I am currently struggling my way through the section of Being and Nothingness about temporality, hoping that not too many of the book’s future arguments rest on what is said here. At the moment there is far too much to disagree with, which throws into doubt any arguments that are based on it. Not that Sartre every really argues as such, in any structured logical way. Most of the time it just seems like a stream of consciousness, mildly interconnected.

Other bits I am wondering how it could fit into current understandings about space-time and relativity. Essentially I think Sartre is arguing that people create time through their being, that things don’t have pasts and futures they just have states. I don’t know how I feel about that. The idea about time coming from people might fit in quite well with relativity. However, if time is a dimension in the same way that space is, then surely an object has a progression through time even if it is not conscious of that progression? Sartre would probably reject the scientific interpretation of time because it tries to tie us down to actualities. He wants to the future to be about possibilities. Just because you can accurately predict what state a thing will be in at any particular point in time does that mean the thing doesn’t have a future? I think if you want to say that you have to radically change your interpretation of the word future.    

Hopefully that makes some kind of sense. I woke up at 4 am this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I am very sleep deprived. 


2 responses »

  1. It sounds more like quantum mechanics than relativity. Relativity gives us that time behaves like space in certain ways, which does not seem to fit in at all with what Sartre is saying as you’ve noted. However quantum mechanics does say that things exist in states and the state the system will be in in the future is not deterministic (ie it is random).

    Many quantum mechanical processes (particle interactions etc) are supposed to be symmetric in time – that is, if you run time backwards you get the same thing you started with. In that respect I suppose past and future are irrelevant. However the real kicker with physics and time is the second law of thermodynamics, the one that says you can only ever move to a system of higher entropy. No one’s quite sure how that law arises from more fundamental things, or why the universe should have such a rule. But it is the thing that gives time its ‘arrow’ and why for people the notion of running time backwards is nonsensical.

  2. I think I was thinking of relativity more in terms of time being relative to the observer. Which fits a little with what Sartre is saying, except he takes it one step further and says there is no time without the observer. I tend to get all my terms mixed up 🙂

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