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Friday, April 1, 2011

Technology - by Thomas Cummins
In Martin Heidegger's essays 'The Question Concening Technology' and 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking,' the author explicates his concerns on the imposing dangers of technology. During the Industrial Revolution, around 1830, technology came to mean scientific thought as applied to manufacturing. But Heidegger insists that this recent correlation of technology with physics is merely historiological and that the definition of technology needs to be considered more closely. Technology is a form of revealing (aletheia) and originally comes from the Greek word Techne which "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiesis; it is something poetic." Yet, this is obviously not the case today and "modern technology does not unfold into a bringing-forth in the sense of poiesis" but instead challenges nature and sets itself upon it. Modern technology discloses, but in a way that obliterates poiesis. Heidegger notes how coal "is being stored; that is, it is on call, ready to deliver the sun's warmth that is stored in it." On the other hand, Heidegger does not have problems with the windmill as an energy source because it is ultimately subject to the whims of the wind and the subsequent energy is not merely stashed away, forever on beckoning call. This new phenomenona, where something exists silently only to be ordered further is what Heidegger calls standing-reserve (Bestand) and it is unique because it is something more than just mere stock in a way that "standing-reserve no longer stands over against us as object." As Hegel has told us previously, "What is known, because it is known, is unknown." When something is at your complete disposal, it tends to lose its specialness and it is taken for granted in a way that it is not recognized for what it really is. Heidegger notes that the mighty Rhine river is no longer a respected force of nature but is now just a hydroelectric power plant and "an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry." 
Heidegger introduces a special name for this process and calls "ordering the self-revealing as standing-reserve: Ge-stell (enframing.)" Enframing is a word Hiedegger says he is hesitant to use because it has been unknown until now but it has become necessary to describe "the way of revealing that holds sway in the essence of modern technology and that is itself nothing technological." It is important to understand that Heidegger does not reject technology, on the contrary, he feels it is a fundamental as well as a necessary part of the human condition. Heidegger is wary, on the other hand, how modern technology lends itself so easily to enslaving the environment into a mindless order where "the object disappears into the objectlessness of standing-reserve."

The artificial world of technology does not allow one to see the world as it really is. Even though it might look and taste the same, people are naturally wary of genetically-modified food as a substitution for the 'real thing.' Furthermore, when you think about it, a lion on display at the circus is not really a lion but is, instead, a caged animal travelling around the world being fed to do tricks. A lion, in reality, is an animal in Africa which hunts down it own prey. When the lion is put into a cage to be observed at moments notice, it becomes another animal all together. Society is only slowly starting to realize how its need for order only props up a make-believe world. Eventually, order always shows itself as a form of madness.

Heidegger is afraid man is the next animal to be captured by enframing and warns how "he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve." In the desire to control everything, we can never control this very insatiable desire. Even any attempt to stop this desire is, alas, just another whim of desire or as Nietszche writes "The will to overcome an emotion is ultimately only the will of another, or of several other, emotions." Heidegger notes "Meanwhile, man, precisely as the one so threatened will, exalts himself and postures as lord of the earth." Ironically, the reverse is true and we are the ones who are the possessions of our possessions. Even in the very beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, Marx recognized how labourers became merely appendages to the machines they were assigned to. Eventually, one could say we become robots, in a sense, never questioning our existence. Kafka profoundly observed "Man is caught in continuous cycles." - Art tries to break these cycles while the repetitive nature of modern technology simply perpetuates them.

Heidegger does find hope when he writes "destining is never a fate that compels. For man becomes truly free only insofar as he belongs to the realm of destining and so becomes one who listens, though not someone who simply obeys." Heidegger borrows the term 'saving power' from a poem by Holderlin and cites the passage - "But where danger is, grows The saving power also." Heidegger sees enframing as a danger and questions "might not an adequate look into what enframing is, as a destining of revealing, bring the upsurgence of the saving power into appearance?" According to this logic, poiesis might still be concealed within technological disposing because disposing still remains a type of disclosure. "To save is to fetch something home into its essence" and, accordingly, poiesis is what remains there as a 'saving power.' If technology is inevitable, then Heidegger suggests the only recourse is that "the essence of technology must harbor in itself the growth of the 'saving power.'" and optimistically "The closer we come to the danger, the more brightly do the ways into the saving power begin to shine and the more questioning we become."

What exactly is the danger? The worst imaginable form of danger must have been realized in World War II with the advent of the Atomic bomb and the horrors of the Holocaust. T. W. Ardono, however, tells us poetry is impossible after the Holocaust. By this, Ardono must have meant that such excessive things like art are impossible to enjoy in such grave circumstances as those found in modern times. But Heidegger would argue the opposite - in the face of the emminent danger of systematic violence, we need now, more than ever, poetic art as the only way to come to terms with this irrational order and as our last hope to show us a new path. In 'The Poet,' Emerson described this complex relationship between art and technology when he wrote "What if you come near to it, - you are as remote, when you are nearest, as when you are farthest. Every thought is also a prison; every heaven is also a prison. Therefore we love the poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether in an ode, or in an action, or in looks and behaviour, has yielded us a new thought. He unlocks our chains and admits us to a new scene."

Most ironic of all is that science has 'proven' many of Heidegger's insights correct. Niels Bohr tells us that, much like Heidegger's Being, it is not practical to think of the microscopic level of atoms, protons, and electrons as objects or things. Also, Einstein's notorious surprise was when Gamow told him that Pascaul Jordan discovered a star could be made of nothing because at the point of zero volume its negative gravitational would precisely cancel out its positive mass-energy. In Heidegger's thinking, this actually sounds a lot like how a being can come into the clearing. This idea, that the negativity of gravity precisely cancels out the mass-energy (E=mcc) in a lump of matter (or the universe,) is still mind-boggling to physicists today. Indeed, Gamow writes "Einstein stopped in his tracks and, since we were crossing the street, several cars had to stop to avoid running us down." Another philosopher-scientist, Karl Popper, attacked the ultimate futility of science when he harshly points out "Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and... in time, corrected" and "all we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory." Indeed, Einstein agreed with this final assessment and concluded, himself, that "Only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumalation of facts." Daring speculation happens to be the primary realm of the artist.

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