A Dialogue with Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Marcin J. Schroeder

Rafael Capurro

Published in: Mark Burgin and Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic (Eds.): World Scientific Series in Information Studies / Theoretical Information Studies. World Scientific, (2020) pp. 139-176. Chapter 7: The Structure of the World, Unity of Nature and the Problem of Time, Rafael Capurro and Mark Burgin Theoretical Information Studies - Information in the World. https//doi.org/10.1142/9789813277496_0008

See also: The Debt of Natural Science.

Burgin Dodig


This paper deals with Weizsäcker's thinking on the unity of nature based on a long standing dialogue with Martin Heidegger's interpretation of being as three-dimensional time. This interpretation allows Weizsäcker to face some of the challenges arising from Quantum Mechanics questioning the traditional founding of physics on one-dimensional time. The extended response to the first question about the project of the unity of nature and my ideas on Weizsäcker discusses the issue at stake from the perspective of the concept of information and its roots in the Platonic and Aristotelian concept of eidos or form. The unity of nature is addressed from the methodological perspective of the unity of physics based on the search for a univocal meta-language. Information is a bifurcated category concerning "that which is understood" as well as "that which generates information". The short answer to the second question about the connection between Weizsäcker and Wheeler's "It from bit" stresses the view on Wheeler as an attempt to reduce "it", i.e., nature, to "bit," whilst failing to answer the question of time as being three-dimensional. The third question concerns digital technology as today's driving force of intellectual innovation in thinking about the world. The answer addresses the challenge of the interpretation of being as what is digitizable. This pervasive ontological view is called digital ontology in distinction from digital metaphysics. Finally, the fourth question about what would be the most important message from Weizsäcker to us is answered as being the understanding of the unity of nature, as well as of language and of ourselves in the world as embedded in three-dimensional time.


Many thanks to Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Marcin J. Schroeder for giving me the opportunity to answer some questions on Natural Philosophy in relation to a long standing dialogue with Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912-2007) [1]. In my responses I will refer mainly to some of Weizsäcker's articles published 1971 under the title Die Einheit der Natur (The Unity of Nature) [2] as well as to his late opus magnum Zeit und Wissen (Time and Knowledge) from 1992 [3]. All quotes from original German texts are my translations.

It was Weizsäcker who opened my eyes in the nineteen seventies when he pointed to the concept of information "as something different from matter and consciousness," recalling "the Platonic eidos and the Aristotelian form, dressed in such a way that a human being in the 20th century can learn something about them." [2] (p. 51). This gave rise to my research on the history of this concept [4] (p. 3) that was the beginning of a long journey until today [5]. My colleague and friend, the Australian philosopher Michael Eldred, is a key personal interlocutor in this dialogue with Weizsäcker [6, 7] dealing with the question of time as analyzed by Heidegger, particularly in his seminal work Being and Time [8] that influenced Weizsäcker over the years.

In the early nineteen eighties when I was working at FIZ Karlsruhe, a leading organization in the field of scientific information and documentation located on the premises of the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center, I suggested to a small group of engineers and physicists interested in Natural Philosophy that we read together Weizsäcker’s works. After a while we wanted to meet him personally. In 1982 he invited us to visit him in his home at Lake Starnberg near Munich. I took some notes of the conversation that were published in Spanish in the Uruguayan weekly newspaper Opinar whose Founder and Director was Enrique Tarigo (1927-2002), Professor of Procedural Law at the Uruguay State University, Vice President of Uruguay under President Julio María Sanguinetti between 1985 and 1989, the first democratic government after the military intervention 1973-1985 [9].


1. Professor Capurro, in the context of present special issue on the contemporary Natural Philosophy, we would be interested in your relation to the project of unity of nature and your view of the ideas of Weizsäcker


Weizsäcker's book The Unity of Nature is structured in four parts, namely: Part I. Science, Language and Method; Part II. The Unity of Physics; Part III. The Meaning of Cybernetics, and Part IV. On Classical Philosophy [2]. Part I consists of preliminary thoughts on issues dealing with the unity of science that were discussed at that time mainly from a methodological perspective, leaving aside the question of the unity of nature itself [2] (p. 12-13). My quote above on the concept of information as a new way of understanding foundational concepts of Western metaphysics, such as eidos and form gave rise to my PhD inquiry into the etymology of the Latin term informatio [4]. The quote is embedded in a lecture dealing with "Language as information" from 1959. Weizsäcker distinguishes between the Platonic and Aristotelian concept(s) of form, on the one hand, and the modern concept of information in the context human language and communication, on the other hand. Information as a structure of whatever kind, natural or artificial, is prima facie the opposite of information as language. But, as he points out, written language can be extended to artificial languages such as those used in the field of computer technology. There is a "circle" between language and information. Information in the context of scientific methodology concerns the search for certainty based on logic and calculation aiming at a univocal meta-language. But any meta-language remains dependent on natural language in order to be understood [2] (pp. 59-60). Weizsäcker quotes Wittgenstein's famous dictum in the preface of the Tractatus: "Was sich überhaupt sagen läßt, läßt sich klar sagen, und wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber muß man schweigen." [2] (pp. 49-50) [10] (p. 9). The standard English translation "What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence" obliterates the difference between "speaking about" ("Sprechen über") and "speaking from" ("Sprechen von"), that is to say, between language as a tool and language as a source of meaning. Although Weizsäcker is aware of this difference, he does not reflect on the wording of Wittgenstein's dictum. Wittgenstein himself is not aware that he is already "speaking from" when he states that there is something "about which" we cannot speak without distorting the phenomenon at stake. This difference is analysed by Heidegger in his essay from 1953/54  "Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache" translated as "A dialogue on language" [11]. Wittgenstein critically reviews his earlier position in the direction that our capacity of speaking 'from language' allows a diversity of "language games" ("Sprachspiele") [12]. According to Weizsäcker, the unity of modern science is methodologically grounded on the quest for a universal univocal language that would corresponds to the unity of its object, something Weizsäcker problematizes aporetically in Part II of this anthology.

In an unpublished text from 1969 with the title "Matter, Energy, Information," he comes back to the question of how the ontological and the epistemological meaning of information can be brought together in thought. Information is a bifurcated category: (1) information is only that which is understood; (2) information is only that which generates information. Definition (2) goes back to the Platonic and Aristotelian concept of form while, according to definition (1). information is a linguistically univocal concept. He underscores that information as "a measure for the amount of form" is something that can be potentially known (definition (1)). An organism is conceived as the product of genetic information (definition (2)). Weizsäcker calls such generated forms "objetivized semantics." [2] (p. 351). He puts it concisely: "Matter has form, consciouness knows form." [13]. This is a Platonic-Aristotelian thesis as well as a Kantian one. We cannot know things in themselves but only insofar as they can be grasped by a finite knower, which is the reason why we cannot have fully univocal concepts [14] (p. 362-363). A corollary of this thesis is that the question concerning the unity of nature is epistemologically grounded on a finite human knower. This transcendental argument is cut across by the phenomenological perspective on time.

The essays in the book The Unity of Nature were written between 1959 and 1970 with one exception, namely, a short article published in 1939 in the Annalen der Physik 36, 275, dealing with "The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Difference between Past and Future" [2]. The guiding thought is the question of irreversibility of natural processes that plays a key role in Quantum Mechanics. The difference between past and future is seen not just as a difference in "practical life" but as being foundational for physics as well. Weizsäcker writes that the statistical interpretation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics is the place where the (three-dimensionally open) structure of "real time" manifests itself in the "worldview of physics" [2] (p. 172), (but only as one-dimensional, linear time). In the introduction to this article written thirty years later, Weizsäcker writes, that when he wrote it, he had the feeling of saying something obvious, particularly for empiricists and positivists, describing temporal events as they are phenomenologically given. But, he adds, "I perceived with a certain astonishment, that most physicists regarded these thoughts as being rather strange" ("Mit einem gewissen Erstaunen habe ich dann bemerkt, daß die meisten Physiker diese Gedanken als eher fremdartig empfanden")." [2] (p. 172). Weizsäcker was influenced by Heidegger's phenomenology of time, more precisely, by the interpretation of being as three-dimensional time with its future, present and past dimensions, the opposite to the common understanding of time as a sequence of now-instants, taken for granted by "most physicists." Three-dimensional time becomes apparent and 'obvious' for Weizsäcker in the Second Law of Thermodynamics if the observer dares to open his eyes to this obvious but hitherto "strange" perspective.

In 1977, one year after Heidegger's death, Weizsäcker wrote a contribution to a book Remembering Martin Heidegger with the title "Encounters over Four Decades" [15]. He describes his first personal meeting with Heidegger (1889-1976) in his hut in Todtnauberg (Black Forest) in 1935 when he was 23 years old. Other participants of this meeting were the physiologist Johann Daniel Achelis (1898-1963), the physician and physiologist Viktor von Weizsäcker (1886-1956), an uncle to Carl Friedrich, the physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976), and the art historian Kurt Bauch (1897-1975). None of them, as far as I know, were able to (fore-)see the imminent catastrophe, as announced in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf that was published ten years before. The discussion dealt mainly with the "inseparability of subject and object" in Quantum Theory as well as in medicine. After this meeting, Weizsäcker visited Heidegger usually every two years. Weizsäcker recounts that he read Being and Time in Winter 1933/34 in Copenhagen when he was working with Niels Bohr (1865-1962), while reading Kant at the same time. He invited Heidegger three times to be his guest in his seminar in Hamburg. Each time when he visited him, Heidegger, "who could not follow him in mathematics," paid particular attention when he spoke about the foundations of mathematics or about Weizsäcker's concept of "temporal logic." During his last visit in 1972, Heidegger asked him to report on his treatment of time in physics and logic, and pointed him to a passage in Being and Time. Weizsäcker reproduced this first encounter also in [3] (p. 944).

It is no wonder that Weizsäcker's opus magnum, Time and Knowledge, starts with a quote from Being and Time, namely the last sentence: "Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of being?", preceded by a quote from Parmenides "The same is knowledge and being" [3] (p.27), [8] (p. 437). He acknowledges that Heidegger was for him more "a master" than "a partner" and that he "run short of strength" in writing an essay on him for this book [3] (p. 34). Nevertheless, Heidegger's thought is explicitly mentioned in many passages of the book. Heidegger's understanding of time as the horizon of being is a perspective "from above," or "from the human being," as distinguished from, but complementary to, his own perspective "from below," that is to say, from "the animal or from nature" [3] (p. 186). Weizsäcker projects a kind of anthropocentrism in his interpretation of Heidegger's Being and Time that was intended to be only a first step towards a view of time as the horizon of being and not only of the human being.  When reflecting about three-dimensional temporality as the foundation for understanding Quantum Mechanics [2] (pp. 223-275), Weizsäcker follows the tradition that binds the question of time to the question of movement (kinesis) of beings, as stated prominently by Aristotle, to whom Weizsäcker refers [2] (pp. 428-440), [3] (p. 860-861). Heidegger, in fact, turned the question upside down already in the last sentence of Being and Time. Being as (three-dimensional) time is what enables the presence or absence of beings and their particular movements in and as temporal. Human temporality is a prime example of the phenomenon of three-dimensional time, not an anthropological foundation for the question of being, as it may seem. Weizsäcker learns from Heidegger's criticism of Western metaphysics and particularly of Platonism that "our philosophy has what corresponds to the eidos in time, and to think the idea in history" and he quotes the last sentence of Being and Time, again and once more a few pages after [3] (p. 504, 533). For Plato the ideas are beyond time, for Weizsäcker three-dimensional time is the very horizon of ideas. He conceives evolution in terms of "growth of information" ("Informationswachstum") being aware, once more, that not only natural evolution is subject to time but also human logos. Our understanding of nature is "logomorph," that is to say, subject to epochal changes and recastings. This is a critical stance with regard to Kantian transcendentalism. He acknowledges the contributions by Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989) and Karl Popper (1902-1994), while rejecting their "realism" that he considers "a kind of faith in an historical epoch of physics"  [3] (p. 877). He writes: "Reality ("Wirklichkeit") ("Being") means in Greek philosophy, as Heidegger has made it clear for us, first of all presence ("Gegenwart"). The fact that something is, can be strictly said if it is now the case. Presence is a mode of time." [3] (p. 862). This being said, he immediately refers to the ontic issue of beings in movement. He writes: "What is, changes; what is, is in movement. Movement, that we expect, is future- oriented. It is possible, and the continuum is the field of possibilities. Insofar continuity is primarily continuity of future time, but at the same time, continuity of possible states, that can take place in time.  Possibility is, as it is sometimes metaphorically said, the presence of the future. Instead of actuality I say now facticity. It is the presence of the past, facts are irreversible, the past does not change any more. This is why when facts are described, it is possible to abstract from movement. This is why it is possible to count them in discrete form. In the concept we think that what is possible, but we think about it as what can be once described as a fact. Conceived in this way, the concept is the past form of the future." [3] (p. 862) "Movement, that we expect" (my emphasis) — indeed! Expectation is not a quality that adheres to beings in movement, but a second order category that comes into play when the observer is aware of her three-dimensional temporality that corresponds to but is not identical to the temporality of the phenomena unconcealed by Quantum Mechanics. Possibility is the presence of the future, not just metaphorically! He agrees with the philosopher Georg Picht (1913-1982) in his interpretation of Being and Time as excluding de facto, which is correct, and de iure, which is wrong, the analysis of the being of nature as well as of society [3] (p. 1142). This criticism contradicts in both cases what is explicitly stated in the last sentence of the book quoted by Weizsäcker in the introduction of his book. Being as time is focused in Being and time, as a paramount example, on the mode of being of humans that he calls "Dasein," a being whose being is characterized by having to face the task of dealing with the temporality of her/his own being in its openness to an horizon of 'un-concealment' for beings to be what they were, are and can be. The presentation of beings in their totality is traversed by three-dimensional temporality. Every form of temporal 'un-concealment' implies an 'un-concealment.' What is unconcealed in the past is not of the same kind of what is un-concealed in the present or in the future. Likewise, what is concealed in the past is not of the same kind as what is concealed in the present or in the future. This three-dimensional structure of temporality does not allow us to have a full view of what was, is or will be, that is to say, to expect a total enlightenment on the totality of being. Heidegger follows prima facie the Kantian critique of pure reason while criticizing its transcendental foundation in subjectivity. We are, from the ground up, finite temporal beings sharing with others world facing a unity of being(s) that unconceals and conceals itself in three-dimensional time. The critique of the traditional concept of time as presence-oriented demonstrated with the empirical example of a being whose being is exposure to three-dimensional temporality, is, in Popperian terms, a falsification of the mainstream of the Western theory of one-dimensional linear time that underlies also modern science, where being as presence is implicitly a temporal interpretation in which past and future are homogenized into a linear series of now-instants. The degree of temporal permanence and integrity of what is present, the Platonic eidos and the Aristotelian form, is the temporal measure of being. The question about the unity of nature is a question of time, dealing critically with the scientific ambition that the unity of nature, understood as something permanent and present, can be objectively grasped by a meta-historical univocal language by an observer beyond three dimensional time, knowing at once what was, is and will be — a delusory song of sirens.

Weizsäcker's paths of thinking show that what remains "excluded" in Being and Time (1927) — but was addressed by Heidegger already in the 1929/30 lectures, published only in 1983, dedicated to his PhD student, the phenomenologist Eugen Fink (1905-1975) [16] — could be included in a reflection on the foundations of physics, particularly when facing the phenomena un-concealed in Quantum Mechanics [3] (pp. 896-903). This exclusion of the question of being as time with regard to nature is what Weizsäcker and Picht object to the provisonal  foundation of the question of being in Being and Time, where the analysis deals with the way of being of a human as "Dasein" who is explicated as finding himself/herself facing an openness of past, present and future that she shares with othters. Nothing is farther from the modern invention of a worldless isolated, encapsulated subjectivity facing objects in a so-called outside-world. The analysis of being as the three-dimensional time of human existence was chosen for the simple reason that we are the being who, as far as we know, faces three- dimensional time as a question concerning who and not just what we are in an world that we share with others from the ground up [17]. The naturalistic fallacy consists in confusing what and who. The being of a who doing the observation, lets other phenomena appear in their own three-dimensional temporal perspective, but only as interpreted by an observer of the kind we are. The question of being as the three-dimensional temporality of human "Dasein" does not mean some kind of human supremacy or hierarchy of beings as addressed by Western metaphysics in different forms including Weizsäcker's bottom-up ontic perspective. Even the idea of some kind of complementarity between top-down and bottom-up approaches fails to see the underlying ontological question about being as three-dimensional time. On the basis of Weizsäcker's bifurcated concept of information, Holger Lyre has developed "a quantum theory of information" (Ur-Theorie) with "basic alternatives" (Ur-Alternativen) representing the information content of a yes/no decision or one bit of quantum-theoretic potential information (Ur). Urs are potential information [20], [14] (p. 363).

2.  How do you see the connection between Weizsäcker and Wheeler’s “It from bit”?

Weizsäcker deals with "The Meaning of Cybernetics" in Part II of the collection of articles on The Unity of Nature [2]. He refers to Claude Shannon's seminal article "The Mathematical Theory of Communication" [18]. His focus is the cybernetic interpretation of living beings based on what he calls "objectivized semantics," that is to say, that "information measures the amount of form" and "according to ancient philosophy form (eidos) is exactly that which can be known." [2] (p. 348).  The form (eidos) as addressed by Weizsäcker in both ontological and epistemological sense, is a reversed Platonic perspective. For Plato, the ideas and their knowledge are beyond time. For Weizsäcker time is the horizon for the development of forms as well as for our knowledge about them.

When John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) speaks about "it from bit" it is the opposite of Weizsäcker's forms embodied in natural evolution, being able to be potentially understood by a human knower. Forms for Wheeler are bits underlying any material evolution [19]. Wheeler writes: "It from bit symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom — at a very deep bottom, in most instances — an immaterial source and explanation; that what we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe." [19] (p. 311).

Wheeler celebrates the fuzziness of his concept of bit as follows: "Finally: Deplore? No, celebrate the absence of a clean clear definition of the term "bit" as elementary unit in the establishment of meaning. We reject "that view of science which used to say, 'Define your terms before you proceed.' The truly creative nature of any forward step in human knowledge," we know, "is such that theory, concept, law and method of measurement — forever inseparable — are born into the world in union [19]." If and when we learn how to combine bits in fantastically large numbers to obtain what we call existence, we will know better what we mean both by bit and by existence. A single question animates this report: Can we ever expect to understand existence? Clues we have, and work to do, to make headway on that issue. Surely someday, we can believe, we will grasp the central idea of it all as so simple, so beautiful, so compelling that we will all say to each other, "Oh, how could it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind so long!" [19] (p. 322) This is digital Platonism or Pythagoreanism. That "theory, concept, law and method of measurement — forever inseparable — are born into the world in union" is a step forward beyond the Cartesian split. A step back would take him to the 'obvious' three-dimensional openness of time: "How could be all have been so blind so long!" Indeed!


3. We are also interested in your view of the change of the role of physics in philosophical or intellectual discourse. Physics was at the time of the interview the driving force of intellectual innovation in thinking about the world. Now physics shares this role with (or maybe lost it to) biology, or rather to study of life. Also, there is  a strong interest in the contrast between artificial/synthetic and natural, and the possibility of their hybridization. 
It would be interesting to learn from you which of Weizsäcker's views remain intact in these changes of the roles of disciplines and themes. Which of the views lost either interest of philosophers or became challenged by scientific development?


Neither physics nor biology but computer science is, I believe, "the driving force of intellectual innovation in thinking about the world." Digitization is today's challenge not only for society but for science and philosophy as well — the dissolution of 'it,' nature for instance, into 'bit.' This is different from Weizsäcker's time as well as from thinking 'about' and 'from' nature and language. Weizsäcker reflected on cybernetics against the background of natural science. We do the opposite, not only in physics but also in biology and other sciences, as well as in everyday life, in the organization and management of enterprises, in the economy and in shaping the res publica locally and globally. More fundamentally, we can say that underlying all these ontic areas of application of the stepwise, yes/no, algorithmic thinking of computer science, digitizability as such is the ontological horizon within which we — and it is of paramount importance to think about who is this 'we' and who not  — understand not only beings, conceiving them as such-and such, but also being itself. What can be understood, in its being, is what is digitizable. I call this foundational understanding of being digital ontology [21]. Ontology means, in this context, the way we, humans, understand, that is to say, conceive, the being of being through logos. It is, traditionally spoken, an epistemological thesis that should not be misunderstood in the sense of digital Pythagoreanism or digital metaphysics as suggested by Wheeler, which aims at explaining "existence" based on what "bits" are supposed to be.

Weizsäcker's views on both levels, the ontic as related to nature, and the ontological dealing with being as three-dimensional time, remain intact as untimely meditations. This is particularly the case with regard to the present (one-dimensional linear) time regime on which computer technology is based within the framework of digital ontology. This time regime prolongs the one questioned by Weizsäcker in his 1939 article "The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Difference between Past and Future" [2]. One can object that digital technology is not present- but future-oriented and that it provides an almost infinite memory capacity. But in both cases what counts, in both senses of the verb, is the traditional understanding of time as a sequence of homogenous now-instants for which being as presence is foundational.

The issue of "hybridization" between the "artificial" and the "natural" provides evidence that the epochal change-over from the natural to the digital does not mean that this is a question of either/or but of carefully reflecting what is being concealed or unconcealed in each case as well as in various combinations. This is particularly apparent when nature provides the model upon which the artificial can be built, as in the case of robotics, an issue that has been extensively analyzed by Massimo Negrotti [22]. The key question is not what intelligence is, but what is meant by artificial and how far the time regime of digital and/or hybrid artefacts of any kind affects, that is to say, distorts the 'obvious' phenomenon of being itself as the openness of three-dimensional time.


4. What would be the most important message or messages from Weizsäcker to us? 

If we go back to the title of Weizsäcker's book The Unity of Nature, and if we understand this title as a question, then the answer is that the unity of nature is the question of time. Weizsäcker's short paper from 1939 was strange or even heretical at that time and it remains even more so today, in the digital age. It concerns also the very idea of the unity of nature no less than of the unity of our knowledge. Weizsäcker gave an answer to the last issue by considering the "circle" between language and information. But he did not address the kind of unity created by digital technology that we call globalization or simply the internet. The philosophical challenge today is to give an answer to digital technology that retrieves the thesis of being as time. If we want to understand what being means in the digital age, we must go back to being as time, just as Weizsäcker did with regard to Quantum Mechanics. This ontological interpretation of the digital age is nothing technological or even digital but just the insight into what makes  possible its presence-based temporality. What can we (who?) gain from this 'obvious' insight? Nothing more and nothing less than the possibility of a free relationship to it that arises when life is lived as a three-dimensional temporal openness that we share with others in a common world [17]. The question concerning the unity of nature is a question of time in the sense that nature conceals and unconceals itself in its own way(s). Its unity is in fact a temporal worldly trinity, not a metaphysical or even a theological one, but  one to which the temporality of human existence corresponds in its own way. This kind of correspondence is what Weizsäcker was looking for all his life as a physicist and also as s political being taking responsibility for the consequences of his research within the limits of was unconcealed and of his awareness thereof.

In his 1982 interview Weizsäcker summarized his view on the unity of nature as well as of our knowledge of it as follows:

"Question. Heidegger says that science does not think.

Answer. Which must be understood in the sense that normal science ― in Thomas Kuhn's terminology ― does not think, that is to say, it does not question its own paradigm. In contrast to Edmund Husserl, I believe that the basic shape of a phenomenon is not something unchangeable but takes place in time and can change according to experience. In Plato's terminology, I would say that our challenge is to rethink the "idea" of time. We cannot escape three-dimensional time. I remember an anecdote about Einstein asking Carnap and Popper 'what is time?' without receiving an acceptable answer. Einstein tried to eliminate time. Shortly before he died, when somebody told him that a friend died a few weeks ago, he answered that "a few weeks ago" is an illusion. For a physicist, as a believer, the difference between past, present and future is an illusion. I think, quite the contrary, that the introduction of  three-dimensional time,  that was made explicit by Heidegger, can bring about a new revolution in physics that would also resonate in philosophy. Already in Plato and Aristotle we find the key concept of kinesis, that is to say, movement and change. Chronos, literally translated as time, is already for Plato a derivative representation of aion, a term that I would like to leave untranslated. It implies the temporal structure and refers, for instance, to a person’s lifetime.

Question. Physics and philosophy meet here, in the question concerning time,...

Answer. as if Magellan and Vasco da Gama, starting from different points and in opposite directions, would meet during circumnavigation." [9]


Translating this conversation – originally in German, then published in Spanish –, thirty five years later is an amazing experience, not only because my thinking and, of course, my life have changed, but particularly because the world and our understanding of it have changed. Nobody could have predicted at the time the invention of the internet, although it was not far away. As with other epochal changes, the digital age has the tendency to overestimate itself and even to believe that this is finally the truth bringing us – whom? – the foundation and the tools needed to understand the unity of nature and of ourselves.

The concept of information is multifaceted inside the "circle" of language mentioned by Weizsäcker. This is not something to deplore or to celebrate in a kind of postmodern attitude. It is just a question of contextualizing its different meanings in such a way that equivocity, analogy and univocity are analyzed as clearly as possible. This clarity depends also on the different languages in which information was and is being translated starting with the concepts of eidos and form as Weizsäcker wrote in the late fifties [2] (pp. 39, 51). If information as informatio is a Latin translation of Greek concepts it is also true that such concepts were translated in Late Antiquity into Arabic, Persian and Hebrew which is a fascinating area of research [23, 24]. Not only the unity of nature but also the unity of language is a question of time. Consequently, following Weizsäcker, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, language understood from the perspective of three-dimensional temporality, is something we can only speak 'from' but not 'about.' This is the reason why translation is a core ethical issue going beyond the fact of language diversity and looking for ways of sharing understanding of what was concealed and unconcealed in what was said, what is being said and what can be said [25]. This is the most important message from Weizsäcker to us.




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  14. Capurro, R.; Hjørland, B. The Concept of Information. In Blaise Cronin (Ed.): Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, B. Cronin, Ed. , Information Today: Medford, New Jersey; Vol. 37, 2003,  343-411; ISBN 1-57387-154-0. Available online: http://www.capurro.de/infoconcept.html (accessed on 17.08.2018)
  15. Weizsäcker, C.F. Begegnungen in vier Jahrzehnten. In Erinnerung an Martin Heidegger, Günther Neske (Ed.). Neske: Pfullingen 1977, 239-247. ISBN 3 7885 0076 X.
  16. Heidegger, M. Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Klostermann: Frankfurt am Main, 1983.
  17. Capurro, R.; Eldred, M.; Nagel, D. Digital Whoness: Identity, Privacy and Freedom in the Cyberworld; de Gruyter: Berlin, 2013. ISBN 978-3-86838-176-4
  18. Shannon, C. A Mathematical Theory of Communication. The Bell System Technical Journal, 1948, 27, pp. 379-423, 623-656. Available online: http://math.harvard.edu/~ctm/home/text/others/shannon/entropy/entropy.pdf (accessed on 13.08.2018)
  19. Wheeler, J.A. Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links. In Proceedings III Symposium on Foundations of Quantum MechanicsTokyo; 1989, pp. 354-368. Quotes from: https://philpapers.org/archive/WHEIPQ.pdf (pp. 309-316) (accessed on 13.08.2018)
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  21. Capurro, R. Homo Digitalis. Springer VS: Wiesbaden, 2017; ISBN 978-3-658-17130-8.
  22. Negrotti, M. Naturoids. On the Nature of the Artificial. World Scientific Publishing: Singapore, 2002. ISBN 981-02.4932-2.
  23. Capurro, R. Translating Information. In Proceedings of the FIS/ISIS Conference 2015: Information Society at the Crossroads — Response and Responsibility of the Sciences of Information, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, June 3-6, 2015.  Available online: https://sciforum.net/paper/view/conference/2972 (accessed on 20.08.2018)
  24. Capurro, R. Apud Arabes. Notes on the Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian, and Hebrew Roots of the Concept of Information, 2014 Available online: http://www.capurro.de/iran.html (accessed on 20.08.2018, unpublished)
  25. Capurro, R. In Search of Ariadne's Thread in Digital Labyrinths. In ICIL 2016, Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Information Law and Ethics, University of Pretoria, South Africa, February 22-23, 2016. The University of Macedonia Press: Thessaloniki 2017, pp. 1-19. Available online: http://www.capurro.de/icil2016.pdf) (accessed on 20.08.2018)

Last update: April  18, 2019

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