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Michael Heim THE COMPUTER AS COMPONENT: HEIDEGGER AND McLUHAN I Heidegger and computers: an oddjuxtaposition? No philosopher highlights the clash between technology and human values so sharply as Heidegger. Not only did he make technology central to metaphysics, Heidegger also came to see in it the root evil of the twentieth century, including the Nazi German catastrophe, which he described as "the confrontation of European humanity with global technology ." Both in his life and writings Heidegger felt technology to be an overwhelming force that challenges the reassuring maxims of traditional morality. Yet his death in 1976 did not permit Heidegger to see the century's most powerful technological revolution: the proliferation of the microcomputer. He saw only the first glimmerings of computerization, the mainframe dinosaurs of the computer age. But because his work spans the gap between the days before computers and the increasingly computerized present, Heidegger can become a springboard for understanding the new situation of the sciences and the humanities. The images we have of Heidegger the thinker, both photographic and mythic, place him in another time, another generation. In posed photographs, we see him sitting in a hut on the quiet mountaintop of the Todtnauberg, surrounded by shelves of books as he bends intently over a wooden writing table. The sun pours in the window. Under his pen, the manuscripts bristle with marginalia and scrawled notations of every kind, his pages a palimpsest heaped with layers ofminute revisions. Heidegger the thinker is Heidegger the scholar, and the scholar searches ancient texts for clues about the history of Being. He looks for hints Philosophy and Literature, © 1992, 16: 304-319 Michael Heim305 about where our essence, our heart, is today and whither the pull of the future. This image of Heidegger feeds on nostalgia. Even the Heidegger of the photos, seated in his hut a half century ago, working with pen on paper, had a keen sense of just how faded this picture was soon to become, how quickly this image turns antiquarian. Because he connected being with time, Heidegger knew that reality changes and with it the task of thinking. He sensed the pace of change in the twentieth century, and he seemed to foresee what librarians realize today: "The image of the humanist scholar in the book-crammed study, thinking deep thoughts, will continue to be less and less viable in professional scholarship ."1 This recent observation by the director ofa great college library confirms what Heidegger in his writings surmised: our rapid technological advance challenges the legacy of human thinking. Who better than the contemporary librarian knows the inner trend of today's scholar? Bid adieu to the "hochgewölbtes, engen gotischen Studierzimmer " of Goethe's Faust. The Schreibstube is giving way to the computer workstation, and scholarship requires a cybersage. Computerized libraries already exist today without paper books, and by the year 2000, nearly every text of human knowledge will exist in electronic form. Heidegger sensed, with anguish, that his works would one day come to light in a world of scholarship that had grown alien to the meditative pathways that nurtured his thoughts. In 1967, he saw a rising crest of information which, he suspected, might soon swallow his own writings: "Maybe history and tradition will fit smoothly into the information retrieval systems which will serve as resource for the inevitable planning needs of a cybernetically organized mankind. The question is whether thinking too will end in the business of information processing."2 In "The Age of the World Picture," Heidegger unearthed seeds planted by seventeenth-century Cartesian philosophy which would blossom today as science merges with computer science.3 The computer began to appear indirectly in Heidegger's mid-century writings as he took up the theme of calculative versus meditative thinking, for the computer was to become the supreme calculator. The first time I ran across the conjunction of Heidegger and computers was in 1977 when Joseph Kockelmans returned from giving seminars in Europe. While in Trier, he made the acquaintance of two graduate students, Rainer Bast and Heinrich Delfosse, who were at the time breaking new ground in Heidegger studies. Professor Kockelmans showed me some work from these two students...


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