Time, Motion and Matter

Time, Motion and Matter: Young Skater

From the way in which time and space are given to us, we can also ‘deduce’ two other new necessary thought contents: motion and matter. If we come back to the initial content of our pure representations of space and time, they are magnitudes in which there is no difference.

As an empty space, space is the same everywhere; it contains no differences. Only when there is something in space does the place in which that thing exists become different from another place, which either contains nothing or another thing. But at this level (when we speak about the pure concepts of space and time) we have no things yet; here, we deal with the most elementary conditions of our thought that will make it possible to think of concrete things, i.e., to make them intelligible to us. 

Space is a pure possibility of magnitude as long as space is seen independently of time and anything occupying it. When we associate the representation of time with this ocean of spatial magnitude, space divides itself immediately into concrete or individual places due to the units of time (although these places are still something abstract because they are only pure representations, without anything occupying them).

Once you introduce time into the equation, the indefinite magnitude of space necessarily breaks down into finite regions, that is to say, places. A unit of time (time consists of the flow of moments, of ‘units’) is not intelligible if we relate it to the totality of space because then we cannot distinguish it from the next moment of time.

You can have time only if there is a change, a difference between the succeeding moments of time. If everything is the same during the passing of time, there is no passing of time. And this is what would happen if one moment of time encompassed the whole of indefinite empty space. The next moment would encompass the same infinity of space and all the next moments also. In this way, the reality of time could never arise. 

Time as a new ontological feature of reality, locates space, so to speak; it stamps into it a ‘here’ which is different from another ‘here’ associated with another moment of time, with another ‘now.’ Here and now are thus necessarily related in our thought, but in such a way that each here has its own now, which cannot attach to another here.

This is why, when passing from one now to another now, we necessarily change one here with another here. But this change is nothing else than motion (Hegel 1970, p. 237). This can be easily illustrated through our common experience.

The simplest image of this association between time and space, resulting in motion, is that of a clock: we get the awareness and the exact progress of time by watching the rotation of the clock’s hands. The same awareness of the passing of time we get through observing the different positions of the sun in the sky throughout the day.

But even when we rest and do nothing, and either we do not move our bodies or see any apparent motion around us, we are still aware of the passing of time because our thoughts, self- and body-awareness are constantly changing. In this case, although motion is not outside us but inside us, it is still there. 

We cannot even speak of time without using metaphors related to motion. We speak of the passing, flowing, or going by of time, which are verbs borrowed from the spatial motional experience. 

In this view, motion is almost as primary as time and space. It is not something that happens because of an impact – which is our usual way of understanding motion – but an initial feature of our existence. We cannot exist as temporal and spatial beings without living in a moving universe and environment and without moving ourselves. We cannot be aware of the universe surrounding us otherwise than as a moving universe. 

Although the flow of time expands, so to speak, in space, that is to say, the different moments of time need to be attended by different places in time, time is not simply a cluster of nows, in the same way in which we speak about a cluster of things thrown together.

Time is a multitude of different moments, but a multitude having an internal unity, a coherence. The moments of time do not float around, now fusing, now detaching from each other. Like the content of space, they are caught in an immutable structure that puts every new moment after the previous one. 

However, in this passing of time, time itself does not pass, but it continues to be. In fact, only the moments of time are passing and not time itself. Kant says in this respect: ‘Time does not elapse, but the existence of that which is changeable elapses in it’ (Kant 2000, p. 275; A144/B183).

This continuous presence of time, as a flow from the future through the present toward the past, consists, in fact, of the repetition of the same now, which goes through all the dimensions of time. The nows of time are both different and identical to each other: they are different concerning their content (‘that which is changeable’) but identical because of the same structure that rolls through all of them. And this identical structure rolling through all of the moments of time is time itself. 

Through this rolling of the same structure through all the moments of time and places of space, we get the representation of an all-pervading identity, of something that attends and sustains all change. But neither time nor space have any consistency.

You do not yet have a world once you have space and time, but you have the conditions for it. To have a world, you need consistency, and what secures consistency but remains unchanged throughout all the changes of time and all movements in space is ‘matter.’ This is why the next thought element in this development of the fundamental components of nature is matter.  

It is not by accident that the concept of ‘matter’ has difficulties. Although a necessary concept, matter cannot signify a real concrete thing that we can perceive as matter. No one has ever seen, touched, smelled, or heard any ‘matter.’

But we say that real things, endowed with numerous properties, are made up of matter. We assume that beneath all these properties lies the matter, as something devoid of any internal difference. This is why ‘matter’ is the same everywhere in the universe. 

But ‘matter’ is nothing else than a general representation of that logical condition that we assume concerning what can be tangible, concrete, offering resistance and filling up space and time.

As such a concept of concrete possibility, matter can take a myriad of forms, from the ineffable light wave to the most adamantine substance. Because we assume its existence, we can also assert that in the world, nothing disappears but everything changes, or in other words, the same matter continually takes new forms.


Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, edited and translated by M. J. Petry, vol. I, London, George Allen, 1970.

Imm. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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