For Heidegger (1954/1977), the essence of technology is nothing technological. Moreover, technology is neither an instrument of humankind’s construction or an enterprise under human control. Heidegger asserted that technology’s essence is a revealing that challenges. In our age, the presencing of Being has persuaded humankind to interpret beings as a function of their usefulness to us. Heidegger dubbed this presencing the Enframing. In the Enframing all inner-worldly entities, as well as humans, become resources at our disposal (standing-reserve).
The Enframing is a destining of Being, a mode of revealing and in its sway nothing appears in its essential character. It veils its truth as a presencing of Being by appearing as though it is a product of human making. We become convinced that the only mode of disclosing the world is through quantitative calculation. We develop reserves of resources on call for technological purposes and amass supplies to be used at will. There is danger in the Enframing. Heidegger says:
As soon as what is unconcealed no longer concerns man even as object, but exclusively as standing-reserve, and man in the midst of objectivelessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. (p, 27)
Dasein (human existence or literally ‘there being’) forgets that it is claimed and thus mistakes itself as lord and master over all things. Humanity’s essence, our attending to the world as an open realm wherein Being presences, is covered over in the Enframing of technology. Heidegger asserts that once humankind is set upon this course of disclosure, the world becomes an unworld in which humanity engages in a “circularity of consumption for the sake of consumption” (as cited in Sipiora, 1991, p. 241). The essence of the human kind of being becomes homeless and alienated through our abandoning of Being and our disclosure of the world via quantitative technological rationality. Sipiora writes, “The very nature of human dwelling is being re-created in the alien image of technology. The result is the alienation of the everdayness of being-in-the-world” (p. 242).
In its homelessness, humanity seeks escape into the alien by becoming increasingly fascinated with the newest and most fantastic ready-made experience and devices. Heidegger also noted that along with our fascination with the fantastic comes grave boredom. This boredom (das Unheimische) is the uncanny grip of technology that prompts our flight into the unfamiliar and fascinating realms of technology thus alienating us from ourselves. This boredom is so profound that we become numb to our desires, interests, and concerns. Amidst this dullness we take further flight into the newest in hope of finding relief. Despite our attempts, this boredom cannot be shaken and so we continue further in our pursuit of stimulating experiences.
Caught in a whirlpool of production and consumption, everydayness becomes evermore tedious, boring, and meaningless. In boredom, phenomena appear to the individual only in so far as things and people are reveled as undifferentiated and equally meaningless. Nothing can engage a person ensnared in such world-weariness. This is not to say that nothing appears to the individual. Whatever does appear to the deeply bored person instantaneously withdraws, becoming yet another phenomenon that is of little concern. In this experience, one is not expectant of what is to come, has no sense of being supported by the past, and thus experiences the ennui of the present. Time itself is attacked and manically replaced with the ever-new products and topics of industry and technology. Heidegger (1954/1968) calls this devastation “the high-velocity expulsion of Mnemosyne” (p. 30). This stands in contrast to understanding time as transitory, the past emerging into the present awaiting the future. Rather than letting time be time, it becomes replaced with the static yet ever-changing image of youthful en vogue trends. Not only does this image not let time be time, it is death evasive.
Heidegger turns to the ancient Greeks and he seeks a mytho-poetic imagining of the world. Myth, for Heidegger, for the ancient Greeks was the telling word:
For the Greeks, to tell is to lay bare and let appear—both the appearance and what has its essence in the appearance, its epiphany. Mythos is what has its essence in its telling—what appears in the unconcealment of its appeal. The mythos is that appeal of foremost and radical concern to all human beings which lets man think of what appears, what unfolds. (p. 374)
Heidegger (1975) expresses concern that “Thought has scarcely touched upon the essence of the mythical” (p. 94). To understand how Heidegger approaches the mythic, it is important to understand his thinking concerning Dasein in our technological age.
Heidegger maintained that Dasein’s entangled flight into being as everyone is represents a flight from its own uncanniness. Dasein’s canniness lies in Dasein’s throwness into being the kind of being that has death as its ownmost potentiality. Our self-forgetful lostness in the they, our normality in the Cartesian age, has led to the denial of the world, in the form of injurious neglect. Humanity’s essence, tending to the world as humankind’s open realm, is destroyed in the spirit of technology.
Hospitality towards the mystery of Being becomes latent when humankind takes itself as the master of technology. In the Enframing, the world becomes the world of Cartesianism, an unworld in which Dasein engages in a tautology of consumption for the sake of consumption. In the Enframing the world becomes a vast resource for our consumption. When we disclose beings as resources, we mis-take ourselves as being in complete control. Absorbed in average everdayness, the call and claim of the other is drowned out.
In contrast to the unworld, which is driven by production and consumption, Heidegger offers the ontological, poetic image of the world as Fourfold Heidegger frequently crossed out the word Sein (Being) to demonstrate that it is neither a metaphysical idea nor a physical thing. Moreover, Heidegger crossed out Sein not only to recognize its place in the neither-nor space but to show that the four points indicate the quadrants of the Fourfold: heavens, divinities, earth, and mortals. The sky is the openness in which things may rise into unconcealment, the ineffable heavens wherein the divinities show their faces. The divinities are the physiognomies of the world and are encounterable in their claiming empowerment of humanity. They are messengers of the godhead, the wholly other. The earth is the mystery from which things emerge, and in its proffering of things to mortal, the earth withdraws into mystery. Humans dwell upon the earth as mortals not because they die but because they are capable of taking death as death that is, their not-to-be-surpassed possibility. The regions of the Fourfold are united in a simple oneness, a mirroring of each other’s uniqueness. In the unworld the earth is exploited as a resource, the heaven are taken as a vast quantifiable expanse, mortals take themselves as lords and masters of the universe and, unwittingly, become resources themselves. Following the poet Holderlin, Heidegger noted that in the Enframing the divinities have departed and have left so long ago that they are not even remembered. Rather, the divinities are remembered by their absence. The gods are not dead; they simply have withdrawn and cannot be immediately encountered. Their presence can be described as self-withholding.
Boss (1994) says, “today, people [are] horribly depressed by the meaninglessness and tedium of their lives. Suffering as they do, these people often try to drown out their desperation through addiction to work, pleasure, or drugs” (pp. 222-223). Boss attributes the rise in crime and addiction to the growing damage of “the human soul by the apotheosized spirit of technology” (p. 283). All behavior is grounded in humankind’s fundamental nature, in its being-in-the-world and its being together with others in a shared world. Van den Berg (1983) suggests that the name neurosis is no longer an appropriate label to describe the disturbed human relations of our technological age. Van den Berg points out that Freud took the neurotic symptom as psychological, he continued to believe that all neuroses could be traced back to physiological causes (p. 188). Placing neurosis in the realms of the individual and the anatomical ignores the underlying sociological character is illness. Moreover, van den Berg states, “No one is neurotic unless made neurotic by society. In a neurosis is an individual’s reaction to the conflicting and complicating demands made by society” (p. 187). In contemporary everydayness, all human relationships have been leveled down to the function and the pragmatic thus granting only one intelligibility. The result is that everything qualitative is taken as the same and all change is believed to be quantitative. For van den Berg neurosis is worldly and society provides the possibility of producing psychologically ill people. Moreover, in today’s society the individual does not know where the right path is and there is no guide. While the normal individual manages to stand on his own two feet, to have his shit together, the neurotic breaks down and suffers the illness of technological culture. Society has fallen into a state of norm-lessness and anomy brought about by secularization. We live scattered in the world and we can no longer recognize ourselves. “As a result of this condition, society fails to ‘regulate’ the individual, it does not keep him in his place; the groups to which he belongs are falling apart” (p. 161).
Today, we have a plurality of selves. We possess a self for every group we belong to. Though we all suffer from this, the neurotic is unable to maintain a unified identity in various contexts. Van den Berg suggests that pathogenic factors in mental illness are communicative rather than biological in nature. No one factor is solely concerned with the individual. It is only because society is ill that something like individual neurosis is possible. Van den Berg believes that it is more appropriate to speak of sociosis than neurosis (pp. 187-188). Our relationships are the pre-conditions of sociosis. Anomy results in our living in multiple-equal contexts that have little or no relation to one another. This multitude of functional contexts cannot be quantitatively ordered so we lead a divided existence in a complex society. With multiplicity the distance between others and us increase resulting in alienation, loneliness, and fear. Those who can cope with these factors suffer the least.
It is nonsensical to say that a person constructs individually the dynamics of his or her psychopathology ex nihilio. “A discerning conversation with any typical…member of society shows that they all suffer—whether they consider themselves healthy or disturbed—the fate of the times.” Boss (1994) continues:
It eats at them that this fate of theirs pressures them to regard everything in the world…as nothing but interchangeable parts of a planetary machine. They know that components exist only to be meshed into production apparatuses which must yield more energy and more goods … and that the particular kind and particular meaning of the product is a matter of diminishing significance. (p. 286)
The fate that emerges in taking up the world in this manner is one where humanity exacts ultimate control over all things as useful commodities, the human being included.
Romanyshyn (1989) describes the cultural vision in our modern technological society where the self is taken as a spectator, the world as a spectacle, and the body as a specimen. Congruent with Boss’ discussion of the fate of our age, Romanyshyn asserts that in taking the body as specimen, we have come to believe that is a machine whose parts are all interchangeable. Since all of our parts are replaceable, there will come a time when we will be immortal—machines do not die. The body is taken as incidental, not essential, to who we are as humans. Romanyshyn describes this body of replaceable and interchangeable components as the astronomic body: “It is a body turned inside out, re-dressed in terms of technical functions on the way to being discarded” (italics in the original) (p. 18). Romanyshyn further notes that the two hallmark characteristics of our age are the ability to leave earth and the ability to annihilate it with nuclear weapons. The flames of nuclear holocaust are the symptomatic aspects of the fires of departure. “Wedded in this fashion, departure takes on the character of psychological necessity. On an earth wired for destruction, space flight becomes a means of escape” (p. 23). The possibility of nuclear war was technically achieved and now this potentiality cannot easily be covered over. Caputo (1987) says that things are under threat “even if the bomb is not dropped, endangered in their essence … namely, as the raw material of technical power. Things are put upon man because man is himself put upon by the way technology comes to presence … as Enframing” (p. 232). We mis-take ourselves as the creators’ of technology, forgetting that technology is a calling of Being.
What are some possible ways out of our self-destructive lostness in the contemporary technological world? Boss says that we must leap from our everyday technological stance towards the world into the letting-be worldview. He says that whoever succeeds in taking this leap will witness the scission between what most people accept as reality and the rich meaning and significance phenomena hold, hidden though they may be. Those ruled by the spirit of technology mistake reality as that which is quantifiable. In the phenomenological view of the world we can remember that humanity is its world-spanning openness. It is because humanity is its world-openness that we can do justice to those things presencing in the light of our being. For Heidegger meditative thinking is the greatest action we can take to shelter our humanity from the shadow of technology. Releasement towards the things themselves and openness to the mystery of Being are the constituents of meditative thinking. Releasement towards things is recognition of the necessity of technology and an affirmation of our dependence upon it. The first step is admitting we have a problem. However, it is also a releasement of entities from our quantitative disclosure of them as resources and an acknowledgment of them as a clear realm wherein Being presences. To be open to the mystery of Being is to remember that technology conceals itself as a tool under human control. The mystery is “the meaning which lays claim to the world and our being in it and yet is withheld in the disclosure and use of beings as standing-reserve” (Sipiora, 1991, p. 244). Interestingly, Heidegger suggests that boredom may free us from the calculative disclosure of technology. In boredom lies the possibility of becoming indifferent to the ordering of technology and the opportunity of finding the meaning latent in the Enframing.
In addition to the boredom inherent in the alienation of everydayness (das Unheimische) Heidegger (1954/1977) poses the uncanniness of Being, which manifests in our technological uncovering of the world, that he calls das Unheimliche. In this uncanniness lies the potency of Being that is both disguised and active in the Enframing. By cultivating openness to the mystery, we may recognize that the call of our homeland is addressed in our boredom as a summoning of Being. Boredom is a symptom of our self-destructive society but it is also a sheltering and a remembrance of the way back home. Perhaps one could even say that sociosis is homesickness. Romanyshyn (1989) says that a symptom as “a way of forgetting something is also a way of preserving or remembering it. Symptoms are a memory of … this way home, this way back to what has been forgotten” (p. 13). Similar to Heidegger, Romanyshyn would like to re-collect the awe-ful power of technology: “Technology is awe-ful. And what fills us with awe, invites us to wonder and dream” (italics in the original) (p. 2). Another similarity to Heidegger can be found in Romanyshyn’s insistence that technology is not a tool at humanity’s disposal but “earth’s call to become its agent and instrument of awakening” (p. 3).
Heidegger asserts that since the essence of technology is nothing technological, another revealing of beings into unconcealment is possible. Heidegger questions whether the mode of unconcealing that takes place in art can save humanity from the Enframing. The saving power (poesis), hidden in the Enframing, appears as that which can restore humankind to its appropriate role on earth namely, as the shepherd of Being. Reflection upon and confrontation with technology has to take place in a realm that is both akin to and different from it. Heidegger is clear that nothing will be possible without true thinking. Although placing less of an emphasis upon thinking, Romanyshyn too believes that art can be a way of remembering home. In our technological-cultural dream of departing earth and our bodies, art (especially impressionism) grants a manner of seeing free from the geometric, quantitative, vision. It is clear that this linear perspective vision (Romanyshyn, 1989), one-track thinking (Heidegger, 1954/1968), the objective look (R. D. Laing, 1982) are of paramount concern. In contrast, Romanyshyn describes an “eye … in touch with the world, a vision that has been impressed and moved by the world” (p. 221). In discussing poetic thinking, the thinking attuned to what is most fitting to humanity’s essence, Caputo says, “It achieves a relationship with the world which is more … primordial than reason; it is in touch with things long before the demand for reason arises … and is so deeply tuned to things that the need for reason never arises” (p. 224).
Existential-phenomenological psychology’s critique of our modern technological world does not call us to return to a pre-technological state of existence nor does it view technology as something evil. Rather, it seeks to reawaken our awareness of our participation with the world and to evoke responsibility in cultural reality. Perhaps we can cultivate an awareness of our shared world such that we can have both quantitative rationality and openness to the mystery of Being. In addition, maybe we can take the leap Boss speak so where things and others shine forth from their own meaningfulness.
It seems we continue to lose sight of ourselves as we are carried farther away in the undertow of the Enframing. We have become so convinced that we control technology itself that we find ourselves farther and farther adrift from any notion of what is most appropriate to our existence. Through cultivation of meditative thinking the repressed facets of human nature may be allowed a space wherein they can show themselves from themselves. Heidegger’s Fourfold phenomenological seeing brings forth a specific quality of the image: its world disclosive character. This is demonstrated in a section of Heidegger’s The Origin of the Work of Art (1936/1993) where he describes a Greek temple.
It simply stands there in the middle of the rock-cleft valley. The building encloses the figure of a god, and in this concealment lets it stand out into the hold precinct through the open portico. It is the temple-work that first fits together and at the same time gathers around itself the unity of those paths and relations in which birth and death, disaster and blessing … acquire the shape of destiny for human being. (p. 168)
Such seeing affords humility and releases humanity from its addictive, self-destructive need to penetratingly understand, predict, and control all it encounters. This way of knowing and being in the world is so difficult, so alien. That nature can only be known through the language of mathematics (Galileo), that we should strive to be masters and possessors of nature (DeCartes), that the aim of science is to put Mother Nature on the rack and torture from her her secrets (Bacon), delimits our possibilities of relating to the natural world and each other.
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Caputo, J. (1987). Radical hermeneutics: Repetition, deconstruction and the hermeneutic project. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Heidegger, M. (1968). What is called thinking. (J. Gray, Trans.). New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1954)
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Heidegger, M. (1993). The origin of the work of art. In D. Krell (Ed.), Basic writings. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. (Original work published 1936)
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Van den Berg, J. H. (1983). The changing nature of man: Introduction to a historical psychology. New York: Norton.