Chapter 10: Science as poiesis

With the so-called projection of Being subtending science broken down into how projection occurs, what gets projected, and why the projection occurs at all, the way in which all three aspects of objectification come together in a functional understanding of scientific conceptions can be observed in a quintessential discovery of modern science, Torricelli’s discovery of atmospheric pressure.  In this exemplary modern accomplishment, virtually all aspects of ancient science were abandoned and the themes eventually developed—sometimes painfully—into a truly modern science emerged for one of the first times.  With both the invention of the barometer and the discovery of atmospheric pressure one sees in Torricelli all three aspects of scientific projection at work, as well as science at work with technology in way sharply contrastable to the ‘essential ordering’ of science vis-vis the “essence of technology,” as Heidegger frames it.  In this dual respect, Torricelli’s example illustrates a productive way to understand both science itself and the relationship between science and technology, once com-posing as the essence of technology is discarded and science as “imposition” in any sense is finally left behind.

Once com-posing and imposition are discarded and left behind, science can be re-characterized in remaining Heideggerian terms in a way far more consistent with its “essence” as a unique kind of “disclosive looking” than Heidegger offers in “The Question Concerning Technology.”  That is, once Heidegger’s mistakes are corrected, science can be seen in both Heideggerian terms and in terms of what it actually accomplishes, i.e. as a projecting disclosive looking in which nature reveals itself, a ‘looking’ that uncovers nature as essentially as—and if not more so than—any “productive seeing” of essence ever does.  In so far as Torricelli’s’ use of technology in the discovery of atmospheric pressure offers an exemplary case of science at work, it is discussed next, first in terms of its historic and scientific achievement, then second in terms of the three aspects of “projection” in which the nature of science has so far been framed (so these Heideggerian terms are retained).  Following the contextualization of his invention and discovery in terms of the how, what, and why of scientific projection, the essential role of technology in scientific discovery is discussed, followed by how with the aid of technology science is an authentic poiesis, one contrasted with ‘essential seeing’ in Husserl and Heidegger and distinguished from the ultimately illusory poiesis Heidegger offers.   To close, a summary statement of science as a poiesis in which nature in effect ‘self-emerges’ through “productive seeing” (i.e. conceptual development coupled with observation and experimentation) is presented, with an eye to a follow-up contrast between ancient and modern science with respect to the question of the concealing and self-revealing of the essence of nature.

Torricelli’s discovery of atmospheric pressure historically begins with a Grand Duke’s commission to Galileo to investigate the limits of suction pumps.  As practical matter, long before Galileo it was common knowledge that a suction pump could only lift a column of water approximately 34 feet, but prior to the Grand Duke’s commission, the limit had not been subjected (at least as far as is known) to scientific investigation—that is, no one asked why the limit; builders simply worked within it.  The lack of investigation into why pumps are limited in such a way is itself telling, and it goes to a point already noted about ancient verses modern scientific explanations, namely, the action of suction pumps was taken by the ancients as a finality to be described intrinsically in terms of its own causal process (if it was described at all), whereas for Galileo and those who followed him, the action of the pump was the beginning of an investigation into why it worked the way it did, a “why” with a view to an unknown extrinsic but conjoint natural interaction as the cause in an explanation of the limit—again, as opposed to a re-description in qualitative physical terms of the intrinsic fulfillment of a self-limiting change.  Simply put, before Galileo, no one treated this limitation as due to an unobserved natural interaction, and when faced with why 34 feet and not 10, for instance, even Galileo himself fell back on simply re-characterizing suction and vacuum in intrinsically casual terms using its own effect in the explanation, stating in essence that 34 feet was the limit because the vacuum created by the pump’s action was only strong enough to suspend water to that height, i.e. the vacuum had limiting ‘lifting power,’ hence the water could only be lifted 34 feet.  So even his “explanation” amounted to re-stating the cause in terms of its effect, in effect explaining nothing.

Torricelli, one of Galileo’s assistants, took an entirely different approach to the problem, perhaps in part because of previous work done with Galileo himself.[1]  Noting as well that water flowed reluctantly out of a sealed container with only one opening, Torricelli considered that it might not be an intrinsic limit to the power of a vacuum to lift weight but rather the action of the suction in creating the vacuum in the first setting the limit to the weight that can be lifted.  That is, Torricelli reasoned that “if there can be found a manifest cause from which the resistance can be derived which is felt if we try to make a vacuum,”[2] then perhaps that resistance—and not the occult ‘lifting power’ of the vacuum itself—explains the pump’s limit.  In short, Torricelli, as a distinctly modern scientist, deduced that the intrinsic ‘lifting power’ Galileo attributed to the vacuum itself needed an explanation, and to that end he hypothesized that the “resistance” of the air around the pump as it expelled the air to create the vacuum limited the lifting power of the vacuum to 34 feet.   In essence Torricelli sought an explanation for an observed effect instead of simply re-describing that effect in new terms as its own cause—‘lifting power’ for a vacuum, as it were, like “heat” moving water/air as “wetness” out of water into air as “hot and wet” steam, etc..  With this kind of explanation as the aim in view, Torricelli’s approach to the problem was entirely modern.  Instead of taking an observed event or quality as final and using other observable finalities as terms in re-describing the intrinsic process of the change itself, he sought an external cause for the original observation, thus explaining in terms of other events why the observed event occurred the way it did.


To test “air resistance” as an explanation, Torricelli needed a way to detect it, and this need lead to one of the simplest yet most powerful technologies in the history of modern science, the mercury barometer.  Torricelli reasoned that if the atmosphere had weight, i.e. if it created resistance because the weight of the air presses down on the surface of the earth like water presses down on the bottom of a bucket, then that weight should press upon the surface of a liquid in a bowl, so to detect this pressure he filled a tube closed on one end with mercury and then suspended the open end in a dish of mercury, reasoning that if the weight of the atmosphere pushed down on the surface of the mercury in the dish, the resisting pressure would both allow a vacuum to form in the tube as the mercury falls down, with the remaining mercury suspended to a specific height, one functionally related to the force of the pressure against it.  In effect Torricelli created a ‘balance scale’ for measuring the weight of the atmosphere, and from this he could approximate the ‘lifting power’ of the vacuum in terms of the resistance to the expelled air by the pump as its suction action created it.  In essence then, the effect that Galileo only explained with another name as its own cause had in Torricelli’s explanation a cause itself in terms of a relation to another, not readily observed natural interaction, the pressure of the atmosphere exerted downward on all surfaces within it.  What Galileo and the ancients “explained” through recourse to new conceptual inventions that simply re-describing the process as intrinsic change in those very terms, Torricelli explained by conceptualizing a new as yet un-observable phenomenon, then inventing a device to observe it, thus adding new information to the explanation instead of simply re-describing the process in either new or familiar terms (like ‘lifting power’ as a new word inserted as the “cause” for the very observation to be explained).


Torricelli’s barometer, experiment, and explanation together represent a revolutionary break with ancient science in four ways, each corresponding to what modern science projects ontologically about ‘the Being of nature,’ as discussed in the previous Chapter.  First, the very idea of using an implement to detect and measure a previously unobserved natural process in order to derive an explanation of observable change was itself revolutionary.  Since for the ancients the quantity of a substance was an inessential accident—and therefore outside the scope of true knowledge—the possibly of measurement never even arose; measurement itself as a means to understanding change was a new prospect for science in so far as considering knowledge of change as genuine knowledge was new.  Second, and relatedly, asserting a second natural process (atmospheric pressure) to explain the observation of a first (the maximum height of a column of water in a suction pump) was as revolutionary as measuring any quantity itself, for an “explanation” for the ancients meant describing the change in intrinsic terms according to a principle of its own cause; it simply never occurred to them to describe one form of change in terms of another, much less in terms of a functional extrinsic relationship between two independent substances undergoing change.  Third, and again relatedly, once isolated this relationship between directly and indirectly observable changes took on a role never contemplated in ancient science: the relationship itself was the cause of the observed phenomena, i.e. the resistance caused by the air surrounding the suction pump was the “efficient” or “agent” cause of the limits of the vacuum, such that (presumably) varying the air pressure would concomitantly vary the height of the column of mercury, and so forth.  That this extrinsically causal relationship between two independent substances (air and water, or air and mercury) took place in a homogenous explanatory framework (two qualitatively different changes were seen as different aspects of change as such) is the fourth and culminating theme in the entirely new way of modern scientific thinking, a way that eschewed discursive concepts as explanatory factors describing causal change in terms of its own heterogeneous qualities, turning instead to conceptualizing new, non-directly observable natural phenomenon as the cause of the observed change.  In these four respects, Torricelli’s barometer, experiment and explanation subverted almost two millennia of Aristotelian dogma, and it set science on an entirely new path of inquiry.  In Heideggerian terms, science as a projective objectification of nature was given a new “what” to investigate, in so far as the barometer revealed a previously unobserved phenomena as the extrinsic agent cause of an observed change in an apparently unrelated (largely because hitherto unobserved) phenomenon.


As well as representing a radical break with what science projects in its understanding of the Being of nature, Torricelli’s discover of atmospheric pressure also represents a radical break with respect to all three aspect of why projection occurs.  With respect to the formulation of the scientific problem itself, Torricelli looked at the qualitatively observable differences between water and air as something to be investigated with respect to one another, not taken as finalities to be used as terms in the explanation of the height of the water column.  In other words, for the ancients there was simply no reason to look to air as a causal factor in the height of a column of water because unlike for boiling, there was no change from water to air to be observed; their qualitative difference was taken therefore as final with regard to a column of water, whereas for Torricelli this difference was taken as the very matter to be investigated.   Furthermore, as already indicated in the discussion of what was projected about nature, the kind of explanation Torricelli sought was different than the ancients.  For the ancients, the changes in the height of the water column were to be explained intrinsically according to an inner principle governing the change, thus the observable terms of the change itself were re-cast into a causal language representing the unfolding of the process itself.  Torricelli sought an explanation of the observable change in extrinsic terms, i.e. in terms of the natural interaction of independent substances related to one another, not in terms of the inner principles governing change in one substance.  Third and finally, the reach of Torricelli’s explanation differed from the “reach,” such as it is, of ancient explanations, in that the ancient explanation only related to the height of the column of water; the causal principle at work in the ancient explanation only affected water columns in suction pumps.  By contrast, the causal role of atmospheric pressure on the height of the water column would affect, so to speak, any phenomenon that might be affected by atmospheric pressure (the wind, for instance).   In other words, the inner principle of change observed for the column of water only explained the height of the column of water, whereas the existence of atmospheric pressure potentially explained many things that might also be in ‘extrinsic interrelation’ to air and its pressure (what we now know to be true of weather patterns).  With respect to reach, Torricelli’s discovery opened up new areas of natural investigation, whereas by contrast the ancient explanation of ‘lifting power’ closed matter and limited any explanatory power to one change, the height of the water column as such.  So in all three respects, why science projects what it projects differed between the ancient physicists and the modern Torricelli.


With the question of what was projected and why it was projected answered, the question of how of modern science via Torricelli projects an “understanding of the Being of nature”—again, to stick with Heidegger’s terms—comes to the fore.   That is, how did science objectify nature—but more precisely, in what manner of how did it project: hypothesis (and therefore poiesis) or objectification strictly speaking?  In other words, what kind of projection occurs in modern science, and how might this projection relate to a new, more authentic sense of poiesis (if one exists), a sense unappreciated by Heidegger?


Answering these questions requires a recapitulation of the alternative ways projection has been discussed already, namely as hypothesis (as “productive seeing” or poiesis) and objectification.  Recall that with respect to how hypothesis and objectification proceed, the projection of the Being of nature in either is the same: both hypothesis and objectification ‘posit,’ as it were, an essence or a cognitve object onto a being, an event or a quality otherwise  simply noted, experienced, and/or appreciated in direct, non-cognitive immediacy, with the difference being whether a previous ‘positing’ is merely recollected and explicitly recapitulated (as with hypothesis) or is prospectively created in order to conceptualize something new about experience (as with objectification).  With respect to the status of the “essence” or “cognitive object” disclosed in the projection, then, both hypothesis and objectification are artificial, as it were—“artificial” in the sense that the meaning in question has a complex history in the cognitive life of the linguistic community, and does not pre-exist the intents and purposes of that community as some “essence” waiting in a separate realm of Being, or as some kind of bestowal from Being itself (this notion representing nothing more than the former denuded of being an existent object).   In other words, it is artificial in that it is entirely a human invention, however obscure and complex its origins, and as such with respect to how science projects an understanding of Being, modern science can be either (or both) hypothesis or objectification, and very little seems to change.  With respect to the terms so far discussed, science can either hypothesize in recollecting an “essence” as an ontological foundation or it can objectify in fabricating a new concept as a conceptual instrument for further research, or both—it doesn’t much matter with respect to nature, that is, with respect to the question: is the knowledge deployed in the projection something entirely new about nature, or is it in an essential respect something already known (however implicitly, latently and tacitly).  With respect to projecting Being, both hypothesis and objectification are equivalent in so far as neither looks ‘directly to nature itself,’ as opposed to recollecting an artifact of meaning (hypothesis) or fabricating a new artifact from old ones (objectification).  So with this equivalency in mind, it can be asked: does either hypothesis (e.g. poiesis) or objectification capture what truly distinguishes modern from ancient science?  Does either projection as hypothesis or projection as objectification capture the ‘disclosive looking’ characteristic of modern science, or do both manners of understanding the Being of nature fall short in some way?


In order to answer this question, Heidegger’s “productive seeing” of an essence needs to be re-examined in more detail, specifically with respect to its arguable origins in Husserl’s ‘seeing of essences’ as Wesenshauung.  Once so examined, the role of objectification in science needs to be revisited in somewhat modified terms as a new aspect of scientific inquiry is introduced (to wit, the conjoint functioning of conceptual and existential subject matter).  With both clarifications in hand, the relationship of objectification and ‘seeing essences’ to the role of conceptual subject matter vis-à-vis observation in science can be addressed, and in this address the question of nature ‘self-emerging’ in a “poiesis” of science can be answered.


For Husserl “seeing essences” proceeds in two phases.  First, an exemplary instance of the thing the essence of which is to be seen is selected, and second, the guiding exemplar is imaginatively varied until invariant features emerge as constants throughout all the variations.  The starting exemplary instance can be either a real, perceived thing—say a table—or it can be simply an imagined one, but in either case properties of the “table” are varied imaginatively and the constant features of this variation are teased out, and once one gets to that feature or trait or characterization without which the table would cease to a table, one has reached the, or ‘part’ of the, essence.  So, for example, one might start with an ordinary wooden kitchen table and imagine it with three legs instead of four, made of metal instead of wood, as a dining table instead of a card table, and so forth—all kinds of variations of features and properties of “tables” until some meaning emerges without which, in its constancy, the “table” ceases being a table.  According to Husserl, once this necessary and invariant constancy is reached, one has apprehended the essence “table.”  This process of ‘eidetic variation’ and ‘seeing of essence’ works, for Husserl, for any object that can be said to have an essence, be it a natural object, a human made implement, or even a mathematical notion like a set of numbers, and in this respect the method is universal.  As such, it defines for Husserl the principle way of doing phenomenology, which for him meant the same thing as doing philosophy (as opposed to natural science, etc.).


Now, Heidegger never explicitly endorsed Husserl’s eidetic variation as the method for “productively seeing” an essence, but he never rejected it either.  Instead, he seems to have radicalized Husserl’s method down to its most basic roots as the ‘self-emerging’ of essence, i.e. Heidegger isolated through his own variation of ‘seeing and essence’ a core, essential invariant of all essential seeing.   For recall that for Heidegger “productive seeing” is both ‘creative’ in one respect even as it is ‘disclosive’ of something ‘come across’ in another, and both observations, as descriptions of ‘seeing an essence’ in eidetic variation, almost perfectly align with what happens in Husserl’s Wesenshauung as invariants emerge out of the process of creative variation.  In other words, with “productive seeing” of an essence as both ‘creative’ in one sense and ‘coming across’ in another, Heidegger seems to describe perfectly the result of seeing an essence in eidetic variation, in so far as what emerges as invariant will ‘self-emerge’ out of the process of variation.  In any case, for present purposes, Husserl’s Wesenshauung and Heidegger’s “productive seeing” of are taken to represent largely, if not essentially, the same process, even as the latter can be viewed as a specification and a radicalization the former to its own ‘irreducible core,’ without which it would no longer be “seeing an essence.”


With this description of “seeing essences” described, a question arises for Husserl’s Wesenshauung which has already been asked of Heidegger’s “productive seeing,” namely, whence the essence seen?  That is, what is an essence such that it can ‘self-emerge’ in eidetic variation as a constant meaning absent which the being (or object) in question ceases to be the being (or object) that it is?  For his part, Husserl never specified what an essence is quite so directly, meaning that he never asked and answered the question: what is an essence as such?  Instead he merely presumed essences exist, even as he gave them exclusive jurisdiction in phenomenological philosophy.   But he did leave a clue as to their origin.  He did indicate, albeit indirectly, what an essence might be when he said, with respect to the phenomenological clarification of the origins logic, “we are concerned with a phenomenological origin or—if we prefer to rule out unsuitable talk of origins, only bred in confusion—we are concerned with insight into the essence of the concepts involved, looking methodologically to the fixation of unambiguous, sharply distinct verbal meanings.  We can achieve such an end only by intuitive representation of the essence in adequate Ideation, or, in the case of complicated concepts, through knowledge of the essentiality of the elementary concepts present in them, and of the concepts of their forms of combination.”[3]   For Husserl, then, essences are somehow bound to “verbal meanings”—or more broadly speaking, to language—and this binding of essence in some sense to an origin in language has implications for what “seeing essences” can offer with respect to knowledge, i.e. the ultimately linguistic origin of essence circumscribes what it can eventually offer in the way of advancing knowledge, as opposed to clarifying and/or recollecting something already known, however tacit and vague that understanding might be prior to explication as an essence.[4]


Simply put, if essences are artifacts of meaning, and if artifacts of meaning are the result of a “complex history” of cognitive life in a speaking community with intents and purposes to communicate, then “seeing essences” amounts to no more and no less than explicating meanings that are always already understood in some respect, by someone somehow, however dim, forgotten and anonymous those meanings might be in their cognitive origins.  Seeing essence, in short, offers nothing new to knowledge that wasn’t at least tacitly already there, latent in the background “understanding of Being” (to deploy Heidegger’s term) that is the sedimentation of cognitive life.  In other words, whatever else apprehending essence is—whether it’s called Wesenshauung, “productive seeing,” hypothesis, or poiesis—in all its variationsseeing an essence’ amounts to rigorously explicating the implied meaning of an artifact of meaning, itself a positing (what was formerly described, following Heidegger, as an “imposition”) of meaning as superadded to the significance of non-cognitive life by the speaking community.[5]  As such, seeing an essence does not yield new knowledge, except with respect to ignorance of what is latent within the linguistic community.  To be sure, the implications of artifacts of meaning can we worked out explicitly for the first time or rearranged into entirely new combinations having new disclosive power, and as the product of “first” formulations the “knowledge” derived from this disclosive power will be “new,” so to speak.  But in the final analysis this first-ness and new-ness is always a function of prior implications of meanings yet to be worked out in some way, implications that are always at least latent in the sedimented history of cognitive life (what Heidegger calls the “pre-ontological understanding of Being”).  With respect to nature—i.e. with respect to natural significance, to what nature itself discloses—essences will always be artificial and therefore entirely dependent on meanings always already understood.  In short, knowledge of essence is never truly new knowledge of nature, or of anything else for that matter; it is recollection of old attempts to cognize, or in some cases the re-ordering of those previous attempts into a new cognitive object, one with new disclosive potential.  But in the end, what is disclosed has yet to be provided by nature.


The dependence of conceptual subject matter developed in objectification on the same, always already understood background of linguistic meaning should already be evident in what has been said about it, for in objectification—as noted already—the implicit understanding of the Being of beings (or cognitive objects) is explicitly drawn out in the circumscribed determination and positing of the scientific object.  It simply bears pointing out that given its origin in implicitly understood meanings of Being, the scientific object is “new” only in the sense of representing a new explication or arrangement of pre-existing meanings; it’s newness can and must be distinguished from new natural significances disclosed in non-cognitive life, significances that can only be revealed in new experiences, as opposed to comprising new arrangements of meaning about experience.  In the generation of the scientific object—and more broadly speaking, of the cognitive object—tacitly understood meanings from within the speaking community are brought to bear and stabilized into an explicitly understood object—in a sense, for sure, creating new meaning but in no way creating in that meaning something new necessarily true of nature.  The rearrangements of meanings in the generation of scientific objects merely offers conceptual subject matter for directing observation in new experiences that themselves either are or eventually can be disclosive of any natural significances those concepts are ultimately about.   In short, objectification, no matter how essentially rigorous, explicates what is latently presumed known in any understanding of Being of nature and is not by itself new knowledge of any existential, observable subject matter.


In sharp contrast to both “productive seeing” of an essence and objectification of a scientific object, science yields new knowledge, not solely the newly manipulated or explicated tacit background of meanings in some sense always already known.  That is, provisionally stated (since it has yet to be explained how or why it is so), science is not limited to either the coalescing recollection of meaning in ‘productively seeing’ an essence or the proactive, determinate fixation of meaning in the posting an object, in that contrary to both science discovers new knowledge.  In whatever way it objectified nature and deployed conceptual subject matter in its investigation, Torricelli’s discovery of atmospheric pressure added new knowledge to the repertoire of meanings inhabiting not just the limits of suction pumps but equally inhabiting the natural world generally.   Prior to its discovery in an experiment, no eidetic variation or scientific positing could do more than suggest the possibility of “atmospheric pressure,” and of even that; determination of its existence required observing existentially what was anticipated conceptually.  To be sure the scientific object “atmospheric pressure” paved the way in a crucial respect for the fulfillment of the discovery—for how else could a discovery fulfill were it not for its anticipation in a scientific concept?  And to be equally sure positing the scientific concept “atmospheric pressure” required creative variation of pre-existing understandings of weight, air, substances, and pressure (not to mention cause, etc..  But in the final analysis the truth of the concept was determined in the disclosure (or not) of a measured relation discovered in an experiment—a measurement that disclosed an existence.  Absent that measurement, “atmospheric pressure” would simply have remained nothing more than a hypothesis—a positing on its own ground of a possibility that may or may not actually exist.  But by remaining open to the possibility opened by this hypothesis and a functional objectification of nature, science went beyond both by demanding fulfillment in the discovery of new, previously unobserved existential subject matter fulfilling the anticipation (of course, if ‘atmospheric pressure’ did not exist, it could have dis-confirmed the anticipation).  Through this anticipation on conceptual grounds coupled with fulfillment from something other than its own ground, science stands in sharp contrast to both eidetic seeing of essences and objectification of objects, including and perhaps especially anticipation in hypothesis.  In a word, science is essentially openness to existential discovery.


Precisely how observation and conceptualization work together to provide explanatory solutions to scientific problems need only be sketched here, for full accounts are readily available elsewhere.[6]   But as a sketch it can be observed that any scientific inquiry must begin with a problem to be solved—in this case, an observable limit to the height a suction pump can draw water, and the limits to flow from closed containers.  Immediately upon that beginning, the problem to be solved must be conceptualized in terms that afford a solution—for instance, as a first step, it must be asked: is an external or an internal cause to be sought, and so forth (in the Heideggerian terms already discussed, the what of projection would govern this first step).  Clearly the ancients sought the former while Torricelli sought the later.  Once the problem is formulated prospectively toward some solution, observation and conceptualization are both brought to bear to sharpen the formulation so that testing prospective solutions becomes possible.  In Torricelli’s case, he clearly observed the limited height, and that no manipulation of the suction device changed this height, etc., and concurrent to these observations he conceptualized the problem in terms both eliminating possible solutions (not building a different device) and suggesting other directions for further observation and conceptualization (he must have noted the role of air in the operation of the device in creating the vacuum).   The exact observations and conceptualizations need not be specified to note that eventually Torricelli conceptualized the problem in such a way (e.g. the key is the formation of the vacuum itself, not its ‘lifting power’ per se) that afforded observational confirmation of a solution (what is the resistance of the air surrounding the pump?), such that some kind of observation answering a question (is there is in fact air pressure?) would settled on a solution (the resistance of the air around the pump limits the ‘lifting power’ of the vacuum).   Again, the exact details of the observations and conceptualizations Torricelli made are not as important as that fact that both lead to the possibility of a testable solution, and in his case this testable solution required a device (the mercury barometer) in order to test it, i.e. a technology was required to take a measurement of a phenomenon that absent the device could not be observed.   In short, conceptual and existential (observational) subject matter functionally corresponded in formulating a problem, casting that problem into a question or series of questions, then devising an experiment as the test of prospective solutions,, one of which gets affirmed as the answer to the question posed.  Notably, in this case, the experiment required a new technology.


With this intervention of a new technology for use in the joint operation of concepts and observation in scientific inquiry, the essential (to stick with Heideggerian terms) deployment of technology in modern science can be observed.  That is, the necessary way in which modern science depends on technology can be seen.  For the barometer was not simply a measuring device for taking a reading that would later be analyzed for significance—though it was at least that.  Instead, Torricelli’s mercury ‘balance scale’ for the weight of air was the sole means for disclosing the phenomena to be measured in the first place—in this case of disclosing that air had weight.  As such, the operation of the device is, in effect, the weight of the air.  Like any instrument, Torricelli’s mercury barometer didn’t just perform a task (in this case measurement); instead its operation embodied the physical principle upon which it was based.  Analogously to the edge of an axe being the potential to cut, or the wedge of the hammer being the potential to drive a nail, so the operation of the mercury barometer is the effect of atmospheric weight.  As designed it can’t but be at least that, and as such it did not just measure a phenomena; it simultaneously measured and disclosed the phenomena to be measured.  With respect to the problem Torricelli posed (namely the height of the water column relative to the pressure of the air resisting the vacuum), the technical device disclosed the existence of the pressure of the air, and therefore it disclosed the solution to the problem, subject to that ‘solution’s’ place in the conceptual and observational context giving it meaning as the solution.  In its simultaneous disclosive and measuring power, the barometer obeyed what Eddington said, quoted earlier about  physical quantities, that they “should be defined according to the way in which we actually recognize them when confronted with them.”[7] Defining “atmospheric pressure” is precisely what Torricelli’s barometer did: it defined “atmospheric pressure” as the height of the column of mercury, and it did so because its operation ‘geared into’ the natural interaction it was designed to measure.  In short, the mercury barometer—exemplary of many, if not most, instrumental technologies in science—simultaneously makes possible observation of something not otherwise observable and embodies the very natural process it measures.  In this dual function, technology is essential to science in so far as it offers the sole means of defining natural process as measurable, and in so far as the device embodies the principle it measures, those measurements are reliable discoveries (it just so happens that the mercury barometer both measured and discovered simultaneously).  For purposes of scientific discovery, technological implements are essential for the disclosure of the very natural processes science discovers, in so far as many embody that process itself, or minimally measure by acting to some other, usually related, natural process..[8]


In light of the essential convergence of science and technology in the mercury barometer, it might be asked, with Heidegger, which comes first, the essence of science or the essence of technology?  Does the disclosive looking specific to science govern the disclosive looking specific to technology, or does the disclosive looking specific to technology govern the looking specific to science?


As it happens, the very question is mis-specified, for scientific instruments are technologies in the service of scientific disclosure, such that without the former the latter would be impossible, but without the latter the former (the scientific conceptualizations) would be empty and/or meaningless, if devisable at all (which they probably aren’t).  Because of this mutual interdependence, there can be no question of priority because the uses to which technology is put in science are both a use from within a ‘disclosive looking’ and a use that is the possibility of a ‘disclosive looking’ itself.  For as already noted, modern science looks for previously unobserved natural interactions as the cause of observable phenomena, and without technological devices to observe these interactions, all determination of cause would be impossible, just as the instrument itself wouldn’t even be conceivable without the scientific projection anticipating that there is an interaction to observe.  So modern technology and modern science happily serve one another to such an extent that there is simply no grounds for asserting that the essence of one is prior to the essence of the other.  To do so is simply to misstate how a technology like the mercury barometer both works within science and forms the very possibility of science in the first place. In short, Heidegger is simply wrong to find the essence of modern science in the essence of modern technology, much less to find the essence of the former in terms of latter as con-posing, i.e. a challenging that conceals, as opposed to poiesis, i.e. a disclosure that reveals.  Simply put, technical implements and scientific conceptualizations work harmoniously in a marriage of discovery, and there is simply no sensible question as to which partner is dominant or prior.  With respect to modern science, Heidegger’s assertion of the priority of modern technology just doesn’t make sense.


The question of the relationship between modern science and technology so far has only focused on technological instruments used in science, but the question of the relationship between science and technology in the broader sense of implements used outside of science (in industry, for example) can be answered just as readily, in that outside the instruments of science some understanding of the natural processes—broadly speaking “science”—embodied in the instrument precedes the development of technological implement itself in so far as some understanding of the potentiality actualized in the implement is necessary for creating the implement in the first place.  So a steam engine couldn’t be invented without some “scientific” understanding of steam pressure in a closed container and the conversion of pressure into mechanical work.  But this priority noted, technological implements like the steam engine feed back into science as study of its operation sharpens existing—or even open onto new—scientific conceptualizations (as the laws of thermodynamics followed, not preceded powered engines).  At the end of the day, it is immaterial whether the potentially for the implement is apprehended first in some kind of theoretical knowing (in the Heideggerian sense of theoria), or whether a natural ‘implement’ (a sharp rock) or process (fire, flowing water) evokes the ‘theoretical understanding’ guiding the development of an implement (a spear head or a water mill); for surely both directions occur, and have occurred.  In any case, with both technology and ‘science’ in the broad sense the marriage is the same: technology leads to science just as science leads to technology—a fact that shouldn’t be surprising considering the intimate relationship of doing and knowing in all virtually everything human beings do.


Returning now to the question of scientific projection and whether that projection is hypothesis or objectification, or both, or alternatively some sense of poiesis as yet unappreciated by Heidegger, the clue to the answer lays in the very idea of a “marriage of discovery” that is scientific implements at work (i.e. in the marriage of science and technology).  For consider again the role the mercury barometer played in Torricelli’s discovery of atmospheric pressure: it simultaneously measured and disclosed, and more to the point, it simultaneously measured and disclosed something entirely new, something that required a new conceptualization beyond explicating a latent meaning in the background of already understood and deployed (however tacitly) meanings.   As impossibly simple as it might sound, this instrumental disclosure is the poiesis of science.  Simply put, the barometer—contextualized of course within the cooperation of observation and conceptualization that is scientific inquiry—let atmospheric pressure ‘be’ as such for the first time; in ‘reading’ the barometer—in assessing its significance—“atmospheric pressure’ emerged, and since it didn’t emerge from the pre-operative understanding of the essence of the atmosphere but instead emerged from nature of itself, “atmospheric pressure” for all intents and purposes “self-emerged” in the process of discovery.  To be sure, the air exerted pressure on the surface of the earth long before Torricelli’s discovery; nature was always the way it was, so long as there was an atmosphere on the earth.  But prior to its discovery, there was no “atmospheric pressure” in the strict sense of the term—i.e. there was no “atmospheric pressure” as a cognitive object.  As a fulfilled cognitive object, “atmospheric pressure” only exists as the consequence of a discovery, and that discovery of something genuinely new can only be said to have emerged from within the process of discovery itself, from within nature itself—i.e. as a poiesis.  The barometer, as a simple ‘balance scale’ for the atmosphere—indeed, as part of nature itself—let the atmosphere’s weight to reveal itself, as it were, for the first time.  Again, to be sure this ‘self-emergence’ of the weight of the atmosphere was abetted by both the prospective scientific object “atmospheric pressure” that anticipated the actual discovery and the barometer itself as an instrument of potential disclosure and measurement.   But the barometer as an instrument and the conceptual object as an anticipation merely pose a question that only nature could answer in its own “self-emerging” terms (for recall, the barometer is itself as much a part of nature as the atmosphere; it is a natural process in action).  In this way, the marriage of instruments, concepts and observations in experiment merely abets revelation of nature through its own operation, making scientific discovery of something both new and essential about nature an authentic poiesis of an entirely new kind.


With respect to science being an authentic poiesis of the self-emergence of nature as opposed to a human imposition on it, it doesn’t matter that both the question asked and the answer obtained are framed in terms human beings can understand, as though the framing and the terms impose on nature in some restrictive sense (for as seen, all cognition imposes).   Rather the decisive issue for science as poiesis in the genuine sense is that the conceptualization “atmospheric pressure,” though generated from hypothetical variation in an objectification of nature, would have been discarded as just another conceptual imposition were not the question implicit in it answered by an natural process existing entirely independently of the question posed.   In fact, it is this very independence of the existing process indicated in the question from the question itself that separates poiesis in the scientific sense from poiesis in the (illusory) Heideggerian sense, for in poiesis in the Heideggerian sense, there is simply no “independence” to ‘self-emerge’ because the essence disclosed in “productive seeing” is an artifact of meaning always already in some sense acquired, not a new natural significance actually obtained.  By contrast, in science something genuinely new is disclosed, something not already pre-operatively understood, no matter how explicitly the discovery was anticipated by pre-existing conceptualization.  In scientific inquiry a question is posed of nature in such a way that it can only be answered by nature as such, as it reveals itself; it cannot be answered as human beings (as Dasein who already understands Being) recognizes in its own cognitive accomplishments as what has already been put there.  Simply put, for all its so-called “imposition” of human terms—imposition not principally different from the imposition that is cognitive life—science truly discloses, not recognizes or re-orders.  Through the use of instruments that simultaneously measure and disclose, science represents lets nature reveal itself; it uses some natural process to allow others to self-emerge; and as such science represents a poiesis in the authentic sense of abetting self-emergence, leaving it only ‘impositional’ in the benign sense of obliging an answer to the question posed (and of course, nature can simply refuse to answer as expected, as it often enough does when science fails to discover anything).  Simply put, in order to answer its questions, science lets nature emerge of its own accord even as it abets this emergence with conceptualization, observation and experiment, and as such science is poiesis in the most authentic sense of the term.


(To cast the decisive issue for genuine poiesis into strictly Heideggerian terms, the abetting ground of scientific disclosive looking may be hypothesis and objectification, but the only fulfilling ground of the scientific object is a disclosure of nature as such.  To put the same issue into preferable pragmatic terms, no matter how rigorous and well worked out the conceptual subject matter for use in scientific investigation, absent existential observation that subject matter can only confirm the internal validity of its own operations, not the validity of the scientific object, much less can it reveal anything real about nature.  To wed both Heidegger and pragmatism, absent natural ground or existential observation, science is—like Heideggerian poiesis and hypothesis—merely the recollection of things previously understood and already known, however tacitly, or at best it amounts to the reordering of these previously understood meanings into new meanings with potential disclosive power.   Only with a ground in the disclosure of nature or the fulfilling observation of existential subject matter can any mode of inquiry into nature, be it philosophy or science, be true poiesis, and of the two, only science meets that condition.  As a true poiesis, science, not philosophy, is discovery and new knowledge.  Science and not philosophy is poiesis is in authentic sense of the word.)


The full reach of scientific poiesis is beyond the scope of this essay.  Instead, the conclusion reached here from within a dialectical engagement with Heidegger serves mainly as food for thought, as a first course, as it were.  But to make the full meaning more tempting, it could be noted that the variation in experiment as alternative explanations are ruled out enacts existentially what eidetic variation enacts in the imagination, leaving at the end of experimental trials an invariant “essence” of nature as characteristic of the natural process under investigation as any essence is of a being imaginatively varied.   Furthermore, it is noted that the “active receptivity”[9] that Rojcewicz finds in Heideggerian poiesis preserves by inverting it precisely Dasein’s (i.e. humanity’s) reliance on something beyond its parochial concerns, without committing the implied parochialism of seeing essence, to wit: in receptive activity Dasein in its scientific comportment remains open to the disclosure of nature, whereas in seeing the essence of nature it remains only open to the disclosed of its latent, pre-operative understanding, i.e. the understanding of the Being of nature that it always already has.  In other words, by conducting experimental manipulation science actively engages nature on its own terms and in terms of its own interactions, even as in the activity of experiment, to be fulfilling, it must remain receptive and responsive to what nature reveals, not merely its own anticipations i.e. it must be guided both by anticipation of what nature might reveal even as it allows what it is revealed to guide its anticipations.  In this way, science as receptive activity is minimally as authentically ‘poetic’ as Heidegger’s mandate to actively await the next disclosure of Being, since seeing the “essence of Being”—or perhaps better stated in Heideggerian terms, seeing the essence bestowed by Being—is no more or less a seeing of something independent of Dasein than is a ‘seeing an essence’ of nature as revealed in experimental variation.  It is simply indicated here that as revealing something independent in part from its own agency and in part from the ‘agency’ of nature itself, scientific disclosure is both instrumental and consumatory in a ‘poetic’ way, with nature itself proving the ultimate consummation.


With this possibility of scientific poiesis in mind, an example to which Rojcewicz twice recurs in his elaboration of Heidegger can be seen in an alternative light, specifically, the exemplary issue whether water is H2O.  Rojcewicz repeatedly notes that scientific conceptions like H2O impose on the natural essence of ‘water’ taken as what Dasein swims in, washes in, drinks from, and baptizes in, etc.—all the native uses for water that come to define its essence for Dasein—its natural essence, as has been called here.[10]  For both Heidegger and Rojcewicz, H2O forecloses the natural essence of water by seeing it as a mere substance comprised of other mere substances, and what’s more, this single substance is nothing more than a “disposable” out of which hydrogen and oxygen can be extracted “for human needs and whims.”[11]  In other words, water as H2O somehow imposes a human framework on water, one different in kind from the native uses which water naturally affords—things like washing, drinking and baptizing, and so forth—and this human framework somehow conceal the natural essence “water .“


Now, the H2O as a human imposition of disposables here is curious, for it is inexplicable how baptizing and swimming and drinking aren’t “human needs and whims” that uses water as something disposable for those uses (for one thing done it is makes it unsuitable for anything else), an inexplicability made all the more curious when it is observed that water as H2O is a conception of water as it exists outside any human context and solely in terms of—in so far as these can be determined—its natural interactions with surrounding objects.  For consider that as a so-called natural essence, water used for baptizing is not used for swimming, and water for washing not for drinking, etc. (hence in human terms water is disposable), whereas water is H2O regardless of whether one swims, washes, drinks or baptizes in it.  H2O is precisely what water invariably is if it is still to be water despite all its interactions and uses, including the human interactions and uses in which it is disposed.  H2O represents the last ‘feature’ remaining in all the various solutions and uses and states in which water can exist or be used and still exist as water.  Why then is H2O not the essence of water, with ‘baptism’ and ‘swimming’ the parochial “human needs and whims” to which H2O is subjected?  Any Heideggerian response to the question is bound to be invalid because Heidegger himself confuses human parochialism with essence, in that “productively seeing” the so-called “natural essence” of what water is presumes a “complex history” of cognitive impositions that draw some kind of draft on the natural significance of water as wet, fluid, clear, etc., a draft continues in kind with the scientific extension of those properties as being two hydrogen and one oxygen bound together in one substance, water.  It is noted here that as far as determining the invariant characteristic ‘without which’ water no longer is water, science—and not Heideggerian poiesis—respects water outside of “human needs and whims” and reveals what water truly is.  In fact, the only reasonable temptation to see the matter in the Heideggerian topsy-turvy inversion stems  from the already debunked error of ontologically assuming that water as H2O is somehow more real than “water” in the sense of what we swim in, or bath in, or drink up.  As already noted, that ontological discounting of the natively real against the scientifically real is simply unwarranted from within science itself, and as such it offers no ground for denying, with Heidegger, that water is essentially H2O, much less that science through experimental variation cannot yield something as essential about the phenomena it studies as eidetic variation does—the latter being bound at the end of the day to what is always already understood. For again, as already noted, only the former leads to new knowledge, not the recollecting explication of things already known, or presumed known, however indeterminate or inchoate that knowledge might be.  As such, it can be rhetorically asked, how does science not yield essential knowledge? Why is water not essentially H2O?


In any case, this Chapter can be summarized by saying that through its instrumental disclosure of new natural processes, science is poiesis in the authentic sense of the term.  Like with Torricelli’s barometer, scientific instruments disclose new realities to “Dasein,” realities both unobserved and unobservable without instrumental means.  In this way, science fulfills perhaps the central aspect (as already discussed) of why science projects as it does, namely, to understand natural interrelations as they occur “out of relation to any particularized experience”—in other words, to understand (metaphorically speaking!) thingsin-themselves as much as possible.  Since scientific objects represent “an indefinite multitude of possible relations among concrete things,” they—and not some so-called “natural essence”—disclose nature ‘as it really is,’ so long as ‘as it really is’ tautologically means as it persists in events and interactions independently of parochial human purposes and concerns.  How science achieves this and to what extent it does is a legitimate question, but that it attempts to do so remains a fact independent of the answer obtained.  As such, it stands to reason that science is the truly ‘poetic’ mode of human inquiry as far as ‘self-emergence’ of truly independent existents is concerned.   To reverse the Heideggerian dictation, science remains open to the independence of nature, in that it only abets the self-disclosure of nature through conceptual positings (previously called by Heidegger “impositions”) no more obnoxious than those subtending all cognitive life (including Heideggerian poiesis).  Simply put, only poiesis describes how science uses hypothesis and objectification to ask questions and wait for nature’s answer—an answer it compels no more than any question compels an answer, an answer for which the scientist is obliged to nature as the respondent.  In its poiesis science discloses essence as much as any ‘essential seeing’ in eidetic variation—if not more so.  For these reasons, there is simply no basis for asserting that science imposes on in a foreclosing way on any sense of “natural essence” that is itself not based on an imposition alike in kind at some point.  In short, any natural essence to be had—should the term be retained—is to be had in science, not in the self-fulling prophesizing Heidegger calls poiesis.

[1] Historical sources are not entirely clear, but it seems that Torricelli worked on this problem with Galileo before the latter’s death. See the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Evangelista Torricelli.

[2] Torricelli, Evangelista. (1644) “Letter to Michelangelo Ricci concerning Barometer, June 11, Florence, Italy. In: Collected Works Vol. III (1919) [from William Francis Magie, A Source Book in Physics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1935).

[3] LI 238, emphasis added only to “verbal meanings”

[4] LI 251 for “such self-evidence [of essential seeing] depends, however, on the verbal meanings.” This binding to “verbal meaning” in some respect is even more dedicated in Heidegger, who repeatedly called language the “house of Being,” endorsing at one point the poetic expression “where word breaks of no thing may be.”  See Heidegger, On the Way to Language, specifically the essay “Words” for the latter discussion.

[5] For an account of the genesis of meaning along these lines, see Dewey’s Experience and Nature, chapter 5 “Nature as meaning and communication.”

[6] The most accessible account is arguably Dewey’s How We Think, Part Two: Logical Considerations.  The account there is a popularized abbreviation for prospective teachers of the rigorously worked out argument of Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. Interested reader are referred directly to either work for full elaborations of what is sketched here.

[7] NPW 130

[8] A volt meter embodies the principle of a “volt,” but a cloud chamber in particle physics offers a way to measure particles without itself embodying the dissolution of composite particles into more fundamental ‘components.’  This distinction probably requires some elaboration that is not undertaken here.  In any case, this duality of instruments is an interesting topic in the history of science that bears directly on the question of its “essence” viv-a-vis technology.

[9] GT 148, 155, 169, 178, etc.

[10] GT 75

[11] GT 75, emphasis added.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s