now we can see what the appearances of the “past” and “future” truly are. Once appearances arise into our consciousness (contrast between the self and the objects in the world), then the temporal ekstasis begins to take form. However, which state of being is more preferable? This is what Heidegger tried to sort out with his idea of authentic and inauthentic beings. But since life is absurd (because of the meaningless choices of trial-and-error), then there is no preferred being. Through trial-and-error, time begins to take form as an imagistic and ideological connection of a being that is not me and never will be – meaning our choices are trial-and-error.
Still, authenticity is not an event that can ever occur for the self, but only to another being in the world since imagination constructs another being (which we confusingly call ourself) while looking into the “past.” The call, if it occurs in having-been, comes from thought, thus the call is solipsistic. The call falls into solipsism since it is the self trying to capture itself in a mode of existence that takes on the truth of having-been in the they. However, this moment can never occur since, unlike what Heidegger suggests, we are thrown into constructing a past, and an ideological future. This construction is the very essence of solipsism of time; that is, time cannot be determined by potentiality because possibles are only that – possible. Time becomes the totality of the self through imagination and what can be (potentiality), not what is (reality or present). Possibility takes away who we are. However, we are never able to know who we are in the present since thought can only know the “past,” never the present. So now we must look a little deeper into what the past actually is.
Sartre does say that the past and future cannot control our choices, but a being that has a past must have a link since, as we saw, choices can only arise from the imaginative past and we can only make choices from our “past.” Sartre is correct when he says that the past does not determine the present, but the idea that the present self has a past is absurd. We are never able to grasp the past. We are never able to comprehend that the past is me without any metaphysical questioning of “where am I from?” Hence, we can never connect ourselves with the past because the imaginative past is seen as the other, but never me in its immediate state; that is, not connecting the past and the present.
Therefore, the present exists in two forms. One being imaginative and the other is the pure present. Yet, in a pre-reflective mode how can one be consciousness of itself and of other objects at the same time? This can shed some light on what existence truly is. By using the definitions from Sartre’s ideas on the types of consciousnesses stated earlier, Sartre could only agree to the fact that existence is being able to differentiate myself from other objects in order to realize my freedom. However, does not freedom have two conventional meanings? One is to be able to escape the in-itself, and two, to bring possibilities into the world. If this is true, then the pre-reflective consciousness cannot be self-consciousness because the pre-reflective is a mode of the in-itself -- meaning that the world and consciousness are one and the same. This means that when there is no knowledge, the self is not known until the self breaks free from this state and looks at its “past.” This is why the trees, the sun, etc. change over time with the world systematically (no consciousness to tell the difference); that is, they are one with the world. The only way to create a boundary between consciousness and the world is through the body of the subject; that is, to see the self as an object or subject.
Therefore, self-consciousness, by definition, can only be known through reflecting, not reflection. This process can only be known through the for-others, which Sartre has already shown. There is not a preferred present, but the imaginative present wants to condition the self by saying that this is who we are, and, by the laws of cause and effect, we will be this in the future.
However, Sartre states that this is a process of reflection, but we saw that reflection cannot occur through knowledge. We saw knowledge can only occur through reflecting because in reflection consciousness is the world. Therefore, the for-itself cannot know that it is not this object in reflection. In reflecting and in knowledge, the separation of the self and of objects begins to arise and have appearance. Appearance can only be seen if there is contrast between any two objects. Therefore, in reflection, appearance is the totality of consciousness without possibility and without knowledge of totality; that is, all that is present.
It must not be sought here that if there is “no appearance” then nothing is being conscious of, but rather that there is no singular in-itself that appears. The world and consciousness become all that appears as this singular in-itself. This is what is called the present. Yet, to know that I am not the chair can only be done in reflecting. Take for instance when I say, “I am not this chair” we are conducting a judgment in our head that gives awareness to myself and the concept of the chair (of all the chairs). Therefore, it is not the chair that is in front of me that I am judging (at least not at first), but rather the imaginative chair of the imaginative past. I can never make a judgment about the objects in the pure present, but to only the imaginative and synthesized present provided by thought. Therefore, when we make a judgment about something it is always about my “past.” Appearances on knowledge relate to this in the same way, objects appear in the imaginative past; that is, that I am not that object (imaginative past and imaginative present are the same since we have seen that the imaginative past always occurs in the present).
Therefore, our freedom arises from this point of view; that is, realizing we are not this object. The reason that the pure present has no freedom is because limitations are not known. Freedom can only arise through limitations and freedom is the sole cause of solipsism – meaning that the self is able to choose what it wants as its totality through time. Therefore, freedom arises from the in-itself, and the breaking from the past is an imaginative act since, in order to choose, one must realize what one is not. Hence, this knowledge from appearance is synthesized by a solipsistic totality that tries to place freedom as self-evident (as in Sartre’s claim). But in order to be free we must take the risk and judge that we are not this being. The pure present is not in a state of mind, but it is the true nothingness. The pure-present-consciousness is not happy or in pain, it is intentional with no sense of the self. The pure-present-consciousness is the world without subjectivity and thought. As soon as it escapes this state, time creates freedom and its limits in a solipsistic wondering of who we can be. However, we can never be, we only try out being.
If we understand that there is only the present, then world time and consciousness time, which is temporality because we see the world through a temporal consciousness, will be one and the same. If there is no separation between world and consciousness, then there can be no difference of time between the two. However, this temporal consciousness is self-reflection, and therefore, solipsistic. Yet Sartre wants to claim that world-time is “the future of the in-itself [that] the present in-itself [is] modified, for my future is nothing other than my possibilities of presence to an in-itself which I will have modified” (Being And Nothingness 292). Does this not show the solipsism of world-time? Also, this is the same process that I have described for what the future is of the past; it is a modification of what we want it to be through limitations and freedom.
However, we fall into a problem that is still solipsistic: imagination occurs in the present and falsely labels it as past and/or future (we have seen that the past and future are one and the same; therefore memory [given the definition of imagination] could occur in the “future”). However, we can still be able to live within the present without the construction of a so-called past and future, and that state of being, as we have seen, is termed pure-consciousness. This state of being is our fundamental being and the one which must be looked at in comparison to Heidegger’s Dasein and Sartre’s For-itself to determine a being that can exist as a non-solipsistic entity in time. However, we still need to define solipsism.
One problem that arises is how one is able to know the world. The broadest views that try to solve this problem are the ideas of the realist, idealist, and existentialist. However, when the philosopher or the everyday person begins to look at the world, he/she is always forced into the process of mixing in his/her own thoughts. This last statement can be termed as solipsism. Solipsism, in its broadest terms, can be defined as how “the self is the totality of existence” (The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 487). Therefore, thought allows the self to be known (meaning self awareness), or rather “create” its existence.
The other problem that must be considered is how the world exists. If we are in the world and can never escape the world, then the world must be a part of our being; that is, in defining who we are we must consider the world. Therefore, two ideas can come about. One is that the world must also be solipsistic, or, two, the world and consciousness are one and the same and awareness of the “I” can sometimes not exist – meaning the idea of self-awareness that I just described above. The reason that the world and consciousness can be one is that, obviously, consciousness is part of our being and there is no distance between consciousness and the world. Distance is only generated when we use our body as an object to compare and contrast distance to other objects in the world. This is why Heidegger is wrong that “space is in the world in so far as space has been disclosed by that Being-in-the-world which is constitutive for Dasein” (Being And Time 146). Space actually takes on the characteristics described by Sartre where “space, quality, world and instrumental-thing does not modify being – everything is given, everything is present to me without distance and in its complete reality. Nothing of what I see comes from me; there is nothing outside what I see or what I could see” (Being And Nothingness 296). Therefore, space and distance is subjective in the fact that I am not the creator of the objects, but the objects appear because of my consciousness that extinguishes the distance between me and the object. Hence, solipsism recognizes that there are objects in the world, but tries to negate a distance to become the totality of existence.
Distance can take on many forms, such as measuring the inches from this paper to the pen, real, concrete happenings to a hopeful, idealistic event, etc., but all these happenings have the fundamental distance, which is time that relates itself to being. It must be noted here that time is solipsistic because in potentiality Being tries to become complete by its actions and connecting the actions through time -- meaning that time (past, present, and future) is always in consciousness because temporality is imagination, which, if we remember the definition of solipsism above, makes the self, which is time, the totality of its own existence. In other words, nothing can ever be known outside one’s own consciousness; that is, it is impossible to know more than you know and time is our knowledge of ourselves. So, to finish off the argument that solipsism tries to negate distance, it can be seen that time negates distance by thought and allows Being to have an imaginative past and present through imagination, which allows the present to be known through self-awareness. But, as we have seen, we are unable to know ourself in the present since knowing contains thought and thought is always the solipsistic past.
We are now able to see that solipsism is produced by a self-reflected being -- meaning a being with distance (that sees it is not this pen) that tries to reconnect itself with the unity to the world (that cannot tell the difference between itself and this pen since it is not aware of itself) to dispel this distance, all the while to know that there are objects in the world. Therefore, solipsism is the belief (to dispel distance) that the objects (considering being) come from the self (totality of distance through time).
As I started to explain earlier, the very foundation of distance is time because time allows one to see, as Sartre likes to phrase it, that “being is what it is not and is not what it is” (Being And Nothingness 785). However, it is important to note that the sense of the past and future (actually the past should only be considered since it has been seen that a future can never truly exist in thought) are made up of the present. For example, when I think of my childhood, or even five minutes ago, it is safe to say that that being is not me, but rather another object or subject in the world. To say that that child in my imagination is the same as “I” is actually saying that the image in the mirror is me. Again, we try to use thought as a fishing line to reel in the past and melt the past into my present state so they will become one. Our memory, or imagination (both are equally the same) creates an event in the “past” and places a label "this is me” on the event. However, there is always distance between the past and the consciousness in the pure-present. Therefore, solipsism does not truly overcome distance, but rather denies that there is distance at all (as stated above).
This is how the denial of distance objective thought tries to come about. Objectivity assumes that there is no distance between anything, but rather that everything flows into one another by the acts of thought, which corresponds with distance. This is why objectivity takes into consideration other points of view to gain knowledge of an object from all sides. Objectivity tries to take on the form of a boundary of the world, but it begins with the acceptance of knowledge of others, which is subjectivity and opinion. Hence objectivity can never occur since thought is synonymous with subjectivity. One who follows the thought of subjectivity realizes that their “I” is a solipsistic entity.
Given each of the previous conclusions considering solipsism we are now able to give a detailed description of what solipsism is. Solipsism is the act that finds the meaning of being by seeing the self as the totality with distance (knowledge of other objects), but denies its own distance through time (connects being through past, present and future) in subjective imagination (construction [memory] of past and/or future).
If we want to have a solution for solipsism, then we must get away from the notions of the past because the past tries to link the self to the present and the future as being the same being (as-having-been and not-yet, which is temporality). Yet this is impossible (in most cases), so we must show that the past has nothing to do with the present, or, better yet, the past has nothing to do with my essence or my being (the only difference in thought between Sartre and myself is his idea that our past is who we were so there is a connection with the past; that is, he claims being has a past as its foundation, not as a secondary, solipsistic foundation). This connection between our present Being with either the past or future is the problem of solipsism. Both thinkers contend that time in a temporal state is the foundation of time, but I have shown that temporality can only occur by breaking free from the pure-present through imagination. Sartre states that the “three so-called elements of time [temporality], past, present, and future should not be considered as a collection of “givens” for us to sum up” (Being And Nothingness 159). Heidegger suggests “Dasein temporalizes itself in the way the future and having-been are united in the Present” (Being And Time 449). However, temporality, on terms that I suggest, is none other than imagination -- meaning that memory is imagination since memory requires construction of events on a subjective level, which is the very essence of imagination. In other words, memory is the process of connecting the past to the present and future, which is how we saw what imagination does. It could be seen that, when an individual constructs their “past,” all that is occurring is an event in the present, which corresponds to the same idea that a child is watching his/her twin brother play a game and the former child gets confused and thinks his/her brother is him/herself. Therefore, we create a new experience that occurs right now and not something that occurred yesterday. Hence, time is never able to step outside of the present.

Works Cited
Heidegger, Martin. Being And Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. San
Francisco: Harper, 1962.
Heidegger, Martin. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Trans. Richard Taft. 4th ed.,
Enlarged. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990.
Rollins, C. D. “Solipsism.” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 7 vols. 1967.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being And Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. New York:
Washington Square Press, 1992.

posted by Brian at 11/08/2002 |

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