Thoughts Concerning Being and Other

The Other is radical only if the desire for it is not the possibility for anticipating it as the desirable or of thinking it out beforehand but if it comes aimlessly as an absolute alterity, like death.

John Heaton ‘The Other and Psychotherapy’ in Provocation of Levinas

New research on the unconsciousness is reviving discussions of Freud and his relevance. Some researchers have talked about the unconscious as “background processors” as threads of tasks that run in background mode set off by sensations, historical associations and future-oriented stress and anxiety. These ‘threads’ constantly provide alternative vias for consciousness. They texture and fill out the tenure of conscious behavior. Many areas of the brain are ‘lit up’ by unconscious activity and consciousness appears to unite these various internal ‘dialogs’.

In Heidegger’s discussion of the thing he wants to, in true phenomenological fashion, get away from ‘theorizing’ about Being from a pre-ordained, ‘mathematical’ project and let the thing show itself from itself. So, for example, when we think about spatiality instead of thinking about it as empty space with physical dimension he would have us think about regionality. To say that the chair we are looking at is geometrically further from us in terms of feet and inches than the spectacles we are using to look at them is surely correct mathematically but when we are focused on the chair, the region we inhabit in that lived experience is much closer to the chair than the spectacles on our face we are viewing it with. Heidegger called this lived space. Thus, for the case of space we can see that the traditional, historical way we think about it obscures the way we actually ‘experience’ space. This is how Heidegger lets the thing, space in this case, show itself as itself.

The showing of phenomena gets more interesting when Heidegger starts discussing the “closedness” of things. Dr. Wendell Kisner makes this point:

“However, if “closedness” or the withdrawing of being into concealment is the crucial point at which the possibility of truth as such is first opened, then the elimination of all closedness in the mathematical project does not indicate what things are as such, but rather how things are manifest within that project. Phenomenologically speaking, things are manifest in the mathematical project as nothing more than what they show themselves to be in its terms. But it can readily be seen that such a mode of disclosure presents a profound challenge to any attempt to thinking about things outside of this horizon insofar as, in its banishment of any and all closedness, it mitigates against any other possibility of disclosure. Things are just this and nothing more.” 1)

One way of thinking about the mathematical project might be in terms of the history of physics. Physics has certainly formulated theories about motion and space in such paradigms as Newtonian physics. Newtonian physics demonstrates a certain ‘correctness’ about things. It provides a predictive model for understanding the motion of cannon balls and planets. Thus, a ‘mathematical project’ has consistency within itself; it is not random ravings of a madman. It also has a kind of correlation with the thing it abstracts from. Heidegger referred to this as correctness. However, when thought from the perspective of Einstein’s space-time, quantum mechanics or dark matter and dark energy, we see a kind of scientific evolution that layers the earlier mathematical enterprise with radically different and uprooting understandings such as absolute time and space with relative time and space. Quantum mechanics has not found a way of resolving itself with the macro-physics of Newton and yet, integrated chips would not be possible without it. The search for dark matter and dark energy which is thought to comprise most of the universe and even more, keeps the universe from collapsing in on itself, would make Newton’s critique of spooky action at a distance seems mundane in comparison.

What all this indicates is that the mathematical project has consistency, correlation (visa vie predictability) but never captures the thing itself, the closedness and refusal of the thing to final resolution or disclosure. When one adds in the notion of spatiality as Heidegger discusses or Freud’s discussion of regression (as a form a spatiality) we can see that while the thing can lend itself to disclosure, finality is always lacking. The inability of things to ultimately disclose themselves in light, the mathematical project, is a phenomenal showing of refusal or closedness. This caught Heidegger’s attention and ultimately was rooted in Aristotle.

It would be difficult to make the claim that the mathematical project is simply a kind of narcissistic, mental and purely individuated process as some idealists might claim. There is an opening up of things, an invitation that participates in our mathematical projects but the thing can never be taken to account in its entirety. Its presence is always together with its absence, its refusal, its closedness. This uniformity and manifold plurality was the direction of thought for Aristotle. In this, the ontological distinction of Being and beings is thought by Heidegger.

Dr. Kisner writes,

In the mathematical project Heidegger asserts that, as opposed to the Aristotelian account in which natural bodies had a telos or an inner goal-oriented impetus, what now constitutes a natural body has no hidden interior: “Bodies have no concealed qualities, powers, and capacities. Natural bodies are now only what they show themselves as, within this projected realm.” 2)

Later thinking about Aristotle made telos a kind of animism, another property of a thing but that sifts the thinking of things through a retrospective, historical reduction. This becomes evident when one reflects on one of Aristotle’s mentor. In the Anaximander fragment, Heraclitus maintains that one cannot step into the same river twice. The river as ‘the same’, transformed as a property, does not show the river of Heraclitus but covers it up. It mediates the river as a repeatable, truncated concept. This kind of historical turn came at the same time as Hegel thought Christianity first announced subjectivity and reflection and Heidegger criticized the objectification of Being that frames (Gestell) beings as a property, a substance, an abstract thing. Properties in this sense came through the historical notion of static substance, of stasis that underlies things. A kind of dualism results from the substance/not-substance distinction; thus, the Cartesian split of mind/body, subject/object, natura/artifice.

Anaximander thought that all things rose from apeiron translated as limitless or indeterminate. Simplicius, writing of Anaximander’s notion of apeiron, states “Things perish into those things out of which they have their being, according to necessity.” (Phys. 24. 13) 3) Being is given by necessity standing out from indeterminacy and limitlessness. ‘Necessity’ here is not explained or named as in ‘God’ as that would come way too late and as an afterthought for the delicacy of this thought. Things originate (arche’) of necessity but not from immutability and sameness such as substance. Things stand out in their unity given from necessity but born from no-thing. No-thing here is not given merely as the negation of thing but as not yet determinable. Heidegger writes in “What is Metaphysics”,

But are we entirely sure what we are presupposing here? Is it really the case that “is-not,” negatedness, and thus negation, are the category into which the nothing fits as a specific case of “the negated”? It might be the other way around. Maybe the occurrence of the nothing does not depend on the “is-not” and the act of negating. Maybe the act of negation and its “is-not” can occur only if the nothing first occurs. This point has never even been explicitly raised as a question, much less decided. 4)

Heidegger goes on to think of no-thing in terms of the phenomenal experiences of boredom, anxiety and dread and in so doing step away from a more Kantian reference of the thing-in-itself. He also wishes to distinguish his ontology from onto-theology, the thing from which all things proceed. In this tactic Heidegger tries to uproot the common notion a thing as known and reduced to property and think from a more Greek ground to re-awaken the question of beings and non-being. On this more sure footing Heidegger would later reflect on the fourfold: earth, sky, divinities and mortals.

In Heidegger’s discussion of the bridge we are not ‘be-thinged’ by pre-cognitive notions of things as substance. We step away from a kind of Hegelian master-slave dichotomy wherein we (the master) ‘thing’ ourselves (become the slave) in our hasty reduction of ontology to things. Dr. Kisner points this duality out in his discussion of natura and artifice in which artifice has become natura and natura cannot be distinguished from artifice. In “Building Dwelling Thinking” things are confluent. They flow together in what I perceive as a kind of musicality. They do not arise from static eternal notes that play through the Latinized, Aristotelian potentiality and actuality, the dunamis of existence. They co-arise spontaneously and gracefully from apeiron, indeterminacy and limitlessness.

This is not to imply randomness and disconcert. Things necessitate, set bounds and measure. They co-relate and mingle with purpose that open themselves to science and mathematical projects all the while maintaining their suspension from no-thing, their concealment, their withdrawal from beings. This way towards thinking is reminiscent of current discussion of unconsciousness and the relation to consciousness.

“The New Unconscious” 5) explores recent studies in the unconscious mind. Scans of the brain indicate various parts of the brain are continually running threads of pre-conscious assimilation and differentiation in the background. These threads may be initiated by sensations, regressions to personal histories and language cues. However, much of the initiators are still shrouded in mystery. Consciousness is thought to occur as communication ripples throughout the brain texturing disparate and autonomous threads of pre-cognitive, syntactic and semantic content. Some psychological maladies and pathologies such as dissociative personality disorder, multiple personalities, narcissism, regression, repression and depression seem to occur more when the neural networking pathways that ripple through the brain break down.

In opposition to a hierarchy of agency, consciousness seems to bubble up from a ‘low-arche’, a cauldron of independent, non-synchronized, contradictory background ‘noise’ in the brain. The appearance of consciousness is a posteriori and ad hoc. Research has shown that will and causality is a ‘magical illusion’ that can be manipulated experiementally 6). Consciousness shows itself as a unified necessity from a concealed plurality which might be thought in the notion of apeiron. These non-synchronous nodes of content do not exist in a vacuum but are played as the cacophony of confluent initiators such as sight, taste, auditory, kinesthetic memory, etc. Since many of these initiators appear as shared in environment (umwelt and horizon) and what is more co-arise as phusis of beings, they have the appearance of shared coherence and correlation. The logic of identity, agency and causation seems to be an assent to the effacement of radicalize alterity. The proper notion of Being as noun rooted in non-changing, immutable substance arises without proper agency from the background noise of the disparate, pre-synchronized (anachrony) unconscious. The semblance of sameness given ad hoc in unity as peros, limit and boundary ecstatically stands out in apeiron. What get lost in sameness is the ‘other-poor’ as thought with Heidegger’s notion of ‘world-poor’, anachrony of the many, the self as radical passivity. The negation of other becomes me.

If consciousness is not rooted in an absolute identity then the other can only be mediated as an object of consciousness, a moment of self-determination and hypostatic, auto arousal 7) fascination. However, the erection of the sanctum of self is built on the shifting sands of unconscious confluences, incommensurate and uncorrelated ‘manifold pluralities’ (polumeres). The self in this case is not a moment of identity but a step away from our own dissolution, the intolerance of radical homelessness, no place.

In view of this refusal for disclosure, what faces us when we face the other, look in their eyes, when they speak to us? When the other faces us we gaze upon our sheer nakedness, “it comes aimlessly as an absolute alterity, like death”. The other in this case is not no-thing but the erasure that ever faces me and undoes me.

This is a work in progress…

1) “The Fourfold Revisited: Heideggerian Ecological Practice and the Ontology of Things”
The Trumpeter ISSN: 0832-6193 Volume 24, Number 3 (2008), Page 7

2) “The Fourfold Revisited: Heideggerian Ecological Practice and the Ontology of Things”
The Trumpeter ISSN: 0832-6193 Volume 24, Number 3 (2008), Page 6


4) What is Metaphysics? In Basic Writings, ed. David Krell. San Francisco: Harper. Page 99

5) The New Unconscious
Edited by Ran R. Hassin, James S. Uleman and John A. Bargh
Oxford University Press, Inc.
ISBN13: 9780195307696ISBN10: 0195307690Paperback, 608 pages

6) The New Unconscious
Edited by Ran R. Hassin, James S. Uleman and John A. Bargh
Oxford University Press, Inc.
ISBN13: 9780195307696ISBN10: 0195307690Paperback, “The Illusion of Conscious Control”


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