This paper deals with Weizsäcker's
thinking on the unity of nature based on a long standing dialogue with
Heidegger's interpretation of being as three-dimensional time. This
interpretation allows Weizsäcker to face some of the challenges
Quantum Mechanics questioning the traditional founding of physics on
one-dimensional time. The extended response to the first question
the project of the unity of nature and my ideas on Weizsäcker
issue at stake from the perspective of the concept of information and
in the Platonic and Aristotelian concept of eidos or form. The
nature is addressed from the methodological perspective of the unity of
based on the search for a univocal meta-language. Information is a
category concerning "that which is understood" as well as "that
which generates information". The short answer to the second
about the connection between Weizsäcker and Wheeler's "It from
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
three-dimensional. The third question concerns today's driving
intellectual innovation in thinking about the world that is considered
digital technology. The answer addresses the challenge of the
being as what is digitizable. This pervasive ontological view is called
ontology in distinction from digital metaphysics. Finally, the fourth
question about what would be the most important message from
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
to Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic and Marcin J. Schroeder for giving me the
to answer some questions on Natural Philosophy in relation to a long
dialogue with Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1912-2007) . In my
will refer mainly to some of Weizsäcker's articles published 1971
title Die Einheit der Natur (The Unity of Nature)  as
to his late opus magnum Zeit und Wissen (Time and
from 1992 . All quotes from original German texts are my
Weizsäcker who opened my eyes in the nineteen seventies when he
pointed to the
concept of information "as something different from matter and
recalling "the Platonic eidos and the Aristotelian form,
such a way that a human being in the 20th century can learn something
them."  (p. 51). This gave rise to my research on the history of
concept  (p. 3) that was the beginning of a long journey until today
colleague and friend, the Australian philosopher Michael Eldred, is a
personal interlocutor in this dialogue with Weizsäcker [6, 7]
dealing with the
question of time as analyzed by Heidegger, particularly in his seminal
and Time  that influenced Weizsäcker over the years.
In the early
nineteen eighties when I was working at FIZ Karlsruhe, a leading
in the field of scientific information and documentation located
premises of the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center, I suggested to
group of engineers and physicists interested in Natural Philosophy that
together Weizsäcker’s works. After a while we wanted to meet him
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
Law at the Uruguay State University, Vice President of
under President Julio María Sanguinetti between 1985 and 1989,
democratic government after the military intervention 1973-1985 .
1. Professor Capurro, in the context
of present special issue on the contemporary Natural Philosophy, we
interested in your relation to the project of unity of nature and your
the ideas of Weizsäcker
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 . Part I consists of preliminary thoughts on
dealing with the unity of science that were discussed at that time
a methodological perspective, leaving aside the question of the unity
itself  (p. 12-13). My quote above on the concept of information as
way of understanding foundational concepts of Western metaphysics, such
and form gave rise to my PhD inquiry into the etymology of the Latin
. The quote is embedded in a lecture dealing with "Language as
from 1959. Weizsäcker distinguishes between the Platonic and
concept(s) of form, on the one hand, and the modern concept of
the context human language and communication, on the other hand.
a structure of whatever kind, natural or artificial, is prima facie
opposite of information as language. But, as he points out,
language can be extended to artificial languages such as those used in
of computer technology. There is a "circle" between language and
information. Information in the context of scientific methodology
search for certainty based on logic and calculation aiming at a
meta-language. But any meta-language remains dependent on natural
order to be understood  (pp. 59-60). Weizsäcker quotes
famous dictum in the preface of the Tractatus: "Was
überhaupt sagen läßt, läßt sich klar sagen,
und wovon man nicht reden kann,
darüber muß man schweigen." 
(pp. 49-50)  (p. 9). The standard English translation "What
can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about
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
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
Heidegger in his essay from 1953/54 "Aus
einem Gespräch von der Sprache"
translated as "A dialogue on language" . Wittgenstein critically
reviews his earlier position in the direction that our capacity of
language' allows a diversity of "language games"
("Sprachspiele") . According to Weizsäcker, the unity of
science is methodologically grounded on the quest for a universal
that would corresponds to the unity of its object, something
problematizes aporetically in Part II of this anthology.
unpublished text from 1969 with the title "Matter, Energy,
he comes back to the question of how the ontological and the
meaning of information can be brought together in thought. Information
bifurcated category: (1) information is only that which is understood;
information is only that which generates information. Definition (2)
to the Platonic and Aristotelian concept of form while, according to
(1). information is a linguistically univocal concept. He underscores
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."  (p. 351). He puts it concisely:
"Matter has form, consciouness knows form." . This
is a Platonic-Aristotelian thesis as well as a Kantian one. We cannot
in themselves but only insofar as they can be grasped by a finite
is the reason why we cannot have fully univocal concepts  (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
argument is cut across by the phenomenological perspective on time.
in the book The Unity of Nature were written between 1959 and
one exception, namely, a short article published in 1939 in the Annalen
Physik 36, 175, dealing with "The Second Law of Thermodynamics and
Difference between Past and Future" . The guiding thought is the
question of irreversibility of natural processes that plays a key role
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
Law of Thermodynamics is the place where the (three-dimensionally open)
of "real time" manifests itself in the "worldview of
physics"  (p. 172), (but only as one-dimensional, linear
In the introduction to this article written thirty years later,
that when he wrote it, he had the feeling of saying something obvious,
particularly for empiricists and positivists, describing temporal
they are phenomenologically given. But, he adds, "I perceived with a
certain astonishment, that most physicists regarded these thoughts as
strange" ("Mit einem gewissen Erstaunen habe ich dann bemerkt,
die meisten Physiker diese Gedanken als eher fremdartig empfanden")."
 (p. 172). Weizsäcker was influenced by Heidegger's
phenomenology of time,
more precisely, by the interpretation of being as
with its future, present and past dimensions, the opposite to the
understanding of time as a sequence of now-instants, taken for granted
"most physicists." Three-dimensional time becomes apparent and
'obvious' for Weizsäcker in the Second Law of Thermodynamics if
dares to open his eyes to this obvious but hitherto "strange"
In 1977, one
year after Heidegger's death, Weizsäcker wrote a contribution to a
Martin Heidegger with the title "Encounters over Four Decades"
. He describes his first personal meeting with Heidegger
(1889-1976) in his
hut in Todtnauberg (Black Forest) in
he was 23 years old. Other participants of this meeting were the
Johann Daniel Achelis (1898-1963), the physician and physiologist
Weizsäcker (1886-1956), an uncle to Carl Friedrich, the physicist
Heisenberg (1901-1976), and the art historian Kurt Bauch (1897-1975).
them, as far as I know, were able to (fore-)see the imminent
announced in Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf that was published ten
before. The discussion dealt mainly with the "inseparability of subject
and object" in Quantum Theory as well as in medicine. After this
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
Bohr (1865-1962), while reading Kant at the same time. He invited
three times to be his guest in his seminar in Hamburg. Each time when he visited
"who could not follow him in mathematics," paid particular attention
when he spoke about the foundations of mathematics or about
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
him to a passage in Being and Time. Weizsäcker reproduced
encounter also in  (p. 944).
It is no
wonder that Weizsäcker's opus magnum, Time and
with a quote from Being and Time, namely the last sentence:
itself manifest itself as the horizon of being?", preceded by a
quote from Parmenides "The same is knowledge and being"  (p.27),
 (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  (p. 34). Nevertheless,
thought is explicitly mentioned in many passages of the book.
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"  (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
of being and not only of the human being. When
reflecting about three-dimensional temporality
as the foundation for understanding Quantum Mechanics  (pp.
Weizsäcker follows the tradition that binds the question of time
question of movement (kinesis) of beings, as stated prominently
to whom Weizsäcker refers  (pp. 428-440),  (p. 860-861).
fact, turned the question upside down already in the last sentence of Being
and Time. Being as (three-dimensional) time is what enables
presence or absence of beings and their particular movements in and as
temporal. Human temporality is a prime example of the phenomenon of
time, not an anthropological foundation for the question of being, as
seem. Weizsäcker learns from Heidegger's criticism of Western
particularly of Platonism that "our philosophy has what corresponds to
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
(p. 504, 533). For Plato the ideas are beyond time, for Weizsäcker
time is the very horizon of ideas. He conceives evolution in terms of
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
Kantian transcendentalism. He acknowledges the contributions by Konrad
(1903-1989) and Karl Popper (1902-1994), while rejecting their
that he considers "a kind of faith in an historical epoch of physics"
 (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."  (p.
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
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
of the past, facts are irreversible, the past does not change any more.
why when facts are described, it is possible to abstract from movement.
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
described as a fact. Conceived in this way, the concept is the
of the future."  (p. 862) "Movement, that we expect"
(my emphasis) — indeed! Expectation is not a quality that adheres to
movement, but a second order category that comes into play when the
aware of her three-dimensional temporality that corresponds to but is
identical to the temporality of the phenomena unconcealed by Quantum
Possibility is the presence of the future, not just
agrees with the philosopher Georg Picht (1913-1982) in his
interpretation of Being
and Time as excluding de facto, which is correct, and de
which is wrong, the analysis of the being of nature as well as of
(p. 1142). This criticism contradicts in both cases what is explicitly
in the last sentence of the book quoted by Weizsäcker in the
his book. Being as time is focused in Being and time, as a
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
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
of beings in their totality is traversed by three-dimensional
form of temporal 'un-concealment' implies an 'un-concealment.'
is unconcealed in the past is not of the same kind of what is
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.
three-dimensional structure of temporality does not allow us to have a
of what was, is or will be, that is to say, to expect a total
the totality of being. Heidegger follows prima facie
critique of pure reason while criticizing its transcendental foundation
subjectivity. We are, from the ground up, finite temporal beings
others world facing a unity of being(s) that unconceals and conceals
three-dimensional time. The critique of the traditional concept of time
presence-oriented demonstrated with the empirical example of a being
being is exposure to three-dimensional temporality, is, in Popperian
falsification of the mainstream of the Western theory of
time that underlies also modern science, where being as presence is
a temporal interpretation in which past and future are homogenized into
linear series of now-instants. The degree of temporal permanence
of what is present, the Platonic eidos and the Aristotelian
the temporal measure of being. The question about the unity of nature
question of time, dealing critically with the scientific ambition that
of nature, understood as something permanent and present,
objectively grasped by a meta-historical univocal language by an
beyond three dimensional time, knowing at once what was, is and
will be —
a delusory song of sirens.
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)  — could be included in a
on the foundations of physics, particularly when facing the phenomena
un-concealed in Quantum Mechanics  (pp. 896-903). This exclusion of
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
shares with othters. Nothing is farther from the modern invention of a
worldless isolated, encapsulated subjectivity facing objects in a
outside-world. The analysis of being as the three-dimensional time of
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
not just what we are in an world that we share with others from
ground up . The naturalistic fallacy consists in confusing what
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
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
Even the idea of some kind of complementarity between top-down and
approaches fails to see the underlying ontological question
as three-dimensional time.
2. How do you see the connection
Weizsäcker and Wheeler’s “It from bit”?
deals with "The Meaning of Cybernetics" in Part II of the collection
of articles on The Unity of Nature . He refers to Claude
seminal article "The Mathematical Theory of Communication" . His
focus is the cybernetic interpretation of living beings based on what
"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."  (p. 348). The form (eidos) as addressed by
Weizsäcker in both ontological and epistemological sense, is a
Platonic perspective. For Plato, the ideas and their knowledge are
For Weizsäcker time is the horizon for the development of forms as
well as for
our knowledge about them.
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 . 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
— 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
equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are
information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe."
 (p. 311).
celebrates the fuzziness of his concept of bit as follows: "Finally:
Deplore? No, celebrate the absence of a clean clear definition of the
"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
we know, "is such that theory, concept, law and method of measurement —
forever inseparable — are born into the world in union ." If and
we learn how to combine bits in fantastically large numbers to obtain
call existence, we will know better what we mean both by bit and by
A single question animates this report: Can we ever expect to
existence? Clues we have, and work to do, to make headway on that
someday, we can believe, we will grasp the central idea of it all as so
so beautiful, so compelling that we will all say to each other, "Oh,
it have been otherwise! How could we all have been so blind so long!"
(p. 322) This is digital Platonism or Pythagoreanism. That "theory,
concept, law and method of measurement — forever inseparable — are born
the world in union" is a step forward beyond the Cartesian split. A
back would take him to the 'obvious' three-dimensional openness of
"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
world. Now physics shares this role with (or maybe lost it to) biology,
rather to study of life. Also, there is a strong interest in the
between artificial/synthetic and natural, and the possibility of their
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.
the views lost either interest of philosophers or became challenged by
physics nor biology but computer science is, I believe, "the driving
of intellectual innovation in thinking about the world." Digitization
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
from Weizsäcker's time as well as from thinking 'about' and 'from'
language. Weizsäcker reflected on cybernetics against the
background of natural
science. We do the opposite, not only in physics but also in biology
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
fundamentally, we can say that underlying all these ontic areas of
of the stepwise, yes/no, algorithmic thinking of computer science,
as such is the ontological horizon within which we — and it is of
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,
being, is what is digitizable. I call this foundational understanding
of being digital
ontology . Ontology means, in this context, the way we, humans,
that is to say, conceive, the being of being through logos.
is, traditionally spoken, an epistemological thesis that should not be
in the sense of digital Pythagoreanism or digital metaphysics as
Wheeler, which aims at explaining "existence" based on what
"bits" are supposed to be.
views on both levels, the ontic as related to nature, and the
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
based within the framework of digital ontology. This time regime
one questioned by Weizsäcker in his 1939 article "The Second Law
Thermodynamics and the Difference between Past and Future" . One can
object that digital technology is not present- but future-oriented and
provides an almost infinite memory capacity. But in both cases what
both senses of the verb, is the traditional understanding of time as a
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
of carefully reflecting what is being concealed or unconcealed in each
well as in various combinations. This is particularly apparent when
provides the model upon which the artificial can be built, as in the
robotics, an issue that has been extensively analyzed by Massimo
The key question is not what intelligence is, but what is meant
and how far the time regime of digital and/or hybrid artefacts of any
affects, that is to say, distorts the 'obvious' phenomenon of being
the openness of three-dimensional time.
would be the most important message or messages
from Weizsäcker to
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
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
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
"circle" between language and information. But he did not address the
kind of unity created by digital technology that we call globalization
simply the internet. The philosophical challenge today is to give an
digital technology that retrieves the thesis of being as time.
want to understand what being means in the digital age, we must go back
being as time, just as Weizsäcker did with regard to Quantum
ontological interpretation of the digital age is nothing technological
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
than the possibility of a free relationship to it that arises when life
lived as a three-dimensional temporal openness that we share with
others in a
common world . The question concerning the unity of nature is a
time in the sense that nature conceals and unconceals itself in its own
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
looking for all his life as a physicist and also as s political
taking responsibility for the consequences of his research within the
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:
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
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
unchangeable but takes place in time and can change according
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
about Einstein asking Carnap and Popper 'what is time?' without
acceptable answer. Einstein tried to eliminate time. Shortly before he
when somebody told him that a friend died a few weeks ago, he answered
"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,
contrary, that the introduction of three-dimensional
time, that was made explicit by Heidegger, can bring about a
revolution in physics that would also resonate in philosophy. Already
and Aristotle we find the key concept of kinesis, that is
movement and change. Chronos, literally translated as time,
already for Plato a derivative representation of aion, a
I would like to leave untranslated. It
implies the temporal structure and refers, for instance, to a
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
this conversation – originally in German, then published in Spanish –,
five years later is an amazing experience, not only because my thinking
course, my life have changed, but particularly because the world and
understanding of it have changed. Nobody could have predicted at the
invention of the internet, although it was not far away. As with other
changes, the digital age has the tendency to overestimate itself and
believe that this is finally the truth bringing us – whom? – the
the tools needed to understand the unity of nature and of ourselves.
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
different meanings in such a way that equivocity, analogy and univocity
analyzed as clearly as possible. This clarity depends also on the
languages in which information was and is being translated starting
concepts of eidos and form as Weizsäcker wrote in the late
(pp. 39, 51). If information as informatio is a Latin
Greek concepts it is also true that such concepts were translated in
Antiquity into Arabic, Persian and Hebrew which is a fascinating area
research [22, 23]. Not only the unity of nature but also the unity of
a question of time. Consequently, following Weizsäcker, Heidegger
Wittgenstein, language understood from the perspective of
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
concealed and unconcealed in what was said, what is being said and what
said . This is the most important message from Weizsäcker to
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