PHILOSOPHY

May 23, 2010

Being and Time (Part 3)

An Attempt to Interpret Heidegger’s Interpretation of Time

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

§1. Preface

In my two previous articles entitled “Being and Time (Part 1)” and “Being and Time (Part 2)”, I discussed Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time (published in 1927). In the two articles, I mainly explored Heidegger’s hermeneutical interpretation of “Being”. In this article, I will attempt to explore Heidegger’s interpretation of “time” in a way that may or may not adhere to certain Heideggerian convictions, for I will conjure up some of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical ideas, as it is my tentative conviction that certain aspects of Freud’s psychoanalysis may serve as a psychology of Heidegger’s ontology of “Dasein” (our “Being-in-the-world”). In addition, I cautiously believe that certain features of Freud’s psychoanalysis may aid us to illuminate certain facets of Heidegger’s ontology of Dasein. But why examining Heidegger’s concept of time under the light of Freud’s psychoanalysis may or may not oppose certain convictions of Heidegger in Being and Time? We should keep in mind that for Heidegger “the question of Being” is more primordial, radical, and profound than the question of knowing. That is to say – in contrast to Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” – Being precedes thinking and, hence, knowing and theorizing. For Heidegger, Being is the fertile soil out of which grows Dasein’s thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and theories. In other words, ontology (phenomenological investigation of Being) is the foundation of epistemology (theoretical knowing, in this case, of psychoanalysis). For Heidegger, knowledge and belief are founded upon the primordial Being-in-the-world. As he states in his Being and Time, “Knowing is a mode of Dasein founded upon Being-in-the-world. Thus Being-in-the-world, as a basic state, must be Interpreted beforehand”. Notwithstanding Heidegger’s position of knowing as subsidiary to Being, I will apply certain aspects of Freud’s theoretical work toward understanding Heidegger’s concept of time. I will further discuss this issue later in §5. Can Freud’s psychoanalysis, in part or in whole, serve as a psychological expression of Heidegger’s ontological expression of Dasein?

Unless the readers are already familiar with Heidegger’s fundamental tenets of Being and Time, I highly recommend the readers first to familiarize themselves with the content of my two previous articles on Heidegger, or they may not understand the present article.

Being and Time (Part 1): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/22/being-and-time-part-1/

Being and Time (Part 2): https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/being-and-time-part-2/

Meanwhile, before I explore Heidegger’s concept of time, I will first introduce some of the basic ideas of Freud’s psychoanalysis, hoping that they will aid in shedding light on the concept of time.

Iceberg: Structural Model of Psyche

§2. Id, Ego, and Superego

Freud’s structural model of the human psyche is comprised of three distinct, but not separate, organically-based psychological forces or dynamisms that operate within us: the “id”, “ego”, and “super-ego” or “ego ideal”. (Freud warns his readers that his structural model of psyche can be used as a map, not to be confused with the territory itself.) He describes the id (a purely unconscious and unorganized impetus) as expressive of the sexual, aggressive, and self-preservative instincts. The id can be analogized to an insatiable, turbulent, and ferocious current of water that amorphously and uncontrollably flows to various directions. The super-ego (partly conscious and partly unconscious) is a psychic function indicative of human reason in terms of “conscience”, which regulates and restrains the instinctual urges of the id. And, the ego (as the seat of conscious awareness, yet being partly unconscious) is a developmental extension of the id (or, as Freud puts it, “the ego is a specially differentiated part of the id”) and is an organic dynamism indicative of “perception” and “reason” in terms of intelligence, which mediates between the id’s demands for immediate gratification of its instinctual urges and the disciplinary super-ego’s restrictions upon them. Furthermore, the ego, under the watchful eyes of the super-ego, functions to bring about a state of equilibrium between the impulsive urges and the external physical and social reality. In a sense, the ego is the executive while the super-ego is the legislative and the judiciary. The ego can be analogized to a dam which brings under control the turbulent water current (cf. the blind energy of the id).

The id (Latin for “it”) is associated with the “pleasure[-pain] principle”. The ego (Latin for “I”) is correlated with the “reality principle”, in terms of the external and social circumstances circumventing the psyche. And, the super-ego (over-I) is identified with what can be called the ideal principle, which is associated with the judgmental faculty discerning what is right or wrong behavior in relation to the external and social conditions under which the ego is to serve the id under the supervision of the super-ego. The super-ego continually oversees the ego’s performance, and it punishes the ego’s misconducts with feelings such as guilt, anxiety, or inferiority. In his The Ego and the Id (published in 1923), Freud associates the “consciousness”, “reason”, “perception”, and “motility” with the ego, while associating the “unconscious”, “instincts”, and “passions” with the id in the following manner:

“We have formed the idea that in each individual there is a coherent organization of mental processes; and we call this his ego. It is to this ego that consciousness [How about time?] is attached; the ego controls the approaches to motility – that is, to the discharge of excitations into the external world; it is the mental agency which supervises all its own constituent processes, and which goes to sleep at night, though even then it exercises the censorship on dreams.”

“We have said that consciousness [associated with the ego] is the surface of the mental apparatus; that is, we have ascribed it as a function to a system [i.e., outer sense perception and inner sensations and feelings] which is spatially the first one reached from the external world. . . .”

“We shall now look upon an individual as a psychical id, unknown and unconscious, upon whose surface rests the ego, developed from its [id’s] nucleus the Pcpt. [perceptual] system. If we make an effort to represent this pictorially, we may add that the ego does not completely envelop the id, but only does so to the extent to which the system Pcpt. forms its [the ego’s] surface. . . . The ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it.”

“It is easy to see that the ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world through the medium of the Pcpt.-Cs. [perceptual-conscious system]. . . . Moreover, the ego seeks to bring the influence of the external world to bear upon the id and its tendencies, and endeavours to substitute the reality principle for the pleasure principle which reigns unrestrictedly in the id. For the ego, perception plays the part which in the id falls to instinct. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions.”

“The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control over the approaches to motility devolves upon it. Thus in its relation to the id it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse; with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego uses borrowed forces [of the id]. The analogy may be carried a little further. Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is obliged to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit of transforming the id’s will into action as if it were its own.”

(I curiously ask, “Might it be the case, for Freud, that the ego – being the seat of conscious awareness and perception, and affiliated with motility – is also the seat of time in order to organize, coordinate, and regulate its functions as the mediator between the id and superego in relation to the external world?”)

§3. The Life and Death Instincts

In the book, Freud makes a distinction between two classes of instincts: the “Eros” (depicted as the life instincts, including the sexual instincts) and “Thanatos” (depicted as the death instincts). (In the book, Freud does not utilize the term “Thanatos”, but instead “death instincts”. It is said that the former is a term dubbed by the post-Freudian psychology.) In general, Eros is characteristically a creative and organizational tendency while Thanatos is characteristically a destructive propensity. There is an ongoing tension between these two tendencies. Freud writes,

“. . . [W]e have to distinguish two classes of instincts, one of which, the sexual instincts or Eros . . . comprises not merely the uninhibited sexual instinct proper and the instinctual impulses of an aim-inhibited or sublimated nature derived from it, but also the self-preservative instinct, which must be assigned to the ego. . . . [As to] the second class of instincts . . . we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state; on the other hand, we supposed that Eros . . . aims at complicating life and at the same time, of course, at preserving it. Acting in this way, both the instincts would be conservative in the strictest sense of the word, since both would be endeavouring to re-establish a state of things that was disturbed by the emergence of life. The emergence of life would thus be the cause of the continuance of life and also at the same time of the striving towards death; and life itself would be a conflict and compromise between these two trends.”

“On this view, a special physiological process (of anabolism or catabolism) would be associated with each of the two classes of instincts; both kinds of instinct would be active in every particle of living substance [cells], though in unequal proportions, so that some one substance might be the principal representative of Eros.”

“[W]e are driven to conclude that the death instincts are by their nature mute and that the clamour of life proceeds for the most part from Eros.”

“The dangerous death instincts are dealt with in the individual in various ways: in part they are rendered harmless by being fused with erotic components, in part they are diverted towards the external world in the form of aggression, while to a large extent they undoubtedly continue their internal work unhindered.”

“Towards the two classes of instincts the ego’s attitude is not impartial. Through its work of identification and sublimation, it gives the death instincts in the id assistance in gaining control over the libido, but in so doing it runs the risk of becoming the object of the death instincts and of itself perishing. In order to be able to help in this way it has had itself to become filled with libido; it thus itself becomes the representative of Eros and thenceforward desires to live and to be loved.”

“The id . . . has no means of showing the ego either love or hate. It [the id] cannot say what it wants; it has achieved no unified will. Eros and the death instinct struggle within it; we have seen with what weapons the one group of instincts defends itself against the other. It would be possible to picture the id as under the domination of the mute but powerful death instincts, which desire to be at peace and (prompted by the pleasure principle) to put Eros, the mischiefmaker, to rest; but perhaps that might be to undervalue the part played by Eros.”

Interestingly enough, Freud’s concepts of Eros (life instincts) and Thanatos (death instincts) run parallel to the psychologizing philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concepts of the “Dionysian” and “Apollinian”, in his book The Birth of Tragedy. In the ancient Greek mythology, Dionysus is portrayed as the god of grapes and wine – who is intoxicative, destructive, and not prone to reason or rationality. In sharp contrast, Apollo is depicted as a god of light and the sun – attributive of reason or rationality and imposition of forms. Nietzsche construes the Dionysian and Apollinian as two physiological forces or tendencies whose union creates art or beauty that is “apt to seduce us to life”, as he puts it.

“. . . [T]he continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality – just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations. . . . Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition, in origins and aims, between the Apollinian art of sculpture [the plastic arts] and the nonimagistic, Dionysian art of music. These two different tendencies run parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance; and they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births, which perpetuates an antagonism, only superficially reconciled by the common term ‘art’; till eventually, by a metaphysical miracle of the Hellenic ‘will,’ they appear coupled with each other, and through this coupling ultimately generates an equally Dionysian and Apollinian form of Art. . . .”

“For to our humiliation and exaltation, one thing above all must be clear to us. The entire comedy of art is neither performed for our betterment or education nor are we the true authors of this art world. On the contrary, we may assume that we are merely images and artistic projections for the true author, and that we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art – for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified. . . .”

According to Nietzsche, when the Dionysian-Apollinian union is disturbed, the consequences can be quite unsettling, as grimly portrayed in the myths of Orpheus, King Pentheus, and King Lycurgus, who were devotees of Apollo. Upon their acts of defiance against Dionysus, Orpheus was torn to pieces by the maenads (frenzied, female votaries of the orgiastic cult of Dionysus) and his head thrown into the river Hebrus, later to be buried at the shrine dedicated to Apollo. King Pentheus was also rent to shreds by the maenads, one of whom was his own mother, Agave. And, as to King Lycurgus, when Dionysus along with his band of maenads came to his kingdom, the king drove them away with an ox-goad. Thereupon, Dionysus took refuge deep beneath the sea, and the king got drunk on wine and raped his own mother. Upon discovering what he had done, the king began slashing the grapevines, and in the process he cut off his own feet, thinking that they were vines. In this respect, Nietzsche relates the myth of King Midas:

“There is an ancient story that King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word, till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of chance and misery, why do you compel me to tell you what it would be most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is – to die soon.’”

Iceberg: Structural Model of Psyche

§4. The Unconscious and Consciousness

In his Some Elementary Lessons in Psychoanalysis (published in 1938), Freud writes about a case wherein a doctor hypnotized his patient and, while under hypnosis, instructed him as follows: I am going to leave the ward, but upon my return you are to bring my umbrella and hold it open over my head. Thereafter, the doctor brought the patient out of hypnosis and left the ward. When the doctor returned to the ward, the patient grabbed the umbrella, opened it, and held it over the doctor’s head. The doctor asked why he did that. The patient became embarrassed and gave him an unsound reason, such as that he thought it was raining outside and the doctor would need his umbrella!

The point is that, the patient’s reason for why he acted the way he did belies the actual cause of what he did. There seems to be a significant difference between the patient’s post-hypnotic reason for his action (that it is raining outside) and the pre-conscious cause of his action (the hypnotically implanted instruction to hand over the umbrella). Here, Freud makes a distinction between the “cause” of the patient’s action (the “cause” of which the patient was unconscious) and the “reason” for his action (the “reason” of which the patient was conscious). Likewise, often, unknown “causes” precede our actions while our “reasons” proceed from the actions. We commonly fabricate reasons for our choices or deeds – reasons that conceal, not reveal, the underlying causes of our decisions or activities. Often our reasons for why we do something (e.g., getting married or pursuing a college degree) betray the actual causes of why we do it. In other words, we unknowingly lie to ourselves. What we consciously want may not be what we really desire. Or, expressed in psychoanalytical terms, the ego thinks that it is acting autonomously, not realizing that the id is pulling its strings. (Keep in mind that Heidegger in Being and Time is primarily looking for phenomenological manifestations of Being and time, not their cause or causes. “The question of Being” – which is the fundamental crux of his work – consists of questions such as: What does it mean to be? What is it about our condition that lets Being have a meaning for us? Why does it make a difference to us that there is something rather than nothing? What is our relation to Being?)

§5. The Ontological and Ontical

Now, after having introduced some basic thoughts of Freud’s psychoanalysis, we shall proceed to interpret Heidegger’s concept of time with the aid of the psychoanalytical ideas presented above. And, we should keep in mind that Heidegger – who construes knowing (the sciences) subordinate to Being (ontology) – does not construct his thoughts scientifically or psychoanalytically by stating, for instance, “Dasein’s unconscious anxiety of death behaviorally comes through as a neurosis of everydayness.” Nonetheless, his thoughts on Being, time, anxiety, death, and etc. may implicate such psychical dynamisms of the unconscious and consciousness.

Before we commence our exploration of Heidegger’s concept of time, it is important to set forth the distinction he makes between that which is “ontological” (such as Being) and that which is “ontical” (such as things, entities, or beings). While ontology investigates Being, ontical investigations (as done by physics, biology, or political science) focus on particular facts about a being – without paying attention to its Being. For instance, “What is Joe’s eye color?” is an ontical question, whereas “How is the way of Being of Joe?” is an ontological question. Generally, ontical questions are researched by experimental sciences while ontological questions appeal to philosophy. It is important to know that Heidegger’s phenomenological investigation of Being and time is primarily ontological, but certainly not devoid of the ontical. After all, he suggests that to understand Dasein’s way of Being, we should cyclically turn to what is to us “ontically closest” (e.g., “everydayness”). Nevertheless, the ontological questions, for him, are more fundamental than ontical questions. According to Richard Polt’s Heidegger, for Heidegger:

“Not only is scientific research unable to shed light on Dasein’s Being, but it is all too likely that it operates with an inadequate interpretation of Being in general, inherited from Greek philosophy and Christianity. The sciences ultimately take Dasein as a thing, much as they may attempt to distinguish it from all other things. For Heidegger, Dasein is not a thing at all. Things are ‘whats’; their Being is ‘presence-at-hand’ (. . . “objective presence”), and their ontological characteristics are ‘categories’. Dasein is a ‘who’ whose Being is ‘existence’ and whose ontological characteristics Heidegger dubs existentialia (. . . “existentials”).” (Italics are added.)

In reading Being and Time, it is important for the readers to recognize when Heidegger treats his concepts (such as Being, time, death, and etc.) ontologically, ontically, or concurrently.

§6. Time

In the beginning of the book, before the “Introduction”, Heidegger firmly declares, “Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon [condition] for any understanding whatever of Being”. In other words, he maintains that Being should be understood in the context of time, that our way of Being is contingent on temporality: the significative inter-relation between our past, present, and future.

I suspect that if we were immortal (i.e., if we never biologically died, and hence perhaps implying that never felt physical pain and hunger), time would not matter to us, or perhaps it would not matter to us as much. However, time does matter because we are mortal. Heidegger expresses, “This certainty, that ‘I myself am in that I will die’, is the basic certainty of Dasein itself.” Each of us appears to have only a finite time to biologically “live” and to ontologically “exist” in the world. Time alerts us to our unavoidable biological “demise”. Time reminds us of our “finitude”. And, time alarms us of our impending “death” – the inevitable end of our possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Heidegger, in a peculiar manner, distinguishes – but not divorces – “ontology” from “biology”, “Dasein” from “that which lives”, “Being” from “living”,  “existence” form “life”, and “dying” from “perishing” or “demise”.

“We still have to ask how the ontological [distinct from the biological] essence of death is defined in terms of that of life [the ontical]. . . . The ending of that which lives [as opposed to “exists”] we have called ‘perishing’. Dasein too ‘has’ its own death, . . . not in ontical isolation, but as codetermined by its primordial kind of Being. . . . Dasein too can end . . ., though on the other hand, qua Dasein, it does not simply perish. We designate this intermediate phenomenon [of perishing] as its ‘demise’. Let the term ‘dying’ stand for that way of Being in which Dasein is towards its death. Accordingly we must say that Dasein never perishes. Dasein, however, can demise only as long as it is dying. . . . The existential Interpretation of death takes precedence over any biology and ontology of life.” (Italics are added.)

In other words, Dasein – as a “thing” that is no thing at all – does not perish; however, that which lives biologically does perish. Nonetheless, Dasein can demise only as long as its “way of Being” is dying or is not a possibility anymore. In this context, death is viewed as an ontological phenomenon while perishing, distinct but not isolated from dying, is viewed as a biological (that is, ontical) phenomenon. While Heidegger neither seems to affirm nor deny our biology as a psycho-organic origin or stimulus of our Being, he implies that our Being is a source of signification of our biology.

Furthermore, Heidegger makes a distinction between the ontical (ordinary or everyday) concept of time and the ontological concept of time. Ordinarily, time is viewed linearly, as a constant sequence of points – always irretrievably extending forward, never backward – identifying (id-entity-fying) where and things we are and have now, we were and had before, and we will be and have after. (The word “identify” is derived from the Latin word identificāre, meaning “to make to resemble” or “to make into thing”, derived from the Latin word identitās, meaning “id-entity” or literally “it-thing”.) The popular phrase “time is money” is in intimate conformity to this inadequate, as Heidegger thinks, depiction of time. In contrast to this thing-like, distorted, everyday concept of time, Heidegger’s existential concept of time is neither expressed merely linearly, nor as irretrievable forward succession of instants. His ontology of time is expressive of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world in terms of its significative inter-relation of its future, past, and present – in the sense that, as an example, Dasein’s future possibilities can be a source of its past’s significances that project Dasein forward (or backward) from the present. One’s future possibilities can unconceal the meanings of one’s past which can turn the present authentically into a project (or inauthentically into a regression).

Time is not merely a linear, forward succession of points, making it possible for us to measure the quantity of things we have lost or accumulated in the present in contrast to the past. For Heidegger, time seems to be revelatory of phenomenological manifestations (showings) of the inter-related significations of our Being-in-the-world that inter-connects, rather than individuates, Dasein’s future, past, and present. Time is expressive of the unconcealment of Dasein’s way of Being in which its future possibilities, past inheritance, and present actuality and potentiality can become Dasein’s own. A rock always seems frozen in position and time; it is simply there, as it was before and as it will be after. However, Dasein’s “authenticity” unfreezes its Being and time to authenticate (to make its own) its own Being and time. (The word “authentic” is derived from the Greek word authentēs, meaning “author”.) Dasein authenticates (authors) time, meaning that, Dasein’s Being brings time into the world, into eternity (timelessness). And, to be the author of our Being and time means to be authentic. As an example, an employee – who is alienated from her or his own work products, work activities, and her or his own Being at work – does not feel a sense of authenticity or belonging to the workplace, because the employee’s time at work does not belong to her or him and does not serve her or his own Being, but the employer’s. A Marxian may beg Heidegger to answer the following question: Is it our material conditions that determine our way of Being, or is it our way of Being that determines our material conditions, or a combination of both? I presume that Karl Marx himself would interpret our material conditions (which are dialectical) as primary, while Heidegger would construe our way of Being (which is historical) as primal in terms of significance and meaning of the world. Marx, as a materialist, seems interested in causal relations of things whereas Heidegger, as a phenomenological ontologist, seems interested in ontological relations (in terms of their significances and references) of ways of Being of things. Before Heidegger attempts to answer the question, by his own principles, he would have to first understand (phenomenologically and hermeneutically construe) the Being of Dasein, entities, our material conditions, cause, and effect. And, then, under the light of this understanding, he would attempt to interpret the question and ascertain its significance. Heidegger will refuse to laugh at an untold joke!

Heidegger’s predecessor, German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), insisted space and time are part of the structure of our consciousness, not things that consciousness discovers originally outside of itself. Hence, for him, space and time are not things that we perceive outside of us, but part of how we perceive and think of things. In other words, space and time are preconditions of human perception and understanding. As he puts it, no thing is understandable “before space and time”. In the same fashion, according to Heidegger, Dasein, through its own time, unfolds and understands (stands under) its world and its Being. And, in understanding its world and Being, Dasein finds itself not as a static thing, such as a rock, but as a dynamic and historical Being.

Therefore, it seems that for Heidegger Being and time are interdependent and, perhaps, inseparable. In this sense, lack of time appears to be a deficiency of Being and vice versa, meaning that, one’s future, past, and present are not coordinated. As an analogy, consider Beethoven’s ninth symphony, sometimes referred to as “Ode to Joy”. It is composed of a series of inter-related, rhythmic, musical notes that harmoniously, through time, communicate with one another and express a sentiment (such as that of joy juxtaposed with the crescendos of horror) to the listeners. Moreover, the symphony possesses an introduction (introducing the musical theme), a body (wherein the theme is developed and ornamented), and a conclusion (whereby the theme finds both a musical and sentimental resolution). If the conclusion of the symphony is not in harmonious and melodic conformity to the preceding and is not temporally coordinated with the introduction and the body, then the resolution may never be realized. Likewise, if one’s projected future is not coordinated with one’s past and present, then one’s life story may not come to a resolution, but to an inauthentic conclusion that screams: “I never have enough time for anything in my life.” Dasein’s future is a resolution of its past, and Dasein’s past is a solution toward its future. (The word “resolution” is derived from the Latin word resolūtus, which in turn is derived from the Latin word re-solvere, meaning “backward-untying” or “untying backward”.)

§7. Future, Past, and Present

Heidegger construes the past in terms of Dasein having been helplessly thrown into the world and, therefore, having inherited a burden of “facticity”: an objective or materialistic way of perceiving, thinking, and conducting oneself in the world. For instance, one may have been born into a poor family and impoverished conditions that shape her or his perceptions, thoughts, and conducts. Facticity of a person is who the person already is. A factical person is everyday faced with dealing with what the person has already been. Pregnant with the past, the future, Heidegger interprets, is “. . . the coming in which Dasein, in its ownmost potentiality-for-Being, comes towards itself.” The future is a condition that makes possible Dasein’s acts of choosing who it becomes. And, Heidegger views the present as “making present”, i.e., revealing the entities environing Dasein’s world of references, meanings and purposes. Dasein’s future signifies its past, and the future and the past give rise to Dasein’s present. Inauthentic Dasein’s present is alienated from its future and past, while authentic Dasein’s present acquires depth, meaning, and direction in relation to its future and past.

§8. Correlation between Death and Time

Heidegger seems to propound a direct significative correlation between death and time (and, hence, between time and anxiety). For him, birth (“thrownness”), growth (existence), and death (end of our possibilities) are the revelations of our temporal Being.

“. . . Dasein exists, it has already been thrown into this possibility [“Being-towards-death” which is concentric with Being-in-the-world]. Dasein does not, proximally and for the most part, have any explicit or even any theoretical knowledge of the fact that it has been delivered over to its death, and that death thus belongs to Being-in-the-world. Thrownness into death reveals itself to Dasein in a more primordial and impressive manner in that state-of-mind which we have called ‘anxiety’. Anxiety in the face of death is anxiety ‘in the face of’ that potentiality-for-Being which is one’s ownmost, non-relational, and not to be outstripped. That in the face of which one has anxiety is Being-in-the-world itself. That about which one has this anxiety is simply Dasein’s potentiality-for-Being. Anxiety in the face of death must not be confused with fear in the face of one’s [biological] demise. This anxiety is not an accidental or random mood of ‘weakness’ in some individual; but, as a basic state-of-mind of Dasein, it amounts to the disclosedness of the fact that Dasein exists as thrown Being towards its end. . . . Precision is gained by distinguishing this [‘dying’] from . . . merely perishing, and . . . ‘Experiencing’ of a demise.”

As Heidegger puts it, from the moment we are born, our Being is toward death. With every breath we take, we take one step closer to death. When we are young, we tend to live carelessly or procrastinatingly – as though we are immortal (imperishable and undying), as though we have infinite time at our disposal. Yet, as we get older, we tend to become more and more conscious of the finitude of time in terms of our living and Being in the world. According to Heidegger, death (like the mood of “anxiety”, described in my previous article) is more pivotal and constructive in our daily lives than we are consciously aware. Death unconsciously structures our lives. Many of our daily activities appear to be unconscious ways of eluding death, or making ourselves oblivious to death, yet with every sigh we approach the inevitable. At all times, death hangs over our heads like the sword of Damocles. It follows us whenever and wherever.

Taking the liberty to employ non-Heideggerian language and cautiously fusing psychoanalytical concepts with Heidegger’s ontology of time, I propound the following: the human conscious perception and thought processes, sensations such as that of physical pain and hunger, and instincts such as ingestion of nourishment and self-preservation – are, perhaps, various manifestations of the unconscious dynamisms to regulate the demise of human organism through constructing the regulative, coordinative, and organizational principle of time. (I am cognizant that my preceding, speculative statement goes beyond the scopes of both Heidegger’s Being and Time and Freud’s psychoanalysis.) Interpreting time as having no existence apart from human psycho-biology does not render time an illusion. Perchance, time, no more or less than the sensation of hunger or pain, is a psycho-biological construct or phenomenon. Perhaps, time can be ontically interpreted as an orderly organization of our biological demise, and ontologically as an orchestration of Dasein’s Being-towards-death and, hence, possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Figuratively speaking, time is a mask of death – making death manifest itself to the conscious awareness (cf. to the ego which is the eyes of the id, in Freud’s psychoanalysis).

Looking at death from a biological and quasi-Heideggerian viewpoint, human organism inherently contains within itself its own germ of demise, terminating its own life. And, it might be the case that human organism has evolutionarily constructed time which has rendered the human organism capable of cognizing its own finitude, its own lifespan, its own possibilities of Being-in-the-world. We often seem to be unconscious (to be in a state of unaware denial) of our own death. Nevertheless, this unconscious dynamism perhaps manifests itself consciously as time, as it were, to forewarn itself of and coordinate its own demise – or, ontologically speaking, to “attune” itself to Being-towards-death. (The word “attunement” is a translation of the German word Befindlichkeit, which is used by Heidegger to designate our moods, such as anxiety, as ways of finding ourselves in the world.) In this sense, figuratively speaking, time is a mirror of death, of Dasein, whose Being is always toward death – (or, psychoanalytically speaking, time is the mirror through which the id, via the ego, monitors its own strivings [the tension between the life instincts and the death instincts]).

§9. Quantification and Qualification of Time

Heidegger’s portrayal of time is expressive of our engagement and commitment to the world. Time is significative of our engagement and commitment to Being-in-the-world which entails potentiality-for-Being which in turn subsumes Being-towards-death. He asserts, “The ‘end’ of Being-in-the-world is death [Being-towards-death]. This end, which belongs to the potentiality-for-Being – that is to say, to existence [Being-in-the-world] – limits and determines in every case whatever totality is possible for Dasein.” Time is indicative of not merely quantitatively measuring but qualitatively appreciating, signifying, and apprehending our possibilities (and, hence, our choices and potentials) while we exist. Besides stressing the limits of our possibilities, time legislates our possibilities. For instance, if a person had only one day to live, the possibility of choosing to be an astronaut and to travel to Mars would not avail itself to the person. Or, if one’s futural project is to become an astronaut, one may find oneself transported back in time to a past to discern if such a possibility is presently open to be stretched into the future. Time encompasses and circumvents our possibilities from birth toward death and from death toward birth. Time is an ever-expanding boundary of our possibilities of Being-in-the-world. “Ever-expanding” because Dasein is historical; consequently, the intellectual innovations of today (in terms of science, technology, medicine, transportation, mass communication, electronic data processing, and etc.) have given us possibilities that were not extant a century ago.

From an ontical viewpoint, time id-enti-fies and individuates one’s life into diverse periods, linearly progressing from past to present to future. Through time, one gains an alleged identity (the ego or the “I”, psychoanalytically speaking) to identify time with. (“Alleged identity” because Heidegger seems to imply that there appears to be no such a thing as the “self” which endures all psychophysical changes and, hence, becomes the source of one’s personal identity. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as inherently possessing a thing-like, unchangeable self due to our “fallenness” – i.e., being absorbed into the entities and into the present. As longs as our way of Being is not ontologically understood, having a self or identity is postulated.) From an ontological vantage point, time significatively ascertains, valuates, and inter-relates the three dimensions of one’s Being-in-the-world. Hence, Dasein’s existence manifests time significatively – not merely numerically – unfolding itself unto itself toward Being-in-the-world. Ontical time and space are understood in terms of the ontological time and space. According to Richard Polt’s Heidegger:

“When we hear the word ‘space’, we may think of outer space, a void dotted with stars that glide past us as in a science-fiction movie. Or we may think of analytic geometry, with its x, y and z axes of three-dimensional space. But is space just an empty framework in which objects can occur, or a system of assigning Cartesian coordinates to things? These concepts of space cannot capture the experience of being in an unfamiliar, threatening neighborhood, or finding the scissors just where we expected to find them, or feeling that a room is spacious, or putting one’s glove on the wrong hand. These are spatial experiences that call for a richer, non-quantitative vocabulary. . . . Heidegger tries to develop such a vocabulary. . . . He tries to move us away from thinking of the world purely in mathematical terms, and towards an understanding of the world in terms of appropriateness [derived from the Latin word appropriāre, “to make one’s own”] and inappropriateness. Full-fledged space consists not of points where objects are located, but of places where things and people belong or do not belong. Full-fledged time consists not of instants when objects are present, but of right and wrong moments. In full-fledged time and space, things matter to us. This takes us right back to the contrast between the Heideggerian and the Cartesian concepts of the world. From the Cartesian standpoint, questions of appropriateness and inappropriateness are just subjective; the objective facts about the world are quantitative.

But Heidegger would reply that in order to describe the world in which we live, we have to use more than numbers – and even numbers are meaningful to us only in terms of the world of appropriateness and inappropriateness. The astronomer determines that a certain star is millions of kilometers away from the sun. This is correct, but it means something to the astronomer and to the rest of us only if we can relate it back to the lifeworld in which three kilometers are a gentle afternoon stroll, and thirty kilometers are a good day’s hike.

As technology progresses, our sense of space and time is mutating, even eroding. Heidegger’s comment on radio indicates his fears about this process. . . . [R]adio is ‘expanding and destroying the everyday surrounding world’. In a lecture course, Heidegger elaborates: ‘In the radio Dasein today realizes . . . a peculiar extension of the process of bringing the world nearer. . . . This frenzy for nearness is nothing but reduction in the loss of time. But reduction in the loss of time is the flight of time from itself.’ . . . [W]e will see that genuinely accepting our own temporality requires us to stop understanding time merely in terms of efficiency. If Heidegger had lived to experience fax machines, cellular phones and the Internet, he would shudder.”

If, indeed, the peculiar organization of animal cells into what we call the human organism is the genesis of time and space, what would that make of Albert Einstein’s concept of “space-time” or the Big Bang theory which renders the Big Bang as the cause of formation of time and space billions of years prior to the appearance of the Homo sapiens on the scene. Polt continues:

“A distinguished physicist once gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he claimed that physics had greatly refined its concept of time by measuring time in smaller and smaller increments. A listener objected that although physicists were measuring changes more accurately, this did not alter our concept of time, or shed light on the nature of time. ‘What is time itself?’ the physicist was asked. He answered honestly: ‘Well, I’m not a philosopher.’ Physicists take it for granted that time, space, matter and energy exist, and have a certain way of Being. Physics as such does not try to clarify the Being of such entities – that task falls to philosophy. In this sense, philosophy is more fundamental than physics. The same can be said of other sciences, sciences that [as Heidegger puts it] study ‘for instance, history . . . life . . . language.’ History [as a discipline] takes it for granted that the past, in some sense, exists. It falls to philosophy to clarify the sense in which the past exists, in the light of the meaning of Being in general.”

§10. Heidegger’s Significance of Being and Time in Our Time

The eminent Cordovan philosopher, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), known in the West as Moses Maimonides, insisted that, “The aim of any society . . . [should be] the development of human beings and not of wealth.” In opposition to this dictum, would it be a fair assessment to conclude that our political and economic policies in the United States have been geared more toward creation of wealth than development of human beings? In the same vein as Maimonides, the Swiss-French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) stated, “Create citizens, and you have everything you need; without them, you will have nothing but debased slaves, from the rulers of the State downwards.” In contrast to Heidegger’s conception of Being and time, here in America our cultural understanding of Being and time seems distorted by our crisis of imagination, whereby for us Being is tantamount to having and time is indistinguishable from what is immediate. A culture that is obliviously obsessed with the present – i.e., a culture that is depressingly absorbed in accumulation and manipulation of entities (material objects) which almost exclusively define the culture’s spirit, orientation, values, and aspirations in a now that is foolishly fancied to sustain and smear itself, in greater quantity of goods and pleasures, into the future (out of the fear of feature) – is one that should shrilly alarm us. Perhaps, the ongoing economic crisis – wherein countless numbers of people spent the money which they did not have and now are losing their jobs, cars, and homes – is a direct result of our impoverished (or “subprime”) ways of existing that we have mendaciously identified with “freedom” and the “American dream”.

The phenomenological ontology of Heidegger’s Being and Time expresses that having is subsidiary to Being; knowing is subordinate to Being; and ontical time is fiduciary to – and is understood in terms of – the ontological time. For Heidegger, Being is not a thing, and time is not merely a quantity of something to be counted; Being and time are expressive of inter-related significations of Dasein’s possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Suppose a five-year-old child walking by a stop sign in a street asks her father, “What is this?” And, suppose her father answers, “This is called a ‘stop sign’ which is made of a long metal pole that has attached to one of its ends a round red surface that is inscribed upon it the letters S, T, O, P.” Do you assume that this kind of ontical account of the stop sign will help the child to make a decision, in her later life, upon approaching a stop sign while driving a car? The point I am making is that Heidegger is telling us that this is how we have hitherto interpreted our Being: as mere things or objects. The stop sign is not merely a thing as described by the child’s father; it is primarily a “signification” that signifies a meaning that we can understand, relate to, or “care” about. Now, imagine the child, still walking with her father toward her grandmother’s house, asking, “When are we gonna get there?” And, suppose the father, looking at his wristwatch, replies, “It’s now 4:30 P.M., so we should arrive there approximately a quarter to 5:00.” The child, whose conception of time is not yet ontically developed, is baffled at her father’s reply. However, noticing the confusion in her child’s face, the father ontologically amends his response, “It takes enjoying three of your favorite ice creams before we see your grandma.” The point is that time is significantly contingent on Being. For Heidegger, Being and time are not merely things to collect and count, but to “celebrate”: to “wonder” about.

§11. Conclusion

Does Heidegger achieve the aim of “the question of Being”: What does it mean to be? What is Being? If you recall, in the commencement of Being and Time, Heidegger positively asserts, “Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon [condition] for any understanding whatever of Being”. However, the book ends with the following hesitant words: “Does time itself manifest itself as the horizon of Being?” This question seems to question “time” as the horizon or condition for understanding Being. It is said that Heidegger was never convinced of the propriety of time as the possible horizon for any understanding of Being. Nevertheless, the book has reawakened the issue of Being in an unprecedented manner and has posed the challenge of rethinking our ontological interests in contrast to our everydayness.

In the text of his lecture course of 1941 at the University of Freiburg, which has been published under the title Hölderlin Hymn “Andenken” (Gesamtausgabe 52), Heidegger poetically pours himself out in the following words:

“Celebration . . . is self-restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder – the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this.” (Bold letters are added.)

(Dear reader, please feel free to make a critique of this article. I look forward to learning from you!)

April 23, 2010

Being and Time (Part 2)

Anxiety of “Being-in-the-world”

Heidegger’s Significance in Our Time

On rare occasions and without forewarning, and seldom without conscious awareness, we may involuntarily suffer from an uncanny mood that can be characterized as ambiguous, apprehensive, indecisive, and uncertain—a suspicious mood that resists being clearly articulated. Once we are affected by this obscure mood, it sets in like nightfall. The deeper we sink in it, the darker and more inaccessible our world becomes while we become alienated from ourselves, others, and everyday routines. Under such condition, according to German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), we do not feel at “home” in the world. At such confusing moments, we often ignore this mood by returning to our “everydayness”, i.e., our nonreflective modes of existing, such as being absorbed in our everyday routines, occupations, recreational activities, and so on. We often fill up our lives with busyness in order to flee from this mood. In fact, Heidegger suggests that our everydayness might be at times a subterranean or subconscious way of escape and taking refuge from this disorienting mood. If you seek a psychiatrist to rid you of this particular mood, she or he may conventionally prescribe you some pills to numb your alertness to this crisis, which perhaps can be metaphorically qualified as an alarm clock. But, what does this alarm clock alarm you about?

Heidegger is renowned for his ontological phenomenology (a specific way of “showing”) of this tabooic mood, which he refers to as “Angst”, translated in English as “anxiety”. Of course, as you may have suspected, this anxiety is not your common type of anxiety. Heidegger interpreted this anxiety as a dimension or structure of an existing human, whom he refers to as “Dasein”, meaning “Being-there” or, alternatively, “Being-in-the-world”. (Heidegger, repudiating to think of us as mere things, depicts us as “Being-there” or “Being-in-the-world” instead of “humans”. The latter term, human, is readily indicative of a thing or entity while the former is expressive of an activity that signifies a qualitative mode of existing.)

By the time we wake up every morning, we find ourselves already here. From the womb of time, we were helplessly born sometime, some place, some gender, some race, and into some social class. Heidegger characterizes this phenomenon as us having been “thrown into the world”. When we become acutely conscious that we exist, we catch ourselves already in the world—the world in which we are, if you will, condemned to be and there is no escape until death removes us from the world. Accordingly, since we catch ourselves thrown into the world, we are, unlike an inert object such as a stone, never moodless. In fact, Heidegger posits that our “thrownness” or moods (some more than others) can disclose to us our Being-in-the-world and can transform our being into a life-long “project”. And, if we remove our moods, we may remove ourselves from the world. Heidegger suggests that we should not bar our moods altogether, but to find the appropriate moods to cultivate. He insists that moods are not only our ways of finding ourselves in the world, but also they “attune” us to the world.

Generally speaking, in the contemporary American society, we often readily dismiss our moods, especially the unsettling ones, as insignificant, random, or passing phases. There is a sense in which we assume, perhaps with a degree of shame, that moods divorce us from reality and who we are. On the contrary, Heidegger construes moods as a key to self-knowledge or self-interpretation and as a context within which our world (its meanings, significances, and values) is shaped. We are often admonished “don’t cry” when we are sad, or we are told “smile” when our pictures are being taken. Or, our employers command us “leave your worries and personal problems at home when you come to work”, which is practicable, but unrealistic. Consequently, we are conditioned to become fake, which is highly common and, in fact, encouraged. We are good at faking or simulating moods. One can think of a typical retail clerk or waiter who greets customers with a fake smile, simulating the act of being hospitable and caring. According to Heidegger, this is an inauthentic attempt to evade our “thrownness” and “facticity”—senselessly ignoring what he views as the threefold structure of Being-in-the-world: our past (how and who we were), our present (how and who we are), and our future (how and who we will become).

After all said and done, how does Heidegger attempt to demystify the mood of anxiety? In the course of his phenomenological investigation of this mood, Heidegger indicates how disturbing it is for us to truly “exist” (from Latin ex-sistere, “to stand out”) and face up to our agonizing situation, which may account for why the everyday view treats anxiety as a taboo or dismisses it as an instance of meaningless confusion, and promotes shallow and superficial interpretations of ourselves and the world. We are readily inclined to ward off such anguishing disturbances and to preoccupy ourselves with what Heidegger calls “everydayness”, activities that tuck the anxiety, as it were, under the rug of our being.

Heidegger asks how we would narrate the stories of our lives. Would they be stories worth telling? Would they be meaningful stories (like that of Socrates, Mahatma Gandhi, or Albert Einstein)? Here, the word “meaning” is expressive of how genuinely we can relate to our own Being, to our past, present, and future possibilities. According to Heidegger, anxiety can unconceal a significant meaning of our life stories. For him, this anxiety is not a symptom of a mental disorder or some kind of chemical imbalance. It is rather a “structure” of Being-in-the-world. This anxiety is not some thing that a psychiatrist can relieve us of it – because this anxiety is us, Being-in-the-world. To ask to be rid of our fundamental anxiety is to ask to eradicate whatever has remained of what we call our selves!

When we are in the grip of this anxiety, we often abandoned ourselves to what Heidegger calls Das Man (“the they”) or the crowd. It is easy to get lost in the crowd when we are face to face with the anxiety. Often, when a person is in denial of this rudimentary anxiety, it is the crowd that chooses the person’s life projects, and “they” – not the person – will narrate the person’s fragmented life-story and define the meaning of the person’s life. In this context, our anxiety can reveal our past as something that we could not help, our present as an escape from our selves, and our future as an impossibility of our potentials. This is a life story of being “inauthentic” (cf. Karl Marx’s concept of “alienation”: https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/modernity/).

Comparatively speaking, while the object of fear is something definite and specific, such as a spider or getting fired from a job, the object of anxiety is not any thing explicit and specific. Heidegger describes anxiety as a generalized mood that is about our Being-in-the-world as a whole. This mood may affect us at any time, as it were, when it slips out from beneath the rug. It can happen when, for instance, we are enjoying our favorite activities or when we are down on our luck. Once our being is totally eclipsed by anxiety, our activities are abruptly rendered empty, meaningless, and pointless; security of our everyday existence slips away; and we find ourselves “falling”, as it were, in an abyss. While certain aspects of life may still interest us, life as a whole becomes purposeless and otiose, a wasteland.

Although anxiety is potently alienating, it does not separate us from the world. Rather, it reconnects us to the world in such a way that we do not feel at “home” anymore. In other words, anxiety presents the world to us as an urgent problem, in which our nexus – to having been rooted in a past smeared into our present which faces a future – comes to the center of our being. Here, Heidegger’s attempt is to portray how the three dimensions of Being-in-the-world (i.e., past, present, and future) fit together into a single constitution which he refers to as Sarge, translated in English as “care”. Heidegger employs the term “care” in a peculiar manner to mean interconnectedness or interrelatedness of beings. In this sense, hence, we experience anxiety because our own being, being of others, and being of the world “matter” to us – because we “care”. We are all entangled in the world. In terms of meaning and significance, according to Heidegger, our Being is dependent on the world as much as the world is dependent on our Being. This is not difficult to imagine if we anthropomorphize the game of chess: the chess pieces (representing us), their relation to one another, and their functions would be obsolete if they were deprived of the chessboard (representing the world). And, conversely, the chessboard would be of no significance and value without the chess pieces.

Anxiety, as a particular way of Being-in-the-world, is abject homelessness, and no one has immunity to its possibility (cf. Kierkegaard’s concept of “anxiety”: https://philossophy.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/the-sickness-unto-death/). In fact, this possibility distinguishes us from other animals. For instance, unlike a human being, a dog’s being does not seem to be an issue for it. A dog does not need to ask: Who am I? Where am I? Why am I? What is the meaning of my life? What should I do with my life? Animals’ needs and goals are fixed for them by nature. They are fettered to their “home” in a way that we have never been. Animals cannot help being “what” they are. In sharp contrast, we can choose our ways of being; we are capable to choose a “home” of our own making.

Employing quasi-Heideggerian terms, I interpret Heidegger’s concept of anxiety as follows: The mortification of anxiety is a confused state of being that unwittingly makes a judgment about some “thing” it does not understand that is no thing: namely, the nothingness of human existence. Here, the “thing” – that is no thing – is us. And, the fateful “judgment” is a predication of “us”: we are merely things amid other things. In his Repetition, Søren Kierkegaard, who had great influence on thoughts of Heidegger, wrote:

“I stick my finger into existence – it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? What does this world mean? . . . Why was I not consulted, . . . throwing me into the ranks, as if I had been bought by a kidnapper, a dealer in souls? . . . And if I am to be compelled to take part in it, where is the director? . . . Is there no director?” (Italics added.)

The nothingness of human existence does not necessarily set the stage for pessimism, but for a new opportunity or horizon, in the sense that our existence can be construed as a blank canvas that is receptive to our paintbrush and paint – if we can authentically reach the blank canvas of our Being.

At this point, at least for now, we should not be concerned whether the judgment – that we are things amid other things – is correct or incorrect, true or false, or cogent or not cogent – but we should be concerned with how this judgment actually has enriched or impoverished our conception of ourselves and the world – including our past, present, and future possibilities. Of course, a common reply is the cliché, “I know we are not things, we are ‘spirits’.” And, Heidegger may coldly and calculatedly reply:

“Nonsense! – Like a parrot, you’re merely mimicking what ‘they’ [Das Man] say, not understanding what you’re hysterically uttering. Your ‘spirit’ is an outdated custom, habit, poor imitation, distorted idea, tattered piece of clothing that doesn’t even fit your body anymore! Your ‘spirit’ is a decaying tapestry that can be held against the wall only by being cemented to it. Your ‘spirit’ is your lack of spirit. Your ‘spirit’ is impoverishment of your being.”

And, we should keep in mind that, from a psychoanalytical viewpoint, while we may subconsciously behold the nothingness of our existence (especially in the view of our eventual death), we may nevertheless consciously deny it as ludicrous.

In his book Heidegger, philosopher Richard Polt expounds:

“Anxiety is a moment of meaningless confusion, as the everyday perspective has it – but it is ‘meaningless’ not in the sense that it is trivial, but in the sense that it [anxiety] involves a deep crisis of meaning. . . . [I]n anxiety the meanings and functions that are so familiar in everyday dwelling do not simply disappear. In fact, by becoming a problem, they strike one with unusual force. By putting the familiar in an unfamiliar light, anxiety gives one the opportunity to come to grips with one’s life, to dwell in the world clear-sightedly and resolutely.”

In an ethical sense, using non-Heideggerian terms, anxiety can be construed as a purely human phenomenon that entails a crisis of values that misrelates and alienates us from ourselves, each other, and the world. We keep looking for a “thing” to give us identity, purpose, meaning, worth, and worthwhile experience of being, but we find “nothing” – which we construe as bad and reprehensible, not understanding that this “nothing” is something that is no thing. Figuratively speaking, this is akin to a man trying to catch a rainbow! As psychoanalyst Eric Fromm eloquently puts it in an interview: “Are you what you have? What if you lose what you have?” In other words, thus far and for the most part, we have treated our Being-in-the-world as being in a shopping mall – looking for things. We have been blind to other possibilities of Being-in-the-world. Perhaps, a point, relevant to our time, that Heidegger is trying to get across is that: there is an immaterial, yet intelligible, dimension to our lives (co-evolved along side what we call the material dimension) that if we discount it, the consequences can be quite devastating. Perhaps, the ongoing global economic crisis (which had its origin in the U.S. with the subprime mortgage phenomenon) is such a consequence, caused by our subprime ways of thinking. In my attempt to interpret Heidegger’s interpretation of Being-in-the-world, I ask: Is it perhaps the case that our existence is not primarily about having or possessing objects, but about an ontological interest: a way of being or an experience of being?

According to Heidegger, the mood of anxiety can be revelatory when our own existence becomes an issue for us. In the mornings, upon awaking and opening our eyes to the world, we are faced with the task of being what we have already been and becoming, if at all, what we can possibly become. We strive to become someone, and the way we contend with the possibilities open to us will settle who we become. As Heidegger insists, Dasein “is always only that which it has chosen itself to be.” If we are responsive and attentive enough, anxiety can serve us by communicating to us our states of being in a fundamental and critical way – in fact so fundamental and critical that it can open up new possibilities in life if we have the courage and endurance not to dismiss the anxiety as random, unimportant, and inconsequential. Many of us, of course, may faint under such burden and continue to “fall”, as Heidegger says. A stone thrown into a pond will helplessly fall and sink, yet a Being-in-the-world can catch itself after having been thrown into the world! Inasmuch as anxiety can reveal the task of choosing who we are and who we will become, it can inhale a new life in us – moving us to turn this crisis into a turning point and to stop being thrown around like a stone. Alternatively, we may simply choose to remain who we already are, but in a way that we truly choose this identity, instead of just letting it being thrown at us. Heidegger does not merely construe us as having been thrown into the world – but we can overthrow our thrown-condition by acknowledging our past, actively seizing our present, and “projecting” (from Latin projecte, “to throw forth”) ourselves toward future possibilities of Being-in-the-world. He maintains that this “projection” is not an abstract concept locked in a philosopher’s mind, but an “authentic” and “concrete” activity that can be externalized out in the world.

We live in a culture that may be too superficial for Heidegger’s account of the anxiety of Being-in-the-world. In the contemporary American culture, our conceptions of being and time are distorted by our crisis of imagination, whereby for us being is tantamount to having and time is indistinguishable from what is immediate. A culture that is obliviously obsessed with the present – i.e., a culture that is absorbed in accumulation and manipulation of entities (material objects) which conclusively define its spirit, orientation, values, and aspirations – is one that should alarm us. A people that are preoccupied with their superficial appearances, with weight loss, staying young, being wrinkle-free, and looking upon elderly with indignity – are a people in denial. Is it worth it to narrate a life story of such vanity? Tragically enough, we see and hear such narrations on television screens almost everyday: “I was fat and depressed, but now I am skinny and happy!” This is the poverty of spirit of this depressed culture. The culture that should alarm us is one in which anxiety of death has no significance for our projects and life stories. Per Heidegger, we should choose our life projects in full awareness that Being is always “Being-towards-death”. And, this awareness does not cripple our daily activities, but will authenticate them. According to Heidegger, this recognition and acceptance of our fundamental anxiety free us from the crowd and free us for our life projects. He insists that an authentic life is one in which one does not flee from one’s destiny, but one shapes it as far as possible. He writes:

“Anxiety makes manifest in Dasein its Being towards its ownmost potentiality-for-Being – that is, its Being-free for the freedom of choosing itself and taking hold of itself. Anxiety brings Dasein face to face with its Being-free for (propensio in . . .) the authenticity of its Being, and for this authenticity as a possibility which it always is. But at the same time, this is the Being to which Dasein as Being-in-the-world has been delivered over.”

It is characteristically true that, unlike science, philosophy cannot be tested; however, for Heidegger philosophy is not some thing to be had and tested in a laboratory – but philosophy is to be lived out in the world. Heidegger’s thoughts in respect to anxiety of Being-in-the-world are meritorious of earnest consideration. His thinking is no medieval speculation on how many angels can dance on the pointy tip of a needle.

April 22, 2010

Being and Time (Part 1)

Being-there

Martin Heidegger

Web of Being and beings

What is “being”? What does it mean to be? What does differentiate your being from nothing? What does mark off your being from an entity such as a rock? What is the meaning of being—not just your being in specific, but being in general? Ostensibly, these are simple questions that any sensible human should be able to answer. But are they really that simple and effortless to answer?

The preceding questions were painstakingly considered by German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) in his monumental work Being and Time. However, before I begin, I would like to make some prefatory comments. Given the way we are accustomed to think, understanding Heidegger’s thoughts, in my estimation, are quite exacting, although they may sometimes seem basic, or even ridiculous, at the first glance. Comprehending his thoughts entails copious toil at learning and re-familiarizing ourselves with “being”. None of the philosophers that were previously discussed here (i.e., Søren KierkegaardHerbert Marcuse, Jürgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Jean Baudrillard) wrestled with the ontological question of being in the remarkably unprecedented way Heidegger did.

In his Being and Time, Heidegger attempts to snap us out of our disposition to take “being” for granted, and he tries to awaken us to the question of the meaning of being. On the surface, being refers to anything that exists in some way, such as physical objects, humans, moods, emotions, memories, dreams, activities, events, stories, mermaids, qualities, conditions, symbols, abstractions, ideas, or theories. But, what does make a being count as being instead of nothing? What is the difference between being and nothing? On what basis do we understand a being as being?

Heidegger seems to tell us that a sheer property such as weight, shape, size, texture, color, emotion, feeling, or thought, just to name a few, does not render a being as being. (For instance, shape, size, color, taste, smell, and texture of an apple do not qualify it as being.) On the contrary, Heidegger seems to imply that “Being” (with capital “B”) is that which renders these attributes as existing properties of beings. (That is, Being qualifies the shape, size, color, taste, smell, and texture of an apple as its existing properties, not the other way around.) Heidegger makes a distinction between an entity and its Being—which is spelled with capital “B” in order to distinguish “Being” from a being. Asking about Being is not like asking about an object—because it is not a question about any entity at all. According to Heidegger:

“[Being is] . . . that which determines entities as entities, that on the basis of which entities are already understood. . . . The Being of entities is not itself an entity.” (Being and Time; 26:6; translated by John Macquarie & Edward Robinson; Harper Collins 1962)

We are asking about a thing that is no thing at all. Heidegger seems to warn us that we must not make the mistake of confusing Being with any entity such as a rock, plant, animal, the universe, or even God. Being is deemed as a condition of the possibility of our experience of entities. Whenever we experience an entity in any way, we must already have an understanding, however vague and distorted, of Being that makes this experience possible. Insofar as Being of humans is concerned, Heidegger is not necessarily asking who we are—yet he seems to imply that who we are is contingent on our Being.

Having thus far stipulated Being in this manner, it seems that Being of a thing, apart from the thing itself, is empty: absence of all content. Yet, there is a significant difference between Being and absence. If one’s house burns down or one’s loved one passes away, suddenly the absence of the house or the loved one overwhelms the person with pain. At such moments we realize that there are, in fact, significant differences between Being and absence. Being matters. Yet, the question remains: What is Being?

Heidegger proposes that in order to clarify Being in general, we must first clarify our own Being in particular. Sciences such as psychology, anthropology, or sociology ultimately view human Being as a thing while discriminating it from the rest of things. However, for Heidegger, human Being is not a thing at all. Things are “whats”, and their Being is “presence-at-hand” (objective presence), lacking temporal dimensions and significances of their own Being. Their existence is not an issue for them, and their ontological characteristics are “categories” such as causality. Things formulate no purposes of their own. In terms of non-human animals, they have short-term, immediate goals, such as escaping from danger, finding safety, or procuring food. In contrast, a human is a “who” whose Being, in addition to Being of things, matters to her or him. Her or his existence is an issue to be reckoned with. Our Being is “existence”, not presence-at-hand, that finds significances and purposes in terms of a past, present, and future. Our ontological characteristics are what Heidegger refers to as “existentialia” (existentials).

Heidegger suggests that Being tends to lie hidden. We are normally and habitually so absorbed in entities or things, which display themselves so obviously to us, that it takes tremendous effort to unconceal Being. In thinking about Being, either that of our own or that of other things, we tend to fall into superficial and misguided ways of thinking. Describing a human as an entity is a relatively easy challenge: we document her or his capacities, functions, behaviors, shape, size, and other properties. But describing the Being of a human is far more difficult. In this sense, Being transcends beings.

On the surface, nothing seems more obvious and self-evident than Being; nonetheless, it is seemingly an exacting task to clarify Being. It turns out that, after all, Being is not easy to know, and it is difficult to draw a line between Being and nothing. According to Heidegger, a difficulty in answering the question of Being is due to our outmoded and impoverished ways of thinking, which we have inherited from a distant past. Traditionally, we have always mistakenly identified Being as an entity or a thing, whereas Being is no thing, Heidegger insists. For instance, in thinking about a human being, we erroneously confuse the physical presence of the human with her or his Being in the present. When we identify Being with “physical presence” (i.e., with the entity that an individual is now and disregarding her or his temporality and historicity), then we can become obsessed with beings to present themselves to us unchangeably, conclusively, flawlessly, perfectly. Consequently, utter obsession with, for example, losing weight, staying young, and feeling ashamed of getting old and wrinkly are all too common in the contemporary American culture. It is not rare to see sixty-year-olds acting like and dating twenty-one-year-olds. Such instances of self-alienation (or, as Heidegger would call, “inauthenticity”) are commonplace.

It can be difficult and disturbing to face our own temporality and to experience the obscurity of our Being. It is more convenient to slip back into an everyday state of complacency and routines. Rather than wrestling with what it means to be and who we are, we would prefer to be engrossed into the world of materials and to be preoccupied with measuring and manipulating present beings. This absorption into the present leads to self-deception by objectifying or reifying our own Being. Heidegger consistently points to the difference between this everyday state of oblivion and a state in which we genuinely face up to our conditions, temporality, historicity. This is the difference between “inauthenticity” and “authenticity”. Heidegger insists that, an authentic life is one in which one does not escape from one’s destiny, but shapes it as far as possible.

Heidegger points out, “Our provisional aim is the Interpretation of time as the possible horizon [context] for any understanding whatever of Being.” (Being and Time; 19:1) He proposes that Being needs to be grasped in terms of time; our sense of what it is to be depends on temporality. He insists that it is the acknowledgement of our “temporality” (i.e., our authentic relation to our past, present, and future) that makes us sensitive to Being. We are historical beings: we are rooted in a “past” that stretches into a “present” which thrusts into a “future”. We inherit a past tradition that we share with others, and we pursue future possibilities that define us as individuals. As we do so, the world opens up for us, and beings get understood. Heidegger insists that our historicity (in which our Being is always “toward death”) does not cut us off from reality. On the contrary, it opens us up to the meaning of Being.

Consider an ahistorical being such as Mount Everest. It was there when you were born; it is still there in present as you are reading this; and it will continue to be there, if left undisturbed, by the time you pass away. The mountain is simply “there”—and it would not make a difference to it if it were elsewhere or were not at all. If the mountain is somehow removed and placed elsewhere, it will still remain the same mountain. Its “there” does not matter to it. It seemingly has no relationship to its own Being; it cannot “care” about its own Being; it cannot relate to its own Being. In contrast, a mountain climber who climbs Mount Everest is not simply “what” she is. She is not merely a type of object. She “cares” about her own Being and her “there”; her Being matters to her; her own Being is an issue to her. Her “there” is significant to her. Without her “there”, her existence would be as meaningless and obsolete as a pawn removed from the chessboard.

We have a “there” as no other entity does because for us the world is understandable and meaningful. In Being and Time, Heidegger avoids using the old, worn-out word “human” to depict us; instead, he uses the term “Being-there” (Dasein, in German) in the sense that we are in such a way as to be our “there”. Unlike Mount Everest, our Being and “there” matter to us. It is not just that we happen to be in a world, a “there”. Rather, our “there” is so essential to us that we would be nothing at all without it, like a pawn taken away from the chessboard. Conversely, our “there” would be nothing without us, as a chessboard would be meaningless without the chess pieces. Or, for instance, the world of Greece of antiquity could not be what it was without the ancient Greeks; conversely, the ancient Greeks could not be who they were without that world. Our world, our “there”, is the context in terms of which we understand ourselves, and within which we become who we are. We are the “there” of Being. In other words, we are the site that Being requires in order (literally) to take place. Without Being-there (i.e., humans), other entities could continue to be, but there would be no one to define them and relate to them as entities. Their Being would have no meaning at all.

Apparently, what it means to exist for an entity such as a mountain is very different from what it means to exist as a human. Mountains and humans have different ways of Being there. It is not just any activity that characterizes humans, but a way of Being. Our sort of Being, our mode of existing, is what marks us out. Our way of existing is qualitatively different from the way in which a mountain exists. As we go on living, we build our individual identities and define ourselves. It matters to us who we are. A mountain, in contrast, simply is what it is. It cannot have identity crisis, because it does not need to determine its own existence. We are uniquely conscious of the world in which we exist. Therefore, Heidegger reserves the term “existence” for us—for our special way of Being, a way of Being in which our own Being is an issue for us. Unlike rocks, we are not frozen in a present moment and position—we essentially reach out from ourselves. We “exist” (from Latin ex-sistere, “to stand forth”) and “project” (from Latin pro-iacere, “to throw forward”) ourselves from a past heritage into a present world toward future possibilities.

Heidegger insists that we will never understand human beings (“Dasein” or “Being-there”) adequately if we treat them as things. His thoughts on Being are quite alarming in the present age, when we almost exclusively define our Being by our appearances, jobs, how much money we make, and things that we own.

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