Back, From The Future

Many phenomena we encounter seem to suggest that the future is determined by the present which is itself determined by the past. The physical sciences produce laws whereby events are causally sufficient to bring about other events. Also, people tend to only do that which they have seen or heard other people do. These seem to suggest that the present emerges as the product of the past and that the future will also continue this pattern. For these reasons, the general view of time prioritizes the past. This view basically says that the past is most important in defining who we are and how we understand the world. As one way this view manifests itself, people sometimes identify themselves and others by what they have done in the past “college grad” “award winning director”. However, there are also those who identify themselves by what they intend to do, by the future “aspiring writer” “student”. Even if we disregard all of those self-deceived “actresses” in the Hollywood area, some people honestly see themselves as essentially working toward a goal or way of life. These people present a difficulty for the traditional view. Heidegger’s authentic Dasein also somehow escapes the One and does something new. Heidegger posits that in order to account for these individuals we must understand that “the future has a priority in the ecstatical unity of primordial and authentic temporality” (378).

Dasein is special among those things in the physical world, because it is the “entity for which, in its being, that being is an issue” (236). This means that, unlike rocks and trees, we care about how our lives turn out. It may be true that all other things in the universe are completely causally determined. But an understanding of the universe would be incomplete if it did not account for that entity which each of us is. And to subsume Dasein into a theory that explains everything else would be to treat Dasein like everything else, that is as present-at-hand. Heidegger over and over argues that treating Dasein as present-at-hand is a mistake. Being & Time can be seen as trying to come up with a theory that includes Dasein and still holds it to have a greatly different kind of being from everything else we ever encounter. In fact, as it turns out, Heidegger accounts for everything in terms of Dasein rather than the other way around. In Being & Time, Heidegger claims that to understand the being of anything and in order to understand being at all one must start by understanding Dasein.

Based on the analysis he gives of Dasein and the its being (care), he believes we must prioritize the future. This understanding of time will explain the phenomena that have exceptional relation to the future and also account for those phenomena that suggest that the past is prior. Heidegger also thinks that the view that the ordinary conception of time is made possible by the fact that the future is prior. So, comparing the ordinary view of time and Heidegger’s view, we see an asymmetry of explanation. One is claimed to be prior because the other can be explained in terms of it, while it cannot be explained in terms of the other. This style of argumentation is common in Being & Time. Descartes’ story about substances with properties can be explained by Being-in-the-world, but not the other way around. The same is said about the ordinary view of death; it is a fleeing from the true understanding of death. An understanding of time in which the future is the most important better explains the ordinary conception of time than the other way around.

Dasein is the entity for which being is an issue. This means that Dasein always has to deal with what in means for itself to be. It has to deal with and somehow figure out and take a stand on its being, and this is done without Dasein having to explicitly think about it. Dasein is always taking a stand on its being because “As understanding, Dasein projects its being upon possibilities” (188). Understanding is the know-how Dasein has of tools and practices whereby those tools can be used to produce things. Part of understanding is knowing how these tools and practices refer to each other and how they refer to roles that Dasein can assume by using the tools to perform the practices. All of this means that in knowing how to manipulate things in the world to perform certain tasks, we know ways in which we could orient our lives in performing those tasks. For example, we know that wrenches and floor-jacks are used to fix cars and someone can make a living as a mechanic by fixing other people’s cars and charging them money. We know that we could be a mechanic, and there is any number of other roles that we could take. The point here is that these roles which are tied up in practices are possibilities for us. We take a stand on our being by assuming that role and performing the practices associated with it. Projection is thus grounded in the future, because Dasein is aware of different futures that it can have. However, this should not be taken to mean that the possibilities themselves necessarily lie in the future as in that which is to come or that by possibility Heidegger means some future possibility of oneself. “By the term ‘futural’, we do not here have in view a ‘now’ which has not yet become ‘actual’ and which sometime will be for the first time” (373). The possibility for being a mechanic is not ‘actualized’ in an event like gaining a mechanic’s certification or even in the event of calling myself a mechanic. Dasein deals with the issue of its being by projecting it onto possibilities.

The other side of our awareness of possible ways that we can be is that we are also aware that some of these possibilities do not seem as available as others. The possibilities that are available are not equally given by practices that we have heard about. We are limited even as we consider roles which we could assume. “In its projection [Dasein] reveals itself as something which has been thrown” (458). Thrownness is about how we already are in a certain way. In particular, there are certain aspects of ourselves that we did not chose. Thrownness is also called having-been. Our past contributes to our thrownness such that we are as having been the way we are. But once again this is not to say that our thrownness is simply the way that the past has deterministically put us where we are. In projecting, we do not become aware that we have been in some situation for some amount of time. It is not that there is some event that corresponds to our being thrown into some way of how we are.

Thus arises the way in which ordinary time arises from the more primordial phenomenon. Projection is an awareness of ways which one can be. And we can be aware of thrownness in the constraints that limit the possibilities that are available to us. These phenomena do not have to happen in time. I might, for example, decide to be a mechanic. In doing so, I would realize that my future will now entail working on cars and I would probably come up with a story about how my past has been an avoidance of my true calling in life but it put me into a situation where I can finally accept it. I could then interpret my current actions as transitioning into my role as a mechanic. All of this could be done right now which shows that projection and falling are not themselves based on time in the ordinary sense. Simply by assuming a role, I give myself a new future and past. In particular, my past is reestablished in terms of my future. Thus, projecting is connected with the future, but not because I would have to commit to certain actions that I will have to perform in the future or because I would be working toward some future possibility of myself. I am simply aware of a possibility that I could take up and be. The ordinary concept of the future then arises as that in which my possibility will be actualized. Likewise, thrownness is connected with the past, but not because my previous experiences have caused me to be what and where I am without the possibility that I could be something else. Thrownness is just that I always have preferences and aspects of myself that I did not chose which are determinate for my being. The ordinary conception of the past is then conceived as that in which I can place the origin of these determinations. The ordinary understanding of time is based on the more primordial phenomena, projecting and thrownness.

One possibility that is almost always available to us is to be as we already are. This “already” doesn’t refer to the past as in clock-time. By projecting onto the possibility one already is, we can then understand our past and present as constant continuations of how we are. This is what happens when Dasein is lost in the One. The only possibilities that seem available are those given by social norms. In projecting upon the possibilities given by the one (falling) Dasein would view its past as that which has conformed (or hasn’t) to what one is supposed to do. Heidegger writes that Dasein is essentially ahead of itself. “In each case Dasein has already compared itself in its being with a possibility of itself” (236). He also says that the ‘itself’ in ‘ahead of itself’ refers to the One-self (238). Falling Dasein is unwilling, due to social pressure from the One, to entertain any other possibilities than those given by the One. Rather than saying the One acts through some people, it would be more accurate to say that they have allowed the One to work through them. Those who conform entirely with social norms and thereby understand their being as tied up in the past as in that which determines one’s being are easily explained by Heidegger’s account of temporality.

Heidegger can also account for Dasein that does more than simply conforming to the One. Authentic Dasein “discovers the world in its own [eigens] way” (167). “Any entity is discovered when it has been assigned or referred to something” (115). So, authentic Dasein assigns equipment to other equipment and those to practices in some new way. It conceives of itself and its role as something other than how the One has presented it. This will result in Dasein that acts somehow other than how One does. For example, Kurt Cobain made music with his guitar and then he smashed it. The guitar was assigned to the work of performing in a new way. This can easily be explained by saying that Kurt was aware of the currently accepted possibilities of assigning the guitar to the practice of performing, but he saw and chose a new possibility of discovering the world rather than just repeating the past. It is true that Kurt only had access to this new possibility because of his awareness of the past way of discovering in the world. We can accept this diluted sense of the new while still maintaining that he did not simply let the past dictate how he would perform.

Heidegger’s system can also account for those who identify with the future. In fact Heidegger says that Dasein’s future is constitutive of its being. “Dasein is already its ‘not-yet’, and is its ‘not-yet’ constantly as long as it is” (289). Heidegger talks about the being of a fruit to explain the “not-yet”. The “not-yet” of a fruit is ‘ripening’. Ripeness is not like a property that we might use to say that “the ripe fruit is just like the unripe fruit except that it has ripeness.” The “not-yet” of the fruit refers to “the fruit itself in its specific kind of being”. And “The ‘not-yet’ has already been included in the very being of the fruit” (288). The “not-yet” is like the role that Dasein assumes. It is a possibility, but not one that simply hasn’t been actualized yet. And it constitutes the entity in its very being. Death is one “not-yet” that belongs to Dasein. It is Dasein’s uttermost “not-yet”. Epicurus thought that we should not be worried about death. He said essentially, death does not affect us because, by definition, we will not be here to experience it. But, Death is part of our being in that it orients how we live right now. Just like the example of assuming a new role, Dasein can right now assume a new future. This future then becomes a part of Dasein’s being.

Heidegger also gives an account for how the ordinary view of time, which he here calls “world-time”, originates. First it should be understood that our primary concern in dealing with time is not in order to know about time itself. World-time, he says, arises from using the sun as a guide for when to do things. Later, sundials and clocks were invented for more accurately keeping track of the sun’s position. However, all of these methods only tell us the time, which is not why we make clocks. They are methods for counting and measuring time rather than presenting to us time in itself. Our concern when looking at a clock is not the clock itself nor is it time itself. Our concern is the amount of time that we are able to allocate to specific activities. For example, I might be concerned with whether I can stop by and get a sandwich before class starts. This is to say that we ordinarily relate to time as windows in which we can perform tasks. Thus, a concept of time arises as units of measurement in which things can be done. Each unit is associated with some activity and they become “events” or “nows”. Then our memory and our expectations are regarded as what Heidegger calls a “sequence of ‘nows’”. The sequence forms a chain stretching infinitely in either direction. Each “now” in the chain is “pregnant with the ‘not-yet-now’” their familial relation being that of causation. Each “now” is always slipping into the past only to be replaced by a new one. So, when we project on to some possibility, we imagine a “now” which is not here yet in which the possibility will be actualized. And as we remember our past, it is in a “now” not here any longer. World-time arises from our contemplation on our concernful dealings in the world.

Heidegger’s analysis of world-time provides an explanation for many common philosophical mistakes. Often it is a mistake to relate to something constitutive for Dasein as an oncoming event. As noted earlier, roles are tied up in practices and activities, but we should not think that in the event of performing those actions one becomes that role. “He who is irresolute understands himself in terms of those very closest events” (463). Nor does one’s thrownness correspond to some event in the past that determines one’s character. “Thrownness, however, does not lie behind it as some event which has happened to Dasein” (330). Also, “The One concerns itself with transforming this anxiety [of death] into fear in the face of an oncoming event” (298). “Dying is not an event” (284). The notion of an event also leads to the view that Dasein has a self which is the subject of events. In general, Dasein should avoid understand things in terms of events.

So, although many of our experiences suggest that everything must emerge from the past, there are some remarkable phenomena, however rare, that cannot be explained except by prioritizing the future. Dasein is an entity that is essentially ahead of itself. This means that Dasein always has a choice in the role it assumes, though we usually choose the easy way. If an authentic individual is at all possible, then the future must play some role. The priority of the future is a condition for the possibility of authentic Dasein. Heidegger provides an account that can explain those phenomena that emerge from the past as well as those that emerge from the future. That account can be roughly summarized by projection, which is Dasein’s awareness of a multitude of possibilities for itself and by thrownness, which describes Dasein as already in some state and having certain possibilities show up different than others. Heidegger also provides a deeply insightful account of how the ordinary conception of time arises in our daily circumspective dealings. While the ordinary view is not outright wrong, Heidegger shows that many common mistakes come from it.

*All page references in this post refer to Being & Time Translated by John Macquairre and Edward Robinson.*

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