Technology and Truth: An Imaginary Dialogue with Martin Heidegger – Dialogues with Philosophers In COVID-19 Times” by Saurabh Todariya
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Despite all conquest of distances the nearness of things remains far- Heidegger COVID 19 and lockdown has almost stopped the outdoor recreation activities as social distancing needs to be adhered to. Instead smartphones and online activities have become the source of entertainment. People are watching the various movies, Youtube channels , amazon series for entertainment. The upsurge in web meetings, Whatsapp chat, online activities have almost obliterated the difference between lived time and virtual time. In fact, virtual is becoming the source of happiness, belongingness and expression. On the other hand, critics say that virtual has ushered us into the era of simulations where we don’t have any access to Truth. Therefore, virtual life will gradually destroy the social fabric and other ‘forms of life.

The nature of technology is elusive. It has been always hailed as the “ground-breaking” by its inventors. But with every new technology, old technology becomes obsolete and forgotten. However, there is a difference between the modern technology and the postmodern technologies of our time. The modern technologies can be called as the hard technology and they were usually mammoth, ugly and overwhelming. The big boilers, machines and power-plants in industries had never appealed to the poetic hearts . Also, the logic of capitalism and labour-time inherent in modern technology gave rise to what Marx calls Alienation. The plight of humans because of modern technology has been poignantly portrayed by Charlie Chaplin in the movie “Modern Times”.

On the other hand, soft technologies of the postmodern times proved luring rather than alienating. Here, humans willingly spend a lot of time with Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube etc. They don’t usually tire and  people remain hooked to it. Sometimes the magical world of virtuality seems to be more real than the actual. As the quality of experiences in virtual time has been enriching day by day therefore, there is every possibility that virtual time would spill over the lived time.

Does it show that the existential involvement with something makes it a more valuable experience? Otherwise time is experienced just as a flow which is passing by. Only those moments which affect us deeply become the lived experience. It does not matter whether they arise in lived time or through fiction, mythology or in virtual space. Perhaps that’s why the mythological time is experienced as more real than the historical time. The interface between virtual time and lived time made me think about the problem of technology.

All these questions made me think about the philosopher who thought about technology, Martin Heidegger. Hence I decided to walk towards the philosopher’s hut in black forest.

Me-Hello.

Heidegger- Guten Morgen!

Me-I was just thinking about the technology and wondering how it has changed the way we relate to the world.

H- Yes, technology has fundamentally changed the way we relate to the world.

Me- Fundamentally?

H- Yes. But in order to understand this point, we must understand the essence of technology.

Me- What is the essence of technology ?

H- Essence of technology is not technological!

Me- What does it mean? It sounds like a tautology.

H- Well, generally technology has been understood in instrumental terms, in means to end relationships. This understanding of technology is basically anthropological. It believes that technology exists ‘for the sake of’ humans and it is the means to realise the desired ends of humans.

Me- Then what it is?

H- Technology is basically Gestell, enframing. It enframes the world. Just as one cannot see a picture without using the frame. Only through a framework we are able to see and understand something in a perspective. Similarly technology enables us to see things in a particular manner.

Me- And what is that?

H- See modern technology is different from the technology of the olden times which were in harmony with nature. The windmill is a classic example of the old technology. It needs wind to turn its sails. But it does not unlock energy from the wind. It just goes along the play of things as they are. Or, placing a bridge across a river does not do violence to the river, but rather it allows the river to be what it is. These kinds of technology reveal the world. However, modern technology has changed this relation into the ‘Standing-reserve.’ In coal production what is aimed at is to extract the energy stored in to generate the heat, which in turn is meant to generate steam out of water, with which the wheels of some machines can be turned for some other purposes. Here the violence is done to the thing and they are manipulated. This is the characteristic of modern technology.

Me- Can you further explain the notion of ‘Standing reserve’?

H- See enframing nature of technology has totally changed the way we perceive the world. Earlier we used to consider nature as the source of wonder, mystery and silence. Now nature has become the “natural resource”. The rivers which were the source of poetry have now become the resource for producing hydropower. This I call the Standing reserve which is the hallmark of modern technology. This total subjugation by man, naturally abetted by technology, leaves no room for other things to be on their own. Everything is there to be exploited to serve the needs of the human subject. This machinational perspective of beings as merely makeable and exchangeable objects is nothing short of nihilism, where man is made the ground of everything amidst a negation of all transcendent grounds and values. Technology therefore replaces every transcendent value with its power.

Me- This is indeed an extremely bleak scenario.

H- As great German poet Holderlin said, “But where the danger is, saving power also grows.” Technology or techne is primarily poiesis which means to ‘bring forth’. The essence of Technology is to bring forth the things which remain hidden previously. As such, its nature resembles Truth. In Greek Truth is called Alethia. Truth brings the things from concealment to unconcealment. Technology too is the mode of revealing. It cannot be thought through the instrumental relationship.

Me- Then what is the danger lurking in ‘modern technology’?

H- The greatest danger in technology is that it threatens the essence of man. Man’s nature lies in having an open relationship with Being. However, technology objectifies everything into a particular mode. Humans become human resources, nature becomes a natural resource.  We cannot see the other possibilities of nature. Modern technology forecloses the other possibilities of Being.

This is the greatest danger of technology.

Me- I understand the point. Technology is basically encouraging the technological mindset. We think that everything can be managed and organised in the instrumental way. Earlier in India, we had the culture of pilgrimages in which people used to travel far distances to visit the holy places. And what they used to see the lifeworld of that particular place. But now many such places are offering the online darshans and visits where you see the places devoid of the lifeworld.

H- Correct. This I have referred to as calculative thinking. Technology is the manifestation of the calculative thinking which defines the modern age of ours. Everything is now being measured and calculated so that it can be represented objectively.

Me- You are right. As a matter of fact, people calculate the worth of any post, pic or video in Facebook or Youtube on the basis of the ‘likes’ it gets. But what is the way out of it?

H- Well, there is no way out as such. If you think that return to the pre-industrial, idyllic rural life is the answer then you are mistaken. We must have a free relationship with technology.

Me- Free relation to technology?

H- Yes. Until we realise the essence of technology there is no way out of the calculative thinking. Essence of technology is not technological. It is not the instrumental relationship which defines technology. Its essence is to bring forth the things from concealment to un- concealment.

Me- How would it help?

H- Well if we comprehend that the attraction towards technology is due to the promise of unconcealment it has. As such, it is not different from the Truth which has to be understood in terms of Alethia and not as the property of the proposition. Generally we understand Truth as the property of the proposition. If an affirmation corresponds to the state of affairs then the proposition becomes true otherwise false. But Greeks thought of Truth in different terms which I have discussed earlier. They used to call it Alethia, unconcealment. Humans have the essential relationship with the Truth. Man too wants to unconceal the Truth hence it struggles with everything. If we realise our essence through pondering on the nature of technology then we stop to think of it in instrumental relationships.

Me- Interesting!

H- In my lecture Origin of the Work of Art I have said that art is the site where Truth happens. The essence of the work is the strife between earth and world: What thus happens in the strife: the inauguration of the open in the struggle between the unconcealed and the concealed, the coming-out of hiding and deception – this self-contained event is the happening of what we call truth.

The earth is that which is properly produced in the making of  a work of art such as sound in music, the word in literature or colour in the visual arts. However, we must not reduce the earth to such concepts as matter or the sensuous since it is the opaque aspect of beings which resists our conceptual grasp. In opposition to the earth, the world is that which is opened by the work of art. Earth and the world then describe two different dimensions of intelligibility: the opaque, that which resists interpretation (concealment), and the world as “revealing” or the transparent aspect of entities. Art as “the becoming and happening of truth” is then the disclosure in which earth is brought to the open of the world in the strife instigated by the work, that is, in the tensional relationship that is established between what is already there and the elusive aspect of the receding earth.

Heidegger’s musings on the essence of technology gave me a fresh and totally different way to approach technology. Technology is challenging the essence of humans as it is making calculative rationality as the primary mode of his existence. However, there is still the hope to escape the danger of technology if we realise that even technology is the mode of Truth as unconcealment. Given the opacity in modern technology’s essence, the other part of Heidegger’s solution is what he calls the openness to mystery. The “mystery” is defined by Heidegger as that which shows itself at the same time as it conceals itself, the openness to mystery is the way in which we maintain meditative or self-reflexive thought alive by staying in the realm of truth as unconcealment. Thus, thought as openness to mystery and art grant us the possibility of dwelling in the world in a totally different way. They promise us a new ground and foundation upon which we can stand and endure in the world of technology without being imperiled by it. The lost rooting that Heidegger denounces is not simply the subordination of meditative thinking to calculative thought: the hegemony of modern technology brings about the shortening of all distances in space and time, the erasing of all localisms as a result of globalization. However, Heidegger recognizes this irreversible aspect of the profound changes in humanity’s relation to nature and the world and exhorts us to think so that we can build a “home” in the technical world.

Disclaimer: The opinions endorsed by the speaker is solely the author’s and not in any way endorsed by the Institute/Programme.