Banality of concern

December 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

Do obtuse formulations add much to an assertion? It is not uncommon to hear from supporters of such practice that, the difficulty the reader faces in getting through, forces a pause in the flow of thought, thereby affording a chance for novel truths to be glimpsed.

Lets take the following passage from Heidegger, (by no means one of his worst) in which the ontological characteristics of the surrounding world are investigated.One such characteristic is apparency (Vorschein):

We are beginning to get a clearer idea of what was indicated by apparency: what concerned being-in-the-world ordinarily dwells upon are not discrete, occurring things, but rather significations [Verweisungen] – the ´from here – to there´ within the context of concerned ´in order to´.

Therefore it is in these significations that the original ontological structure of the encountered world lies. These significations are the way in which the encounter with the world shows itself.

Significations (something is useful for, of importance to, produced from) are a ´signifying about´in the sense that what the signification is about, ´the signified´[Be-deutete], is itself to be found in the signifying. This signifying signification is originally directed at concerned engagement with the world [besorgenden Umgang].

The influence of Jakob von Uexküll on Heidegger is known, which helps in interpreting the above incoherent mess as an attempt to draw from Uexküll’s concept of an umwelt composed of biosemiotic carriers of significance. A tick’s umwelt for instance can be seen as made up of the following:

(1) The odor of butyric acid, which emanates from the sebaceous follicles of all mammals, (2) The temperature of 37 degrees celsius (corresponding to the blood of all mammals), (3) The hairy topography of mammals

The significations to which Heidegger refers and which constitute the apparency of the encountered world for humans, must then be analogs of the above listed items.

My mind raced to juxtapose against all this, a recent formulation by Daniel Dennett, from a talk he gave in Royal Institute where he explored steps towards a unified theory of information:

..Information not as representation but as a difference in the world that can be exploited by natural selection to create a difference in lineage.

Now besides its concise aspect in comparison with the obscene Heideggerese, individual agency is erased in the formulation, even the exploitation is discerned/considered on a systemic scale.  So a concerned engagement [besorgenden Umgang] need not essentially be viewed in and from that narrative mode (i.e human dasein‘s), the exploitation of differences or significations [Verweisungen], is attributed to natural selection.

What is apparent to dasein or a specie are the differences in the world which it has evolved to detect ´in order to´ …???  Nothing is specified in Heidegger, beyond the statement that a fundamental aspect of being in the world is encountering a landscape of significations, whose significance is rooted in our care or concern for ??? ..

for  what

??? … for what it may

The evolutionary viewpoint while not necessarily reducing all concerned engagement to the goal of creating a difference in lineage, sees it as primary. All other concern are higher order phenoma.

To the best of my understanding Heidegger’s concerned engagement [besorgenden Umgang] is just a tendency unspecified, …it can become engaged in anything, …whilst a distinction is there between an authentic vs inauthentic being-in-the-world [In-der-Welt-sein].

In the authentic being-in-the-world one’s own most potentiality of being [das eigenste Seinkönnen] is discovered via being-toward-death [Sein-zum-Tode], while the the rest of the herd remain immersed in average everydayness [Alltäglichkeit].

There is a mystified assertion of freedom in Heidegger which made me recall the following line from a recent talk by Raymond Tallis:

To have woken up to evolutionary process is in some sense to have woken out of it

But its a bit too simple, as none of this awakening seems capable of reversing macro trends such as the so called MacCready effect which Dennett quotes as follows:

According to calculations by Paul MacCready, at the dawn of human agriculture 10,000 years ago, the worldwide human population plus their livestock and pets was ~0.1% of the terrestrial vertebrate biomass. Today, he calculates, it is 98%! (Most of that is cattle.)

But can positing a concern/care such as one encounters in Heidegger serve as a thinking tool? Let us consider the following few instances of its use in Der Begriff der Zeit (an early work presented as the first draft of being and time) :

  • When anxious about something one is not oriented towards the object of concern but towards the concern itself (P54)
  • In its coming, death is entirely indeterminate, albeit certain. Concern covers up this indeterminacy with what it still intends to do. (P41)
  • Being ahead of itself, concern has placed something in the realm of care (P52)
  • Because the being-together that has passed away is already embedded unobtrusively in contemporary interpretedness, it is possible for concern to uncover it as that which has been.(P77)

But what is revealed by this reification of concern?

… let us replace for the word concern in the instances above respectively, “intensional state of the organism”, “fear”, “rage” & “curiosity”:

  • When anxious about something one is not oriented towards the object of concern but towards the intensional state of the organism itself
  • In its coming, death is entirely indeterminate, albeit certain. Fear covers up this indeterminacy with what it still intends to do.
  • Being ahead of itself, rage has placed something in the realm of care
  • Because the being-together that has passed away is already embedded unobtrusively in contemporary interpretedness, it is possible for curiosity to uncover it as that which has been.

These sentences make some sense on their own, which correlates a little with that of the original. But such ease of substitution should apply to any term whose usage is extended beyond what it commonly denotes. Since the content of a concept diminishes as its extension increases, one is left with concept of “concern/care” which vanishes by such standing for a multitude of states and affects.

 

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