Heidegger and Consciousness – A Preliminary Interpretation

When people mention Heidegger’s name, the last thing on their mind is that he ever had anything to say about consciousness. Albeit controversial, I want to claim that Heidegger does try to describe the operation of consciousness through the method of formal indication. What term points to or indicates consciousness? Authentic resoluteness. I’ve had this thought for a long time now, but this is the first time I have tried to put it into words. I know it is an interpretive stretch, but bear with me as I work through this reading.

In order to see that an authentic moment of vision is synonymous with a moment of consciousness, we must first understand that I am using the term consciousness in a nontraditional fashion. Following Julian Jaynes, I reserve the term consciousness to exclusively refer to the operation of introspection wherein meanings and thoughts are manipulated in an temporarily constructed and easily dissoluble “mind-space” or “workspace”. I am not suggesting that we revert to Cartesian theater models of the mind, but rather, I am suggesting that the Cartesian theater which introspects is itself an analogical model virtually constructed on-the-fly which exists only in the functional sense. What is it that does the introspection? Julian Jaynes calls it the “analog I”. Heidegger calls it the authentic Self. Cognitive scientists have called it the “narrative Self” or “interpretive Self”.  These concepts are a counterpart to what can be called the “minimal Self”, “they-self”, or “cognitive unconscious” i.e. that Self which is always operative at the subpersonal level and which grounds higher-order cognitive states.

Moreover, this conception of consciousness differs from the tradition insofar as the analog I or authentic Self is a modification of the more primordial they-self. Instead of being constantly present-at-hand in experience so as to ground and constitute it in its subjectivity, the analog I is but a temporary construction which comes into being and than fades away as we are reabsorbed into the familiarity of the world. Indeed, “Authentic being-one’s-Self takes the definite form of an existentiell modification of the ‘they'” (SZ 267). When Heidegger uses the term “existentiell” he is referring to ontic properties. This is a formal indication for material processes e.g. bodily/neural systems in operation.

Furthermore, consciousness is not just some free-floating spectator, but serves a purpose insofar as it is an operation rather than a thing or passive repository. What is the function? A shortcut to behavior through resolute decision making experienced in terms of a “moment of vision”. Normally, our choices are not really choices, but rather, can be likened to a rock rolling down a hill. We simply get carried away by the environment insofar as we are “fallen”. Indeed,

The “they” has always kept Daein from taking hold of these possibilities of being. They “they” even hides the manner in which it has tacitly relieved Dasein of the burden of explicitly choosing these possibilities. It remains indefinite who has “really” done the choosing. So Dasein makes no choices, gets carried along by the nobody, and thus ensares itself in inauthenticity. This process can be reversed only if Dasein specifically brings itself back to itself from its lostness in the “they”….When Dasein thus brings itself back from the “they”, the they-self is modified in an existentiell manner so that it becomes authentic Being-one’s-Self. (SZ 268)

It is important to note however that falling, thrownness, and lostness must not be interpreted pejoratively.

We would…misunderstand the ontologico-existential structure of falling if we were to ascribe to it the sense of a bad and deplorable ontical property of which, perhaps, more advanced stages of human culture might be able to rid themselves. (SZ 176)

But because Dasein is lost in the they, it must find itself explicitly in order to be authentic. This finding oneself explicitly is the process of authentic resoluteness. It provides the opportunity for synthesizing factical experience into meaningful whole so as to provide a shortcut to behavior. For Heidegger, this takes the form of what he calls a “resolution”. It is actualized in terms of a “moment of vision” or “clarion call”. Indeed,

When resolute, Dasein has brought itself back from falling, and has done so precisely in order to be more authentically ‘there’ in the ‘moment of vision’ as regards the situation which has been disclosed. (SZ 328)

I read this action of authentic resolution structured in terms of a moment of vision as an essentially metacognitive act i.e. an act of the self which takes the self and its experiences as the object of attention. But this is no mere proprioception or internal self-perception, but rather, an act of introspection which grabs hold of the self from a particular perspective mediated by linguistic-cultural projections.

This distinctive and authentic disclosedness, which is attested in Dasein itself by its conscience – this reticent self-projection upon one’s ownmost being-guilty, in which one is ready for anxiety – we call “resoluteness“. (SZ 296)

Dasein’s being-guilty is a formal indication for how Dasein is for-the-most part thrown into the facticity of the they-self and the self-other interpretations of public everydayness. That we have no choice but to be fallen indicates that there is a “guilt” to which we are thrown into, a guilt which is amoral. When our consciousness is operative, a self-projection works so as to bring factical possibilities of behavior to our attention, the most extreme being our own death. Indeed, “The resolution is precisely the disclosive projection and determination of what is factically possible at the time” (SZ 298). Moreover, this resoluteness “does not detach Dasein from its world, nor does it isolate it so that it becomes a free-floating ‘I'” (SZ 298). The authentic Self or analog I is not free-floating precisely because the object of the analog is the real, factical self which has been thrown in a history of structural coupling with the real entities of the Earth. This is the ontically near “mineness” which provides the experiential landscape through which the analog I can construct a temporary introspective landscape wherein our whole being-in-the-world becomes an object of attention. And insofar as the facticity of Dasein becomes an object of attention, new possibilities of behavior are afforded which would not be available if we could not authentically introspect upon factical possibilities. Moreover, it is important to note that this level of analysis is purely formal. In reality, the forms of self-disclosure and self-projection change radically over time and space in accordance with cultural evolution. How you see and introspect upon yourself will depend on the particular structure of your culture and historicity.

Now, I freely admit that this whole story I have been telling is quite precarious on the interpretive level. There is no Rosetta Stone for translating descriptions of authentic resoluteness into descriptions of consciousness. But nevertheless I think I am on to something. For both Heidegger and Jaynes, authenticity/consciousness is something which is temporary and derivative. It is something which is a modification of subpersonal “thrownness” (which Jaynes’ called behavioral reactivity). It is essentially a form of self-disclosure or self-interpretation. It brings forth factical possibilities and acts as a shortcut for behavior. It operates by “temporalizing” or “spatializing” experienced time through a spatial metaphor (past-present-future i.e. autobiographical or “episodic” time). It is flexible and dependent on culture and language. It is an operation rather than a thing or repository. It helps constitutes who we are as a species and separates us from our animal cousins. It individualizes us as separate from everyone else in the unfolding of its operation. It operationalizes when our familiarity and habit-structures breakdown in the face of uncanniness. It can be described in terms of visual metaphors (“moment of vision”, “the mind’s eye”).


Filed under Consciousness, Heidegger, Phenomenology

2 responses to “Heidegger and Consciousness – A Preliminary Interpretation

  1. I’m trying to remember my Ricouer here. It’s been shockingly long since I last read his Oneself as Another. I definitely need to reread him.

    My wonder though is whether these senses aren’t more orthagonal to the authentic/inauthentic modes of being than you suggest.

  2. Gary Williams

    Clark, I think you might be right. Technically, Heidegger says that “mineness” is prior to the emergence of both inauthenticity and authenticity. I take this to mean that basic embodiment is prior to the development of both “everyday” behavior (inauthenticity) and “resolute” behavior (authenticity).

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