Sometimes I wonder if I overdo this fourfold thing. The law of the instrument says something like “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Dividing things up into four parts, or bringing four things together into a whole, is the belabored theme of this blog. Fourfolds are my hammer, and what a nice hammer it is!
When my father was in a nursing home, he had a roommate for a period of time that would just draw houses continuously. Not nice architectural renderings either, but houses like a child would, where you can see three sides of it at once (the front and both sides). I might be doing that one day, endlessly drawing fourfold diagrams in endless fourfold permutations.
Speaking of hammers, Martin Heidegger also wrote at length about them in regards to equipment or instrumentality. He contrasted a working hammer that was “ready-to-hand” to a broken hammer that was “present-at-hand”. The working hammer recedes into the background of its ready utility, but the broken hammer, being useless, is merely present in pieces.
The notion of science as negative enterprise was raised by Heidegger since scientific investigation only gives you the present-at-hand, and not the smooth extension of ability that is ready-to-hand. I disagree, because how can you fashion a hammer in the first place or repair it if you aren’t full cognizant of its constituents and construction?
I realize that some worthwhile analyses are made by this approach to technology. For example, few are able to construct or repair modern automobiles or smartphones. In a sense, that should make Heidegger happy, since most are using this modern equipment with no clue as to how they work. And if they wear out or break or become obsolete, they are too costly to repair or upgrade and are sent to the scrapheap. But I say this tongue-in-cheek.
Heidegger’s “tool analysis” is the basis for much of his later writings, specifically concerning “das Geviert” (simply meaning square). If tool analysis is itself a tool, what happens when you apply tool analysis towards itself? Does one get an infinite fractal of fourfolds, ascending and descending, approaching and receding?
“The Question Concerning Technology” by Martin Heidegger is not an easy read. This short essay is full of unusual terms and phrases. I think part of the reason for this is Heidegger’s style of writing, and part is the capacity of the German language to build compound words easily. Thus in the English translation you have several hyphenated words like “standing-reserve” and “bringing-forth”. Of course, difficult terminology seems to be typical for Heidegger, but there are also many words taken from classical philosophy that have special meanings, which Heidegger was well versed in.
In this essay we first learn that our question is really a questioning and will be a process that “builds a way” to understanding, so initially we are more interested in the journey than the destination. The way that is desired is towards a “free relationship” between an “open” human existence and the “essence of technology” (essence being what a thing is, as if we can know exactly, so finding out is part of our journey). Second, we are told that the essence of technology is not technological, so to try to find what this essence is by using more technology is to be in an “unfree” relationship with it.
Third, our question concerning technology is really asking what technology is. A common and “correct” definition is that it is both a means to an end, and a human activity. The former is the instrumental aspect of technology, and the later is the anthropological aspect. But Heidegger does not think that these two aspects are the complete or “true” ones, and so our questioning leads us to inquire as to the essence of instrumentality. For that, we turn next to consider the general causes of things and their effects, and so on to examine the classical Four Causes of Aristotle.
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Four Causes, as I have mentioned them frequently. I consider them an important paradigmatic four-fold, and have tried to develop a more modern version of them with my four-fold Structure-Function. However, Heidegger was no friend to modernity, and his treatment of the Four Causes and the remainder of his essay shows that plainly. But let us continue on with our journey before we spoil our quest. As a reminder, here is a quick list of the Four Causes:
Efficient Cause – causa efficiens – Logos
Material Cause – causa materialis – Hylos
Formal Cause – causa formalis – Eidos
Final Cause – causa finalis – Telos
By thinking about causes in this way, can we discover the essence of causality? Heidegger explains that what causality is involves the things responsible for the bringing about of other things or what kinds of things a thing is indebted to in order for it to occur. (Others have argued that instead of causes another good name is the four “becauses”, i.e. the reasons for or the explanations of things). Note that Heidegger uses the terms responsibility and indebtedness to give the Four Causes (what I consider to be) a normative aspect.
Heidegger presents to us a silver chalice as an example of how to think about the the Four Causes in relation to Greek thought. Hylos (or hyle) is the material we start with, Eidos is its form or aspect, Telos is responsible for bringing together both (but not as aim or purpose but as bounds or context), and all three are indebted to… Logos? Heidegger now departs from how Aristotle was understood to view the causes named after him, and says so himself, in order to argue that these four ways of responsibility and indebtedness are really what these causes are all about.
STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We often hear that these areas of education and expertise are critical for the development of our modern society. To attract students to these fields, banners and logos are full of bright colors and crisp graphics. In comparison, above is my rather dull diagram. Not very enticing, is it?
Some are now adding Arts to the four, giving STEAM. I think the Arts are important of course, but fives don’t go with my oeuvre.
In addition, I give you a diagram with Chinese substituted for English (科學 技術 工程 數學).
As conservative capitalism whips itself into an ecstasy of fevered apoplexy over the change in political climate, it is fun to step back and imagine what might transpire after capitalism’s eventual passing. To offer help, Peter Frase has written the excellent and cautionary “Four Futures: life after capitalism”.
Frase gives us four idealized futures blocked out by a matrix of two variables each ranging over two possibilities: 1) the structure of the social environment being either egalitarian or hierarchical, and 2) the resources of the natural environment being either scarce or abundant. What’s nice about the descriptions of these futures are the ample examples from science fiction media: TV, movies, novels, etc.
One assumption over all four futures is that, given sufficient resources of material and energy, technology, automation, and robotics will improve to the extent that human work as we know it will eventually be made unnecessary. Another is that climate change is real and will demand solutions and amelioration or it will only get much worse. And a big take home message is that the rich and powerful are in a much better position to benefit from ignoring climate change than you and me.
What will happen to the common person when their labor is superfluous? Not detailed are the possibilities if even the humans at the top are deemed unnecessary and the machines revolt. In order of diminishing happiness for most of us:
Communism: Egalitarian Abundance
Rentism: Hierarchical Abundance
Socialism: Egalitarian Scarcity
Exterminism: Hierarchical Scarcity
The cover has a nice iconography for the futures: a conveyor belt on a 3D printer assembly line shows a glass of wine for Communism (Cheers!), a key hole for Rentism, a watering can for Socialism, and a skull for Exterminism (Ouch!).
Is humankind selfish by nature or altruistic? Are people competitive or cooperative? Tribal or cosmopolitan? The short answer to all these questions is yes. We are both of those things, and often at the same time.
In this new age of nationalism and protectionism, we are diminished by our choices made from fear and small mindedness. Almost all the knowledge we have is from the choices, both good and bad, made by our forebearers, and those they have met and helped and been helped by along the way. Certainly our individual hard work does us credit, but most of the credit goes to what is automatically given to us at birth.
This includes but is not limited to: our language and our culture; our knowledge and science; our heritage and cultural relationships; our technology and skills; our education and institutions. All this and more, generated by our ancestor’s struggle to survive and flourish, as well as for the survival and flourishing of their progeny and their society.
As we think the horizons of our future recede we squabble over our claims and our distrust. I think we are made better more by our sharing of knowledge than our hoarding. Of course the things shared must have value; they cannot be lies or false or fake. Let us extend our concerns to all of humankind and to the earth we share.
If someone can create something, then others can make it.
If someone can find or discover something, then others can know, see, or grasp it.
If someone can teach something, then others can learn it.
If someone can demonstrate or show something, then others can use, do, or apply it.
Does technology have a fundamental structure? Does it have a unifying code? I am of the mind that technology is the totality of all tools devised by humankind. If so, what constitutes a tool? Again, I believe in a very broad definition, and think language and culture are also tools and thus technology.
Van Wyk proposes that technology is “created competence.” This competence performs actions (processing, storing, transporting) on stuff (matter, energy, information). This begins the first framework of a technology, its anatomy. Along with anatomy, three other frameworks of a technology to consider are its taxonomy, evolution, and ecology.
In my diagram above, I have added a fourth action: that of creation. After all, technology is created competence. One might say technology cannot create, but is itself created. It is true that matter and energy cannot be created, but their shape and flow can be designed. Also, it seems that information can be created, and not just processed.
Further, I propose another addition to the stuff that technology acts upon: technology itself. Technology is often a mix of matter, energy, and information, and so technology can operate on technology and recursively act on and also improve itself. So perhaps both information and technology can at least be thought of as created.
So, in order to broaden the scope of the anatomy of technology, I propose changing the anatomical grid from 3 x 3 to 4 x 4. Then we have as actions
Creating & Designing
Storing & Accessing
Moving & Dispersing
Changing & Processing
Of course, the 3 x 3 anatomical grid is a well researched tool, and the changes I propose may not be justified or useful.
Rias J. van Wyk / Technology: a fundamental structure? Knowledge, Technology, and Policy. 9/2002 Vol 15, Issue 3 (14-35)
Here’s a simple fourfold I’ve been ignoring just because it’s so trivial, but that triviality can be deceiving. Space-time as formulated in special relativity has four dimensions: three of space and one of time. Our everyday experience shows us the three dimensions of space: length, width (or breadth), and depth (or height), but time is a different kind of thing because we cannot see or move forward and backward through time with our eyes or body, like we can along the axes of space.
Personally, only our memory and imagination can let us range through time. Of course, after the invention of language and more recent technologies, the spoken word, writings, photographs, audio recordings, and videos can also be used. But it’s not the same as shifting one’s gaze along the length of something or moving one’s body across a width.
So, we can move semi-freely through the three spatial dimensions but our movement in time seems to be fixed into a relentless forward motion that we have no control over. And because gravity pulls us down onto the surface of the world, one of the spatial dimensions (depth or height) is more limiting than the other two.
Thus another interesting comparison to this fourfold is to that of linear logic. One observation is that length and width can be considered reversible but depth and time can be considered somewhat irreversible. That’s not true of course, but because of gravity it is easier to descend than to ascend, and it’s far easier to move into the future than into the past. But we can see into the distant past, just not our own, as we turn our telescopes to the heavens.
Space without time could have four or even higher dimensions, but we have no empirical evidence that it is so. Mathematically, however, we can easily construct multidimensional spaces. One representation of four dimensional space is by using quaternions, which have four dimensions to the complex numbers’ two. Tuples of real numbers or even vector spaces can also be used. However, the geometry of space-time is not Euclidean; it is described by the Minkowski metric.
Novels about characters living in different numbers of spatial dimensions are an interesting way to learn and think about them. The very first was Flatland by Edwin Abbott Abbott, about a being limited to two dimensions that learns about a third outside his experience when a three dimensional being comes to visit. Just recently I’ve finished reading Spaceland by Rudy Rucker, about an ordinary human person limited to the three dimensions of space that learns about the fourth dimension by similar reasons.