Losing interest in Heidegger

To be honest, I am losing interest in Heidegger. Although I am writing my Master’s thesis on Heidegger and the problem of realism, I am more interested in coming up with a good philosophical response to the question of realism than I am in defending a particular realist interpretation of Heidegger. I no longer have any interest in buying more Heidegger texts or reading secondary literature on Heidegger. Frankly, I feel like I have nothing else to learn from studying Heidegger closely. Now, this isn’t to say that I never learned anything from Heidegger. I did. I learned a lot. My encounter with Heidegger radically changed my philosophical perspective. But now I don’t see Heidegger as being the be-all-end-all of philosophy. I think J.J. Gibson was a better phenomenologist than Heidegger. I think ecological psychology can give as a better insight into Dasein and worldhood than transcendental methods. I think Julian Jaynes and modern consciousness studies research can offer a better insight into authentic existence than the study of the classic phenomenological tradition. I think modern neuroscience gives us a better understanding of how moods work than pure phenomenological reduction.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still consider myself a “Heideggerian”. But I also consider myself a Jaynesian, a Gibsonian, a Jamesian, a Clarksian, a Deleuzian, amongst other titles. Although I don’t think any of my current philosophical positions are at odds with Heidegger, my ideas, theories, and research interests have gone beyond Heidegger in many ways. Although I am still greatly influenced by Heidegger, I think there is just so much good philosophy and science that has been published since Heidegger’s time. To restrict myself to only studying Heidegger when there are amazing books being published every year really just strikes me as backwards and intellectually restrictive.

I had always approached Heidegger with the purpose of learning something new about how the mind works. But given my interest in the philosophy of mind, to limit my research to Heidegger would not ultimately be beneficial to my career. Although I think the best cognitive science could be considered “Heideggerian”, I think it is necessary to pursue interdisciplinary research and actually read what cognitive scientists have to say. And I don’t think you can understand the mind and human experience without reading about evolution, biology, and developmental psychology. Accordingly, my loss of interest in Heidegger is not really an abandonment of the Heideggerian position, but rather, the inevitable result of trying to corroborate Heidegger’s view in light of modern scholarship.

Hence, I will not be changing the subtitle of this blog. I still write and think from a Heideggerian position. But I am not the kind of scholar to restrict myself to one thinker obsessively. My interests are extremely varied and are always expanding as I encounter new thinkers. Neuroscience, cog sci, psychology, evolution, biology, philosophy of mind, the history of philosophy, consciousness studies, linguistics, artificial intelligence, vision research, emotion research, anthropology, archeology; I’m interested in it all! I love the idea of being “well read”. Overspecialization  at the expense of interdisciplinary synthesis is a death sentence. This is why I have always been drawn to the philosophy of mind and particularly consciousness studies. These fields have always been more interdisciplinary than other fields in philosophy.

The idea of reading pure philosophy for the rest of my life sickens me. I feel like my varied interests, far from making me a shallow and spread out philosopher, have actually made me a deeper philosophical thinker. Being able to connect pure philosophical questions to what’s going on in other academic fields allows me to approach philosophy from multiple angles, leading to creative solutions to classic questions and new insights to thorny problems. This is why my Master’s thesis on Heidegger and the problem of realism deals a lot with J.J. Gibson, affordance theory, cognitive anthropology, and modern research on how language influences thought. My background in these areas allows me to tackle the problem of realism in terms of a new philosophical vocabulary that Heidegger could have never envisioned. If I restricted myself purely to an interpretation of Heidegger, I think my proposed solution to the problem of realism would be considerably weaker. By making philosophical “allies” with a diverse set of thinkers, I think I can gather a cumulative case for my ideas. By building a cumulative case for realism, I hope to weave a historical narrative through the history of ideas that traverses a vast range of academic scholarship. This, I hope, will add great strength to my research and compel others to go beyond the limited confines of their specialization, be that either philosophy or science.



Filed under Heidegger, Philosophy

4 responses to “Losing interest in Heidegger

  1. Paul Ennis

    My supervisor used to warn about the Heideggerian black hole. He did not mean Heidegger or his insights, which are useful and will stay with you as they have stayed with me, but rather the ‘Heidegger culture’ of endless speculation on what Heidegger meant by this or that phrase. I imagine the man himself would have been horrified. I have not read any secondary lit. on Heidegger in months and not much Heidegger in perhaps longer. There is a point of diminishing returns for everything. Also you don’t need to be a Deleuzian or a Jaynesian or anything else. You can just be a scholar who likes to read Deleuze and Jaynes!

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Jen

    Have you ever heard of/read anything by Catherine Malabou? She is a continental philosopher who writes primarily about neuroscience. Fascinating stuff!

  3. jelle

    Dear Gary, just stumbled upon your blog. A question. Do you know whether Gibson actually knew about Heidegger, his thoughts, and whether he ever ventured an opinion about it? I always explain ‘zuhandenheit’ using the term affordance. But it seems the idea of affordance was developed independently of Heidegger’s thought?

  4. Hi jelle,

    I looked into this question myself awhile ago. I’m almost positive that Gibson knew next to nothing about Heidegger and if he did, it was never mentioned in any bibliographic or scientific content. However, I do remember Ed Reed mentioning that Gibson was somewhat familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s work, which by extension, makes Gibson indirectly influenced by Heidegger since of course Heidegger influenced Merleau-Ponty. But I would venture that Gibson’s idea of an affordance sprung directly out of his experimental work and not as much from any philosophical reflection, though it must have played some minor role.

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