Irony so overwhelming I want to tweet about it with a #Heidegger hashtag:
A scientific study recently found empirical support for Heidegger's concept of zuhanden, which was discussed in the Being and Time podcast.* Wired Science covered the story last year, but the study itself is short enough that you can get through it during a lunch break. To quote the summary section of the paper:
Heidegger's phenomenology has been influential in the cognitive sciences, despite the fact that no attempts have been made to empirically confirm his insights. The experiments in this paper support Heidegger's description of the transition from readiness-to-hand to unreadiness-to-hand, a phenomenon that is key for his overall phenomenological philosophy. When humans are smoothly coping with entities ready-to-hand, they see through their tools to focus on the task they are using those tools to complete. When that coping is disrupted by a temporary malfunction, humans can no longer see through the malfunctioning tool and experience it as unready-to-hand. We demonstrated this transition by showing that when participants smoothly operate a mouse in a video game task, the body-tool performance displays the complex dynamics typical of an IDS [interaction-dominant dynamics]. Temporarily disrupting mouse behavior temporarily disrupted this IDS, at least at the body-tool boundary. We also showed that this disruption led to a reconfiguration of the participants' awareness of the situation by showing a shift in resources allocated to an additional cognitive task. This is closing in on Heidegger's transition from readiness-to-hand to unreadiness-to-hand. We take these experiments as progress toward justifying the influence that Heidegger's phenomenological philosophy has had on cognitive sciences and justifying the partly Heidegger-inspired claim that cognitive systems sometimes extend beyond the biological body.
Take that, positivists! I'm not capable of assessing the quality of the study, but it looks impressive enough. More interestingly, some smartipantzen undergrads over at CalTech cited the study as inspiration for their class project on web browser optimization. One of them now works at Google. So, the ideas of a notoriously anti-technological fascist philosopher may now be influencing new ways to improve web browsers. This may be the only justice history can offer!
*Note that Hubert Dreyfus has also applied Heideggerian concepts to analysis of high technology, but Dreyfus never attempted any empirical research of which I'm aware.
Dan, quite interesting…
You might enjoy reading Pirsig’s discussion of ‘stuckness’ using a stuck screw on a motorcycle to demonstrate how caring (open-ness to Quality) is what is required to form new relationships between subject (mechanic) and object (screw) in order to gain a purchase on the task. Stuckness is unreadiness-yo-hand.
In that same section, Pirsig gives his train car/moving train analogy of Quality. The engine, cars and all their contents – static Quality – this is the ‘stuff’ of reality = present-to-hand. But to be of any value, the train must be moving – going somewhere = readiness – to – hand. Where it goes is represented as the leading edge of the engine, and this is dynamic Quality. This is the stuff of intentionality and Dazine.
But it is written in good old American pragmatic processual English and has been read by millions.
I think it’s a mistake to interpret Heidegger’s way of thinking as anti-technology. The danger is that humans will just think technicity (consider themselves resources for the machine), but he says the response is not to turn back (say to humanist classisism), but move forward to a new understanding of technology. That said, personally, he himself wasn’t that impressed with technology, preferring pens to typewriters, but it is necessary, especially in his case, to seperate his behavior from his philosophy, as his is not an exemplary life.
Ethan Gach says
How could a scientific study be damning to positivists?
Daniel Horne says
I keep hearing about ZAMM from so many sources, I will probably get around to it before long.
David Buchanan says
Howdy gents: This study made me think of Pirsig’s work too. It certainly seems to support what he and Heidegger said about “caring” as an act so absorbing and engaging that you loose yourself. The other day I saw an article wherein the author described Pirsig’s artful mechanic as a person in the psychological state know as “flow”. It’s also known as feeling groovy, being way into it, in the zone, etc..
Have you heard about “Heidegger’s Hidden Sources”? This book makes a case that many of his central ideas were taken from the East. I think it explains why he sometimes sounds so Zen. Pirsig studied in Indian for a while and he helped to found the Zen center in Minneapolis but his main influence was Northrop, a man from Yale.
Thanks for posting the science, Dan. Fascinating.
You made me think man. Did not understood a word, but you made me think.
I am a neuroscientist lately wondering if I understood anything at all in 20 years of brain study.
So thanks for opening ways 🙂
Devin Angeline says
I realize I’m many years late to this conversation, but wanted to comment, anyway. 😉
@Dan: Thanks for the fun post on the Heideggerian cog psy study! Gah, don’t you just love when some new piece of research comes out, that validates some old bit of philosophical thought? Makes me wanna shout, ‘Booya, bitches! I knew it!’ at noone in particular.
Devin Angeline says
@Burl: Thanks for reminding me about Robert Pirsig, and for linking him into the convo about Heidegger. As someone who’s newly ‘digging in’ to explicit explorations of philosophy (thank you, PEL!) — I would never have made that connection on my own.
Devin Angeline says
@David: Thanks for mentioning the bit about Pirsig’s (philosophical-?) influences. I read ZAMM only once, more than a decade ago. And while I remember almost nothing of the ideas contained — I have almost ‘sense memories’ of how pleasurable and thrilling I found the read.
I seem to remember the book triggering for me, at the time, a jumble of excited connections and insights regarding my process, and practice, of creativity. Heh: Though of what those consisted, has been wiped clean from my memory! (Perhaps it had something to do with the psychological state of ‘flow’, as you mention?)
In any event — I’m looking forward, now, to revisiting the book! And to nosing around in its larger philosophical context, via PEL. 😀