Monthly Archives: March 2012

I like synthesis. I understand the value in isolating variables for close and careful consideration, but at the end of the day, it’s all gotta come together for me. This is why I like philosophy – you can talk about the smallest little thing, but then in the same class discussion talk about something as big as the essence of our being.

Martin Heidegger is a tough SOB to read. Writing in German, he has a habit of making up words, stringing together several words with hyphens, and using the word “being” about 7 times in every sentence. Oh yeah, and then this is all translated into English.

One passage from his text “The Question Concerning Technology” is as follows:

“Technology comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment take place, where aletheia, truth, happens”

What Heidegger is saying here, is that modern technology frames the way in which we reveal for ourselves true meanings of existence. To explain the notion of “revealing true meanings”, consider the case of a beautiful cathedral. Perhaps for an atheist, the essence of the cathedral is its architectural beauty. For a Catholic, however, the essence of the cathedral may be it’s divine holiness. In this way, Heidegger believes that modern technology presents another frame through which to view the essence of different things.

His concern here is that this lens of modern technology may become the dominant (or even the only) lens through which we look to reveal the essence of different beings. So, where a farmer prior to the industrial revolution may have seen his herd of cattle in many different ways (their monetary value at market, their importance to feed his family, even perhaps their aesthetic beauty while grazing in the pasture), the modern farmer may only see the monetary value of his cow-units.

If you were waiting for the moment of synthesis, it’s coming soon.

I spent last summer in British Colombia, and it sure is beautiful, as pictures will attest. Furthermore, lots of the friends that I made out there have been traversing the globe, seeing amazing things, and often taking pictures while doing it. Some write blogs, and I talk to others “in person” via Skype, or through old-fashioned emails. The bottom line, is that technology has played a leading role in shaping my worldview over the past many months.

While corresponding with one friend of mine, we considered the issue of why certain places become oh so “touristy”, and whether that process in turn leads to a loss of appeal for that place. I think that Heidegger would have a lot to say about this. How, for example, do we perceive Angkor Wat? For many many people, I would wager that if you asked them what the essence of the beautiful temples at Angkor Wat is, they might say something vague about its beauty. But if pressed further, they might admit that it’s “a sweet place to take a picture to post on my facebook/blog/instagram etc.” Whether you’re traveling or just taking pictures of the dinner you just made, technology is increasingly becoming the predominant (or, as stated above, only) lens through which we determine the essential “being” of the things around us.

It really happens -

You may think that Heidegger would respond to this by shunning all technological advances. But if you did, you would be wrong. Heidegger accepts that these technologies are part of history, and are here to stay. He advises that the danger lies in allowing these technologies to dominate the lenses through which we view life.

So, to conclude, I’ll  do some synthesizing.

First, regarding people taking pictures. If you are a person who takes pictures of meals you’ve made, ask yourself. Did you make that meal knowing that you would take a picture of it? Did you think to yourself “I’m gonna make quinoa because it’s the coolest thing that everyone’s eating right now, and when I take a picture of it people are gonna think that I’m soo coool.”? I’ll admit it, I’ve done it. And I don’t think Heidegger would necessarily call this a bad thing. But what he’s cautioning is coming to view meals only as the picture of it, that you fully plan on posting for all of the internet to see.

Secondly, to speak vaguely to the title of this post. To get the essence of what I’m trying to say with this title, imagine it being said by a crotchety old person who has just been bumped-into by a teenager with his nose buried in their cellphone. It doesn’t take much looking these days to find someone maligning the role of modern technology in our society. And I think Heidegger would likely be one of those people if he were around today to see the current state of affairs. Yet, his reaction would likely differ from those of contemporary curmudgeons. The common refrain seems to speak of banning cell phones in schools, and restricting their use to only those who “are mature enough to use them”. I suspect that Heidegger would laugh in these peoples’ faces.

Sure, it’s likely dangerous (in the sense that Heidegger uses the word Danger) for society to be raising children whose primary lens through which they view the world is a series of screens, short-form sentences, and smileys. Yet,  the solution suggested by Heidegger isn’t to limit, restrict or abolish technologies. It is to allow them to be used to come to a fuller understanding of the essence of various beings around us.

So while Angkor Wat may be a prime setting for a killer facebook profile pic, Heidegger would want us to fully consider the temples through as many lenses as possible, to come to the most “truths” about Angkor Wat – their aesthetic value, the work that went into their construction, the beliefs of those who constructed them, etc. And while that quinoa salad that you made for dinner might be the trendiest thing on a plate right now, Heidegger would hope that you actually enjoyeating it, and that you recognize as much about your food as possible – where it came from, the effort that went into getting it to you, and the nutrients that it will provide (to name only a few ways in which you could perceive of the essence of a quinoa salad).

How does this relate to synthesis? I’ve been trying to engage with friends through as many technologies as possible, to give myself a most-complete understanding of what their essence currently is. Read the blogs, check out the photos, send e-mails back and forth, and hopefully even get the chance to chat via Skype from time to time. This technology stuff can be overwhelming, but Heidegger would say that life is overwhelming – whether we experience it through facebook, television or person-to-person interaction.

So take charge, use all the lenses we’ve got, and see the truths around us!