In a recent published study in neuroscience (Mehl et al, 2017) which has its central ideas popularised in the media (Moss, 2017), it throws up some very interesting philosophical questions for the hermeneutically attuned. Via the methodology of so-called conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA), it is shown that we can deceive both ourselves and others in our spoken words when we are in adverse social conditions, such as chronic stress, making self-reporting quite unreliable as a methodology. Instead of self-reporting, what the researcher looks for are genetic expressions which in some cases bypass consciousness or self-awareness and state the true state the body of the person under investigation, such as post-traumatic stress. In the study cited, genetic expressions are apparently innocuous everyday words which are used repeatedly by the person, such as “so”, “really” and “very” (Moss, 2017). On the surface, CTRA appears to pose a serious challenge to philosophical hermeneutics, because when two people are supposedly engaged in an existentially revealing dialogue, the Dasein of the self-deceiver or deliberate deceiver becomes opaque and even concealed, making it difficult for the Gadamer’s model of fusion of horizons (leading to mutual understanding and growth) to do its beneficent work. Or should the hermeneutician not give up hope in interpretative horizoning and instead go looking for these genetic expressions like what neuroscience investigators do, but use them in a more holistic way which remains true to the ontological integrity of Dasein? And yet, in the search for and capturing of these linguistic biomarkers as natural language of the affect unmediated by self-consciousness, is there any danger that hermeneutics will be compromised by scientistic unreflection? Or can social genomics, which Mehl et al subscribe to, benefit from the traditional adherence to personhood in philosophical hermeneutics? Is not the sense that one is no longer a complete person the leading cause for mental breakdown for someone caught up in adverse social conditions? Is not the reduction of a person to a random, uncontrollable series of genetic expressions the very picture of madness that a therapist wants to free a distressed patient from?
Matthias R Mehl, Charles L Raison, Thaddeus W W Pace, Jesusa M G Arevalo & Steve W Cole, Natural language indicators of differential gene regulation in the human immune system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114, 2017. doi:10.1073/pnas.1707373114.
Rachel Moss, Saying these words a lot could be a sign you’re stressed, Huffington Post, 10 November 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/saying-these-words-a-lot-could-be-a-sign-that-youre-stressed_uk_5a0570fae4b0e37d2f36e4a8.
The meme of the future that is already shaping the present is the giving over of Dasein to techne, in the global appropriation of being under the technological framework of Gestell, which in essence is Dasein‘s comportment to techne that in the fallenness of das Man (the anonymous everyday person) evades or deflects reflection on the meaning of being. In the absence of reflection, Gestell appropriates the meaning of being and vulgarises the ontological difference between being (Sein) and beings (Seiende) in the form of technological thinking alone.
Gestell, while framing the future, is manifest as an overarching power already framing the future possibilities of Dasein in the present. In fact the ontological space of Dasein is already becoming permeable to the entry of the otherness of the machine designed to emulate Dasein, if not to surpass it, by way of “thought”. The very arche (ἀρχή) of Dasein is thrown into question as a matter (Sache) of another beginning – a foreboding of vanishing as far as the essence of Dasein is concerned.
As the interface between Dasein and machine is predicted to become more and more seamless and even unified one day, what holds sway will be the battle of machination (Machenschaft) involving the two. This goes beyond the question of control, and is something that deeply affects the totality of being in essential thinking and experiencing.
With the future technology of neural lacing (à la Elon Musk) on the horizon, which aims to blur the distinctions among human consciousness, technology and the physical world in the name of seamless control – “Zum welchen Zweck?”, one may ask -, spatialisation, as the temporalisation of space, will have the technologically augmented embodiment of Dasein as both its starting point and its endpoint. In that case, the possibility of primordial experience of being-in-the-world will necessarily involve breaking out of both the net and the grid of “intelligent” technology as the group mind of the post-human future.
In Parmenides, Heidegger indicates, via his retelling of the mythic encounter between the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides and the goddess Aletheia, that the path of truth that the latter describes is a difficult one that does not bring creature comfort. The very notion of comfort, and the desire for it, has to be renounced in order for one to tread the path of Aletheia. As a primordial philosopher, this is what Parmenides chooses for himself in this philosophical myth of truth and divine encounter.
Is grieving over loss about the absence of a presence in one’s being-in-the-world? Or is the absence of familiar communications and interactions far more painful? Does the experience of pain point to the essential “being-with” of existence? Dasein is Mitdasein. Selfhood is what it is because there is another self to affirm it in Lichtung and to nurture it in authenticity. Mitdasein is the reciprocal mirroring of one Dasein with another in the projecting open of time. When this mirroring suddenly stops through loss, time points to the groundlessness of the assumed ground of being – the abyss in its pure form.
Loss, in its essence, is a goodbye to the world as it unfolds itself as futural abyss to being.
One of the Heidegger’s unfinished projects is potentially the most useful in the phronetic application of his hermeneutic ontology in an existential region of being such as nursing: metontology.
While abandoned as a distinct project in the late 1920s because of its concern with the ontic instead of the ontological, Heidegger ventured into the field of metontology late in his career, namely in the application of his phenomenological insights into questions of medicine in his dialogues with medical practitioners between 1959 and 1969 at the home of the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss, the transcripts of which were published as Zollikoner Seminare in 1978. Although steering close to the fundamental theme of ontological difference developed in Being and Time, Heidegger nevertheless felt challenged by the manifold instances of being (Sein) as beings (Seiende) that his audience of doctors and psychiatrists faced daily in their work. The unresolved methodological tension sometimes forced Heidegger to fall silent. For our purposes, it is precisely in this lack of resolution or disclosedness that a new pathway in phenomenological methodology may be found.
Where Heidegger encountered the boundary of language in ontology is where metontology begins and a genuine phenomenology of the ontic, which we experience through our senses, can be formulated. Respecting the richness of physis in the ontic, this is a project projecting itself in the futurity of time which is full of philosophical promise.
Phenomenologically speaking, meontology is an extension of the ontological while it deals exclusively with the ontic. The overall hermeneutic schemata of ontological difference is thus retained. This observation is based on Heidegger’s emphasis in Zollikon Seminars (Heidegger, 2001, 80-81): Dasein is embodied because it is spatial in its being in the first place. The body does not come before space. Space is the precondition of bodily being.
Thinking beyond Heidegger, the ontological priority of space over the ontic phenomenon of the body raises another question: ultimately, there may be little or no ontological difference between body and machine (such as cyborg) as far as being-embodied-in-space is concerned. This makes room for a phenomenological enquiry into artificial intelligence, or the simulation of the human mind or existential projection per se, if not even thrownness (Geworfenheit) into the world.
Reflecting further on the meaning of Dasein in this futuristic scenario, does not the traditional question of Geist – spirit or ghost – resurface as we seek to redefine the meaning of being human in Dasein?
Heidegger reflects on being (Sein) as not only the most universal concept, but also that which is ownmost – it is the hermeneutic site where “self” arises, persists and passes (as being-towards-death in the temporalisation of Dasein). Yet grounded in the fundamental phenomenon of care (Sorge), Dasein is not simply a self unto oneself but is a being (Seiende) that exists for the sake of others: its existence is thrown (geworfen) into Mitdasein, i.e. the being-with (Mitsein) of more than one Dasein (cf. Peplau on interpersonal relations). Existentially speaking, the cul de sac of solipsism – a self that is trapped within itself with no reference point outside it – is an impossibility. This is the logic of hermeneutic phenomenology.
Nursing, as a systematic, historicised and ever developing framework providing knowledge and practice of care (Pflegewissenschaft in German), thus has hermeneutic phenomenology as its logic. Pflege is a poignant form of Sorge that works directly with both healing and decline, hence life and death, or the enigma of existence tout court.