In this essay, we are going to explore the second section of the supplementary texts of the writings included in “on the phenomenology of the consciousness of internal time (1893-1917)”. These supplementary texts have become known as ‘the development of the problem’, and the second section is titled: “The suspension of objective time, the temporal object, the phenomenology of objectivation and its aporiae”.

Before we begin to explore these extremely intricate and complex texts, we must inquire into what Edmund Husserl is trying to accomplish. The question of the origin of time is one that Husserl calls the most difficult of all phenomenological problems.(p 286) Other thinker’s comments on this issue are similar, St. Augustine called it a puzzle that sets the mind on fire. Husserl also says, “Time is fixed, and yet time flows. In the flow of time, in the continuous sinking down into the past, a non-flowing, absolutely fixed, identical, objective time becomes constituted. This is the problem.”(p 67)

Husserl begins with the premise that time can not be measured objectively. The idea of being able to capture time within a set of ordered units such as seconds or milliseconds is impossible. Time is not meant to be apprehended, it is something that can not be captured in this manner. It is a running-off that solidifies itself, a sinking-down into the past.

While Husserl does not objectify time using increments such as minutes or hours, he must objectify it in some way in order to talk about it in depth. In speaking objectively about time, we can say that each moment in time has its place in relation to other past moments and to the present moment. If this were not true then we would not know the difference between last year, this year and one thousand years ago and it would be troublesome to have history (at least in the same way that we know it). So there is a relation between points in time, but when does this relation occur?

We perceive the moment A and then the next moment B, successively. The relation between the two is that A is before B and B is after A, but how did this reference occur? Could this relation have constituted itself between the two moments (e.g. after A, but before B)? A could not have a relationship before the act of B happening, because there would be no event with which to relate. Therefore, a connection can only occur once a successive relationship exists between two or more points in time.

This seems obvious once we think about it, and as well as essential to our understanding of events in time. What would today be like without its relation to yesterday? Would today be possible at all? No, implicitly in our understanding of today, there must have been a previous day: yesterday. Even if it were possible for us to be at a day that was the first day or a day without a previous day, we would not be able to call it a ‘day’ at all because the idea of a day would not have constituted itself as a ‘day’. The moment a full day had passed we would be able to define a day, as such, and not beforehand. This is certain since there would have been no such thing as a ‘day’, yet. Before A is completely experienced it can not be defined as A. A is not yet A until we perceive the whole of A. Could we define the relationship between A and B if we had not yet experienced this relationship? It would be very difficult to define A in its association to B if B was not yet experienced.

Husserl wants to emphasize that succession is a temporal relationship that could not occur if the two relational objects did not have their respective points in time. He submits that the perception of succession presupposes that the points of the relation (that are being unified) are not both perceived at once. In other words: each point has its own separate moment of perception and consciousness, otherwise they would be the same experience. “The perception of succession presupposes the succession of perceptions”. In addition to this, the perception of succession, like the perception of any other association, presupposes the perception of the foundations of the relation between objects. The foundations are 1) an A that is past and 2) a B that is now. The foundation rests on the preceding experience of A in its ensuing relation to the present experience of B.(p 197)

He uses a number of diagrams in order to help us understand these different perspectives on the relation of two time points to each other:

  1. A The perception of A in the present.
  2. A’ B The perception of B in the present, while still

conscious of A.

Continuing to examine succession, Husserl uses the ticking of a watch to aide our understanding of this subject. As I look at the second hand ticking away what do I find? The first tick, T1, is experienced as present itself in the now time, n1. Then T2 comes into appearance, followed by T3, T4, etc., this is a continuous process as long as we watch the second hand moving. When T2 is experienced, it too is in the ‘now’ time position, which is a new now, n2. During the moment that T2 appears T1 is no longer present, but immediately past. T1 is past in its relation to n2 which coincides with T2. “While T1 is being is being perceived, however, T2 does not appear at all. While T2 is being perceived (as ‘now’ existing), T1 is not also being perceived, if ‘perceived’ means ‘to appear as now present’. Rather it appears as [just now having been perceived] (in n1).”(p 199)

This process repeats itself with each tick: as new Ts appear in experience past Ts disappear from our awareness. Husserl feels that this process does not continue into infinity. If we were to watch the second hand in its movement, for an extended period of time, we would experience many Ts. While we may remember those Ts that have recently occurred, we would not remember all of the past ‘ticks’ with respect to their temporal location (Tn). We know that other Ts have existed, even though we can not remember how many ‘ticks’ have past or each specific ‘tick’ as a T.

It is now that we begin to wonder how we can be conscious of A or T1 (but no longer experience it), while perceiving B or T2. Husserl attempts to explain this by saying that A remains arrested in primary memory while we perceive B and “this unitary consciousness that united B and the primary memory of A, grasped the temporal relationship of A and B.” This translates into our understanding that one perceives the successive A-B relation as a succession and that A remains in fresh memory and has the character of “just-having-been” experienced.(p 197)

For Husserl fresh memory signifies direct consciousness of the “just-having-been-present”, with emphasis on the “just” as signifying a temporal location in time. One can reproduce a temporal flow in memory. This furnishes a memorial representation of the succession of events that are being recollected.(p 198) The “just-past” must be a “not-now” since it is being distinguished from the now. The event exists now, but the representation of the event does not exist now, only the recollection is in the now. The event has “just” been present in itself, because it is still in immediate (fresh) memory.(p 219)

When we begin to think about the objects that we perceive, we realize that we not only preserve the single previous object, but multiple successive objects. Here ‘object’ means the apprehension of our experience, such as the sun setting or the birds singing. As I think of the shoes I am putting on, I remember the socks, pants, and shirt that I have put on as well. This means that multiple moments remain in the now as enduring. They appear as simultaneous, even though they occurred separately. Each of the objects appear together, but having been perceived at different times. While we know from their succession that they were each assigned a different time, we perceive them as preserved in the now. (p 211)

How does this perception endure? Husserl claims that if the perception of a temporal object endures, then the object itself must endure as well. By this he means that “the experience of perception is continuously preserved (without essential change in content)” T1 appears as existing in n2 even though T2 is being perceived in n2. This is what Husserl calls “an actually present consciousness of the just past enduring perception.”(p 212) He wants to make the distinction that the perception of T1 did not occur in n2 or n3. T1 is extended: meaning that it has a duration and can be perceived in its duration.(p 214)

As we perceive and seize an experience, new perceptions are

attached to new “nows”. In this way earlier perceptions are

being continuously pushed back into the past. Our point of

reference for all past nows is in our present apprehension of new

nows. Thus, it would seem that our point of reference is always changing. “Everything just past is seen from the standpoint of the now.”(p 205) This Husserl calls an event, a process, a melody that runs off. In thinking about our present experience of an event or series of events, the word ‘melody’ is a very beautiful way to describe this process. It reminds us that every experience is not a series of separate, successive happenings, but rather a sequence of moments that create a melody. When we put these melodies together we have a song. We can think of our experiences as notes creating a melody that creates a song in the album of our lives.

The “flow of consciousness” is a process as well, one that we can perceive: we can focus on its phases transforming from moment to moment.(p 205) “I live in the consciousness of the object, but I can also focus my attention on the subjective moment, on the appearance, on the ‘experiences.’”(p 201) We can either experience the sun setting as an event in itself [being conscious of the experienced object], or we can experience ourselves experiencing the sun setting [being conscious of the consciously experienced object (which is being conscious of the subjective moment)].

When we reconstitute past events, we can remember an event or series of events that are past within their temporal flow, but can we single out a specific point in time without its relation to its surrounding points? Could we remember last sunday without its relation to last saturday and last monday? Without its surroundings sunday could not have its temporal position that makes it sunday. In our recollection of a past experience, temporal objects retain their temporal location. Sunday is sunday because it is the day after saturday and before monday. As we recall an experience, we reproduce the flow of experiences in their given order. This means that in memory we have the same process as what we grasp from perception, except that we “phantasize” that we are perceiving the experience(s) in the now.(p 206)

Husserl contends, along with other philosophers such as Brentano, that in our recollection, we include an element of “phantasy” that attaches itself to these past experiences. “No phase can be arrested and held. It can only be generated anew again and again.”(p 206) Once an experience is past it is gone forever, we can not longer compare our memory to the actual experience to determine if we are remembering it exactly as it happened. This is where phantasy comes into play. As we recollect an experience the successive moments hold their temporal positions, but we attach a subjective element to these moments: phantasy.

As the phases of momentary perception sink into the past they are constantly undergoing a modification. This modification is due to an object’s temporal location. The phases are not just preserved, they perpetually change in their relation to the “now” time point. We recollect from the “now” and since this point is always changing, so too is our relation to our past experiences. (p 220) This does not mean that the temporal object changes, on the contrary: it is a continuous consciousness of the same, the object keeps its time. While it recedes further and further back into the past its temporal character is changing. This is called temporal modification: the object’s character changes since time is flowing and we are understanding the object from within this flow (which is the “now” point).(p 221)

The experienced unity of consciousness is a simultaneity of continuous succession and temporal modification. It is both the succession and temporal modification that sink into the past, together, as a simultaneous event. This is how temporal objects retain their position to each other and to the “now” point. As the objects sink into the past the interval between them is the same. “The consciousness of the object is the consciousness of something identical within the original seeing of time: each point and each extent, which is originally modified by being pushed back, is taken as identical.” The term ‘identical’ is used to show us how succession and temporal modification are simultaneous.(p 222)

As we reproduce something in memory, we reproduce the running-off of time in a manner indicative of phantasy.(p 222) The reproduction presents itself as a representation of what was earlier perceived. Within the reproduction we do not have two different things (which would be the reproduction and the object), but only one. This is how we know the difference between reproduction and perception. The object is only there in perception, we can only simulate it’s identity in reproduction.

If I have perceived a whole series of objects then in the final phase of perception (the one that corresponds to the last tone in a melody) each phase of the object is separately apprehended. This means that each phase is represented as something distinct within its corresponding moment of apprehension. “All of the phases belong to the consciousness of succession in the final momentary intuition.” Here Husserl is trying to illustrate how each of the corresponding apprehensions are part of an “apprehension-unity”, which is a joining together that makes the “momentary consciousness of time”.(p 236) This ‘momentary consciousness of time’ is an aspect of the temporal object that incorporates its perception, ‘melody’ and binds the first ‘tone’ into union with all the ensuing tones up to the last. (p 237)

A series of tones can be perceived in the unity of one perception. This perception consists of a temporally extended consciousness exhibited by each tone, as well as the “tonal structure that they form together.” (p 237) This does not mean that T1 appears in time-point n2 with the character of n1. The apprehension of T1 does not cease in the moment n1, instead T1 sinks while its apprehension is “joined continuously” to the next apprehension in n2.

When we try to understand the description of how we can perceive event T2 while still holding on to T1 in present-time (n2) consciousness as immediately past, we become perplexed. In fact Husserl himself wrote “Here is a difficulty” (p 200) in the margin of his original manuscripts in connection to this difficulty. Can something be held in the present that is past, while we are still perceiving a new present? Questions such as these are not answered easily. When I drive a car I must take into account my “just-past” action in order to determine my present course of action. This is true in sports as well: my position on the basketball court determines my next movement. But how does this relation always become a decision?

Many times it is an ‘understanding’ that transcends my contemplation of the next action to be taken. I do not need to think about my physical location, I just know where I am. Is this same type of transcendence true of all events? Certainly not: the first time I experienced riding a skateboard I had no idea that the foot-position and weight-shifting methods occurred intuitively with veteran skateboarder. Is this sort of intuition consistent with the ‘consciousness’ of an experience? A sort of ‘momentary consciousness’ gaining its initial apprehension in my first skateboarding experience? That would depend on how I interpreted the succession of non-skateboarding events that occurred in-between the relevant skateboarding experiences. Could a unity last throughout successively diverse apprehensions? This is perplexing, but some sort of lasting consciousness must have occurred in order for me to be conscious of where I am now and how I got here.

We have seen that the perception of succession requires the succession of perception, in other words: consciousness of succession requires succession. Any state that grasps time is possible only as a continuum. The comprehension of a time-point is only possible within a nexus. Husserl wants us to understand that time-consciousness itself requires the existence of time.(p 198) In our understanding of perception we must realize that – necessarily – perception follows something and that something follows it, again, necessarily.(p 202) This is true of time as well, every “past” can be converted reproductively into a now which in turn has a “past” itself. This is the essence of the phenomenological situation.(p 205)

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