Addendum on Ecological Temporality

6 April 2011

Wednesday


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In Ecological Temporality I attempted to give an exposition of time from an ecological perspective. There is a lot more to be said about ecological temporality, and I hope to take it up systematically at some point, though for now I will content myself with a few further observations.

Recently I posted the following on Twitter:

Evolutionary biology is the ecology of the longue durée; ecology is the evolutionary biology of the ephemeral durée.

Given my formulations of metaphysical ecology and metaphysical temporality, I can give a little more precise formulation to the aphorism I posted to twitter, to whit:

Evolutionary biology is the ecology of metaphysical history; ecology is the evolutionary biology of the micro-temporality of the individual.

And “ecology” simpliciter here means a lower level of the hierarchy of metaphysical ecology in which the agency of individual organisms is relevant to the struggle for survival. while “evolutionary biology” is metaphysical ecology on a much larger scale. That is to say, ecology and evolutionary biology are essentially the same process taking place at distinct levels of ecological temporality.

That is to say, the longue durée at its greatest extrapolation is metaphysical history, while the micro-temporality of the individual is that ephemeral temporality of events all but dismissed by Braudel, the great representative of the longue durée as the appropriate temporal category of history.

As soon as I thought of Braudel in this connection I recalled a famous quote from him that I have used a couple times previously:

Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion.

Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Volume 2, Part Three: Event, Politics and People, p. 901

As soon as I recalled this quote I realized that Braudel in particular, and structuralism in general, represent a top-down view of history, implying top-down time chains with primarily causality residing in the vast structures that shape history, and with almost no causality going back up the chain from bottom to top. Foucault is often placed in this tradition also. Foucault himself denied being a structuralist, and rightly so, but we can place him among the structuralists with equal right. To borrow a deconstructive term, we must mention Foucault in the connection under erasure.

Ecological temporality from the point of view of historiography reveals Collingwood’s a priori historical imagination (which I have also mentioned several times, e.g., Life in the Holocene Epoch and Philosophy of History in Our Time, Revisited) as a representative of bottom-up temporality, as Collingwood obviously placed not a little emphasis upon the personal experience of time and history — we could even call this an experiential view of history. From the point of view of reconstructing history on the basis of a priori imagination, micro-temporality drives the structures of history from the inside out and from the bottom up.

Ecological temporality would endeavor to show that Braudel’s ephemeral events do not disappear into oblivion, but are passed upward into ever greater temporal structures, while at the same time showing that the great structures of history, the anonymous forces that silently, facelessly move the world forward trickle down into ordinary experience and in this way drive the process of history forward.

The science of the struggle for existence (cf. the Ernst Haeckel quote in Metaphysical Ecology) placed in the context of metaphysical ecology is one way in which we can delineate the interactions between ecological levels that extend the temporal web both from the top down and the bottom up.

The struggle for existence that Haeckel had in mind, and that which has usually preoccupied ecology in the narrow, biological sense, is that of the micro-system over the duration of micro-temporality. This immediately suggests struggles that take place at the level of the meso-, exo-, macro-, and metaphysical levels of ecology. At the level of micro-systems, individual organisms struggle to exist on a time scale relevant to the life and death of individual organisms — i.e., micro-temporality. At the level of meso-systems, communities of organisms struggle to exist — i.e., the struggle within populations and among distinct populations. On the level of exo-systems, populations in different regions struggle to exist, and while on a strictly biological level this involves but little participation of the individual, at the level of global industrial civilization, with distinct populations competing for finite resources around the globe, this struggle comes into its own. On these basis we can extrapolate further struggles, some of which are struggles for existence yet to come as civilization becomes more comprehensive and thus acts at a level of augmented agency.

These are themes that invite treatment at a much greater level of detail and therefore require a systematic effort. At the moment I find that my mind is not up to the task, so I will leave further elaboration to another day.

One more item — I remembered another relevant quote, this from Merleau-Ponty:

“The feeling for eternity is a hypocritical one, for eternity feeds on time. The fountain retains its identity only because of the continuous pressure of water. Eternity is the time that belongs to dreaming, and the dream refers back to waking life, from which it borrows all its structures. Of what nature, then, is that waking time in which eternity takes root?”

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of perception, p. 423 in the Humanities Press edition, all of Part Three, Chapter 2, “Temporality” is relevant here

It is not at all surprising to find that Merleau-Ponty, who stands within the phenomenological tradition, holds a more-or-less bottom-up perspective on the structure of time, and in a form that is almost the perfect contradiction of Plato’s characterization of time as the “moving image of eternity.” In Ecological Temporality I cited Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, as a paradigmatic representative of bottom-up time chains, and Plato as a representative of top-down time chains. (Interestingly, Merleau-Ponty writes in terms of “the feeling of eternity,” which is perhaps intended as a response to Freud’s visiting of that theme, something that I have discussed in several posts, i.e., Algorithms of Ecstasy)

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