The phenomenality of the phenomenon: Heidegger on physics

Abstract

The essay explores the possibilities afforded by Heidegger’s thought for addressing the question of the reality of the phenomenon within the framework of the theory of quantum mechanics. Heidegger’s conception of the task of phenomenology is seen to provide a crucial axis along which the phenomenon of quantum physics can be connected both to its appearance in language and to the historical unfolding of the horizon that grounds the possibility of an encounter with the phenomenon itself. The determinations of this horizon, i.e. of the order of “phenomenality” that makes the appearance of the phenomenon possible, are analyzed in the instance of quantum mechanics, and compared to the ones presented by Heidegger in his considerations concerning the appearing of the phenomenon in Aristotelian and classical physics. The three main directives that structure the analysis of this order of phenomenality are the determinations of the conditions of experience of the phenomenon, of the function of language that makes this appearance possible, and of the subject function that constitutes, and is in turn constituted by, this experience.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See e.g. Heidegger (1993, 2012b). At a later stage, Heidegger will set to relinquish the ontic-ontological difference altogether, and attempt to think the a-historical site (that of the Ereignis) that itself “gives” the history of being. See e.g. Heidegger (1969, 1972, 2003a).

  2. 2.

    Richardson (2012, p. 43).

  3. 3.

    Ibid.

  4. 4.

    For what concerns the necessity of a deconstruction of the “regional”/”fundamental” divide, see e.g. Derrida (1982, p. xix), Malabou (2011, pp. 156–157).

  5. 5.

    See Caputo (2012) for a brief summary. More generally, see Kockelmans (1985) and Glazebrook (2000) for critical takes on Heidegger’s relationship to science.

  6. 6.

    See Heidegger (2010, Section 3, Section 69b; 1982, p. 13), and especially Heidegger (1977b, 2018, pp. 44–72).

  7. 7.

    Heidegger’s charge levelled at Husserl that ‘the historicity of thought remained completely foreign to such [i.e. Husserl’s] a position’ cannot be addressed here. Heidegger (2003b, p. xiv).

  8. 8.

    Heidegger refers to this archi-transcendental projection as “time” [Zeit], “being” [Sein], “presencing” [Anwesen], and other increasingly esoteric terms.

  9. 9.

    Heidegger (2018, pp. 56–57).

  10. 10.

    See Aristotle’s Physics (Book IV), Newton’s Principia (Axioms), and Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science.

  11. 11.

    Heidegger (2018, p. 63).

  12. 12.

    See Heidegger (1977b, pp. 128–130).

  13. 13.

    See Heidegger (1978, p. 4).

  14. 14.

    Heidegger (1977b, p. 121). See also Heidegger (2012b, pp. 127–128).

  15. 15.

    See Heidegger (1977b, p. 122; 2012b, p. 127).

  16. 16.

    See Heidegger (1977b, p. 151).

  17. 17.

    Hegel (1956, p. 235), translation modified.

  18. 18.

    See e.g. Bohr (1998, p. 100).

  19. 19.

    For otherwise, as Heisenberg remarks, it would be a contradiction in adjecto. Heisenberg (2000, p. 95).

  20. 20.

    As is well known, this order of potentiality cannot be coherently determined as being strictly “objective” or “subjective.” Heisenberg (2000, p. 15). More generally, the epistemological-ontological and empirico-transcendental doublets, as the founding features of modernity, can no longer be strictly separated in quantum mechanics.

  21. 21.

    See the volume by Bitbol et al. (2009), in particular the “Introduction” by the editors, but also many other excellent essays.

  22. 22.

    Heidegger unequivocally states that dynamis is a mode of appearance of the phenomenon (in his jargon): “Dynamis is a mode of presencing [Anwesung].” Heidegger (1998 p. 219). This split is, of course, nothing new; the reason why it appears to be so is that, in the physical and metaphysical traditions, priority has been given to the mode of actuality. Heidegger indeed continues: “Aristotle says, energeia (entelecheia) is proteron, ‘prior’ to dynamis, ‘prior,’ namely, with regard to ousia” (ibid.). The question of the modes of appearance of the phenomenon here does not coincide with the question as to whether the notion of objectivity should be thought in substantial terms, or, after Cassirer, in functional ones or even as a “task” of knowledge and spirit.

  23. 23.

    Heidegger (1977b, p. 150).

  24. 24.

    The following analogy points in fact to an affinity of horizons of phenomenality whose origin cannot be addressed here: in quantum mechanics, different singular con-texts come to replace the autonomy of a single “text” of nature, which is to say that quantum mechanics deals always with singular translations of a text that has been barred de jure from existence. The instrument is then the function that gives rise to these contextual translations. Said otherwise, one is to conclude that something “is” insofar as it is a translation, not insofar as it is a part of the original text.

  25. 25.

    See e.g. Bitbol (1996), but also virtually all works by Michel Bitbol or Patrick Heelan. More generally, see Patrick Heelan’s work for a most insightful treatment of relationship between the philosophy of quantum mechanics and phenomenology, hermeneutics, and the thinking of Martin Heidegger. See Heelan (1965, 2016), and the collection of essays in his honor edited by Babette Babich (2002).

  26. 26.

    Note that, more precisely, experience gives rise to the proposition “the instrument shows a certain experimental mark.” If this were a classical experiment, one would conclude that e.g. a particle or a wave should be responsible for this experimental trace: this is how seemingly classical propositions like “the electron has a momentum of x” should be understood in quantum mechanics.

  27. 27.

    Meta-propositions are given by a probability distribution on the set of experimental questions.

  28. 28.

    Heidegger (1977b, p. 131).

  29. 29.

    See e.g. Heidegger (1977b, pp. 149–153; 2018, pp. 273–282).

  30. 30.

    Note that one can argue that the potentiality for singular events is “experienced” (as an “actuality”) by a singular subject, but this potentiality is nevertheless not for a singular subject. It is rather potentially for any contextual subject—or, rephrasing, it is for a potential subject.

  31. 31.

    One should perhaps refer not to the determining of the law of place (topos), but of the law of taking place (chōra-nomos), where chōra marks for Plato the taking place of place itself, but also, according to Aristotle’s critique, the site of a conflation of place and matter. For Heidegger’s discussion of chōra see Heidegger (2014, pp. 72–73; 2004, p. 227).

  32. 32.

    According to Aristotle, “Motion (kinēsis) is the actuality of what is potentially, as such.” Aristotle (1984, III 201a11).

  33. 33.

    According to Aristotle, “Nature is the origin of motion” (archē kinēseōs). (1984, III 200b12).

  34. 34.

    Heidegger (1977a, pp. 172–173), translation modified, Heidegger’s own note to “The Question Concerning Technology.” In the latter essay, Heidegger states: “Modern physics is the herald of the Ge-stell, a herald whose origin is still unknown.” Heidegger (1977c, p. 22).

  35. 35.

    “Nature is no longer even an object [Gegen-stand].” Heidegger (2012a, p. 41).

  36. 36.

    One should nevertheless generally beware of Heidegger’s grave inaccuracies, such as: “In atomic physics a state of motion may on principle only be determined either as to position or as to velocity.” Heidegger (1977a, p. 172).

References

  1. Aristotle. 1984. Physics in The Complete Works of Aristotle. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Trans. R.P. Hardie and R.K. Gaye. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  2. Babich, Babette, ed. 2002. Hermeneutic Philosophy of Science, Van Gogh’s Eyes, and God: Essays in Honor of Patrick A. Heelan, S.J. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bitbol, Michel. 1996. Mécanique Quantique: Une Introduction Philosophique. Paris: Flammarion.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bitbol, Michel, Pierre Kerszberg, and Jean Petitot, eds. 2009. Constituting Objectivity: Transcendental Perspectives on Modern Physics. Berlin: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bohr, Niels. 1998. The Philosophical Writings of Niels Bohr IV: Causality and Complementarity. Woodbridge: Ox Bow Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Caputo, John D. 2012. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science: The Two Essences of Science. In Heidegger on Science, ed. Trish Glazebrook. Albany: SUNY Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Derrida, Jacques. 1982. Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

  8. Glazebrook, Trish. 2000. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Science. New York: Fordham University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Heelan, Patrick A. 1965. Quantum Mechanics and Objectivity: A Study of the Physical Philosophy of Werner Heisenberg. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Heelan, Patrick A. 2016. The Observable: Heisenberg’s Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics. Edited by Babette Babich. New York: Peter Lang.

  11. Hegel, G.W.F. 1956. The Philosophy of History. Trans. J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications.

  12. Heidegger, Martin. 1969. Identity and Difference. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row.

  13. Heidegger, Martin. 1972. On Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row.

  14. Heidegger, Martin. 1977a. Science and Reflection. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row.

  15. Heidegger, Martin. 1977b. The Age of the World Picture. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row.

  16. Heidegger, Martin. 1977c. The Question Concerning Technology. In The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Edited by William McNeill. Trans. Thomas Sheehan. New York: Harper and Row.

  17. Heidegger, Martin. 1978. The Concept of Time in the Science of History. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 9 (1): 3–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Heidegger, Martin. 1982. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  19. Heidegger, Martin. 1993. Letter on Humanism. In Basic Writings. Edited by David Farrel Krell. Trans. Frank A. Capuzzi, J. Glenn Gray. Abingdon: Routledge.

  20. Heidegger, Martin. 1998. On the Essence and Concept of Physis in Aristotle’s Physics B. In Pathmarks. Edited by William McNeill. Trans. Thomas Sheehan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  21. Heidegger, Martin. 2003a. Four Seminars. Trans. Andrew Mitchell, François Raffoul. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  22. Heidegger, Martin. 2003b. Preface. In Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, William J. Richardson. Trans. W.J. Richardson. New York: Fordham University Press.

  23. Heidegger, Martin. 2004. What is Called Thinking? Trans. J. Glenn Gray. New York: HarperCollins.

  24. Heidegger, Martin. 2010. Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. Albany: State University of New York Press.

  25. Heidegger, Martin. 2012a. Bremen and Freiburg Lectures: Insight Into That Which Is and Basic Principles of Thinking. Trans. Andrew J. Mitchell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  26. Heidegger, Martin. 2012b. Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event). Trans. Richard Rojcewicz, Daniela Vallega-Neu. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  27. Heidegger, Martin. 2014. Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. Gregory Fried and Richard Polt. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  28. Heidegger, Martin. 2018. The Question Concerning the Thing: On Kant’s Doctrine of the Transcendental Principles. Trans. James D. Reid, Benjamin D. Crowe. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

  29. Heisenberg, Werner. 2000. Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. London: Penguin Classics.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Kockelmans, Joseph J. 1985. Heidegger and Science. Lanham: University of America Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Malabou, Catherine. 2011. The Heidegger Change: On the Fantastic in Philosophy. Trans. Peter Skafish. Albany: SUNY Press.

  32. Richardson, William J. 2012. Heidegger’s Critique of Science. In Heidegger on Science. Edited by Trish Glazebrook. Albany: SUNY Press.

Download references

Funding

Research supported by ICI Berlin.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Damiano Sacco.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interests

The author declare that he have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sacco, D. The phenomenality of the phenomenon: Heidegger on physics. Cont Philos Rev (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-020-09524-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Heidegger
  • Physics
  • Phenomenology
  • Quantum mechanics