Tuesday, June 11, 2019

(9) Daniel O. Dahlstrom: Genuine Timeliness, from Heidegger’s Concept of Truth


Daniel O. Dahlstrom: Genuine Timeliness, from Heidegger’s Concept of Truth

I thought Dahlstrom gave an interesting sense to our being-toward-death when he writes:

“The original phenomenon of the future thus consists in someone holding out the possibility of her death, allowing this potential that is most her own to come to her.  In effect, she comes to be or becomes existentially who she already is becoming existentially.  What does it mean to allow this direst of possibilities to come to us?  It means not running away from death.  An inkling of what is meant can be gathered from the commonplace observation at funerals that death puts everything into perspective, as we see it coming, inevitably, to us.  Inasmuch as a person allows herself – her genuine manner of being-here- to come to her in this way, she anticipates it.  Heidegger accordingly calls this genuine future “anticipating” or, more literally, “running ahead” (Vorlaufen: SZ, 336),  This anticipating (“a more original way of being toward death than a concerned expectation of it”) is only possible because being-here is “always already coming to itself,” something that cannot be said for what is merely handy or on hand (SZ 325) (Dahlstrom, Genuine Timeliness, 157).”

Dahlstrom doesn’t give this example, but we project ourselves into a future that is not simply given in experience, such as when I reach for a glass “as though” my hand will accomplish reaching the glass, “as though” the next moment won’t be denied me – even though it very well might be.  We experience important events (death being the most important event) as though they are coming to us out of the future, such as when I say Christmas is coming - is here - has passed away.  This anticipatory “running ahead” allows for our genuine relationship to death. 

Regarding how timeliness brings sense to our Dasein, Dahlstom comments by way of what he sees as a somewhat applicable analogy that: “

As far as talk of “sense”: as a horizon is concerned, it is only natural to think of the following pairs: foreground/background, figure/ground, or melody/accompaniment.  These examples are instructive but also misleading (and no less instructive because they are misleading).  In certain respects it hardly seems possible for us to direct our attention only at the foreground of a picture; without a ground against which a picture cuts a profile, the figure would never be apparent.  So too musical accompaniments seem to fade out, thereby allowing the melody to stand out all the more.  In corresponding fashion, genuine timeliness does not merely constitute respective ways in which to be-here is to stand out or ex-ist and thus disclose (namely, “running-ahead” or “anticipating,” “retrieving,” or “repeating” and “involvement in the moment”).  Genuine timeliness also includes the horizon for these timely constitutions of existence, though the horizon is different in each case. (160-161)

An example from Derrida can perhaps be instructive here.  Derrida comments that:

“The living Present is, he [Husserl] says, the absolute, absolutely universal and unconditional form of experience, the ultimate, irreducible and fundamental form of all evidence and of all meaning.  And we must first understand the [apparent] ‘philosophical invulnerability’ of this Husserlian affirmation Why [apparently] invulnerable?  Well it is evident, it is self-evidence itself that any experience is only ever lived in the ‘present’ and that everything of experience that comes about, everything that appears in it, presents itself in it, as meaning or as self evidence, is present.  We have the absolute certainty that however far back in time we go, in our own time or in that of humanity or in time in general, no experience has been possible that was not had in the present.  And we know ‘a priori’ – and if there was only one thing in the world we did not need to learn it is this one – however distantly we anticipate the future, we know ‘a priori’ that in millions of years, if there is an experience, a thought in general (human or not, divine or not, animal or not), it will be in the present, as we are in the present now … [The] living present is more fundamental than the ‘I’… An assertion that is perhaps trivial but irrecusable: we never leave the Present… [T]he Living Present is a tautological expression in which in any case one cannot tell a subject from a predicate … This Philosophy of the Living Present does not mean all temporal difference or modifications are erased in the present, [but rather past is past-present, and future is future-present]” (Derrida, Heidegger and the Question of Being and History, 210)

For instance, Dahlstrom doesn’t give this example, but in the judgment “The Dog is White,” the judgment is understood as inherently disputable, and so implies the being-on-hand of the dog for our Dasein that we appeal to in order to resolve the dispute (if someone objects that the dog is in fact brown, for instance, we resolve the dispute by appealing to the dog ‘at hand right now,’ since this is the ‘really real’).  For more on Heidegger and the judgment, see my post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-logic-of-heideggers-kant-pointing.html Our being with entities in the Now depends on enpresenting, gegenwartigen:  There is the (1) presencing of the entity in combination with my (2) enpresenting of it, because if I am not present with the being (such as when I am having a conversation with a person and my mind wanders), the bare “thatness” of the entity for me disappears. 

Dahlstorm comments that

In this way Heidegger introduces the transcendental dimension of analysis of timeliness.  “Resting on the horizonal unity of ecstatic timeliness, the world is transcendent” (SZ 366).  For example, precisely in the “moment” that springs from genuinely coming-to-ourselves, we bring ourselves, being-here, face-to face with our respective situations.  On the basis of genuine timeliness, we encounter others, what is handy, and what is on hand.  Regarded in this way.  Regarded in this way, genuine timeliness is the condition of the possibility of genuine being-in-the-world, encompassing the worldliness of the work-world, being-with-others, and being oneself and thereby allowing for an authentic encounter with intraworldly entities (163)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Philosophical Psychopathology

(A) Background 1

Last time with my post on Dreyfus, I said:

There is a guilt, that is not a having done something wrong, but rather an ontological structure of all humans.  Debt is an indebtedness to cultural norms we find ourselves thrown into (Dasein’s sense of its thrownness), without being able to make explicit and justify them.  The master experiences anxiety at the fact that cultural norms are simply being accepted in an ungrounded manner.  I think a sort of analogous thing can be seen in a pathological sense with someone with severe OCD who, out of anxiety born out of uncertainty, has to alleviate the anxiety by checking the stove to make sure it is off numerous times before they leave the house.  A normal person with only mild anxiety some times may go back to check the stove once before leaving on a big trip.  Pathology and “normalcy” exist on a continuum, and hence what we see in sick people simply represents a more exaggerated form of what everyone experiences.  
I have found in my studies that so called "Abnormal Psychology" such as severe anxiety driven OCD or profound boredom/depression neuroses are not best looked at by psychologists as  strict sick/normal separation as though it was a difference of kind, but rather psychologists today understand it to be a difference of degree: a continuum.  Pathological illness such as severe OCD and Boredom/Depression neuroses are philosophically interesting because they can act as a kind of exemplar, coaxing the silently hidden nature of "normal life" to the surface (physis kryptesthai philei: a-letheia).  

For example, in the Zollikon Seminar Heidegger/Boss point out that:

"Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again ... They no longer see meaning in their life and ... they have become intolerably bored (Zollikon Seminars, 160.)."

Heidegger was making a similar point decades before in the lecture course on "The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World; Solitude; Finitude" when he wrote:

 "[wjith open eyes [boredom] looks into our existence (albeit from a distance), and with this gaze already penetrates us and attunes us through and through ... [It is an] insidious creature that maintains its monstrous essence in our Dasein. (Heidegger, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 79)"

I think that by focusing on the centrality of boredom, Heidegger is not simply fascinated by a pathology that is existentially unrelated to normal life, but rather is pointing to something underlying our modern frenetic jumping from thing to thing to thing.  This underlying boredom structure can be coaxed to the surface when we are separated from stimulus and novelty with such things as the agitation coaxed to the surface in cabin fever, or the fidgeting that is produced when a child is made to sit in a corner, facing the wall in Time Out.  Or consider what happens to people when they forget their smart phones at home and have to "endure" the day without the smart phone as a distraction: Smart Phone Addiction.  Heidegger doesn't characterize it in this way, but I think what he means is something like addiction withdrawal symptoms are produced when our being-addicted to novelty is suddenly faced with a disruption in the satiety.

As with any addiction, we need to acknowledge it, and deal with it head on.  In the section I quoted above from the Zollikon seminar, Heidegger continues to say that

Heidegger: ... To be absorbed by something ... [means] 'to be totally preoccupied by something , as for instance, when one says: He is entirely engrossed in his subject matter. Then he exists authentically as who he is, that is, in his task ... Da-sein means being absorbed in that toward which I comport myself... To be absorbed in beholding the palm tree in front of our window is letting the palm tree come to presence, its swaying in the wind, is absorption of my being-in-the world and of my comportment in the palm tree. (Z, 160-161)  
Learn to focus and slow down.  Make turning off the TV and Laptop a regular occurrence in your daily routine (some TV is fine, of course).  Read more (not too much though).  Discover what you are passionate about.  Leave the iPOD music behind and go for regular walks by the local waterfront where you can take in nature and perhaps even lose yourself in the moment.  Addiction to novelty is all about degree, just like everything else, and finding balance is what will win you the day.  As Nietzsche wisely said in a letter to Overbeck, before "cabin fever" was even a real term,

"terrible rain the last several days, everyone's suffering cabin fever [sehr ungeduldig] - that is the way it is in this isolated place.  Only I don't share it since I am busy thinking about and finishing my new work [the third Untimely Meditation].  Engaged in that, one lives in a different place where one doesn't have anything to do with rain any more." KGB 11.3 382 
(B) Background 2

Derrida saw that given the Husserl/Heidegger example I talked of in a previous post, Husserl’s “certainty” and “self evidence” of the living present as fundamental is not “merely self-evident,” but certainty is grounded in “obviousness,” which is a psychological state.  Descartes too reached such illusory self-evidence.  We have all been wrong about things we thought were obvious.  

Derrida points out that, as Heidegger showed, the interpretation of Truth as “certainty, free from doubt” was an historical accident.  Following Thomas and realized in Luther, ‘Truth’ was re-envisioned as certainty free from doubt, a model Descartes took over.  For Luther, what had to be certain, in the sense of free from doubt, was the salvation of the soul.  Didier Franck provides a useful summary of the genesis of modernism (the transition of verum into certum): “No doubt, Descartes transferred to the cogito what Saint Thomas, who placed certainty of faith above that of knowledge, attributed to divine science alone.”   Further, Descartes took as his model Luther’s characterization of certainty as freedom from doubt, which left Descartes with the cogito as certain, at least as far as he could tell; that is, free from doubt.  Descartes appropriated the model of truth as certainty in the sense of freedom from doubt, and Modernism/Cartesianism effected reducing the Being of beings to ultimately be something calculable.  This gave rise to the Enlightenment, an analytic attack aimed at disclosing beings in their being from the point of view of what is calculable about them.  Modernism strove for that which we can be assured about.

What does this have to do with anxiety/OCD?  If one's approach to the world is trust, self-understanding and reliance on the certainty of established norms, etc. that you have been thrown into, then as Deyfus pointed out there is always some degree of anxiety because, as I pointed out in an earlier post with Dreyfus's analysis, there is no ultimate authoritative grounding of the norms you are thrown into.  

You can, for example, believe in and work toward the American dream, but what happens if this leaves you wanting?  OCD /Anxiety is very prevalent in the modern age because, for example, OCD is born out of anxiety resulting from a lack of certainty.  One patient I am familiar with had a terrible time with E-mails because he would have to keep going back and checking his E-mail account to make sure he hadn't sent inappropriate E-mails to his employer, even though he had not had any intention of sending such E-mails.  Another patient I know of went through a breakdown where there was a Cartesian-like, but systematic and involuntary, experience of doubting that reduced to him even to doubting he was who he thought he was, and so ended up staring in the bathroom mirror anxiously looking back and forth between himself and the mirror and his driver's license, trying to gain assurance that he was who he thought he was. As I previously said, anxiety as OCD is simply a more extreme form of the anxiousness that underlies normal, everyday modern life.

(C) Background 3

 Anxiety can certainly show up when one feels out of place in a context, such as when a child is walking up to her first day at school in a new town.  Similarly, anxiety can cause a context to lose its meaning, such as when the "for shopping" of the department store disappears in the anxiety of the shopper who has just looked around and realizes she doesn't know where her child is.

"Awkwardness" or being out of place does well to show anxiety underlying certain situations.  Consider a young adult who is a social butterfly with her friends, but at boy/girl parties becomes awkward and out of place, trying to fake fitting in by passing the time examining a plant.  Similarly, consider someone who interacts well in groups, but is uncomfortable one on one, at a loss for what to say and so copes by asking endless questions.

Our sense of certainty from expertly navigating situations protects us like a security blanket from debilitating anxiety, even if we don't always realize it. I pointed out in previous posts that pathological anxiety based OCD can reveal the anxiety that underlies normal situations as an exemplar, because pathology is a difference of degree from normalcy, not kind. 

Consider when the security of a sense of certainty disappears: I knew an OCD patient who was going to go on a driving business trip, and before the trip was going over in his mind all the things that could go wrong.  When he got in the car, he discovered that he had lost his sense of certainty about how to position his car between the lanes while driving.  This veteran driver had a terribly anxious trip, constantly worried he was going to hit someone in the other lane.  When he got to his destination four hours away, he seriously considered having his car towed back home (but didn't) .

Anxiety can be a serious factor in situations that are deemed particularly important, like the boxer waiting to go to the ring for a prize fight.

(D) Reflection: BOREDOM and ANXIETY and The Lived Context

I've been talking about how emotional pathology, such as severe anxiety in OCD, and Boredom/Depression neuroses point to the presence of anxiety and boredom underlying everyday life.  Regarding (i) boredom, I said:

I think that by focusing on the centrality of boredom, Heidegger is not simply fascinated by a pathology that is existentially unrelated to normal life, but rather is pointing to something underlying our modern frenetic jumping from thing to thing to thing.  This underlying boredom structure can be coaxed to the surface when we are separated from stimulus and novelty with such things as the agitation coaxed to the surface in cabin fever, or the fidgeting that is produced when a child is made to sit in a corner, facing the wall in Time Out.  Or consider what happens to people when they forget their smart phones at home and have to "endure" the day without the smart phone as a distraction: Smart Phone Addiction.  Heidegger doesn't characterize it in this way, but I think what he means is something like addiction withdrawal symptoms are produced when our being-addicted to novelty is suddenly faced with a disruption in the satiety.
We see the same kind of structure in (ii) anxiety, where anxiety can be brought to the stage as the breaking down of sense of certainty, belonging-to, control, security, and stability that characterizes average, everyday being-in-the world.  One example I gave was the feeling out-of-place of a socially awkward kid at a party, pretending to study a plant so as to not let people know how uncomfortable she feels.

Another example of debilitating anxiety is stage fright.  In a rap song, Eminem raps in the song "Lose Yourself" that:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin'
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out
He's chokin', how, everybody's jokin' now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He's so mad, but he won't give up that easy? No


But, profound anxiety need not be jittery anxiety, but rather resignation.  One patient I knew was convinced she was going to be tortured forever in hell because she had an abortion.  This caused the luster of life to fade away, and she became listless and despondent .  She had lost hope, given up.  She was suicidal, and had even researched on the internet the effects suicide could have on her children,family and friends.

Take Away Point: The point is, there are (i) boredom and (ii) anxiety structures hiding beneath all of us that have the potential of emerging and wiping away the luster and purpose from the contexts in which we function.

(Concluding Thoughts)

We can understand the meaning of "Da-sein" by comparing and contrasting it with  "Nicht-Da-Sein:" 

(1) In terms of pathology, this can mean someone who has been reduced to a "Vegetative State," and hence is "no-longer-there."

I am persuaded there is probably no such thing as a soul because of things like the implications of traumatic brain injury that leaves someone in a vegetative state.

A vegetative state is a chronic condition that preserves the ability to maintain BP, respiration, and cardiac function, but not cognitive function. Hypothalamic and medullary brain stem functions remain intact to support cardiorespiratory and autonomic functions and are sufficient for survival if medical and nursing care is adequate. The cortex is severely damaged (eliminating cognitive function), but the reticular activating system (RAS) remains functional (making wakefulness possible). Midbrain or pontine reflexes may or may not be present. Patients have no awareness of self and interact with the environment only via reflexes.

If all of what we traditionally call “The Self” can be made to disappear by injuring the brain, what would be left over that belongs to the soul? *

Positively, if we contrast this pathological "Not-Thereness" with normal life, we can see what average, everyday Da-Sein means.

(2) Secondly, there is a "not-being-there" that is not the nothingness of pathology, but simply the being-away (Weg Sein) typified by the absent-minded-professor that overcomes all of us from time to time.  In this sense, if I am having a conversation with someone and my mind wanders, I am no longer present in the conversation, and so the other person, losing her "thatness" for me, is no longer there "as presencing" to me.  So, if you were to ask me what she said while I was "away," I wouldn't know, because I wasn't present for it.

Positively, we can see what this "being away" shows us when we contrast  it with normal, everyday involvement with things.

* N.B. With the rise of "New Atheism" as a cultural phenomenon, this is a turbulent time in Philosophy of Religion, since concepts like The Soul have come under direct dispute:

For instance, one topic is: If God is as powerful and wise as people claim, then shouldn’t we hold him to an even higher standard of responsibility/accountability than we do people? Because, in fact, we don’t even hold God to the same legal standards that we do people.

Consider the suffering caused by earthquakes and hurricanes, two phenomena the earth could have been created without. In United States law, depraved-heart murder, also known as depraved-indifference murder, is a type of murder where an individual acts with a “depraved indifference” to human life and where such act results in a death, despite that individual not explicitly intending to kill. In a depraved-heart murder, defendants commit an act even though they know their act runs an unusually high risk of causing death or serious bodily harm to a person. If the risk of death or bodily harm is great enough, ignoring it demonstrates a “depraved indifference” to human life and the resulting death is considered to have been committed with malice aforethought. In some states, depraved-heart killings constitute second-degree murder, while in others, the act would be charged with varying degrees of manslaughter.  If no death results, such an act would generally constitute reckless endangerment (sometimes known as “culpable negligence”) and possibly other crimes, such as assault.

Why would we not hold God up to the same standards of accountability that we would a human? Consider the legal ramifications if a person built a machine that could approximate an earthquake and used it to level New York …

So, it is a very exciting time in Philosophy of Religion for students, religion and secularism being, culturally, such a vibrant topic right now!



Does Heidegger's use of the term "Dasein" mean "Soul?" ; Or, Pathology and Dis-Connection

We can understand the meaning of "Da-sein" by comparing and contrasting it with  "Nicht-Da-Sein:" 

(1) In terms of pathology, this can mean someone who has been reduced to a "Vegetative State," and hence is "no-longer-there."

I am persuaded there is probably no such thing as a soul because of things like the implications of traumatic brain injury that leaves someone in a vegetative state.

A vegetative state is a chronic condition that preserves the ability to maintain BP, respiration, and cardiac function, but not cognitive function. Hypothalamic and medullary brain stem functions remain intact to support cardiorespiratory and autonomic functions and are sufficient for survival if medical and nursing care is adequate. The cortex is severely damaged (eliminating cognitive function), but the reticular activating system (RAS) remains functional (making wakefulness possible). Midbrain or pontine reflexes may or may not be present. Patients have no awareness of self and interact with the environment only via reflexes.

If all of what we traditionally call “The Self” can be made to disappear by injuring the brain, what would be left over that belongs to the soul? *

Positively, if we contrast this pathological "Not-Thereness" with normal life, we can see what average, everyday Da-Sein means.

(2) Secondly, there is a "not-being-there" that is not the nothingness of pathology, but simply the being-away (Weg Sein) typified by the absent-minded-professor that overcomes all of us from time to time.  In this sense, if I am having a conversation with someone and my mind wanders, I am no longer present in the conversation, and so the other person, losing her "thatness" for me, is no longer there "as presencing" to me.  So, if you were to ask me what she said while I was "away," I wouldn't know, because I wasn't present for it.

Positively, we can see what this "being away" shows us when we contrast  it with normal, everyday involvement with things.

* N.B. With the rise of "New Atheism" as a cultural phenomenon, this is a turbulent time in Philosophy of Religion, since concepts like The Soul have come under direct dispute:

For instance, one topic is: If God is as powerful and wise as people claim, then shouldn’t we hold him to an even higher standard of responsibility/accountability than we do people? Because, in fact, we don’t even hold God to the same legal standards that we do people.

Consider the suffering caused by earthquakes and hurricanes, two phenomena the earth could have been created without. In United States law, depraved-heart murder, also known as depraved-indifference murder, is a type of murder where an individual acts with a “depraved indifference” to human life and where such act results in a death, despite that individual not explicitly intending to kill. In a depraved-heart murder, defendants commit an act even though they know their act runs an unusually high risk of causing death or serious bodily harm to a person. If the risk of death or bodily harm is great enough, ignoring it demonstrates a “depraved indifference” to human life and the resulting death is considered to have been committed with malice aforethought. In some states, depraved-heart killings constitute second-degree murder, while in others, the act would be charged with varying degrees of manslaughter.  If no death results, such an act would generally constitute reckless endangerment (sometimes known as “culpable negligence”) and possibly other crimes, such as assault.

Why would we not hold God up to the same standards of accountability that we would a human? Consider the legal ramifications if a person built a machine that could approximate an earthquake and used it to level New York …

So, it is a very exciting time in Philosophy of Religion for students, religion and secularism being, culturally, such a vibrant topic right now!


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Fundamental Negative Emotion Summary: Boredom and Anxiety

I've been talking about how emotional pathology, such as severe anxiety in OCD, and Boredom/Depression neuroses point to the presence of anxiety and boredom underlying everyday life.  Regarding (i) boredom, I said:

I think that by focusing on the centrality of boredom, Heidegger is not simply fascinated by a pathology that is existentially unrelated to normal life, but rather is pointing to something underlying our modern frenetic jumping from thing to thing to thing.  This underlying boredom structure can be coaxed to the surface when we are separated from stimulus and novelty with such things as the agitation coaxed to the surface in cabin fever, or the fidgeting that is produced when a child is made to sit in a corner, facing the wall in Time Out.  Or consider what happens to people when they forget their smart phones at home and have to "endure" the day without the smart phone as a distraction: Smart Phone Addiction.  Heidegger doesn't characterize it in this way, but I think what he means is something like addiction withdrawal symptoms are produced when our being-addicted to novelty is suddenly faced with a disruption in the satiety.
We see the same kind of structure in (ii) anxiety, where anxiety can be brought to the stage as the breaking down of sense of certainty, belonging-to, control, security, and stability that characterizes average, everyday being-in-the world.  One example I gave was the feeling out-of-place of a socially awkward kid at a party, pretending to study a plant so as to not let people know how uncomfortable she feels.

Another example of debilitating anxiety is stage fright.  In a rap song, Eminem raps in the song "Lose Yourself" that:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin'
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out
He's chokin', how, everybody's jokin' now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!
Snap back to reality, oh there goes gravity
Oh, there goes Rabbit, he choked
He's so mad, but he won't give up that easy? No


But, profound anxiety need not be jittery anxiety, but rather resignation.  One patient I knew was convinced she was going to be tortured forever in hell because she had an abortion.  This caused the luster of life to fade away, and she became listless and despondent .  She had lost hope, given up.  She was suicidal, and had even researched on the internet the effects suicide could have on her children,family and friends.

The point is, there are (i) boredom and (ii) anxiety structures hiding beneath all of us that have the potential of emerging and wiping away the luster and purpose from life. 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

(BONUS POST) Heidegger and the fundamental nature of Anxiety (ii)

Anxiety can certainly show up when one feels out of place in a context, such as when a child is walking up to her first day at school in a new town.  Similarly, anxiety can cause a context to lose its meaning, such as when the "for shopping" of the department store disappears in the anxiety of the shopper who has just looked around and realizes she doesn't know where her child is.

"Awkwardness" or being out of place does well to show anxiety underlying certain situations.  Consider a young adult who is a social butterfly with her friends, but at boy/girl parties becomes awkward and out of place, trying to fake fitting in by passing the time examining a plant.  Similarly, consider someone who interacts well in groups, but is uncomfortable one on one, at a loss for what to say and so copes by asking endless questions.

Our sense of certainty from expertly navigating situations protects us like a security blanket from debilitating anxiety, even if we don't always realize it. I pointed out in previous posts that pathological anxiety based OCD can reveal the anxiety that underlies normal situations as an exemplar, because pathology is a difference of degree from normalcy, not kind. 

Consider when the security of a sense of certainty disappears: I knew an OCD patient who was going to go on a driving business trip, and before the trip was going over in his mind all the things that could go wrong.  When he got in the car, he discovered that he had lost his sense of certainty about how to position his car between the lanes while driving.  The veteran driver had a terribly anxious trip, constantly worried he was going to hit someone in the other lane.  When he got to his destination four hours away, he seriously considered having his car towed back home (but didn't) .

Anxiety can be a serious factor in situations that are deemed particularly important, like the boxer waiting to go to the ring for a prize fight.

Heidegger's Being and Time: Why The Focus on Anxiety?


What Derrida saw in this is that given the Husserl/Heidegger example I talked of in a previous post, Husserl’s “certainty” and “self evidence” of the living present as fundamental is not “merely self-evident,” but certainty is grounded in “obviousness,” which is a psychological state.  Descartes too reached such illusory self-evidence.  We have all been wrong about things we thought were obvious.  

Derrida points out that, as Heidegger showed, the interpretation of Truth as “certainty, free from doubt” was an historical accident.  Following Thomas and realized in Luther, ‘Truth’ was re-envisioned as certainty free from doubt, a model Descartes took over.  For Luther, what had to be certain, in the sense of free from doubt, was the salvation of the soul.  Didier Franck provides a useful summary of the genesis of modernism (the transition of verum into certum): “No doubt, Descartes transferred to the cogito what Saint Thomas, who placed certainty of faith above that of knowledge, attributed to divine science alone.”   Further, Descartes took as his model Luther’s characterization of certainty as freedom from doubt, which left Descartes with the cogito as certain, at least as far as he could tell; that is, free from doubt.  Descartes appropriated the model of truth as certainty in the sense of freedom from doubt, and Modernism/Cartesianism effected reducing the Being of beings to ultimately be something quantifiable/calculable.  This gave rise to the Enlightenment, an analytic attack aimed at disclosing beings in their being from the point of view of what is calculable and quantifiable about them.

What does this have to do with anxiety/OCD and Being and Time?  If one's approach to the world is trust, self-understanding and reliance on the certainty of established norms, etc. that you have been thrown into, there is always some degree of anxiety because, as I pointed out in an earlier post with Dreyfus's analysis, there is no ultimate authoritative grounding of the norms you are thrown into.  

You can, for example, believe in and work toward the American dream, but what happens if this leaves you wanting?  OCD /Anxiety is very prevalent in the modern age because, for example, OCD is born out of anxiety resulting from a lack of certainty.  One patient I am familiar with had a terrible time with E-mails because he would have to keep going back and checking his E-mail account to make sure he hadn't sent inappropriate E-mails to his employer, even though he had not had any intention of sending such E-mails.  Another patient I know of went through a breakdown where there was a Cartesian-like, but systematic and involuntary, experience of doubting that reduced to him even to doubting he was who he thought he was, and so ended up staring in the bathroom mirror anxiously looking back and forth between himself and the mirror and his driver's license, trying to gain assurance that he was who he thought he was. As I previously said, anxiety as OCD is simply a more extreme form of the anxiousness that underlies normal, everyday modern life.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Heidegger, Psychology, and The Modern Age

Last time with my post on Dreyfus, I said:

There is a guilt, that is not a having done something wrong, but rather an ontological structure of all humans.  Debt is an indebtedness to cultural norms we find ourselves thrown into (Dasein’s sense of its thrownness), without being able to make explicit and justify them.  The master experiences anxiety at the fact that cultural norms are simply being accepted in an ungrounded manner.  I think a sort of analogous thing can be seen in a pathological sense with someone with severe OCD who, out of anxiety born out of uncertainty, has to alleviate the anxiety by checking the stove to make sure it is off numerous times before they leave the house.  A normal person with only mild anxiety some times may go back to check the stove once before leaving on a big trip.  Pathology and “normalcy” exist on a continuum, and hence what we see in sick people simply represents a more exaggerated form of what everyone experiences.  
I have found in my studies that so called "Abnormal Psychology" such as severe anxiety driven OCD or profound boredom/depression neuroses are not best looked at by psychologists as a strict sick/normal separation as though it was a difference of kind, but rather psychologists today understand it to be a difference of degree: a continuum.  Pathological illness such as severe OCD and Boredom neuroses are philosophically interesting because they can act as a kind of exemplar, coaxing the silently hidden nature of "normal life" to the surface (physis kryptesthai philei: a-letheia).  

For example, in the Zollikon Seminar Heidegger/Boss point out that:

"Our patients force us to see the human being in his essential ground because the modem neuroses of boredom and meaninglessness can no longer be drowned out by glossing over or covering up particular symptoms of illness. If one treats those symptoms only, then another symptom will emerge again and again ... They no longer see meaning in their life and ... they have become intolerably bored (Zollikon Seminars, 160.)."

Heidegger was making a similar point decades before in the lecture course on "The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World; Solitude; Finitude" when he wrote:

 "[wjith open eyes [boredom] looks into our existence (albeit from a distance), and with this gaze already penetrates us and attunes us through and through ... [It is an] insidious creature that maintains its monstrous essence in our Dasein. (Heidegger, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 79)"

I think that by focusing on the centrality of boredom, Heidegger is not simply fascinated by a pathology that is existentially unrelated to normal life, but rather is pointing to something underlying our modern frenetic jumping from thing to thing to thing.  This underlying boredom structure can be coaxed to the surface when we are separated from stimulus and novelty with such things as the agitation coaxed to the surface in cabin fever, or the fidgeting that is produced when a child is made to sit in a corner, facing the wall in Time Out.  Or consider what happens to people when they forget their smart phones at home and have to "endure" the day without the smart phone as a distraction: Smart Phone Addiction.  Heidegger doesn't characterize it in this way, but I think what he means is something like addiction withdrawal symptoms are produced when our being-addicted to novelty is suddenly faced with a disruption in the satiety.

As with any addiction, we need to acknowledge it, and deal with it head on.  In the section I quoted above from the Zollikon seminar, Heidegger continues to say that

Heidegger: ... To be absorbed by something ... [means] 'to be totally preoccupied by something , as for instance, when one says: He is entirely engrossed in his subject matter. Then he exists authentically as who he is, that is, in his task ... Da-sein means being absorbed in that toward which I comport myself... To be absorbed in beholding the palm tree in front of our window is letting the palm tree come to presence, its swaying in the wind, is absorption of my being-in-the world and of my comportment in the palm tree. (Z, 160-161)  
Learn to focus and slow down.  Make turning off the TV and Laptop a regular occurrence in your daily routine (some TV is fine, of course).  Read more (not too much though).  Discover what you are passionate about.  Leave the iPOD music behind and go for regular walks by the local waterfront where you can take in nature and perhaps even lose yourself in the moment.  Addiction to novelty is all about degree, just like everything else, and finding balance is what will win you the day.  As Nietzsche wisely said in a letter to Overbeck, before "cabin fever" was even a real term,

"terrible rain the last several days, everyone's suffering cabin fever [sehr ungeduldig] - that is the way it is in this isolated place.  Only I don't share it since I am busy thinking about and finishing my new work [the third Untimely Meditation].  Engaged in that, one lives in a different place where one doesn't have anything to do with rain any more." KGB 11.3 382