Heidegger is a notoriously heavy read – and a controversial one, given he lived in Germany through two world wars and after. His concept of Dasein – the world as perceived and lived in by humans has made me think though.
It’s easy to imagine there’s a world without us. Of course there is. Surely? A world of maths, logic, science and mindless physical processes. Not to mention a less thought-filled living world of birds and beasts – nature red in tooth and claw.
So what’s so special about humans that Heidegger says we define our very own universe? I think I get his point. Everything we see, refer to, understand and know is in fact self-referring – it is based on human experiences, human timescales, human sensory apparatus and the human scale.
We can’t truly understand or describe the world from the point of view of an ant, let alone from the perspective of a celestial body. But a celestial body is dead, so it has no perspective surely? If I read Heidegger right – I think it does.
Knowledge, wisdom, trial and error, mindless and mindful – the course of the universe is to record more and more information in itself including embodied intelligence – information stored in physical forms.
In the same way as an ant contains within it information about carbon-based life, geological time and the process of evolution; even the most basic planet contains information about the elements, supernovae and stellar aeons which led to it.
From the blinding simplicity of the Big Bang to the unimaginably vast store of data which is a galaxy – let alone a universe of them – the course of ‘life’ has been captured, recorded, embodied and stored in both vast and minuscule stores of accumulated ‘relevant complexity’ – in effect: information.
As Heidegger suggests, our mentally comprehensible portion of this recorded information is determined by our embodied human faculties and timescales. But for the ant or the celestial body the ‘recording’ is at vastly different scales. Dasein or the ‘human universe’ is but a tiny portion of this. And what each of us sees and understands of it, is but the portion lit by our own tiny flickering candle.
That we see and understand even that much, is an accident of stellar and evolutionary history – our tiny illuminated moment in space and time. But for each of us it is a very fortunate and beautiful one. And Heidegger invites us to live it to the full.