Heidegger’s Angst: Runaway Technology


In his Discourse on Thinking Martin Heidegger foresees a radical future arising out of accelerating technology and innovation:

No one can foresee the radical changes to come. But technological advance will move faster and faster and can never be stopped. In all areas of his existence, man will be encircled ever more tightly by the forces of technology. These forces, which everywhere and every minute claim, enchain, drag along, press and impose upon man under the form of some technical contrivance or other – these forces … have moved long since beyond his will and have outgrown his capacity for decision.(51)1

Yet, it’s what he says about our inability to anticipate that bothers him most. Heidegger would see a time when no one would be able to apply the brakes to this runaway beast: social and technological acceleration (i.e., progress). (52):

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Almost every thinker past Heidegger has done much in that regard. Most under the rubric of social accelerationism (Hartmut Rosa), but the tradition from Kojve, Canguillheim, Latour, Deleuze… or especially Virilio, Virno, Steigler, etc. have their eyes on both the naturalist and artificial systems enveloped in the notions of speed and acceleration history. Most on the left have seen it as destructive, while many on the right see it within the collapse of history, etc. Even the recent work of Left Acceleration by Srnicek and Williams could be placed in a natural context as a critique of this darker side of progressive history and the need to overtake it. It’s really the old battle between technological determinism and fatalism played out against the advance of autonomous technology…. yet, in our own time it’s become more the disappearance of natural context – think of Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics; or, Purdy’s After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene; or, The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology by Max Oelschlaeger; or, the works of Derrick Jensen: Endgame, Volume 1 and 2: The Problem of Civilization, Resistance. The later two seeing a need to revolt against the system of late capitlism, more in line with a neoluddite view… Benjamin Noys attacks it directly in: Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism… Shaviro gives his critique in No Speed Limit: Three Essays on Accelerationism. One I haven’t read is The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene Since 1945 by J. R. McNeill, but it looks promising.


  1. Heidegger, Martin, Discourse on Thinking. Harper Torchbooks (November 19, 1969)

Heidegger, Poetic Dwelling and escaping the literal-minded gnosis…

dmf made a great comment in a previous post (here):

I have never bought into ideas of epochal shifts of Thinking, We the people have never been modern to borrow a phrase never really come to grips with Darwin and all, reminds me of earlier discussions of drug induced states for some these are felt as Keys to deep Universal truths for others of us just visceral experiences of the ideas we have learned about the chemical aspects of our being. Poetic dwelling is about our synthetic powers and not about literal-minded Gnosis.

I replied to this here, but want to actually tease this out a little more. The idea that he is alluding to as ‘epochal shifts in Thinking’ is in some ways a reference to Thomas Kuhn’s use of the term ‘paradigm shift’:

A paradigm shift (or revolutionary science) is, according to Thomas Kuhn, in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to his idea of normal science. According to Kuhn, “A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share” (The Essential Tension, 1977). Unlike a normal scientist, Kuhn held, “a student in the humanities has constantly before him a number of competing and incommensurable solutions to these problems, solutions that he must ultimately examine for himself” (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

Once a paradigm shift is complete, a scientist cannot, for example, reject the germ theory of disease to posit the possibility that miasma causes disease or reject modern physics and optics to posit that ether carries light. In contrast, a critic in the humanities can choose to adopt an array of stances (e.g., Marxist criticism, Freudian criticism, Deconstruction, 19th-century-style literary criticism), which may be more or less fashionable during any given period but which are all regarded as legitimate. Since the 1960s, the term has also been used in numerous non-scientific contexts to describe a profound change in a fundamental model or perception of events, even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences.  (see wiki)

When I started thinking about this I see that Kuhn stipulates one thing: that his ideas pertain only to ‘science’ not to any other domain of thought. I’ll agree with that much. And, I’ll agree that his whole conception has nothing to do with what I’m saying about change in Philosophy. So what do I mean? What I’m saying is that since Kant we’ve been in a box, and that this box is bound to the limits of human knowledge and finitude, and that philosophers since Kant have either accepted the truth of his framework or they haven’t; yet, all are agreed that his conceptual modifications in thought changed the game in philosophy. Philosophers since his time have struggled with or against this limiting finitude, and now in our time we are seeing a resurgence of those in favor of breaking out of the box and into – to use a term coined by Quentin Meillessoux, the ‘great outdoors’.

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“Philosophy, then is not a doctrine, not some simplistic scheme for orienting oneself in the world, certainly not an instrument or achievement of human Dasien. Rather, philosophy is this Dasien itself insofar as it occurs, in freedom, from out of its own ground.

“Whoever, by hard research, has arrived at this self-understanding of philosophy is granted the fundamental experience of all philosophizing, which is this: the more completely and originally research comes into its own, the more surely is it “nothing but” the transformation of the same few simple questions.

“But those who want to transform must bear within themselves the power of a fidelity that knows how to preserve. The only way to feel that power grow within oneself is to be caught up in wonder. And the only way to be caught up in wonder is to travel to the outermost limits of the possible.

“Yet, the only way to become the friend of the possible is to remain open to dialogue with the powers at work in the whole of human existence [Dasein]. And in fact that is the philosopher’s way of being: heeding what has already been sung forth and can still be perceived in each essential occurence in the world.”

– from For Edmund Husserl on His Seventieth Birthday