Chapter 3: Problematic technologies for poiesis and com-posing

One test of an explanation—perhaps the only one that really matters—is how well it solves the problem it purports to solve.  For a problem like asking about what technology is, how we should understand it, and what we should do with that understanding once we have it, the “explanation” is mainly a description that orients us within the problematic situation of being amidst all things technological—it involves getting our bearings along a path, as it were.  Even if the path is only a path and not the solution per se, the effectiveness of the orientation that path offers can be still tested, and it can be tested by the simple question of how well it orients us, i.e. by how well it illuminates both what is now the case with respect to technology, and what was has transpired in the technological past.  For understanding the essence of technology, Heidegger has offed two orientating concepts: com-posing for illuminating the modern era and poiesis for illuminating what has been eclipsed by that era , the ancient way of technology.   It remains to be seen how well these notions characterize both the technology that exists today and the technology that existed in ancient times.  Such testing is the purpose of this Chapter.

Now it must be noted right off the bat that in this Chapter Heidegger isn’t going to be badgered about most of the issues that would likely come up for an historian assessing the merits of his work.  For  instance, it doesn’t much matter to the argument presented here when the “ancient era” started and ended versus when the “modern era” started and ended, nor does it much matter why the ancient era centers exclusively on Greece, when Greece was in fact a relative latecomer to ancient technologies like farming, ceramics, metallurgy, and building, all technologies still in use today; that even contemporarily with the Greek world there were many ancient civilizations, both in and out of contact with that rather circumspect Mediterranean region, all using those technologies, as well as a few others which the Greeks did not use but we still use today (   ).[1]  Finally, it won’t even be asked how likely it was that Aristotle’s understanding of causality is in fact representative of that circumspect island of the ancient world, when Aristotle’s philosophy would have been entirely unknown to the class of people who actually did the work in Greece, i.e. the ones who actually designed and used the technology;  that it would probably not be unknown solely because of the prevailing lack of literacy in that society, but also because Aristotle being representative of “ancient causality” is about as likely as an ivory tower professor today being “representative” of the mindset of the working class simply because he wrote a book on Marx and the internal contradictions of capitalism.  None of these rather colloquial concerns will be brought to bear on the question concerning the essence of technology because Heidegger himself would probably acknowledge them, even as he dismisses them as entirely beside the point because they are nothing but historical “chronology,” the “mere record of human activity.”[2]  By comparison, the history of Being is about the historical essence of disclosive looking, not about what was actually done within that disclosive looking, and as such the question of Being must be weighed, if it is to be weighed at all, by how well it illuminates the “essence” of technology terms of this history of “Being.”  So with this in mind, Heidegger’s question concerning the essence of technology will be assessed on its own terms.  Just what those terms are, and how they bear on the distinction between “essence” and “fact,” requires some elaboration.

What is an essence? Technology as “essence”

In the usual philosophical sense, essence typically refers to what characteristically makes a kind of being the kind of being that it is.  So colloquially put, the “essence” of a tree is what characterizes a “tree” as a tree and not as a flower or a stone or a person or a melody; what makes a flower a flower and not a the pot it grows in, or the water that fortifies, it, and so one and so forth.  Recurring to the example mentioned earlier, in this sense, both an ‘elm’ and an ‘oak’ partake of the essential being of “tree,” just an ‘A’ and a ‘C#’ in partake of the essential being “musical note”—again, and so on and so forth.  In this usual sense, essence is minimally controversial, at least among philosophers of Heidegger’s set, and historically Heidegger is on solid ground differentiating “essence” as something apprehended about ‘what kind a thing is’ as opposed to the factual instances ‘that it is a thing of a specific kind.’

But as indicated already, Heidegger means something else besides “essence” in the usual sense when it comes to the essence of something like technology, an essence that deals not just with the ‘whatness’ of a being making it the kind of being that it is, but rather also with something related to ‘the disclosive looking’ granted by Being within which “essence” in the usual sense is apprehended.  Specifically, for Heidegger poiesis and com-posing as ‘kinds’ of disclosive looking are not instances of a greater kind “disclosive looking’ under which the two different instance can concurrently exists, like an “elm” and an “oak” can concurrently co-exist with both each other and with a melody played by a musician reposing under their boughs.  “Essence” as it applies to technology is not, for Heidegger, a general kind instantiable into concurrently existing particulars, which raises the rather obvious question: in what sense, then, does “essence” have, and in what sense does technology have an essence?

Heidegger offers very little in the way of clarifying how he conceives “essence,” and Rojcewicz himself indicates that Heidegger mainly leaves it up the reader to fill in what the new meaning of “essence” might be when it comes to understanding the essence of something like technology.  But Heidegger does offer two features: essence is something “bestowed,” and in that bestowal it is something that “endures.”  This ‘bestowed endurance’ can best be seen in contrast to essence as Idea, as Heidegger indicates and Rojcewicz draws out.  In the contrast, the avenue of critique suggested in Chapter 2 can be reassessed.

For Plato, the Idea is the permanent essence of a being that makes it the being that it is.  It doesn’t matter so much at this point whether or not Plato, as Rojcewicz indicates, makes the “Idea” into some kind of thing in some sense existing antecedently in a realm separable from the mundane existence of everyday things (i.e. as a persistent realm of Ideas apprehendable in some way by mind, with Ideas as ‘things’ to be embodied in mundane things, thus giving them the meaning of their Being).  In whatever way they exist, Ideas are for Plato, as both Heidegger and Rojcewicz note, permanent.  Ideas don’t change in the way a specific instance ‘tree’ can change; instead they are the permanent essence that gives a particular existing tree its meaning, its Being, even as particular instances can vary.  In this respect, the Idea is permanent and unchanging regardless of the manner in which it itself exists—a manner one can be agnostic about, so long as its features of bestowing the meaning of Being on a particular is acknowledged, a meaning that does not change along with the particular, factual changes individual things can undergo (actual trees of a given kind can have more or less leaves, be taller or shorter, etc., all without changing their essence as determined by the Idea).

This meaning of Idea as a ‘permanent’ and ‘unvarying’ bestower of meaning can be contrasted with Heidegger’s “essence,” for Heidegger re-thinks the permanence of Ideas in his re-thinking of essence, even as he rejects “Ideas” per se in any Platonic sense.  That is, while Heidegger may grant that an Idea ‘bestows’ meaning onto a particular, factually existing thing, he says that the meaning of the Idea itself is in essence a bestowing.  The meaning of an Idea—or in Heidegger’s term, the meaning of an essence as re-thought relative to the question concerning technology—is itself bestowed, and more to the point, it is bestowed by Being.  As bestowed by Being, the meaning of an “essence’ is not permanent; essence when it comes to something like technology is not unchanging, even as it is unchanging relative to the changes of the being of which it is an essence, i.e. particular technologies can have different attributes like tree can have different attributes but still be the same kind of technology as the tree is the same kind of tree.  So for Heidegger, while the essence “tree” is unchanging relative to its instantiation in an elm or an oak, even relative to different elms and oaks in a grove of trees, the meaning of the essence “tree” is not itself unchanging.  Its meaning, as bestowed by Being, can change if Being ‘decides’ to change it.  So with respect to potential permanence relative to change, i.e. with respect to manifestation in particular beings and the possibility that this ‘permanent’ meaning can itself change at the behest of Being, Heidegger can say (as Rojcewicz notes): essence is something that endures as a bestowal.  As Rojcewicz interprets: “Thus, the essence of technology, our understanding of things in general, both endures and changes on account of the history of Being.  The notion of bestowal not only accounts for the enduring of the essence but also for its peculiar sort of nonperpetual enduring.”[3]  Essence then, when it comes to understanding the essence of technology, is a bestowal that endures: the meaning of technological things—another name for the disclosure of the meaning of beings in general—endures in the sense that it gives beings the manner in which they can be disclosed technologically, even as the meaning of this Being can change as the history of Being changes.  This bestowed endurance is, as fleshed out by Rojcewicz, how Heidegger rethinks Plato’s Ideas in terms of “essence” and the history of Being.

With this interpretation of Heidegger’s rethinking of essence in mind, what does it mean then to say that technology has an essence?  In the first place, it still means that the essence of a being, as disclosed in the manner of looking (on beings) prior to the development of technological implements and their use, conditions the possibility of creating those implements and guides their actual use.   “Guides” here should be taken to mean both leading and determining, since the essence of technology as something enduring means that the manner of disclosive looking specific to a type of technology (poiesis or com-posing) is a permanent feature of technology itself, once Being bestows that essence.  Any instantiation of the essence of technology in a specific technology—whether in the creation and use of an implement or in the devising of a technique etc.—partakes of the enduring essence of technology within that historical era of Being.  But in the second place, it can be noted: though enduring and in a sense as permanent within that era, the essence of technology can change as the history of Being changes.  In this respect, Heidegger’s indication that the two modes of disclosive looking that characterize the essence of technology (poiesis and com-posing) cannot concurrently co-exist as valid instantiations of a kind “disclosive looking” is reinforced by his rethinking of “essence.”  That is, in so far as an era of the history of Being prevails (and one always does), any technological implement or technique must partake of the essence of technology specific to that era, but nevertheless, two separate essences of technology can exist at different times as an essence because as a bestowal of Being, the essence of technology can change.  In this respect, then, even though the essence of technology cannot be understood in the usual philosophical sense of ‘the meaning of a kind that can be instantiated’ into concurrent particulars without violation, it can still be understood as something permanent because what endures in an essence for an era is bestowed by Being, even as Being’s bestowal can—and does—change.  Under this rethinking of essence, technology has an abiding essence in which all particular technologies partake in so far as they exist, but the meaning of that existence (their essence) can change because historically the offering of Being can change it.

Despite how it might appear at first glance, the notion of “essence” as ‘bestowed endurance’ means the avenue of potential criticism against Heidegger suggested in Chapter 2 is more pronounced, not less; that is, the essence of technology as ‘bestowed endurance’ increases the stakes in asking the critical questions, to wit: do contrary technologies in fact concurrently exist when in essence they cannot?  For consider:  essence as a ‘bestowal that endures’ makes perfectly clear how two different kinds of technology, poiesis and com-posing, cannot co-exist concurrently, even though essence typically allows concurrent instances of different particulars of a given kind.  As having an essence, all technologies created and used within a given historical epoch of Being will partake of the essence of technology unique to that epoch, but since within an epoch of Being only one bestowal occurs—since only one essence of technology endures—particular instances of technology are, as it were, one of a kind.  Although recognizably different among themselves as different instances of a kind, poiesis or com-posing, this recognizable difference within a similarity is the result of a different kind of essence than the essence of technology itself.  As particulars under the essences “poiesis” or “com-posing,” all particular instances of technology are one with either kind; all instances of technology within that epoch will be either poiesis or com-posing—in short, “essence” in the usual philosophical sense would still apply within the era as a permanent aspect of technologies that makes them the kind of technologies that they are.  But with respect to the essence of technology itself, i.e. with respect to the kind of essence that the essence of technology itself is, that essence can change.  What ‘bestows’ in a traditional sense ‘kindness’ on various technologies within an epoch, as itself bestowed by Being, can and does change.   In one era it is poesis, in another com-posing.   So since while what is bestowed (an essence of technology) endures as unchanging with respect to particular instances of technology under it, the essence of technology as bestowed by Being itself does not endure in the same way; it changes—or perhaps more faithfully put, it only endures within the possibility of change.  But in any case, the notion of essence as ‘bestowal that endures’ means two different kinds of technology cannot exist within a given historical epoch of Being any more than two different historical epochs of Being can exist at the same time.  By virtue of essence in both senses (the usual philosophical and Heidegger’s rethinking), poiesis always excludes com-posing, and com-posing always excludes poiesis.

The questions raised at the beginning of this Chapter thus return in full force: what sense can be made of Heidegger’s account of the essence of technology if in fact two different kinds of technology concurrently co-exist within a given epoch of Being?  What sense can be made of Heidegger’s account if a ‘poetic’ technology exists side-by-side with a ‘com-posing’ technology within the ancient world, or a ‘poetic’ technology co-exists with a ‘com-posing’ one within the modern world?  Under Heidegger’s thinking, this cannot occur: Being either reveals itself more fully in poiesis, or it reveals itself as withdrawing in com-posing.  History, as the mere happening of actual events, must conform to this essence.  Under a given historical epoch, there simply cannot exists mutually opposing essentially different technologies.

Yet history has shown, abundantly, that such mutually opposing technologies have in fact co-existed, and in fact still co-exist.  That is, contra Heidegger, poiesis and com-posing have existed together, and still do.  For the ancient Greeks, mining and de-forestation as two ‘com-posing’ technologies existed side-by-side with ‘poetic’ technologies to such an extent that these two ‘com-posing’ technologies made possible the use of the ‘poetic’ technologies Heidegger describes.  Furthermore, within the modern era, ‘modern farming’ as the “mechanized foodstuffs industry”[4] Heidegger decries simply did not exist until well into the modern era, before which time ‘poetic’ family farming prevailed, even though some technological improvements over the ancient world occurred.  But these improvements all partake of poiesis; they are merely different in degree, not kind, from ancient technologies.  For the remainder of this chapter, the impossible co-existence (under Heidegger) of poiesis and com-posing in both the ancient and the modern era is discussed, and final mention is made at the closing of an entirely new technology (telecommunications) that cannot be characterized as either poiesis or com-posing but instead is a scientifically based hybrid, as it were, of both—or at least potentially so, but in any case it is not com-posing, as it must be in belonging to the modern era.  As a third way of technology—as a third kind of “essence”—telecommunications calls into question Heidegger’s characterization of technology in a deeper sense than simply being wrong about poiesis and com-posing, for it show that in principle alternative “essences” of technology are possible, if not necessary, so long as one trades in essences (and it remains to be seen if one needs to when it comes to something like technology).  In any case, the problematization of the ‘destines of Being” as poiesis and com-posing opens up consideration of alternative essences for technology, a task taken up in Part Two.

Deforestation and mining in the ancient world

Although many of the technologies of the ancient world can, with contortion, be described in terms of poiesis, i.e. in terms of an abetting causality that Heidegger and Rojcewicz describe, de-forestation and mining are not among them.  Yet both phenomena were widespread in ancient Greece,[5] and as technologies they served as the foundation for the so-called ‘poetic’ technologies Heidegger mentions and Rojcewicz describes in detail on his behalf.  That is, de-forestation and mining took the raw materials (wood and ore) from nature and transformed them into usable ‘matter,’ matter which then—and only then—could be disclosed as pregnant with form by artisans and craftsman.  And what’s more, the processes by which both wood and metals derived were can best—if not exclusively—be described in the very same terms Heidegger reserves for modern technology as com-posing.  De-forestation and mining were essentially ‘com-posing’ technologies, not poiesis (at least that is the argument here), and as such they present a problem for Heidegger’s account of the essence of technology, in so far as com-posing cannot have existed when poiesis endures, and vice versa.  As noted, this concurrence of ‘poetic’ and ‘com-posing’ poses inherent problem for Heidegger’s thought, especially since the later happens to have served as the condition for the possibility of the former.

First, regarding deforestation, wood was both the primary building material and primary source of fuel in ancient world.  It was used to build houses, temples, public buildings, ships, weapons, and implements, and it was used for fuel in cooking, smelting, and for heat.  But more significantly for the present argument: the process by which it was obtained for such uses can, and only should, be described in the same terms that Heidegger reserves for modern technology.   In other words, the harvesting of trees for wood as raw material for burning and building is essentially com-posing, not poiesis.  A simple description of disclosive looking required for harvesting trees for wood should make this clear.

The principle issue at stake in whether deforestation was com-posing or poiesis can be put into the form of a question.   When approaching a forest, what did the ancient Greeks see?  What was disclosed to them—or more specifically, in what manner was the forest disclosed, in a ‘poetic’ or ‘com-posing’ way?  What did the Greeks see in a “tree” when they viewed a forest technologically, as they must have viewed it, since their historical Dasein was intrinsically technological, as all Dasein is? Did they see the tree poetically, as they must have under Heidegger’s account of the essence of ancient technology, or did they see it as ‘com-posing,’ as raw material solely for human uses, as they could not have under Heidegger’s account?  In short, how was a tree disclosed to the Greeks?

To be sure, forests were widely seen by the ancient Greeks as places of the gods, places to be revered and sanctified, places to be intrinsically respected, and therefore they were  sometimes viewed ‘poetically,’ as poiesis.[6]  And to be sure, forests were also widely respected for their natural beauty, as noted by many ancient writers.[7]  Aristotle even regarded forests important enough to assign a conservator to them in his Politics.[8]  In all three respects, then—as places of the gods, as natural wonders, as something to be stewarded—forests for the Greeks, as ‘objects’ of a technological looking, were ‘poetic’.   They often viewed forests technologically as poiesis, a viewing to which Heidegger is committed and would have certainly described, had he discussed forests instead of rivers and streams and hydroelectric dams and footbridges.  But regardless of the particulars, the principle remains the same.  Forests for Heidegger would have been for the Greeks places to be respected for their natural offerings.  Within the disclosive looking of ancient technology, harvesting trees for human uses, in so far as it occurred at all, would have been poiesis.

But although the Greeks verifiably did experience forests as poiesis, poiesis alone—as must be the case for Heidegger, if his account is to bear the weight of the Greek experience—does not faithfully capture the entire experience of forests for them, and it almost certainly doesn’t even capture their primary view of forests and trees.  For not only were forests seen as places of the gods or as settings of natural beauty, they were more frequently seen as resources for human use, and the trees within them were viewed as mere commodities to be transformed, transported, and put to ‘remote uses by remote users.’  In other words, in a disclosive looking that simply cannot be poiesis, the widespread deforestation in  ancient Greece shows that forests were seen mainly as sources of raw material that could only afterwards be transformed into ‘pregnant matter’ which would then be obligingly worked in the more ‘poetic’ technologies of hand craftsman.   The details of how and why this is so requires some elaboration.

The full Greek experience of forests can be indicated by recurring to the question just asked: how did the Greeks see a tree?  For consider, a tree can be experienced as a natural essence, as a being having its own natural forms, forms that could admittedly be put to human purposes but which would nevertheless remain respected within those uses.  Or alternatively, a tree can be seen a having a ‘form’ entirely independent of the tree itself.  In other words, a “tree” can be seen from a “foreign standpoint,” a standpoint that imposes human uses as its primary meaning—in short, a tree can be seen (to extrapolate like Heidegger might) as “lumber.” [9] “Lumber,” like wind as “energy as such” or the air as “anemo-pressure” is an imposition on a tree.  To see trees as lumber requires a disclosive looking that does not let the trees as such, much less natural forms within them, emerge as what they are.  As a natural essence, a tree may be seen as offering ‘shade’ from the sun or ‘shelter’ from the rain, or as offering a commanding ‘view’ from its boughs, or as a way of ‘whispering the wind.’  But to see a tree as lumber is to challenge these natural forms within the tree by imposing on it an exclusively human conception through which it is disclosed as something disposable.  It is to impose on it the general form of being able to take any form to which human uses might put it.  As such, a tree as “lumber” is meant to be consumed, and a tree cannot both be a natural tree and an ob-ject[10]  as “lumber” solely for human consumption without imposing on it lumber as something entirely foreign, something so foreign that like “energy as such” or “anemo-pressure” it apriori prevents the natural essence of the tree from emerging.  So the deciding question can be rephrased from “how did the Greeks see a tree?” to “did the Greeks see trees as lumber?”

As it happens, they certainly did.  Not only is this evident from what is known about their ‘merely human activity’ as prolific deforesters;[11] the “disclosive looking” of trees as lumber is clearly preserved in the Greek language itself.  For “trees” as a mere commodity, trees as lumber as opposed to being a natural essence, was so disclosed to the ancient Greeks that their word for “matter,” as that which is not form, was the same as their word for “wood,” hyle.  In other words, trees were so seen as lumber in ancient Greece that the very word for ‘mere raw material’ as that without form of its own was bound to the commoditization of trees.  Now whether in Heideggerian fashion this disclosure of Being enshrined in their language—and recall that for Heidegger “language is the house of Being”—precedes the Greeks seeing trees as lumber or whether it was derived from seeing them that way is neither here nor there for the fact that they essentially saw wood—saw trees—as mere raw matter.  Trees for the Greeks were as much, if not more, lumber to be exploited than a natural essence to be respected, even if after that fact forms latent in wood could then be seen and obligingly worked as fit for human purposes by artisans and craftsman.  To be sure, after challenging trees and imposing on them “lumber” to be ravished, hoarded, and disposed of at will, the hyle from the trees could be pregnant with forms apprehended by craftsman who abetted causal change from the “wood” into “usable implements.”  But prior to this technology of poiesis, com-posing reigned, and it reigned not incidentally as something that might or might not have happened, but essentially as something that must have happened as the foundation for the ‘poetic’ technologies.  Without trees as lumber—without seeing natural “treeness” first as mere wooden commodities—wood from trees “pregnant with form” simply could not exist.  As such the technologies of poiesis like watermills, temples, cooking hearths, or homes themselves presupposed com-posing as a condition for their possibility.  This apriority of com-posing over poiesis has obvious implications for Heidegger’s account of the essence of technology, but before taking those implications up, for the sake of completeness the priority of mining as com-posing over the ‘poetic’ handicraft of the silver smith is also discussed.

Although Greek mining does not have the etymological connection to raw materials that Greek deforestation has, the situation is scarcely any better for mining copper, tin, and silver “ore” from natural soil.  Like with challenging trees for “lumber,” Greek mining challenges the soil and the earth to yield up “ore” as raw material that could be hoarded and then used on demand for ‘remote uses by remote users.’  This is evident not only in the fact that silver as currency was horded and disposed of by its very nature.  It can be seen also in the very workings of mines themselves.  The operation of the silver mines at Laureion, so much a basis for Athenian wealth, is an illustration of ancient technology as com-posing acting again as the condition for the possibility of the subsequent ‘poetic’ arts.  A description of its operations should suffice to show this.

In the first place, it can be noted that “silver” as used for a silver chalice by a silver smith (or any other technological poiesis) is not a natural kind with a natural essence; it must be first processed from raw “ore,” which is as much an imposition on soil as lumber is on trees (or “energy as such” is on wind, or “anemo-pressure” is on air).  As ore, natural soil is disclosed as something ‘rich with silver,’ something seen solely in terms of its human purposes, and as such, ore is extracted from soil through a process only describable as com-posing.  To see this, consider the operations of the massive silver mines at Laureion, near Athens.  In what sense, it can be asked, does poiesis describe an operation so ‘industrial’ that the techniques used there persisted in mining well into the 19th century, both in Europe and the United States, and in fact were rarely rivalled in scale until that time?  How can seeing the earth as a reservoir of ‘raw material’—ore—for extraction be respectful of the soil as a natural essence, as something that ‘nourishes’ crops or ‘grounds’ a home?  In what sense could the ancient Greeks be obliged to the soil when they challenged it for an ore by imposing upon it, then ravishing it merely as means to that end, doing so through a ‘disclosive looking’ confirmed by the fact that the “ore was picked over twice by hand, once in the mine and once on the surface, and all that contained approximately less than ten percent metal was discarded”?[12]  Discarded—disposed of because it did not even fit the human purpose for which richer ore was desired.   And once the ore was extracted, it was washed, and this “washing table consisted of a reservoir connected by a number of holes with an inclined surface, and four channels linking three basins.”[13]  So not only was the ravished soil washed with water (itself arguably a natural use latent within the essence of water); the water itself was hoarded solely for that purpose, and it was defiled to such an extent that it could never be used for any other purpose.   Lastly, once the ore was washed, it was smelted, and for this smelting charcoal, another imposition on trees, was hoarded, charcoal that in its very essence was nothing more than disposable lumber itself transformed for the sole purpose of providing fuel.  So soil was ravished for ore, the ore was washed with hoarded and defiled rain (there are no natural springs at Laureion; rain water was collected in an elaborate network of basins, cisterns, dams and reservoirs); then it was smelted in furnaces fueled by another imposition, charcoal, which was itself hoarded as a mere commodity from another com-posing technology, deforestation.  How can silver mining at Laureion not be com-posing?  How could it possibly be poiesis?  The questions are merely rhetorical because obviously it cannot.  The silver mines at Laureion were as industrial in scale and technique as any modern mining operation until the time when steam power was used to power mining equipment—a process that didn’t occur until long into Heidegger’s own timeframe for the modern, com-posing era.  Simply put, mining for the ancient Greeks was as much com-posing as deforestation, and in fact the two technologies were essentially linked, since it’s estimated that nearly a million acres of forest would have been required to run a mine works on the scale of Laureion.  This essential need for lumber as fuel for smelting ore and as material for building mine works is a far better explanation than any historical offering of Being for why mining sites in ancient Greece were completely deforested in ancient times and remain among the most deforested regions in Greece even today.

Two ancient technologies (deforestation and mining) as com-posing and not poiesis calls into question Heidegger’s characterization of ancient technology as such as poiesis, or it calls into question his characterization of the essence of technology as a bestowal of Being that endures, or both.  It simply cannot be the case that the essence of ancient technology is poiesis when any ‘poetic’ technology involving metals or wood—and this would cover virtually all ancient technologies—was itself based on a prior technology as com-posingThe condition of the possibility for the manifestation of a technology cannot violate the essence of that technology, or the essence of technology as such, however one rethinks “essence” and “manifestation.”  While it may not be clear in what sense ‘factual’ incarnations of techniques and implements follow from an ‘abiding essence as bestowal’ like the essence of technology, it must at least be true that those factual incarnations ‘abide within that essence’ and not contradict it.  How can mining and deforestation ‘abidingly endure’ under an essence that is bestowed as poiesis when they are in fact—and in essence too—com-posing technologies?  Clearly they cannot, and therefore either Heidegger’s account of the essence of ancient technology is inadequate, or his account of the essence of technology as such itself is inadequate, or both.  Which is the case will be taken up at the end of this Chapter, but for the sake of completeness the iteration of the same problem is shown to emerge in Heidegger’s account of the modern era.  For in that era, one technology persisted as poiesis when in essence it should have been com-posing, and another technology arose altogether that can’t suitably be described as poiesis or com-posing but only as a unique hybrid of both.

Pre-industrial farming and telecommunications in the modern world

Just as deforestation and mining in ancient Greece simply cannot be said to “abide” under the essence of ancient technology as poiesis, so pre-industrial farming and modern telecommunications fail to abide under the essence of modern technology as com-posing.  In the modern case, pre-industrial farming remains just as far from the ‘mechanized foodstuffs industry’ that Heidegger designates as modern farming as was ancient technology, and modern telecommunications is under Heidegger’s terms neither ancient nor modern at all. Instead it represents something like a unique hybrid of both, at least with respect to being based on a scientific view of the natural world that Heidegger’s assigns to ‘com-posing’ technologies, without requiring or deploying a challenging imposition that ravishes nature for all the disposables it can get (modern telecommunication takes nothing from nature at all, and in fact ‘uses’ only what it puts into the natural world in the first place, information bourne in radio waves).  Since both of these modern technologies reiterate in the modern era Heidegger’s failure to capture either the essence of ancient technology as poiesis, or the essence of technology as such, or both, pre-industrial farming and modern telecommunications will be now discussed. This discussion will in turn to round out the picture of how Heidegger fails to account for the modern period, just as he fails to account for the ancient.  To that end, pre-industrial farming comes first.

Aside from some improvements in animal-drawn plows (metal blades for wooden blades, for instance) and better methods of crop rotation and field design, technologically farming in the modern world was essentially the same as farming in the ancient world, at least until the development of industrial powered machinery like steam-powered tractors and threshers.  To be sure, operations like planting seeds and harvesting and processing grains were mechanized to a greater degree (pre-industrial modern farmers automated more of these task, but still used human, natural and animal power to do them), but these mechanizations essentially enhanced, through mechanically more elaborate devices, the same natural forces used by ancient farmers.  In this sense, pre-industrial modern farming was subtended by the same ‘disclosive looking’ as ancient farming, i.e. one where the seed was sown and then left to the forces of nature to emerge in its own manner toward the production of crops.  This respect of self-emergence is evident not just in the fact that human, animal, and natural power were the only sources of labor in both eras, but also in the fact that the machines in this phase of the modern era for the most part looked and operated like the ones used in the ancient era, but for more ingenuity and scope in design.  In fact, in both eras, the machines only mechanized the act if planting or harvesting, not affected the process or forces indigenous to growth.  Furthermore, like the ancients, modern pre-industrial farms were also almost exclusively self-sustaining yeoman house-holds that grew enough food and tended enough livestock to sustain direct, basic needs, with a moderate surplus taken up to market for trade or sale, much like the simple peasant life Heidegger so frequently extolls  in his later thought.   In any case, by no reasonable standard was farming in the US and Europe in 1776 “the mechanized foodstuffs industry,” and the persistence of ancient technologies so late—and indeed much later—into the modern era needs to be explained in any account that presumes to describe the essence of modern technology as exclusively com-posing.  Modern pre-industrial farming was clearly not com-posing in any way like modern “mechanized foodstuffs industry,” simply because no ‘foodstuffs industry” existed at the time.  Rather, in both a colloquial and philosophical sense, modern-pre-industrial farming comprised of yeoman households living off the land in accord with natural forces was, simply put, ‘poetic’ and not com-posing.  Not only were the technological implements largely the same; there is also no evidentiary basis whatsoever for assuming that yeoman farmers vis-à-vis ancient farmers had different manners of disclosive looking in the use of those implements.  Since historical sources of how they did in fact view nature would arguably not apply to Heidegger—at least he would likely think they don’t apply—this manner of disclosive looking is fleshed out in terms of the essential similarities despite the differences in the farming implements used in both times.

It can be noted as an entry point for understanding the essential similarities between ancient and pre-industrial modern farming that modern farmers did, by the mid-19th century at least, have more ‘modern machines’ at their disposal than ancient farmers, specifically labor saving devices like the cotton gin (1793), the reaper (1837) and the grain drill (1841).[14] In this respect, one might argue, farming in the pre-industrial modern era required an industrial “disclosive looking” more like com-posing than poiesis, since these machines, to be invented at all, would require seeing natures as a source for mere disposables to be mechanically ravished.  But a rather straightforward look at what those labor saving machines were—specifically, how they embodied natural forms of labor into implements—shows that they are just as ‘poetic’ as the devices used by slave labor on the more ‘industrial scale’ farms, i.e. large production farms for market, in the ancient world.  In fact, modern machines like the cotton gin, the grain drill and the reaper that embody the natural forces of manual slave labor into an implement are arguably more like poiesis than slave labor itself, since slavery most certainly challenges a natural human freedom by imposing a condition that ravishes a merely disposable slave who can always be replaced by another one (as Rojcewicz notes, seeing employees as “human resources” indicates modern com-posing,[15] so surely slave labor does as well).   In any case, more ‘poetic’ or not, the cotton gin, the grain drill, and the reaper implement the natural forces of human labor into a device in essentially the same way that a windmill embodies the natural force of the wind in a gear and a millstone in order to grind grain, or a watermill employs the natural forces of the water to drive a mill.  Just in the case of these modern farming machines, human and animal force, not natural force, is embodied.  But the force abetted is nevertheless a natural form.

Take, for instance, the cotton gin, which works by running seedy cotton fiber through a roller that separates the seeds and husk fibers from the cotton fibers itself.  Although the roller doesn’t imitate the movements of a human hand in a direct and obvious way, the roller nevertheless accomplishes exactly what the human hand accomplishes as it ‘picks’ the seeds out of cotton.  In this way, the cotton gin, despite being mechanical, no more mechanizes nature with an imposition than the gear in an ancient windmill mechanizes natural wind with an imposition that challenges, since the “gear” is no more like the motions of the human hand turning a millstone to grind grain than the roller on a cotton gin is (early though cotton gins were turned by hand).  In both the windmill grinding grain and the cotton gin de-seeding cotton, the rotary motion of a machine expedites the processing of crops into a final form, i.e. both causally abet an end product for a strictly human purpose by harnessing natural forms of force and motion.  Cotton gin separating fiber from seeds, then, is as much poiesis as the ancient windmill grinding grain, at least as far as the mechanization of causal agency is concerned.

This abetting of final products out of natural forces is even more direct and evident in the grain drill than either the cotton gin or the windmill, in so far as the grain drill is nothing more than a device that does all at once what a single human laborer must do one step at a time.  To plant a seed into the soil, a small hole is needed into which the seed can be placed.  For human labor, this can be done with a finger, or a stick, or by some similar means; then the seed is placed into the hole.  A grain drill performs exactly that operation, just in one device and motion: it ‘drills’ (actually pokes) a small hole into the soil, then drops the seed from a storage bin through the hollow spike that pokes the hole, then it moves on down the field to do the same thing over and over again, several rows at a time.  To be sure, several intervening part are required in the grain drill over the human hand using a stick and carrying the seed in a sack (the grain must be sorted and cued so that not many fall into the same hole); but essentially the grain drill is the human hand and stick and seed bag writ large.  Instead of poking one hole at time and dropping seeds in, it pokes many holes at once, in one motion in several rows, thus saving much natural labor.  It doesn’t  need to be noted that the seed drill in fact dates back to ancient Babylonia to observe that it abets natural forms of forces and action (in this case manual labor) just as ‘poetically’ as a windmill.

Finally, consider the reaper, the final labor saving device that might be seen, at a superficial glance, to separate modern pre-industrial farming from ancient farming, making the former com-posing while the latter remains poiesis.  Like the seed drill, the reaper is simply human manual labor writ large into a mechanical, labor saving device, and therefore like both the grain drill and the ancient windmill, natural forces are abetted to do the same tasks that human power would otherwise have to do, just in this case the cutting action of manually swinging a scythe or blade is automated into a much larger blade that cuts and gathers more grain stalks at one time than any single person ever could.  In the case of the reaper, the forward motion of the machine caused by the draft animals is transformed into the cutting motion designed after the form of the human hand wielding a scythe in essentially the same way that the force of the wind is transformed into the rotation of the millstone through a gear in an ancient windmill.  In both cases, there is no challenging imposition but rather a causal abetting, one that ‘gears’ into the natural forces observable without any kind of impositional pre-conception (like “lumber”, “ore” or “energy as such” requires).  The reaper, like the ancient windmill, the cotton gin, and the grain drill, all ‘poetically’ abet the “forms of natural forces” from within a natural setting experienced without impositional conceptual mediation, whether those forms belong to wind, draft animals, or manual human labor.  All four technologies are essentially poiesis.

This sketch of modern farm machines has been intentionally brief, and it does not deploy a careful description of each labor saving machine like Rojcewicz’s description of the windmill because the general contours provided should make the details rather obvious: pre-industrial farm machines are no more necessarily com-posing for being machines than the ancient windmill is com-posing is for being a machine that uses the power of the wind to grind grain.  Poiesis still uses machines, and since the labor saving devices used in pre-industrial modern American farming actually replaced—with the exception of the cotton gin in southern states—any need for slave labor (itself necessarily a challenging imposition that ravishes and disposes), even large scale early American farms geared for surplus production and not simple subsistence were arguably more ‘poetic’ than the ‘industrial scale’ slave labor farms in the ancient world.  A slave overseer is not, and cannot be, poiesis, but a single farmer guiding a team of draft horses over a bountiful wheat field, splendidly isolated in his labor from human interference, submitting his efforts to the convergence or not of the natural forces governing growth (rainfall, sunshine, etc. )…in this way he can and almost certainly did understand himself as abetting forces beyond his control, forces that were certainly appreciated as being more than what his mere human needs could ravish from them.  In any case, it is maintained here that nothing in Heidegger’s description of com-posing need apply to modern pre-industrial farming, and that poiesis—made even more clear by virtue of the lack of slave labor—characterizes modern farm machines as much as it characterizes any horse drawn plow, watermill, or windmill in ancient times.  Despite greater mechanization, the same respect for and submission to natural forces was at work in “modern” and “ancient” farming.

So much for modern farm machines, modern farming, and poiesis.  Like with com-posing technologies like deforestation and mining in ancient times, pre-industrial farming in Europe and America should not have persisted as long as it did in modern times, since according to Heidegger’s account of the history of Being, only one essential kind of technology can abide in any given era, and the modern era begin for him sometime around the scientific revolution.  Yet modern farming was until the late 19th century essentially like ancient farming, despite the increased mechanization of labor.  In essence those automations only extended in scale what the ancients had already established in kind; they were developments of old technologies, not essentially new ones.  As with deforestation and mining in ancient Greece, then, this existence in fact of what in essence cannot happen calls into question Heidegger’s claim to have apprehended essence at allThis questionable of essence is even more clear in modern telecommunications, which neither poiesis nor com-posing suitably describe.

Modern telecommunications poses a problem for Heidegger’s division of the essence of technology into two mutually exclusive ‘enduring bestowals of Being’ (poiesis and com-posing), in that on the one hand it required the “disclosive looking” of modern science (and therefore, for Heidegger, modern technology as com-posing), but on the other hand it can’t be subtended by a disclosive looking as com-posing because modern telecommunications takes nothing from the natural world—that is, it doesn’t challenge nature to yield up disposables in any process describable as ravishing or exploitative.  Instead, modern telecommunications creates the ‘product’ it uses (information in radio waves) and ‘disposes of them itself’ once it’s done using them (these radio waves are self-limiting, and it takes from them only the information).  In this respect, modern telecommunications adds to nature, not ravishes it by taking something away (even energy), even as it ‘cleans up after itself’ after ‘borrowing,’ as it were, forms of natural energies (information in radio waves also occurs naturally; the brain and heart both emanate them, as do stars, etc.).  As a technology that does not take anything from nature but only adds information to its naturally occurring energies, modern telecommunications cannot be com-posing in Heidegger’s sense, and in its own way it can even be seen as ‘poetic’ (natural energy is abetted to carry information), even as it is based exclusively on a scientific understanding of nature (Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism).   This hybrid mixture of com-posing, poiesis, and science represents a particular challenge for Heidegger’s notion of the essence of technology, since it is most decidedly a modern technology that is neither strictly com-posing nor poiesis, but in some respects the later, even as it is based on the advances of modern science, which for Heidegger must be com-posing exclusively.

As a first step to teasing out the convergence of com-posing, poiesis and science in modern telecommunications, Heidegger’s characterization of science as being essentially modern technology, i.e. as essentially com-posing, needs to be introduced.  Specifically, for Heidegger, modern science is based on modern technology, and not vice versa; for him, modern science presupposes the essence of modern technology as com-posing, instead of modern technology being applied modern science.  Since understanding Heidegger’s counter-intuitive characterization of modern science as a manifestation of modern technology is necessary for seeing why modern telecommunications poses a unique problem for his characterization of the essence of technology as such, Heidegger’s account of modern science as the “harbinger” of modern technology is now introduced, keeping in mind that this introductory discussion is meant only to raise, not resolve and issue (the issue will be taken up fully in Chapter 7).  Specifically, it is important to appreciate the contours of Heidegger’s understanding of science as applied technology because the “essence” of modern telecommunications as a technology is implicated in its resolution.

According to Heidegger, modern science is essentially applied modern technology, rather than the typically understood and more historically accurate reverse order, because—as already noted—for him the “essence of technology” is simply another name for the apriori disclosure of Being that must underlie all attempts to do and know, and modern science historically is one of those attempts.[16]   In other words, the essence of technology is for Heidegger another name for the disclosure of Being that is the condition for the possibility of all relationship to and commerce with beings, and as such the disclosure of Being—or alternatively the essence of technology—comes before any manipulation of beings, including any attempt to scientifically know beings prior to manipulating them technologically, i.e. prior to “technology” in the chronologically historical sense.  As a fundamental way of disclosive looking, the essence of modern technology therefore precedes modern science simply because for Heidegger modern science presupposes some apriori disclosure of Being (as all relationship to beings must), and com-posing—as equivalently the essence of modern technology and the disclosure of Being—is the disclosure of Being in the modern era under which modern science was developed.  Simply put, for Heidegger, the modern era of Being chronologically begins before the arrival of modern science.  As a development within the modern era, then, modern science must partake in the way in which Being is fundamentally disclose to Dasein, and understood in this way, Heidegger’s reversal of the usual historical order of modern science and modern technology makes perfect sense.  Modern technology—as another name for the disclosure of Being in the modern era—precedes modern science because the disclosure of Being in any given era must precede all attempts to do and know within that era—and modern science is merely one of those attempts.  In this way, modern technology comes before modern science because in the modern era, com-posing ‘endures’ and ‘holds sway’ as the essential understanding of Being upon which any disclosure of beings depends, including that with which modern science works.

Now, as also already noted, for Heidegger com-posing as a fundamental way of disclosive looking is inherently impositional, and since modern science was developed when com-posing as an essence ‘holds sway’, science must—as a condition for its possibility—disclose the natural world in an inherently impositional way.   That is, instead of letting the form or natural essence of beings emerge as the beings that they are in native, un-conceptually mediated experience, science as com-posing challenges those beings with a pre-conception that apriori forecloses the self-emergence of their natural essence.  So like with “energy as such” for wind, “lumber” for trees, or “anemo-pressure” for air in modern technologies, modern science must contain an inherently challenging pre-conception that gets imposed over the self-emerging natural form of its objects; modern science is, as it were, conceptual imposition writ large over beings as such.  For Heidegger this imposition is “nature” disclosed as merely a “calculable nexus of forces,”[17] a nexus to be known and manipulated solely to yield up disposables (the second clause follows because science is essentially com-posing).   Now, to be sure, the scientists themselves who invented modern science might not have explicitly understood nature as something to be directly exploited; they could have merely sought to know nature in good faith.  But as Dasein existing in the modern era of the disclosure of Being, their very attempts to know nature must nevertheless be implicated in potential—if not actual—exploitation, for the preconception they bring to natural experience—i.e. nature as a mere calculable nexus of forces offered for disposability—is inherently challenging and impositional.  As Heidegger says, “a challenging encompassing into an impositional disclosive looking holds sway already in physics,”[18] and as Rojcewicz interprets, “modern technology, as a mode of disclosure, gives rise to the conception of nature as a storehouse of disposables;” therefore all modern science can “see in nature is energy, raw power to be harnessed and put to our uses.”[19]  In this way, modern science is essentially com-posing, and more to the point, as com-posing modern science must see—even if only implicitly—nature as a mere storehouse of disposables to be ravished and used up solely for human purposes.  As such, it cannot be but challenging and impositional by its very nature.

With this introductory account of Heidegger’s conception of modern science in place, the way in telecommunications is an exception to modern technology as com-posing can be set up, in so far as from Heidegger’s conception some conclusions about its essential nature can be drawn prior to any actual examination of what the technology in fact is, or in fact does.  That is, as a technology based on modern science—which itself is nothing more than the essence of modern technology applied in a knowledge of nature— the essence of modern telecommunications must be com-posing, and as such the actual manifestation of that technology must ‘abide under’, i.e. must obey, certain characteristics inherent to that kind.  In short, based on Heidegger’s account of modern science and modern technology, modern telecommunication must be certain things; it must have certain traits, and those traits can be anticipated apriori.

Broadly put, according to Heidegger modern telecommunications must be com-posing.  In other words, like the modern windmill it must challenge nature to yield up disposables without limit; it must ravish nature for all its worth in order to take from it hoardable energy for use in remote places by remote users, energy completely disassociated from the uses it affords in the natural setting from which it emerges.  Additionally, like a modern windmill—and unlike an ancient plow or a modern grain drill—modern telecommunications must impose upon the natural forms of force and energy it uses some kind of pre-conception that prevents the natural form or essence in question from emerging out of itself; the pre-conception must intrinsically characterize nature as something solely useful for human purposes, like “lumber” characterizes trees as merely something to be consumed for usable wood, or as “anemo-pressure” characterizes moving air as something to be exploited solely for usable energy.  Finally, and relatedly, all these essential characteristics just described must come about in no small part because modern telecommunications is made possible by modern science, the “harbinger” of modern technology.   That is, not only must modern telecommunications abide under the essence of modern technology because modern science abides under it, more specifically the scientific conceptions used in modern telecommunications must also be, as so abiding, inherently impositional.  They must prevent the natural form or essence of the natural energy it uses from emerging as the form or essence that it is.  In other words, the scientific conceptions underlying modern telecommunications must prevent an essence from emerging.  In its most basic manifestations, modern telecommunications must have all of three of these characteristics because it is essentially a com-posing technology.  According to Heidegger’s account of modern science and modern technology, it can’t be otherwise.

Yet telecommunications is otherwise, and it’s otherwise in virtually every respect.  Modern telecommunication has none of the essential characteristics Heidegger reserves for the essence of modern technology as com-posing, and in fact, quite the opposite is true: modern telecommunications is if anything more like poiesis in the sense that in a manner of speaking it ‘brings an essence into being’—or better stated, as a technology modern telecommunications ‘mimics’ the very process of ‘generation’ and ‘emergence’ that apprehending a natural essence in poiesis describes.  In this deeper respect, then, modern telecommunications is somewhat ‘poetic,’ but in any case is not at all com-posing.  To show this divergence modern telecommunications can be contrasted point by point with what under Heidegger’s account it must be because it has the essence of com-posing.   On each point, the difference is so stark that modern telecommunications simply cannot be said to be essentially modern.

First, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how modern telecommunications can ‘challenge nature to yield up disposables’ when informational radio waves, as the products of telecommunications, are created, not extracted from nature.  To be sure, in a manner of speaking, in modern farming crops are ‘created’ prior to being extracted from fields, and a modern windmill ‘creates’ electricity where there was only mechanical energy.   In this respect, then, both of these ‘com-posing’ technologies ‘create’ the product disposed of, so in the same sense modern telecommunications could still be just as ‘com-posing’ as modern farming or modern windmills, despite the ‘creation’ of informational radio waves.  Since in a sense virtually any form of modern technology is ‘creative’ in this sense—it ‘creates’ the disposables consumes—modern telecommunications would be no different.

But despite this potential disclaimer, an essential difference remains.  While modern farming ‘creates’ crops from seeds, and modern windmills ‘create’ electricity form mechanical work, the ‘creation’ in both cases is either taking up one step in the developmental chain of the resource imposed upon in the first place (crops are extracted from seeds, which in were themselves previously extracted from other crops) or it is the transformation of one kind of force into another (mechanical force in a modern windmill is converted to electrical force, but the force can still only do the same amount of work).  Radio waves in modern telecommunications are different in both respects.  Although they are also ‘created’ simply by transforming something already existing into something else very much like it—i.e. electromagnetic energy (“radio waves”) stored in a battery or generated by a power station into information-bearing radio waves—the way in which that energy is transformed makes radio waves in the stricter sense different in kind than the energy from which they are derived.  For radio waves in telecommunications carry new information, i.e. the waves are put in an entirely new form, and as such they are essentially different than naturally occurring radio waves, even those that naturally carry information of their own.  With the radio waves used in telecommunications, although the energy is ‘old,’ as it were, the in-formation borne in them is entirely new; the information is what is created. In this respect, modern telecommunications remains different than modern farming or modern windmills in that those technologies simply transform an less suitable natural object or force into a more suitable disposable (a seed into crops into food; the force of the wind into electricity), whereas modern telecommunication in-forms a natural energy with something it didn’t have before, information.   As such a process of in-forming, it differs from any ‘com-posing’ technology in three respects.

First, as a technology that essentially creates the ‘disposables’ it uses and adds them nature, i.e. information in radio waves—modern telecommunications simply cannot be seen as a ‘com-posing’ technology that challenges nature to yield up disposables, ravishing it for all it’s worth.  Modern telecommunications doesn’t extract anything at all, except for what it itself puts there, and in no sense is this putting there like the ‘extraction’ modern industrial farming or electricity-generating windmills.  Quite the contrary: modern telecommunications uses transformed energy (itslef to carry something entirely new, i.e. information never previously found in nature.

Second, modern telecommunications does not impose some kind of pre-conception over the natural form or essence of the energy it uses, an imposition that intrinsically prevents an essence from appearing, as imposing “lumber” on trees or “anemo-pressure” on air prevents the natural essence of “tree” or “air” from appearing.  For natural radio waves can and often do carry information of their own, as can easily be seen once some way of reading that information is developed.  To be sure, the “information” natural radio waves carry is not the same kind of information encoded in artificially created radio waves sent and received between telecommunications devices (hence the premise of SETI as a search for extra-terrestrial intelligence; it looks for radio waves of the kind described here).  But as a concept the concept of “information” is not inherently impositional; applying it to create artificial information-carrying radio waves imposes nothing foreign onto radio waves as such.  Brain waves, for instance, carry information about the operation about the brain.  The electromagnetic field generated by the heart carries information about the function of the heart.  Radio waves from stars carry information about their composition and activity, and so forth.  Even when one does not see the energies emitted by the brain or the heart or stars as the essence of those organs as such, information is still be intrinsic to ‘radio waves’ they emit.  Conceiving these waves as informational waves using a working concept imposes nothing foreign onto them.

Third—and essentially related to the second—modern telecommunication doesn’t prevent an essence in general from emerging, and in fact, in a unique and interesting respect, it ‘creates’ an essence that emerges—or better stated, the carrying and receiving of information in radio waves replicates the process by which an essence emerges in natural apprehension.[20]  In-formation, as a form of some kind, is similar to an essence, in that it represents the ‘what’ of the entity it is information about.[21]  To be sure, it is not a natural essence, in the sense that the “force of the wind” is a natural essence of the wind, or the form of a “tree” a natural form that makes a tree the tree that it is.  But in important respect, information is still a form—or alternatively, like an essence information intrinsically makes itself precisely what it is, even as it reflects the fact that the being that it is information of is the being that it is.  Not only can information be information of anything (but in telecommunications it is of speech), just as anything can have an essence, so the essence of anything can be formalized into information.  Like an essence, information cannot but be what it is; like a form information carries within itself its own inherent meaning.   With both aspects of information in mind, modern telecommunications—though different of course than the apprehension of natural essences in native experience—technologically  ‘mimics’ the process of the self-emergence of forms or essences in that experience by being, as a technology, both the generation and the embodying of information, itself a kind of “form” of the entity it is information of.  In this respect, modern telecommunications doesn’t impose a foreign concept onto a natural form (in this case natural ‘radio’ waves); it merely utilizes that natural form’s information-bearing capacity to carry specific information that ‘constitutes’ speech (or whatever modality is it transmitting), thus replicating in a sense the very process of poiesis itself.  As with apprehending an essence in native apprehension, the information generated in telecommunications is ‘apprehendable’ as ‘something which cannot but be what it is’ (just an ‘essence’ is), even as it serves as the form for the generation of the being on the other end (the re-constituted speech).  In this limited respect telecommunications is like ‘seeing’ an essence writ large into a technology.  The “essence” of modern telecommunications is more analogous to the self-emerging apprehension of a natural essence in poiesis than anything like com-posing.

In any case, even if it is a stretch to say that the transmission and reception of information in telecommunications replicates in a technological way how natural essence emerges and is apprehended in poiesis—and this stretch is only offered in the spirit of Heidegger’s kind of thinking as a foil for his efforts—it certainly can’t be seen as com-posing because however its process is described, modern telecommunications does not challenge nature to yield up disposables through the imposition of a foreign concept.  Instead, in the first place, it creates the very ‘disposable’ it uses (radio waves containing information), not extracts them; therefore it can force nature to yield anything.  And in the second place the concept it deploys (information) is not an imposition at all because natural radio waves are themselves intrinsically informative.  Whatever it is as a technology—a sort of poiesis or not— modern telecommunications cannot be com-posing because it violates the characteristics of that essence, yet it remains possible only by virtue of a discovery in modern science, which for Heidegger means it must be com-posing—so therefore it should be com-posing too.  But as shown, it is not.  Like with deforestation and mining in ancient technology, and pre-industrial farming amidst modern technology, modern telecommunications doesn’t ‘abide under’ the essence it should abide under, which calls into question either Heidegger’s characterization of the essence of modern technology, or his conception of the essence of technology in general, or both.

Before tentatively offering in the next chapter alternative “essences” of “ancient” and “modern” technology—strictly as a dialectical move that acknowledges some validity to Heidegger’s own terms—it is important to rehearse two objections that may have arisen against the account of telecommunications as presented here.  For it might be said on the one hand that modern telecommunications is still essentially com-posing because it uses disposable “energy” ravished from nature though an imposition of a foreign concept, energy as such, just as it might be said on the other that the concept of “information”—as a scientific concept—is itself a conceptual imposition on human communication, and as such modern telecommunications, in relying on it, is inherently impositional and therefore still com-posing.  To strengthen the first objection, it could be noted that modern cell phones use batteries that “hoard” electricity ravished from nature for ‘remote use by remote users,’ that this remoteness even characterizes the mobility of cells phones as such.  And to strengthen the second it could be said that reducing speech to information transmittable in radio waves could only arise once radio waves were discovered, a discovery itself that is the fruits of a conceptual imposition inherent to modern science, i.e. natural forces in lightning and lode stones as “electromagnetic energy.”  From these two objections it could be argued that modern telecommunications remains ‘com-positional,’ “information” as a new creation, or “information” as a ‘natural’ feature of some radio waves, notwithstanding.

The first objection—that modern telecommunications is com-posing because it uses hoarded electricity— can be dismissed as easily as pointing out that modern telecommunications need no more be com-posing for relying on generated and hoarded electricity than ancient handicrafts must essentially not be  poiesis because they relied on generated and hoarded wood and silver.  For it should be noted, no argument was made that deriving base materials (wood or silver) for later use from com-posing technologies like deforestation and mining ipso facto makes the ‘poetic’ technologies relying on them (woodworking or silver smithing) com-posing technologies.  All that was asserted is that as based on prior technologies as com-posing, woodworking or silver smithing as poiesis had to co-exist concurrently with com-posing—a situation that should not happen under Heidegger’s account of the exclusive nature of disclosure looking specific to that era of Being.  In defense of the characterization of telecommunications as potentially ‘poetic’ and minimally ‘non-com-posing,’ then, the same argument is merely reiterated.  Although modern telecommunications uses as its ‘base material’ electricity generated through a ‘com-posing’ technology (windmills, coal fired power plants, nuclear energy, etc.), telecommunications itself need not be com-posing for that reason (and for others it cannot be).   Thus the defense against the first objection is simply to point out that a technology using the product of a ‘poetic’ or ‘com-posing’ technology is not itself poiesis or com-posing for that reason.  Whether any given technology is either depends on other reasons specific to the technology itself, in so far as they do or do not fall under that essence.  Their relationship to other technologies is neither here nor there for the determination.

The second objection cannot be dismissed fully until Heidegger’s understanding of modern science is discussed in detail, but as a provisional defense it can be asserted that it begs the question entirely to say that a technology like modern telecommunications is essentially com-posing simply because it is based on natural science—because its ‘product,’ information-bearing radio waves, are ‘made possible’ only by the conceptual impositions of modern physics.  In other words, framing telecommunications in this way begs the question whether natural science by its very nature imposes a foreign standpoint on all the phenomena it examines.  For in the first place, information-bearing radio waves are not ‘made possible’ by the conceptual impositions of natural science; they exist just fine without them, and they are made usable, not possible, thought them.  In other words, science offers engineers a way either to create informative radio waves artificially for human use, a possibility not open to human ingenuity prior to the principles of electromagnetism, or to read information intrinsic to naturally existing radio waves.  And in the second place, it remains to be seen whether science imposes a foreign standpoint at all, as opposed to attempting to remove a natural standpoint in order to better reveal the phenomena for what they are in a more expansive natural relationships.  In other words, science may not impose perspective so much as dis-impose a one in a unique way, a way admittedly connected to the essence of modern technology in a way not divined by Heidegger.  To characterize modern telecommunications as ‘com-posing’ because as based on science it must equally be com-posing simply begs the question as to whether or not science is essentially com-posing or not, i.e. it begs the question as to what science really is and does.  So as a provisional defense of modern telecommunications as not com-posing, it can be asserted that final judgement on that question cannot be decided until modern science is better understood; that as an objection against telecommunications as ‘non-com-posing’ it presents a task to be done, namely, an examination of Heidegger’s understand of science—a task taken up in Chapters 7, 8, and 9.  So for now, the objection can only be provisionally deflected.

Before taking up addressing again the guiding thread taken up in this Chapter—whether technologies exists that violate the essences of ancient and modern technology—the results so far need to be summarized.   Deforestation and mining in the ancient world and pre-industrial farming and telecommunications in the modern both create a problem for Heidegger’s understanding of the essence of technology as a disclosive looking offered by Being in two mutually exclusive periods, poiesis for the ancients and com-posing for the moderns.  For in both periods, both ‘poetic’ and ‘com-posing’ technologies existed or co-exist concurrently, something that cannot happen if only one essence at a time prevails, even (and especially) when one considers Heidegger’s attempt to rethink the nature of essence as an ‘enduring’ bestowed by Being, one under which the particular manifestations of essence ‘abide’ in a ‘holding sway’.   No matter how the terms ‘”abide” and “hold sway” are understood, they minimally still mean that the manifestations of an essence cannot contradict its primary characteristics—yet in both ancient and modern times, actual examples of technologies do: deforestation and mining exist as ‘com-posing’ technologies concurrently with examples of poiesis like silver smithing and woodworking, and pre-industrial farming and modern telecommunications exist as examples of either poiesis or some third essence concurrently with ‘com-posing’ technologies like modern windmills and hydroelectric dams.   This co-existence of mutually exclusive technologies renders problematic either Heidegger’s conception of the essence of the two periods, or his conception of the essence of technology as a single disclosive looking offered by Being, or both.  He simply cannot have it both ways, i.e. he cannot have it that one essence prevails and holds sway as an offering of Being and that all technologies manifested abide under that essence.  To reconcile this metaphysics of Being with what actually happens(ed), something has to give, and anticipating what is to come, it is noted here that logically what gives is the very idea of the ‘metaphysics of Being” as such. That is, if the rubric of bestowal and exclusivity is flawed as Heidegger presents it—and it is—then there is no reason to retain that metaphysics when replacing problematic essences of technology with more appropriate “essences” for the simple reason that the metaphysics of the bestowal by Being is precisely what makes the thinking of essence, as Heidegger undertakes it, problematic.  In other words, since the article of faith[22] that Being exclusively bestows through some kind of quasi-metaphysical agency the only possible manner of disclosive looking in a given era, such being technological in a certain way (poiesis or com-posing) becomes both possible and necessary, any attempt to re-think the “essence” of technology should start by rejecting that quasi-metaphysical agency.  For when rethinking the essence of technology so that is explains the actual technologies that do exist, why start again with the very misdirection that led to the flawed thinking in the first place?  In any case, since deforestation and mining in the ancient world and pre-industrial farming and telecommunications in the modern show that Being does not bestow exclusive essences dictating apriori how technology in a given era is created and taken up, the possibility that Being still might do so with some other kind of essence will be rejected, simply on the grounds that making the same mistake twice is no way to start any kind of thinking, essential or otherwise.

Now it could be argued that this problematization of Heidegger’s understanding of the essence of technology is only apparent, and more specifically, that it is artificially generated through a mischaracterization of the technologies discussed; that, in fact, those technologies are all either poiesis or com-posing, just as they should be under Heidegger for the epochs of Being in which they occur.  And perhaps the characterizations of pre-industrial farming as poiesis and modern telecommunications as not com-posing are especially vulnerable to this charge (the discussion of deforestation and mining appears to be on firmer ground).  Nevertheless, sufficient or not to dispose of completely Heidegger’s ‘solution’ to the “question concerning technology,” the descriptions presented thus far are left to stand on their own because minimally they open a window to a different vista than the one through which Heidegger would have us see.  That is, problematizing—if not refuting—Heidegger’s characterization of the essence of technology as either poiesis or com-posing as bestowed by Being opens the way to a different conception of technology’s essence, assuming any “essence of technology” is desirable at all (and it remains to be shown by anyone that it is, much less why it is).  Assuming that one is, however; assuming in the spirit of Heidegger’s “question concerning technology” some essence or essences of technology are desirable, two alternative ways of understanding “ancient” and “modern technology are proposed in the next Chapter, as is a broad characterization of what technology is as such.  Neither alternative makes any claim to exclusivity—as though being one or the other is an either/or proposition—nor to sufficiency—as though all technologies must be one or the other “essence.”  Nor does the characterization of technology as such profess to be complete and sufficient to describe all technology.  Instead, both of these “essences” are offered as an alternative understanding of the “essence of technology” that corrects the problems that emerge from Heidegger’s account, even as both offerings stick to the terms of the issue as he frames it (minus, of course, the quasi-metaphysics of Being).  In this respect, the following section should be seen as an argument against Heidegger from within in his own wheelhouse, in that it grants that there is such a thing as an “essence of technology,” and that that essence at least can be divided into two kinds.   Once this ‘alternative argument’ is made, the “essence” of technology as offering by Being (or not) will once again be specifically addressed.


[2] QCT 11.

[3] GT 168





[8] Politics

[9] GT, p.

[10] Ob-ject here refers to the impositional framework imposed on a natural entity or essence.  A more detailed discussion of this point follows on pp.

[11] Deforestation was widespread in the ancient world and was often noted as such by contemporaries.  It is also clear from the evidence today, where the absence of forests where forests once thrived is perfectly clear.  See

[12] Emphasis added.


[14] Prior to these machines (1830), about 250-300 labor hours were needed to process 100 bushels of grain.  After them (1850), only about 75-90 hours were needed.  It is maintained here that in “essence” these machines embodied human labor using natural forces (draft animals) no less than the ancient windmill embodies human labor using natural forces (the wind).





[19] GT, 114.

[20] To illustrate this point with an example, consider a remark Rojcewicz makes that someone using the equations or numerical relations representing a human face to guide a laser tool could never use those equations to recognize a face in a crowd (GT p. 121).  Yes, it can be admitted, no human could, but a computer could and computers do.  This is the basis of facial recognition technology.  By extension, if to ‘re-cognize’ requires ‘grasping’ something about an entity that makes it the entity that it is—the face of a particular person, it’s essence—it could be said that analogous to a human perceiver the computer ‘computes’ an ‘essence’ embodied  as information.  As such, the very information itself behaves like an essence, in so far as it serves as the basis for identifying and recognizing “what is”, as the thing it is.  That human speech can be ‘reduced’ to information and transmitted to be transformed (informing new energy) back into the recognizable human speech as it was originally spoken suggests more of “essence” than any imposing, as what essentially makes human speech what can be recognized as such is extracted, transmitted and used, not imposed upon the speech itself (the speech as it was remains entirely what it was, unmolested).  The comparison is not meant literally, only figuratively to capture the unique nature of information as something added to the universe every time it is created.  In this way, it is like—not identical with—essence.

[21] For instance, the information transmitted in the data stream of a digitized voice carries the “what” of that voice in that as the basis for reconstituting the voice on the receiving end the voice can in fact be re-created.  So like an essence emerges to ‘determine’ what a being is, so information ‘captures’ as it were, something like this what into a technological form, allowing the being itself to be emerge as the being that it is in a way that it otherwise would never have emerged.

[22] And it must be an article of faith, for apriori there are no independent evidentiary grounds of asserting anything like a quasi-agency of Being that can bestow, much less change its bestowal through that agency.  As a metaphor for the fact that ‘the being’ of entities—in this case “technology”—changes as technology changes, the ‘offering of Being’ is unobjectionable, though empty.  But Heidegger clearly means more than an empty tautology expressed in a metaphor; he means that the change is caused by Being, not that the change in “Being” follows the change, whatever the cause for the change.  That “causal agency”—with “cause” of course rethought out of the usual language of metaphysics—is the article of faith asserted on a complete lack of independent grounds.  Since the thinking based on that faith fails precisely because the agency of Being is posited, the rejection of that failed thinking is also a rejection of the metaphysical agency of Being.

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