Notes for Michael Heim "Heidegger and McLuhan: The Computer as Component"

Key concepts: cybersage.

Cybersage declaration for addressing metaphysical sphinx of computer technology, seen through Derrida as iteration of pharmakon analysis of writing.

Related theorists: Dreyfus, Freud, Heidegger, McLuhan.

Old summary: Cybersage, guide :preservation & enhancement; Drefus; Gestell is metaphysical sphinx, decades later think against Derrida pharmakon; computer and mind/brain opposition, A.I.D. & (..), philosophy hitherto, despairing of its lack of insight into the keys to immortality (ever since it gave up [notions like] Socrates' naive hopefulness), abjects those meditations concerning life extension--hence creating the sciences, which live outside/beyond human lifetimes--and focuses on "enhancement" within the scope of what is left as possible, as the unspoken shroud of that which preserves: getting published, being popular. Right into the axiomatics of capitalism. The science of obtaining that for which one aims.

Nostalgic image of Heidegger, whose textual studies are now conducted via computerized analyses, now joined by new media unimaginable to Heim despite the fact that he proclaimed himself the philosopher of virtual reality in the 1990s following his earlier interest in what he called electric language.

Cybersage declaration for addressing metaphysical sphinx of computer technology epitomizing all-enframing Gestell, seen through Derrida as iteration of pharmakon analysis of writing.

Heim foresees need to approach philosophy with updated tools and techniques, contrasting his predigital image of Heidegger with full encounter with technology; Licklider and other forerunners fantasized about possible mutually beneficial future human relationships with technology. Edwards poses threshold of acceptance similar constantly being adjusted as technologies evolve, that which equips souls on their journey through a particular technological era.

Heidegger Gestell explained.

(304-305) Heidegger the thinker is Heidegger the scholar; and the scholar searches ancient texts for clues about the history of Being. . . . This image of Heidegger feeds on nostalgia. . . . The Schreibstube is giving way to the computer workstation, and scholarship requires a cybersage. . . . Heidegger speculated an all-enframing Gestell [technological system], ominous and threatening, but an abstraction looming like a metaphysical sphinx, terrorizing thought with a puzzling lack of specificity. Now here was computer text concretely manifesting that abstraction. . . . Heidegger was now on computer. The question of technology had become the question of how to go about studying Heidegger.
(306)
Just what were the specific dangers of computers? At that time, the main philosophical answer to this question was what I call the computer as opponent.

Dreyfus sees computer as apotheosis of metaphysics.

(307) This line of inquiry goes only a short distance in exploring the existential questions raised by the conjunction of Heidegger and computers. . . . in What Computers Can't Do, Dreyfus explained his philosophical point [he lost the public chess match], namely, that he was concerned not with generic predictions but with the underlying comparison that hastily identifies intelligence with formal patterns or algorithms. . . . Dreyfus sees in the computer, in the claims of AI researchers, the apotheosis of metaphysics. (Much recent AI research is turning away from the priority of formal algorithms and looks to "fuzzy logics".). . . He saw the computer only as opponent. Yet the opposition of computer and mind/brain remains, as Heidegger would say, ontic rather than ontological.
(308) Very different from the computer as opponent is the computer as component. The computer has become an ingredient in human knowing. Even the research and development at major corporations is now moving away from artificial intelligence research, where the computer functions separately, to research on the human/computer symbiosis, including information environments which augment human bodily perception and create "virtual realities." . . . As Heidegger might put it, What is the meaning of this intimate connection of Being with computers? When he pondered technology as our destiny, Heidegger seemed to have had something in mind more intimidating than an external challenge to our dignity as human beings. What Heidegger saw was something even more sinister than a revolt of the machines.

Essence of technology enters inmost recesses of human existence.

(309) What Heidegger called "the essence of technology" infiltrates human existence more intimately than anything humans could create. The danger of technology lies in the transformation of the human being by which human actions and aspirations are fundamentally distorted. Not that machines can run amok, nor even that we might misunderstand ourselves through a faulty comparison with machines. Instead, technology enters the inmost recesses of human existence, transforming the way we know and think and will. Technology is, in essence, a mode of human existence, and we could not appreciate its mental infiltration until the computer became a major cultural phenomenon.

Language machine from Heidegger in introduction to Wegmarken, an essay on Hebel, foreboding management of human being.

(310) The language machine regulates and adjusts in advance the mode of our possible usage of language through mechanical energies and functions. The language machine is--and above all, is still becoming--one way in which modern technology controls the mode and the world of language as such. Meanwhile, the impression is still maintained that man is the master of the language machine. But the truth of the matter might well be that the language machine takes language into its management, and thus masters the essence of the human being. . . . The "language machine" was Heidegger's groping term for the incipient phenomenon of word processing.

not to mention HTML!, speech recognition, ASCII. Quotes from Heidegger's Parmenidies.

Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity.

(310) Not by chance does modern man write "with" the typewriter and "dictate"--the same word as "to invent creatively" [Dichten]--"into" the machine. . . . Mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity in the realm of the written word and degrades the word to a mere means for the traffic of communication.

<<951026.18:08.20>> mechanized writing deprives the hand of dignity.

Word processor guides hand in non-mechanical processes with trade offs including impersonality and undreamt flexibility. So Heim walked right into this trap, perhaps because his word processor does not sport such advanced features as automatic correction of commonly misspelled words, or at least some kind of feature that alarms me immediately, and thus ensuring (there's that word again) that I quickly correct the problem, which hence only presences for a moment, during which I most likely blink!

(311) Unlike the typewriter, the word processor guides the hand into a non-mechanical process. . . .The information environment allows gestures to work in ways that leave behind the industrial machine with its cumbersome but efficient mediation of human energy and attention. The electronic element shifts the quality of action to another level. The formulation of ideas on a word processor can establish impersonality while achieving a directness and flexibility undreamt of with the typewriter.

All language use affected by computer in affecting written communication.

(312) And if the computer affects all written communication, will it not in turn affect the way we regard and use language in general--not only when we sit at the word processor, but, by after-effect, whenever we speak and listen, perhaps even whenever we think. . . . At our fingertips is the calculating machine dreamt of by Pascal and Leibniz, the fathers of modern metaphysics, but now this calculator operates on our language as we spontaneously produce it. . . . Niether Luddite nor technophobe, Heidegger resisted every attempt to categorize his views as either optimistic or pessimistic. Whether the glass was half-empty or half-full, Heidegger was interested in the substance of its contents. He was a soft determinist, accepting destiny while studying the different ways of absorbing its impact. In this respect, he resembled the Canadian philosopher of communications, Marshall McLuhan.
(313) Each believed he was interpreting a destiny the next generation would receive, and each believed that the legacy of his reflections on technology was far more important than his own personal value judgments about technology. . . . Behind the visible entities of the world McLuhan glimpsed a hidden backdrop. . . . For Heidegger, likewise, the question of technology was not an ontic one, not one about the proliferation of devices nor even about the possible supremacy of the machine over human beings. His ontological question touches the world, the clearing or backdrop against which things appear.

Quotes a letter by McLuhan to John Culkin about Heidegger (Sept 1964).

Studies by Ong and Havelock provide concrete material for distinguishing epochs in Heidegger history of being.

Must see limits of standardization to respond to growing wasteland; loss of playful process of discovery: see Himanen on hacker ethic.

(316) The alphabet and kindred gimmicks have long served man as a subliminal source of philosophical and religious assumptions. Certainly MH would seem to be on better ground [than Kant was in assuming Euclidian space to be an a priori] in using the totality of language itself as philosophical datum. . . . There is nothing good or bad about print but the unconsciousness of the effect of any force is a disaster, especially a force that we have made ourselves. . . . The studies by Ong and Eric Havelock (Preface to Plato) provide concrete material for distinguishing different historical epochs by their characteristic ways of symbolizing, storing, and transmitting truths. The patterns of psychic transformation they trace dovetail nicely with Heidegger's history of being. . . . Once the truth of being becomes equated with the light of unchanging intelligibility, the nature of truth shifts to the ability of statements to reliably reflect or refer to entities. . . . All is light and form. Nothing hides behind the truth of beings. But this "nothing" finally makes an appearance after the whole world has become a rigid grid of standardized forms and shapes conceived and engineered by humans. As the wasteland grows, we see the devastation of our fully explicit truths. We see there is, must be, more. The hidden extra cannot be consciously produced. Only by seeing the limits of standardization can we begin to respond to it. We have to realize that each advance in typifying and standardizing things also implies a trade-off. . . . The loss is especially devastating to those living in the technological world, for here they enjoy everything conveniently at their disposal--everything, that is, except the playful process of discovery itself.

Ong second orality.

(316) For Ong, the shift from a predominantly oral culture to a literate culture shattered the original tribal unity. In bringing about greater individualism and fostering the logical faculties, literacy cut into the psychic roots of belonging and severed the attachment to immediate interpersonal presence. The print culture even further reinforced literacy, spreading it ever more widely, lifting individualism to unprecedented heights. Then, in Hegelian fashion, Ong sees the electronic media sublating the earlier oppositions, the oral and the literate, so that electronics achieves an encompassing synthesis.

Universal hypertext; changing in thought process to calling up what is known and arranging, as if not also done using notecards.

(317) In essence, all texts make up a universal hypertext. Digital text is thus quintessentially postmodern in destabilizing and making text flexible. There are no more originals. Magnetic informations makes local manifestations but makes no physical source text. The commentary and responses to texts tend to gain the same footing as the author's text, similar to the Japanese tanka poems which originate with a group of writers. . . . The procedures of composition change too. Calculative thinking gradually edges out contemplative thinking as the habits shaped by book culture give way to habits formed at the computer screen. The user calls up what is known, connects it with other pieces of information, and then rearranges the results to suit a specific purpose.

Computer tempo tips contemplation toward calculation.

(318) The computer tempo tips contemplation toward calculation. On the surface, our productivity speeds up, while underneath we remain bound by human limits. We need to develop significant contexts over a period of time that allows for the gestating and formulating of thoughts. For humans, significant language depends on the felt integration of our own limited experience. We are biologically finite in what we can attend to meaningfully. When we pay attention to the significance of something, we cannot proceed at the computer's breakneck pace. We have to ponder, reflect, contemplate.

The Danger includes computer tempo tipping contemplation toward calculation; changing procedures of composition gains and losses; universal hypertext looms and promises, danger and saving power (Thomson).

(318) Computer texts spread infomania and produce information maniacs. This is neither all good nor all bad. It is our destiny. Each epoch has its love affair, its grand passion, an enthusiasm that gives it distinction. . . . Lovers, inventors, and artists are maniacs. So are computer enthusiasts. . . . But infomania can erode our capacity for significance. With a mindset fixed on information, the attention span shortens. We collect fragments. We become mentally poorer in overall meaning. We get into the habit of clinging to knowledge bits and lose a feel for the wisdom behind knowledge. There is a law of diminishing returns: the more information accessed, the less significance is possible.

Heim focuses on the danger focuses upon the scattered thinking encouraged by cutting and pasting, hypertext links, and hypomnemonics in general that erode the carefully considered BF ideal. It is important to add, too, the hazards to self and others in rapid, often unproofread publishing--not just on account of mistakes and ambiguities, but also the disclosure of communications. Original label 970108.0715.

Passing through here thinking instead (removing old hyperling from WordPerfect days) whatwhat mechanized writing deprives the hand and its owner from the perspective of psycho-analysis: the notice, if not the significance, of mistakes in writing. For not only will most typing errors be very accidental, just the slip of one finger where it should not have been but of whose orientation all but the career typist know automatically anyway, etc. and subsequently effaced without a trace by the spelling checker, but also (and this is where Heidegger can join Freud), what becomes of the interpretation [rahter than the analysis!] of the text, when the proximity of letters on the keyboard interferes with the method Freud teaches us for interpreting slips, errors, and dreams? Here is an example, in fact the very one that brought my attention to this matter (and without which, as careless as it may be in its mimesis of what is meant by "slips, errors and dreams", we may never have had the pleasure of encountering this topic), which I discovered I had made in my notes on Freuds General Introduction: "if the ego is not in agreement with regressions, conflict ensu[r]es" . . . Now the path of perversion branches off sharply from that of neurosis. If these regressions do not call forth a prohibition on the part of the ego, no neurosis results; the libido succeeds in obtaining a real, although not a normal satisfaction. But if the ego, which controls not merely consciousness but also the approaches to motor innervation and hence the realization in actuality of mental impulses, is not in agreement with these regressions, conflict ensues [discovered October 26, 1995 I had at first typed "ensures" so maybe I was thinking "ensues" and that it assuredly will]. The libido is blocked, as it were, and must seek an escape by which it can find an outlet for its cathexis (charge of energy) in conformity with the demands of the pleasure-principle; it must elude, eschew the ego. (314) Original label <<951026.18:08.20>>.

Now I know that this passage constituted at least one thought to me when I was typing it in, or it should have, given the method I have adopted for entering text verbatim from the paper productions that I read. I had underlined or highlighted "motor innervation" and "cathexis". They surely play some role in this mystery, which is why I typed "ensures" instead of "ensues". I think I must have wanted to emphasize the imminence of the conflict, that you can be sure of it when the libido is blocked. Perhaps I was thinking about the fact that, at the time of the typing, I was not fucking any beautiful woman. Hence we move right into the matter of perversion, repression, and the unnamed third to complete this Freudian triad, sublimation. Just what Zizek says (and was fresh in my mind in Boston where I may have either read this or typed in the notes) about the phenomenological field in his impromptu (and hence hopefully more akin to free association than his speech) utterance at the conference in Ann Arbor, on the first day. He says "everything [my emphasis] must be interpreted.." But what I'm saying is that, and Heidegger would share in my despair, what there is at all to interpret in the present, particular case, apart from our broader comments upon the condition of computing, what kind this person uses, etc., is being levelled, diminished, pigeonholed into discreet regions. Some annihilated automatically (and hence not of the being). The hand loses some of its dignity, and consequently so does its owner, Dasein. [it is not clear where "example" ends; remember that confusion Callen had in WIP? concerning what would be either a mistake in the typesetting of our English translation, or indeed had been intentional..] Additionally, we remember Freud himself said "mistakes seem to have replaced omens" and other forms of ancient divination. [If mistakes have replaced omens, what is the status of the trans-average-divine-madness-manifestations of Socrates?] Mistakes as phenomena, among the being, far from whatever Heidegger meant by authentic divination..

This drives me mad (floundering about my H-N work). I do not understand eternal return, and I know it; I have not read Being and Time, either. Both seem indispensable if I am to truly meditate upon the thoughts that Nietzsche and Heidegger had while composing their works. Instead, I am attempting the very sort of patchwork (motely) construction that Heim points to as the danger inherent in computer-aided scholarship. Unlike the cyberpunks, however, I cannot do this in the bad faith that is required. bUT of course at a certain limit you reach the boundary over which the second law of thermodynamics would not allow the inscription/calculation of TSE phasors. This, in text, usually passes far beyond the realm of signification and only appears in the errors in the text. Having not shot beyond our aim, we return to earth (physis-level). Original label <<950815.13:42.27>>.

Mistakes, which only point to something else, and have no value by themselves due to their contradictory nature, are perfect examples of representations or representedness as a mode of thinking, and in fact this is once more what we mean by computing. Original label <<990606.17:31.16>>.


Heim, Michael (). "The Computer as Component: Heidegger and McLuhan."

HEIM, M. "The Computer As Component, Heidegger And Mcluhan." Philosophy And Literature 16.2 (n.d.): 304-319. Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.