Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the reason of existance and “question of being.”

At some point during my graduate school, I critiqued one of his essays, “The Question Concerning Technlogy” originally published the text in 1954, in Vorträge und Aufsätze. While deleting my old files I found this critique I wrote and enjoyed reading my point of view from few years ago.

The Question Concerning Technology

A critique by Arvinder Singh Kang

What is the destiny of man? Would human ever be able to perceive the truth?

Martin Heidegger in his essay “The Question Concerning Technology” does a philosophical inquiry into the role of human and its inter-relation with the phenomenon called Technology.

In the start of essay, the author compares the concept of essence to that of concealed truth. Author further narrates that essence can only be achieved by challenging what exists, by un-concealing what is concealed and by not settling with what is visible.

In defining technology, Heidegger reflects the technology as a phenomenon of revealing and challenging the existing.

Heidegger uses example of the Windmill and Hydroelectric Plant to compare two understanding of concept of Being or simply put, the essence of human. While for the windmill, Heidegger feels it was in harmony with the nature, the latter is the human’s response to the challenge of the nature, or in other world the birth of challenge, that we know as technology.

Heidegger asserts the crucial question of determining the role of human in the phenomenon. He believes the role of human although important, yet is limited in the unveiling of “truth.” Human takes part in the un-concealment or what he calls Enframing, or governing the direction of technology, or “the unveiling of truth”, yet it does not “happen through him.” He(human) is a part, but not the supreme player of his own product.

Heidegger thus sees great potential in the danger and saving power of human interaction with the technology. However, to get the essence of what is happening, human has to look beyond the his everyday engagement with the technology - Not just to interact with the challenge and “obey”, but to listen and witness.

Heidegger foresees grave danger in human’s inability or unwillingness to “listen, but not obey” to the challenge set by technology in “enfraiming the truth”. In such case, the author fears, its the technology and not the human, which becomes a driving force in determining what he calls the “declamation of truth”.

However, while explaining the saving power, the Heidegger becomes ambiguous and skeptical of human’s destiny to find the truth. He points to the example of stars, which although visible due to many light years distant, might have ceased to exist thousands of years ago. He suggests, while we might escape the dangers by analyzing the unfolding of technology and not getting engrossed in answering the challenges of technology, he is still skeptical of human being able to find the ultimate truth.

The question that Heidegger tries to address, are the ones that should be addressed by the day-to-day users or “dependents” of technology.

The gist of Heidegger’s essay can be summed by asking a simple question, “Are we driving the direction of technology or innovation or for that matter, human civilization, or is it driving our direction and our vision?”.

In my perspective, this is not a new question. Technology is just another facet of culture or civilization. No one person builds it, yet it is driven by human race.

Philosophers of an age always are nostalgic about the primeval, yet that age too becomes primitive with another batch of philosophers being nostalgic of the this age. The vision of “the earliest” of the earlier ages, always seems more aligned with the nature, more aware of the truth, and less absorbed in the challenge. However, each age has its “challenge”, its own version of technology and its fears of being overrun by its own inventions.

Technology is just another form of innovation. Civilizations innovate to generate comfort. However by the property of comfort, it slows down the civilization, for comfort itself becomes the distraction to engage into. Or even more simply, Heidegger’s “revelation of the truth” is homologous with unfolding of, what we call, destiny. We do not control all parts of our destiny, yet human actions play are an important part of what is going to be destined.

To assuage Heidegger’s pessimism of the “the earliest’ real truth”, would mean going back and tracing each and every path, that human had a possibility to take since eon.