Understanding Heidegger II Part Three - Fritz the Cat

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Understanding Heidegger
Second Approximation  -  Part three

Rene Descartes formulated the method by which science was born.  By now hardly needing explication, in the days of astrology and alchemy science was as a strange as a new religion.  In putting nature on the rack to make it confess its secrets, the imperfectly known science was metaphorically compared to the method those with power used to extract information from those unfortunates suspected of withholding useful information.  Just as confessions extracted under torture are often of dubious value, so science, driven perhaps by carrots rather than sticks, inevitably makes a Procrustean bed of the data its theory requires.

Descartes envisioned consciousness as a stage on which an object was observed by a little man or "homunculus" who judged which of various concepts available best corresponded to the object under investigation.  If the object was represented by the correct concept, truth resulted.  The concept in the mind was a representation of the object in the world.  Not bad as a first start perhaps, but someone eventually asked how the little man made judgments.  Perhaps behind the problems encountered by the "truth as representation" or "truth as correspondence" paradigm lies the Greek metaphor of consciousness as seeing, as in "I see what you mean" or "I see what you are saying", or any of the other ways the "vision thing" is imposed on consciousness.  

As Nietzsche put it "truth is a mobile army of metonym and metaphor, it is a lie that we have forgotten that it is a lie".  Fair enough.  But if there is no truth then there is no lie, rending the fabric of words, the tension of sameness and difference that post modernism sees as the safety net over the abyss of nihilism, the fate of those who can find nothing to believe in.  Looked at from a different angle, is it really possible for a rational, logical mind to find any correspondence with a nature that is not created by a benevolent god but evolved in a war of all against all for a limited supply of nutrients, i.e. a logic with survival as a first principle?

Man has either obviously, or apparently, or potentially created a world in his own image, a Procrustean world cut to fit our felt needs.  Back to the old question "what is the truth"?  Heidegger, following Hegel, refused to accept the standard translations and interpretations of the Greek philosophy and science that is one of the legs of the three legged stool that Western civilization rests on.  Going back to the pre Socratic philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides, Heidegger found that for them truth was an "uncovering" of the attributes of an object.

So how does this "uncovering" of the attributes of an object differ from the scientific method?  For one thing there is no analysis, no division into parts.  Beings must be judged as a whole.  The Greek word that is usually translated as "chaos" might better be, and probably originally was understood as "cleavage".  Recall that the first thing the Hebrew god did was to divide chaos into heaven and earth.  Was this a mistake?

Another distinction Heidegger pointed out was beings´ cooperation with Dasein, their mutuality in the conversion of the earth into world, which Heidegger called "worlding".  Earth is nature, world is civilization.  In the same way that Being prefers to hide, beings prefer to show themselves.  Does then Heidegger posit some kind of consciousness to beings, to the myriad entities of nature that face us?  He would hardly be the first.

Heidegger posits two kinds of knowledge, ontic, which is knowledge of beings, and ontological, which is knowledge of being, Heidegger´s primary distinction.  So then ontology would be the logos, the logic of being, while ontic would be the knowledge of things.  But could this merely be the problem Kant decided he had solved by distinguishing between the attributes of a thing, which are knowable by man, and the thing in itself, which is not?  Or a renaming of the distinction between primary and secondary substances (in the sense of essence) with which one of the later German Idealists proved (to his own satisfaction at least) that there was no "thing in itself"?

Presumably Heidegger´s understanding of this problem is connected to or derived from the decision he made in his habilitation thesis on "Psychologism in the Doctrine of Duns Scotus", in which Heidegger rejected psychologism, the doctrine that all belief systems are derived from, or due to the structure of the mind.  As I recall, Duns Scotus championed the materialist side in the materialist-idealist debate against William of Occam.  Did they distinguish between mind and brain in those middle age days?  Is the distinction that has been made in our computer age relating the mind-brain distinction to the software-hardware distinction valid?

German Idealism was the attempt to save nature from materialism and criticism from skepticism.  That is, German Idealism wanted to have nature, in all its beauty and wonder, and eat it too, that is, to break it into its constituent parts, digest it, analyze it, put it on the scientific rack and make it reveal its secrets, without turning it into the shit of materialism, the idea that dasien (the standard German word for existence) was nothing but a mechanical process, the metaphor that man was nothing but a clockwork that attained currency shortly after the invention of the clock, and the more recent metaphor as man as computer.  

As far as saving criticism from skepticism; the idea that science and rationality, newly crowned by the Enlightenment as first principle, could exist without eating their father, the revealed god of Abraham, as Zeus had Chronos, and by digesting it turn it into the shit of atheism, i.e. demote man, understood for millennia as the pinnacle of god´s created world, to the position of just a clever ape.  How would Joe Sixpack relate to this new dogma, should it gain traction?

Recall that early Greek philosophy was a quest for a first principle that didn´t lead, through logical or rational analysis, to a paradox or an absurdity, like a stationary arrow in flight.  A paradox can be something that goes against common belief, say the earth revolving around the sun.  Recall that Socrates died for rationality, that Galileo only suffered house arrest, while Nietzsche was able to blurt out rationalism´s logical conclusio0n, "God is dead", and only suffer ostracism (some would add insanity).  So atheism seems to gain gradual acceptance.

So what I am inclined to say, God has been used as a hammer to beat the little guy into shape for time out of mind, for use by the clever people to mold the not so clever.  And without this hammer, without this mold?  One less thing to fight about would be one answer.  But do we really dare throw away the primary lever of social control?  If we do, what will replace it, for it seems man must have a myth, someone to beg for mercy, and shove his problems off onto?  Was not the myth of the state as all powerful tested and found wanting in WW2, at the cost of some 60 million lives?  And does not capitalism, the god of the market, also have feet of clay, seemingly leading logically to the paradox of obesity alongside starvation?  Does the logic of survival leave us any alternative to "progress at all cost, and the devil take the hindmost"?
All prophets seem to be long on promise and short on detail, Heidegger among them.  Marx promised freedom from want if you just got rid of the capitalists, and Hitler if you just got rid of the Jews.  Heidegger promises us a "new beginning" if we just get rid of conceptual thought.  At least that is something we can work on without bloodshed.

This will indeed be a different kind of revolution, if I understand things right, for instead of killing Jews or capitalists, or whoever it is who has what we want, the task is to kill that part of the mind that the theorists have elevated to the all-powerful, unquestioned throne, to kill the sanctity of the rational mind.  (Stephen Daedalus, in the Night Town episode of James Joyce´s Ulysses, refusing to be baited into a fight with His Majesty´s soldiers, taps his head:  "it is here that I must kill the king and the priest".

Is this the task of Western civilization, to kill the god of rationality?  And how does one kill an all-powerful god?  It is certain that Heidegger detested technology (the logic of making things), and wanted to return to a simpler time, but is this not rather common as we age, the sense that things are moving too fast, and are out of control?  Should we perhaps be examining Heidegger´s later writing for signs of senility?  How to differentiate senility from madness, and that from genius?  Too many questions and not enough answers.  Perhaps it is time to lay down the pen and go back to the books, to prepare for a third approximation.  But first I think I can tidy up a few loose ends.

One of Heidegger´s key words is "temporalize".  "Temporality temporalizes", the existence in time brings things into time.  Wresting things from the eternity that is theory, and recognizing their appearance in the "now", in the "blink-of-an-eye", in the moment of vision.  The moment of vision, not as enlightenment, but as the moment of seeing, what we do every moment we have our eyes open, as good a definition of "now" as you might find.  Every moment just happens, it catches us by surprise, more or less.  True, we have spent a lifetime preparing for this moment, and as we get older, nothing catches us by surprise any more.  Unfortunately, for in demystifying life, (work of the rational mind) we lose the wonder and awe that as primitive Greeks and children set us off on this great adventure in the first place.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he said "unless you become as children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven", the kingdom of heaven that surrounds us, at every moment of vision.

Related to "temporalizing" is "enowning".  The word "ereignis" was translated in Being and Time as event, but the translators of Contributions to Philosophy chose to finish that title, "von ereignis" as "from enowning" rather than "from the event".  To "enown" means to "make one´s own".  In the sense that temporalizing brings things out of eternity and into the now, enowning brings them out of the hands of the gods and places them where they belong, in your hands and mine.  Enowning is the owning up to our responsibility for the creation and-or destruction of our world.  We are grown up now, no more pushing our problems off onto the gods.

By temporalizing and enowning we leap out of being and into be-ing.  The later Heidegger began using and archaic spelling of "sein", "syen", which his translator´s first rendered as "beyng", and then "be-ing".  The distinction Heidegger wished to establish was between the metaphysical being and the non-metaphysical be-ing, that is, between a god created, traditional being, and the self-created being that Heidegger and Zen Buddhism insist we have always been.  Become what you are.

We touched earlier on Renzai Zen and the earlier Heidegger´s insistence on resoluteness in the face of the ego´s resistance to transformation, versus the later Heidegger and Soto Zen´s acceptance and "letting it be" to cultivate the conditions for an event that either would or would not happen.  We touched on Heidegger´s rational argument against rationality.  Earlier mystics had seen "will" or "desire" as the facet of the mind to be overthrown.  Their problem was how to will will-less-ness, or to desire desire-less-ness.

The same sort of problem faced Heidegger; how do you unseat rationality, which has been at the unquestioned pinnacle of man-made reality, at least for the European elite, for the past two centuries, and the power behind the throne for the past two millennia?  How do you free yourself from the mind forged manacle, when the mind itself is the manacle?  As mentioned earlier, one faces more than just the appearance of madness.

I feel myself very near the end of this second approximation.  I have run out of answers and have only questions left.  All doorways out of my argument open onto the unknown:  ethics, romanticism, Zen Buddhism, Heidegger himself.  I will postulate that the rational mind will not be killed but will, like all myths, wither away, till someday someone will say "the rational mind is dead" and be met only with indifference.  The old gods died when humans stopped worshipping them.  Is the rational mind a myth of this nature?     

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