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On #Heidegger and Technology

posted Dec 21, 2013, 3:06 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

On Heidegger and Technology

By Peter Joseph Moons

            The essence of technology is that something leverages something else.  This first ‘something’ is a raw material or a finished product, which is harnessed, combined, or otherwise transformed to create something else.  Martin Heidegger realized the substance of technology with his idea that its inherent quality is power, the Standing Reserve.  Thus, there is a metaphysical sense to technology, which describes not just objects; as well with technology, there is the idea of good and evil.  Heidegger knew that some technology was good and some not, but that man was the ultimate arbiter[1] of the difference.


         Heidegger is ultimately concerned not solely about technology, but about the effects technology can have, its Standing Reserve.[2]  These effects, as he saw them could very well be negative in their outcome.  For this reason, Heidegger provides a precise warning: “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.”[3]  Of course, nature holds the key to the power of technology.  What is very interesting is the nexus between the three elements: The technology, nature, and man.  Is there a possibility that instead of man holding the key to technology, perhaps technology holds its own solution?  Heidegger would call this an absurdity, since man is the impetus in the development of the technology, its design, and usage.


            Man, then, is at the top of the pyramid for these three elements.  Heidegger again acknowledges the power that man holds here for he says, "everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner.”[4]  However, Heidegger goes on to say that man’s hubris may actually blind him to the reality that he cannot control technology.  When “man exalts himself to the posture of lord of the earth,” he is engaging in a mere “illusion.”[5] In fact, man is further deluded because he “can never encounter only himself.”[6]  Heidegger evidently saw man’s hubris as contributing to his own downfall.


This is where Enframing comes in, for Enframing is a mode of Revealing where the real reveals itself and turns nature into Standing Reserve, which is not natural.  Heidegger sees the essence of technology as not natural and as a threat to man, for Enframing could happen to man, as well.  Enframing may deny man the ability to “experience the call of a more primal truth.”[7]  Maybe man enables this denial of truth in some way because of his essence.  If, in the modern technological age, or in the era of advanced artificial intelligence or the Singularity or noosphere (or any other alternative future), man becomes Standing Reserve, then will technology be equal to, if not greater than, man?  At such a point, man may not have the ability -- the “mastery,” as Heidegger noted[8] -- to control technology or even himself. 


Therefore, Heidegger may be proven more right now than ever previously, as the danger of the Standing Reserve becomes ever clearer.  Though there is hope: man may also be the key to his own salvation for he can discover the truth or even its “safekeeping.”[9]  The “saving power,”[10] he says, is art: the “poetical,” “the beautiful,”[11] in addition to the “fine arts.”[12] This “higher essence,” Heidegger claims, is the “realm” in which man should challenge technology.[13]  Although, this “confrontation” is not a battle in as much a project of “questioning” and “reflection.”[14]


In his own contemplation on technology and its dangerous transformation into Standing Reserve, Heidegger voices concern over the existential threat to man.  For man is both the arbiter of technology and the one affected by its harnessed power.  In his closing, Heidegger offers hope that man can see the potential for a course correction before the damning inevitably that can come from modern technology.  That hope, Heidegger proclaims, emanates from the “poetic revealing”[15] that exists in art.


[1] Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) 5.

[2] Ibid., 24

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 27.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 33.

[10] Ibid., 34.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 35.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.