Being There: Heidegger on Why Our Presence Matters


Lawrence Berger in the NYT's The Stone:

A cognitive scientist and a German philosopher walk into the woods and come upon a tree in bloom: What does each one see? And why does it matter?

While that may sound like the set-up to a joke making the rounds at a philosophy conference, I pose it here sincerely, as a way to explore the implications of two distinct strains of thought — that of cognitive science and that of phenomenology, in particular, the thought of Martin Heidegger, who offers a most compelling vision of the ultimate significance of our being here, and what it means to be fully human.

It can be argued that cognitive scientists tend to ignore the importance of what many consider to be essential features of human existence, preferring to see us as information processors rather than full-blooded human beings immersed in worlds of significance. In general, their intent is to explain human activity and life as we experience it on the basis of physical and physiological processes, the implicit assumption being that this is the domain of what is ultimately real. Since virtually everything that matters to us as human beings can be traced back to life as it is experienced, such thinking is bound to be unsettling.

For instance, an article in The Times last year by Michael S. A. Graziano, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton, about whether we humans are “really conscious,” argued, among other things, that “we don’t actually have inner feelings in the way most of us think we do.”

One feature of this line of thought that may strike us as particularly strange is that rather than being in direct contact with people and things, we are said to process bits of information that go to form representations of the world that are the basis for any relations that we have with our fellows. That would appear to be quite different from the way we actually experience things, but we are told to trust that science is more reliable because experience is often misleading in this regard.

More here.