Holding Only On to the Past or Looking Only at the Future: Why “Now”?

The issue of which mode of temporality will be at the position of a central decisive authority in determining a point of first step or a point of origin in the relationships we establish with the current world is out there as a key question that is challenging for human beings to answer from time to time. Should human beings not think about the past at all, or on the contrary, should they not make plans regarding the future? Whether the central position should be occupied by the past or today’s world, or if futuristic hopes and expectations will be the only point of intellectual starting point constitutes a significant question. Apparently, both constantly clinging to the difficult, troublesome and traumatic incidents we went through in the past, and acting in today’s world with a futuristic mindset while being totally alienated from the reality seem to be things that are beyond an ordinary way of thinking. As a matter of fact, it lies inside the concept of “now”, inside the meaningfulness that it refers to.

This question has been a pivotal question for the philosophers within the context of historical thought. For instance, Hegel, one of the prominent German philosophers of the 19th century (1770-1831), has a theory of history that acts on the what’s current, namely, on the concept of “now”. Because according to him, this concept concisely contains the core of the past and future both. Such that, according to Hegel: “When we consider the past and deal with a world that is far away, a “present time” occurs for/in terms of the spirit that arises from its own efficiency, as a reward for its efforts.” (Hegel, 2015: 16). It is possible to say that the concept “now” (German: Gegenwart) or “present time” is one of the concepts which has a determinant aspect regarding Hegel’s philosophy of history, and which even is the most pivotal one in respect of the power and constituent aspect of the concept. Because in Hegel’s unique world of thoughts, rather than the concept of “past” that includes the risk of being plunged into nostalgia that might appear in the case of acting on the memories or events of the past in a ceaseless and persistently constant manner, living with the same in some way and being endlessly attached to those issues, and/or the risk of using that set of moments, which is romanticized through an assumption that the past was outstanding, or the concept of “future” that might lead to various predictions (or even prophesying) over a concept of history, with regard to a world that has not been experienced or formed yet, one can say that a theory of history is being developed that uses the concept of “now” as its foundation and rises from its walls without ignoring the reciprocal interacting relationships of those, through the concept of “now” in a concrete manner. We can say that this theory being developed is related not only to history, but also to all of the human sciences. Of course, it is related to psychology and psychiatry the most. The relationship established with the mode of temporality of the past, present and future also fundamentally shows the individual’s ties with the real world.

Being a junction point for the concept of past as a total of the past experiences, and for the concept of future pointing out an imaginary world that has not been experienced yet, the concept of “now” has a constituent function regarding a realistic theory of history and a human sciences approach. Ernst Bloch (1885-1977), a 20th century German philosopher, also focuses on this subject matter. Bloch makes a metaphor of “Januskopf/Janus head” based on Janus, a Roman god, who has one face looking ahead and one looking back, with reference to the relationship Hegel established with the future, and by considering his method (Bloch, 1971: 229). Although Bloch assumes a critical attitude regarding Hegel’s theory while mentioning this fact, one can also analyze this event of looking at both directions as a concentration on the concept of “now”. The “now” includes both the past and the core of the unformed world of the future in itself as a potential situation. It is possible for us to say that we, through this exemplification, are able to analyze it better why the concept of now should be in a pivotal position for a positive relationship with this world that is realistic and founded on a real base in terms of the individual.

Indeed, the concept of now functions as a “Janus head” by its unique structure in the dual function that enables one to look both at the past and at the future, within the framework of a realistic style of thought in general, and within Hegel’s system of philosophy of history. As we know, it is possible to say that one of his (or at this point, we can also say every human’s) faces is retrospectively concerned with the thing that already happened but has a lasting effect in today’s world, while the other face of his, which looks at the completely opposite direction, turns towards the future due to the fact that it harbors its potentials, along with the traces that includes its cores.

The concept of “now” stands right in the middle of these two spaces, along with this simultaneity, namely the head that turns towards two opposite directions and towards two different dimensions of temporality, and it derives its determinant power from this. Because what’s meant by an event that already happened is “now” in a temporal, spatial and logical sense, and it bears the traces of the past that naturally prioritizes what already happened within the incident of occurrence. Hegel choosing the concept of “now” as a point of origin, and this density it harbors are related to this whole relationality.

As a result, humans approaching the past as if it had never happened or it had never existed, or them assuming attitudes that do not consider the nothingness, or the data being present in the imaginary dimensions of a future world that is not possible to comprehend when observed from today’s world all go beyond the limits of the ordinary way of thinking. This does not mean that the future is not significant for the individual, or that they are just concepts that should not be thought on. On the contrary, their wholeness and their integrity are significant in terms of the individual forming their personal history. The point that is intended to be emphasized here is to establish our relationship with the past and the future within the framework of the actuality of the now by determining the strong, concrete and realistic structure of the concept of now as a point of origin. It must be remembered that there is no other moment rationally than the one that is present now; the world is shaped by this moment. Thus, it is possible to say that we must act within a plan of future that can rise from the now by feeding on the past.

– Ernst Bloch, Subjekt – Objekt Erlaeuterungen zu Hegel [Object-Subject-Comments on Hegel], Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971
– GWF Hegel, Vorlesungen Über Die Philosophie der Geschichte [Lectures on the Philosophy of History], Suhrkamp Verlag, 2015