Thinking, Memory, and Time (Part I)
"Three metamorphoses of the spirit do I designate to you: how the spirit becometh a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child. Many heavy things are there for the spirit, the strong load-bearing spirit in which reverence dwelleth: for the heavy and the heaviest longeth its strength."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
After finishing my Metamorphoses of the Spirit essay series, a reader raised an interesting criticism. The criticism reminded me that I had left out a critical thinker in the metamorphic discussion. So I set out to find a short quote from this thinker that I could copy and paste in response to the reader. That copy and paste job became several paragraphs of quotations, those several paragraphs became several pages of quotes with commentary, and those several pages of commentary at last became this essay which itself has become another series. Such is the way of the metamorphic Spirit and I should have expected nothing less.
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
- John 3:8
The above verse is featured in Owen Barfield's essay which we examined in the second installment of the metamorphic essays, Incarnthating the Christ. The Greek word translated as both "wind" and "Spirit" in the verse is pneuma. Barfield highlights it to show a clear example in the 1st century A.D. when an 'external' sensuous phenomenon, like the wind, was still experienced in connection to the inner life of man. Both meanings (and a third meaning of "breath") could be conveyed to the reader in the same word without any problem, in stark contrast to the modern era where, if I were to say, "the wind blows where it wishes... so it is with everyone born of the Wind", I would simply be ignored as a terrible writer of metaphors.
In this way, Barfield approached the metamorphic progression with his knowledge of philology, i.e. the phenomenology of language meanings. The thinker I carelessly left out before did that as well - Martin Heidegger. Indeed, Heidegger also focused on ancient Greek as a portal into the mysteries of the Spirit. He gave a series of lectures which were later compiled into the book, "What is Called Thinking?". Although they delve into ancient Greek words and their meanings, the lectures are more of a Socratic dialogue with his audience about the essential nature of Thinking. They mark a time when Heidegger had completely abandoned the phenomenology of the Will.
Kant... was much bothered by the common opinion that philosophy is only for the few... and hence he once observed that 'stupidity is caused by a wicket heart'. This is not true: absence of thought is not stupidity; it can be found in highly intelligent people, and a wicked heart is not its cause; it is probably the other way round, that wickedness may be caused by absence of thought. In any event, the matter can no longer be left to “specialists” as though thinking, like higher mathematics, were the monopoly of a specialized discipline. ... For an acquaintance with the thought of Heidegger, What Is Called Thinking? is as important as Being and Time. It is the only systematic presentation of the thinker's late philosophy and... it is perhaps the most exciting of his books.
- Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind (1971)
Arendt had much more to say on Nietzsche and Heidegger's lectures in her last writing, The Life of the Mind, but that is beyond the scope of this essay. We will now bring our attention to the ideal connection between Heidegger and Rudolf Steiner, who we featured in Transfiguring our Thinking (Part II). Steiner was born about 25 years before Heidegger. The latter was about 36 when Steiner passed away in 1925, which was before Heidegger published his seminal work, Being and Time. I have yet to find any explicit indication that he was aware of Steiner's work. In fact, I came across statements made by Heidegger in the lectures which indicate that he had not considered it.
For instance, Heidegger remarks, "people have no idea how difficult it truly is lose [Nietzsche's] thought again - assuming it has been found... but everything argues that it has not even been found yet." Yet Steiner wrote a book on Nietzsche in 1895, which we will return to later, in German; a book which reached many similar conclusions about Nietzsche as those of Heidegger in his later works. It is well known by now that Steiner never received the academic recognition he deserved from his fellow 20th century philosophers. This lack of explicit connection between Steiner and Heidegger makes the overlap between their phenomenology of spiritual activity even more fascinating.
Heidegger's train of thought is much harder to follow than Steiner's and he does not go nearly as deep into the metamorphic progression as Steiner did. In all fairness to Heidegger, that is simply because no one was as prolific as Steiner and went so deep as him. There also existed the aforementioned philosophical connection with Friedrich Nietzsche. Many philosophers have admired and commented on Nietzsche, but these two appreciated him as a revolutionary metaphysical thinker first and foremost. They saw the supercharged spiritual current running through his often offensive philosophizing 'with a hammer'. What Nietzsche observed most of all concerned the depths of the human soul and the eternal striving of the human Spirit.
“The wasteland grows. Woe to him who hides wastelands within.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
Here is the context of Heidegger's lectures - in the late 1930s, Heidegger gave a series lectures on Nietzsche which marked the period of his "turn". It is an apt label, because Heidegger clearly turned away from Schopenhauer's universal Will as the proper foundation for contemplation of Being. He also turned away from Nietzsche's "will-to-power" about half way through the lectures. Whether his interpretation of Nietzsche's will-to-power doctrine was correct or not is irrelevant for our purposes here, because whatever Heidegger interpreted the doctrine to be is also what he turned away from.
He began to think about the Will from a different perspective. Heidegger then described Nietzsche's thought as the "culmination" of Western metaphysics. That was not a statement made in admiration but rather in confrontation. He remarks, "respecting and acknowledging are not yet agreement; but it is the necessary precondition for any confrontation." Only after Heidegger turned away from the phenomenology of Will was he able to perceive what previously had remained in his blind spot; indeed what remained in the blind spot of nearly all metaphysics of the modern age (save for a select few like Goethe, Schiller, Hegel, Schelling, Coleridge, and Steiner) - Thinking.
Here we mean "Thinking" in a broad sense which encompasses ratiocination, reason, imagination, inspiration, and intuition. Like Steiner, Heidegger realized that it was only through Thinking, and specifically thinking about Thinking, that the phenomenal appearances could penetrate deeper into the noumenal relations. Hence the need for these lectures on Thinking in the first place. They are given in the 1950s when Heidegger was completing his turning away from Will. He perceived the urgency for humans to begin thinking about Thinking just as Steiner perceived before him. We observe this sense of urgency in the latter's plea:
We are now in a period when a significant change must come about: People must become thinking people instead of thinking machines. It is terrible, is it not, when you say something like that, because people of our time take it for granted that they are thinking people, and if you ask them to become thinking people, they actually find it an insult. But that is how it is. Since the middle of the 15th century, people have become more and more like thinking machines. People surrender themselves to thoughts, as it were; they do not control them. Imagine what it would be like if you did the same with your limbs as most people do with their thinking organs today. Ask yourself if the modern human being can be inclined – I say can be – to randomly take in a thought and randomly shut down a thought. Thoughts are bubbling up in people’s heads today. People cannot resist them; they automatically surrender to them. A thought arises, the previous one disappears, it flies and flashes through the mind, and people think in such a way that one could best say: it thinks in the human being. Imagine that your arms and legs would behave similarly, that you would be able to control them as little as you can control your thinking. Imagine a person walking down the street, his arms moving in the same uncontrolled way as his thinking organ moves! You know how much goes through a person’s head when he walks down the street, and now imagine how he would continually gesture with his arms and hands in the same way that he does with the thoughts in his head! And yet, we are facing the age when people have to learn to control their thoughts in the same way they control their arms and legs. We are entering that era. A particular inner discipline of our thinking is what has to occur now and from which people today are still exceedingly far away."
- Rudolf Steiner, The Mental Background of the Social Question (1919)
Both Steiner and Heidegger turned their gaze towards the ideal realm, but not the ideal realm of Reformed theology and Kantian philosophy where everything of ideal value was to be found outside of the sensible world in some "transcendent" location. That could not be properly considered a realm, according to them, but rather a graveyard where only rotting corpses remained. The living Spirit was nowhere to be found in the world of purely intellectual ideals, a fact which summoned thinkers such as Steiner and Heidegger to focus intensely on incarnating the Spirit once again into Thinking as the great pre-Socratics and Scholastics had once done.
"And new Philosophy calls all in doubt, The Element of fire is quite put out; The Sun is lost and th’earth, and no mans wit Can well direct him where to looke for it... ‘Tis all in pieces, all cohaerence gone; All just supply, and all Relation: Prince, Subject, Father, Sonne, are things forgot... when thou knowst this, Thou knowst how ugly a monster... how wan a Ghost ... how drie a Cinder this world is."
- John Donne, An Anatomy of the World (1611)
So that is from where Heidegger embarked on his journey through the Mind in the lectures. He desired that his students take a long look behind the curtains of their current experience of human thinking, without prejudice, and ask questions which have the effect of putting them 'underway' to real Thinking. Heidegger realized that "as a fact of experience within experience, thinking occupies an exceptional position", as Steiner remarked. That "with the rest of experience... I cannot get beyond the particulars". Steiner provides us with an example and clear insight in this regard:
Assume that I have a liquid which I bring to a boil. At first it is still; then I see bubbles rise; the liquid comes into movement and finally passes over into vapor form. Those are the successive individual perceptions. I can twist and turn the matter however I want: if I remain with what the senses provide, I find no connection between the facts. With thinking this is not the case. If, for example, I grasp the thought “cause,” this leads me by its own content to that of “effect.” I need only hold onto the thoughts in the form in which they appear in direct experience and they manifest already as lawful characterizations. What, for the rest of experience, must first be brought from somewhere else — if it is applicable to experience at all — namely, lawful interconnection, is already present in thinking in its very first appearance. With the rest of experience the whole thing does not already express itself in what appears as manifestation to my consciousness; with thinking, the whole thing arises without reservation in what is given me. With the rest of experience I must penetrate the shell in order to arrive at the kernel; with thinking, shell and kernel are one undivided unity. It is only due to a general human limitation that thinking appears to us at first as entirely analogous to the rest of experience. With thinking we merely have to overcome our own limitation. With the rest of experience we must solve a difficulty lying in the thing itself. In thinking, what we must seek for with the rest of experience has itself become direct experience.
- Rudolf Steiner, The Science of Knowing (1924)
Heidegger expressed this same basic idea in his famously idiosyncratic and enigmatic way - "what withdraws from us, draws us along by its very withdrawal... once we are drawn into the withdrawal, we are drawing toward what draws, attracts us by its withdrawal... once we, being so attracted, are drawing toward what draws us, our essential nature already bears the stamp 'drawing towards'". So... is anyone still with us? Allow me to translate: our spiritual activity of thinking already contains within it the totality of ideal content necessary to get 'underway' to Thinking. For Heidegger, Being and Thinking attend to each other and tend towards each other by their very essence.
Heidegger continues, "we are who we are by pointing in that direction... this 'drawing toward' is in itself an essential and therefore constant pointing toward what withdraws... To say 'drawing toward' is to say 'pointing toward what withdraws'." That is, human beings are, in essence, the Thinking beings. "A belonging to Being prevails within man, a belonging which listens to Being because it is appropriated to Being... Man and Being are appropriated to each other." It is only through our Thinking that humanity can claim to participate in Being at all.
"For that man be delivered from revenge: that is the bridge to the highest hope for me, and a rainbow after long storms."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
How is Being constantly withdrawing away from us? Perhaps a brief example will aid us here - imagine you are sitting in your car at a red stoplight. You are still looking out at the cars, roads, people, lights and signs who cross your field of vision, but your mind then starts to 'fade out' from the particulars and apprehend a sense of wholeness, where the meaning of each sight appearing before you is related to the meaning of all others appearing before you. Then the light changes to green and you snap back into a mode being-in-the-world which is necessary for you to step off the brake, push the gas pedal and continue driving. That is the essence of the Being which withdraws from us and also draws us toward.
A quick detour into neuroscience should also be helpful here - due to extensive research in this area, we know that the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere of the 'brain' have two opposed modes of attending to the world. The former attends to the world in terms of living relations and interconnectedness, while the latter attends to it as a multitude of lifeless and disconnected 'things' which can be examined best in isolation. Without sidetracking too much here, we can simply observe how the 'right brain' is aligned with imaginative Thinking and the 'left brain' is aligned with Will in the grips of mere intellect.
Thinking seeks integration of all relations, while Willing parcels up the world and seeks to complete specific tasks at hand. It is only through Thinking that percepts and concepts can be strung together to form a living constellation of wholeness. Without that weaving together, we confront a mere multitude of 'things' which appear to have only superficial significance to each other. Then one man's perceptions and will are unique to him and another man's to his. To avoid that isolation, the 'right brain' should remain in the role of the "Master" and the 'left brain' in the role of its "emissary" who carries out tasks in accordance with the Master's guidance (see The Master and his Emissary by Dr. Iain McGilchrist).
In the modern era, however, the emissary has appropriated the role of the Master for himself and the world has become a cemetery. As Jean Piaget observed, "what we see changes what we know; what we know changes what we see". This simple fact is at the heart of Heidegger's lectures on Thinking and the phenomenology of Mind in general. Willing has appropriated the role of Thinking rather than submitting to the wisdom of its guidance. Now we must reverse that relationship if we are to avoid rushing headlong into catastrophe. Owen Barfield perceived and pointed out that, “when the velocity of progress increases beyond a certain point, it becomes indistinguishable from crisis.”
A life of mere intellect in service of Will feels perpetually oppressed by the past; oppressed by the Memory (Mnemosyne) in which Thinking resides. It then desires to discard the past and push ahead by any means necessary. Towards what does this Will push? Such a question is not meaningful for it, only burdensome. Originally, Heidegger tells us, "'memory' means as much as devotion: a constant concentrated abiding with something - not just with something that has passed, but in the same way with what is present and with what may come". Without this Memory, what remains is only a resentful desire for revenge.
Man forgets himself and the need for any deep continuity of knowledge within the younger generations. They forget Steiner's pedagogical approach which stressed that the younger generations must be "able to impart purpose and direction to their lives"; that they need "imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility"; three forces which are "the very nerve of education." They forget the wonder and mystery of the riddles which have beset man from time immemorial and substitute those mysteries for abstract propositional questions which demand abstract answers in return.
Out of the memory, and within the memory, the soul then pours forth its wealth of images - of visions envisioning the soul itself...The originary word 'thanc' is imbued with the original nature of memory: the gathering of the constant intention of everything that the heart holds in present being... The 'thanc', being the memory so understood, is by the same token also what the word 'thanks' designates... original thanking is the thanks owed for being... that thanks alone gives rise to thinking... those words bring to light situations whose essential unity of nature our eyes can not yet pierce.
- Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?
Heidegger was not interested in dwelling on the past 'mistakes' of Western metaphysics, but rather on finding a firm foundation from which philosophical and scientific inquiry could proceed, must proceed, in a productive manner for humanity. All earlier paradigms, especially those which emerged from the 15th century onwards, were going nowhere fast and, moreover, would not die quietly or with dignity. Heidegger became especially interested in the essence of art and technology in the 'post-modern' world; a topic which captured Schopenhauer's attention as well, but in a much different way.
Is there anyone among us who does not know what it is to form an idea? When we form an idea of something--of a text if we are philologists, a work of art if we are art historians, a combustion process if we are chemists-we have a representational idea of those objects. Where do we have those ideas? Do we have them in our head; have them in our consciousness; have them in our soul? Do we have the ideas inside ourselves, these ideas of objects? Now it is true that a few centuries ago philosophy began to meddle in the matter, and by now has made it questionable whether the ideas inside ourselves answer to any reality at all outside ourselves. Some say yes; others, no; still others say that the matter cannot be decided anyway, all one can say is that the world - that is, here, the totality of what is real - is there insofar as we have an idea of it. "The world is my idea." In this sentence Schopenhauer has summed up the thought of recent philosophy. Schopenhauer must be mentioned here, because his main work, The World as Will and Idea, ever since its publication in 1818, has most persistently determined the whole tone of all of nineteenth- and twentieth-century thought - even where this is not immediately obvious, and even where Schopenhauer's statement is opposed. We forget too easily that a thinker is more essentially effective where he is opposed than where he finds agreement. Even Nietzsche had to pass through a head-on confrontation with Schopenhauer; and despite the fact that his understanding of the will was the opposite of Schopenhauer's, Nietzsche held fast to Schopenhauer's axiom: "The world is my idea."
- Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?
Steiner also observed this 'head-on confrontation' of Nietzsche with Schopenhauer. Steiner highlights that Nietzsche met a tragic fate when he realized the aesthetic and mythological ideals of Richard Wagner, especially as those were expressed in the 'Ring Cycle' - a personality he held in very high esteem - were not essentially different than the ideals of the Western spiritual heritage which he criticized so harshly. That criticism was done in the manner of his favorite philosopher, Schopenhauer, in whom he first saw a kindred pessimistic spirit. It may even be fair to say Nietzsche discovered a telos lurking within the Cosmos; a telos which he had spent much of his adult life denying any significance whatsoever.
Nietzsche revered Richard Wagner as a Dionysian spirit, and Richard Wagner can only be described as a Dionysian spirit as Nietzsche represented the latter in the above mentioned work. His instincts are turned toward the beyond; he wants to let the voice of the beyond ring forth in his music. I have already indicated that later Nietzsche found and could recognize those of his instincts which by their own nature were directed toward this world. He had originally misunderstood Wagner's art because he had misunderstood himself, because he had allowed his instincts to be tyrannized by Schopenhauer's philosophy. This subordination of his own instincts to a foreign spirit power appeared to him later like a sickness. He discovered that he had not listened to his instincts, and had allowed himself to be led astray by an opinion which was not in accord with his, that he had allowed an art to work upon these instincts which could only be to their disadvantage, and which finally had to make them ill.
- Rudolf Steiner, Friedrich Nietzsche: Fighter for Freedom (1895)
Schopenhauer identified the Being of beings as a 'blind' universal Will without any telos to speak of. Unlike Nietzsche, Heidegger was able to abandon this implicitly nihilistic view of the world. After World War II, Heidegger remained eerily silent about the war and his own political involvement in the Nazi party. He does remark, however, that the "Second World War... has decided nothing... only the things that have remained undecided stand out somewhat more clearly." What we don't find in Heidegger's lack of political commentary, we do find in his mature philosophy which served as a penetrating assessment of the last millennium's nihilistic tendencies.
Heidegger finds that nihilism on the other side of the "will-to-will", which he also identified as the essence of modern technology. He calls it "the Will's revulsion against every 'it was'... the revulsion arising in the Will... against everything that endures". It is a Will which can only end in absolute obliteration. There only remains one task for man, then, which is the "letting be" of thinking activity. It is a letting-be which "prepares us... for a thinking that is not a willing" and is "beyond the distinction between activity and passivity... beyond the domain of the Will". The duty of this Thinking is to accept the call which calls it forth from Being and to give thanks in the process.
This openness to Being, which thinking can prepare, is of itself helpless to save man. A real openness to Being is a necessary though not sufficient condition for saving him. And yet, precisely when thinking plies its proper trade, which is to rip away the fog that conceals Being as such, it must take care not to cover up the rift. ... Unconcealment is, so to speak, the element in which Being and thinking and their belonging together exist.
- Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?
Heidegger relates Being and Thinking in the manner of Parmenides - "Being and thinking are the Same". Parmenides' sameness of Being and Thinking is not one of identity but of polarity, meaning each preserves its distinct identity while existing through and only through each other. For us to rediscover that belonging together, Heidegger asks us to leap with him "out of the familiar realm of science and, even... out of the realm of philosophy... onto some firm soil.... on that soil upon which we live and die, if we are honest with ourselves". We will take that leap together in the next part of this essay. With any luck, we will then be 'underway' from the Wastelands within and into the numinous realm of Thinking, Memory, and Time.