Chapter 8: The artificiality of natural essence
It is time to reconnect the train of thought just completed with the problem with which this Part began: the relationship between Heidegger’s conception of science as imposition with the problem of ‘two realities’, the perceptually and scientific real. Specifically, it was said that understanding the Heideggerian question in terms of the “two tables” problem would deepen the characterization of science implied in “The Question Concerning Technology,” at least in so far as science is implicated with the essence of technology. For as it was noted, on its face Heidegger’s understanding of science as com-posing is as untenable as is his contention that modern technology is com-posing, and therefore the question of science as imposition—arguably the essential component of com-posing—needed to be generalized in order to have any traction. Eddington’s problem of the “two tables” was taken as just such a generalization of the underlying problem potentially animating Heidegger’s conception of science, but in any case, whether it actually does animate it, the “two tables” problem does set up the problem of “imposition” in more general terms. It is now time to explore these general terms, specifically with respect to what Heidegger would replace “imposition” with, namely, the native apprehension of natural essence.
With the so-called ‘problem of two tables’ pragmatically resolved, Heidegger’s claim that modern science imposes on nature abstractions concealing its essence instead of finds in nature a reality as real as (or even more real than) native experience can be re-examined, and the potential application of his stake in that debate can be deepened. For recall that for Heidegger, science imposes one encompassing reductive abstraction onto natural phenomena—i.e. nature as a “calculable nexus of forces”—and it imposes in such a way that apprehension of their natural essence is foreclosed in advance, i.e. that natural essence simply cannot be seen as it emerges in experience. So like with “lumber” foreclosing in advance experience of the essence “tree” or “energy as such” foreclosing in advance the essence of “wind,” nature as “a calculable nexus of forces” forecloses experiencing the essence of “nature” as such—or more specifically, the essence of natural phenomena. Extending Heidegger’s reach, Rojcewicz notes that seeing this calculable nexus of forces as a mathematical manifold only exacerbates this foreclosure, so the question naturally arises: how for Heidegger is science an imposition, and how does the problem of ‘two tables’ both deepen and address that question? In other words, how can deepening Heidegger’s criticism of science through reference to the ‘problem of two tables’ illuminate both the reach and limits of Heidegger’s observations on science, thereby both addressing those observations themselves and acting as a prelude for examining what science actually does, and in so doing examine what science eventually reveals about nature (or whatever its subject matter may be)?
To answer this question, three issues are discussed in turn. First, some immediate objections to Heidegger’s characterization of science are cleared up in order to more clearly define both its potential power and overall scope. That is, Heidegger’s characterization of science as imposition is made more tractable, not less, both by dealing with two initial objections and rather obvious; then that characterization is applied specifically to the ‘two tables’ problem. Second, the contiguity between the “the table “ as commonplace object with a presumable essence and “the table” as symbolized in a scientific abstraction is developed with reference to the previous discussion of the contiguity between the ‘two tables’ in cognitive life generally, e.g. the “table” as naturally versus scientifically perceived. Specifically, the very notion of an essence “naturally” emerging is problematized by suggesting that the common noun “table” is no less ‘imposing’ on primary, non-cognitive experience than the scientific abstraction of the table. Third, the very notion of a “natural essence” that can emerge apriori without imposition of some kind is rejected, and once rejected, a new sense of “essence” as an artifact of meaning is both introduced and then shown to be consistent with Heidegger’s own four characterizations of the “essentiality of essence” and the “productive seeing” that reveals it—again, with both features of Heidegger’s thought examined in light of the ‘two tables’ problem. To conclude the section, the scientifically understood “table” is asserted to be as much an “essence” of the table as anything derived from or apprehended in native experience, ‘productive seeing’ or not, and some additional concluding remarks to on modern science being more ‘poetic’ than ancient science—or in any case not impositional except in a benign sense—follow.
Fortifying “challenging imposition”
Before beginning discussion proper, two rather obvious objections to Heidegger’s characterization of modern science as imposition need to be addressed, specifically the mathematization of nature in the ancient world (thus undermining one of the exclusive features of modern science) and the limits (rather severe at that) of saying modern science imposes on nature the artificial essence “a calculable nexus of forces.” In both cases, Heidegger’s account of science as imposition needs to be strengthened against the shortcomings revealed by both objections, as valid as they are (and they are valid). Once this is done, the applicability of both the formulation of and solution to the ‘two tables problem’ can be discussed relative to a strengthened Heideggerian account of science as imposition on nature, as opposed to science as a revelation of it.
In the first place, contrary to Rojcewicz’s justifiable expansion of ‘science as an imposition’ to include the idea of imposing a “mathematical manifold” on nature as “a calculable nexus of forces, it happens that understanding nature in terms of mathematics and not its naturally emergent essence is not a uniquely modern characteristic of science at all. Rather, the idea of nature as mathematical is at least as old as the Pythagoreans, who thought certain natural phenomena were essentially mathematical, so they applied mathematics to them. But the basic idea in the “modern” sense—meaning a mathematization more “modern” than the Pythagoreans—was more widely disseminated through the works of Autolycus of Pitane, whose popular On the moving sphere was widely used in late medieval and early modern attempts to develop a science of motion. For instance, in describing the circular motion of commonplace objects or heavenly objects, Autolycus said:
“A point is said to be moved with equal movement when it traverses equal and similar quantities in equal times. When any point on an arc of a circle of on a straight line traverses two lines with equal motion, the proportion of the time in which it traverses one of the two lines to the time in which it traverses the other is as the proportion of the one of the two lines to the other.”
In this passage (as throughout the entire treatise), it is noteworthy that Autolycus, though describing the motion of bodies, refers to those bodies solely as points, not as the bodies that they are, and more notably, Autolycus does not distinguish between the motion of heavenly bodies moving in the celestial spheres and terrestrial bodies moving in circular motion on earth; the same “points” applies to both. Since for the ancient Greeks these two types of bodies were essentially different, Autolycus’ On the moving sphere can be said to impose onto all moving bodies a common artificial essence (“body” as point) in the same way modern science might be said to do the same, in so far as what “essentially” distinguishes terrestrial from heavenly bodies is homogenized into a single mathematical construct. In other words, both heavenly and terrestrial bodies moving in circular motion are pre-conceived, against their naturally differing essences (“naturally different” according to most ancient sources), solely in terms of a common ‘mathematical manifold.’ That this ostensibly “modern” imposition occurred in the ancient world is evidence that the mathematization of nature, though rare in the ancient world, is not uniquely modern, as it must be under Heidegger’s mutually exclusive essences of technology.
Since the strict separation of an essence of technology into ancient and modern has already been rejected, and since science as a manifestation of modern technology as exclusively com-posing has been rejected as well, this further instance of the same limitation need not further challenge Heidegger’s notion that modern science is intrinsically impositional, while ancient science is not. That is, rather than marshalling more evidence that his strict demarcation into poiesis and com-posing simply cannot be maintained, it is asserted here that though occurring first in the ancient world, a kind of science as such, whenever it occurs, may still be essentially impositional, in so far as it pre-conceives nature in terms of a mathematical manifold of “a calculable nexus of forces.” In short, that this imposition first occurred in the ancient world and not the modern will be taken as neither here nor there relative to the fact that it simply occurred at some point. As occurring at all, it still may essentially characterize science.
As the second objection to be dealt with, nature pre-conceived as “a calculable nexus of forces” described in terms of a mathematical manifold does not characterize the essence of science as such simply because too few sciences consider nature as either a “mathematical manifold” or “a calculable nexus of forces.” Although both notions work very well for describing physics, they only partially describe a science like chemistry, and they barely apply to biology at all, much less to a science like psychology. Simply put, most modern science outside of physics does not see nature as a mathematical manifold applicable to a calculable nexus of forces, and in so far as modern science as such cannot be identified with modern physics, it simply makes no sense to say that science essentially mathematizes nature as a nexus of forces— because it doesn’t.
Since Heidegger clearly has physics in mind as an exemplary modern science, not the only modern science, science as such as impositional in some way—i.e. as deploying some kind of artificial essence in its pre-conception of its subject-matter—will be extended ex gratis. That is, although sciences other than physics may use different pre-conceptions at their basis (chemistry sees natural substances as elements, atoms, and molecules; biology sees organisms as ‘phenotypes in service of selfish genes’; economics still mathematize exchange and incentives; psychology reduces mind to behavior, etc.), they still arguably impose onto the phenomena they study some kind of artificial essence preventing the self-emergence of natural essences. That Heidegger did not note the exact imposition for all sciences and only specified it for one germane to the occasion on which “The Question Concerning Technology” was delivered is neither here nor there for his underlying point. That point will be granted regardless of the need to extend it beyond the specific impositions he suggests, on the assumption that some other impositions still occur.
So Heidegger’s characterization of science as ‘impositional over’ as opposed to ‘revelatory’ of ‘natural’ essence is eminently defensible against two immediate objections—that mathematization it isn’t uniquely modern at all, and that his specific “impositions” fail to characterize modern science as such, only modern physics. With this defense established, discussion now turns to the ‘two tables’ problem and the question of imposition as such. Specifically, it can now be asked: in light of how the problem of ‘two tables’ has been both formulated and resolved, how can science be seen as an imposition on essence as opposed to a revelation of something essential about nature, i.e. of a natural essence?
The “two tables” again
Recall that in formulating the ‘two tables’ problem, science reduces the commonplace objects of ordinary experience to “pointer readings,” then it coordinates observations and pointer readings between observers in experiments to test and establish natural laws, and from there it uses the abstract entities deployed in these natural laws to conclude that reality as experienced it in the everyday sense is in fact an illusion—i.e. science reveals a reality more fundamentally real than the everyday real, even if that revelation remains only a “skeleton” of reality. The very formulation of the ‘two tables’ problem, then, implies three levels of imposition consistent with Heidegger characterization of science as such.
On the first level, the essence of natural phenomena as they occur in everyday experience are apriori foreclosed from emerging by pre-conceiving them solely in terms of quantitative measurements, i.e. in terms of “pointer readings.” As Eddington states, since the final ‘nature’ or ‘reality’ of the objects with which science deals has been permanently set aside, “symbols have become the only possible alternative,” and these symbols must be seen as a “schedule of pointer readings” regarding “physical quantities” that “should be defined according to the way in which we actually recognize them when confronted with them, and not according to the metaphysical significance we may have anticipated for them.” In other words, “each physical quantity should be defined as the result of certain operations of measurement and calculation,” and the results of these operations should never be ‘embedded’ in something that transcends them, i.e. ascribed to a real implements or objects or phenomena to which they might refer. So by reducing the everyday reality of implements and natural phenomena to a schedule of measurements abstractly pre-conceived, i.e. numerically represented, science imposes the first stage of the ‘calculable nexus of forces’ as a mathematical manifold. In effect it creates the scientific objects subject to calculable forces, and in that creation reductions as impositions take over (and overtake) the “natural” reality of the objects with which it starts and eventually ends. In short, science is impositional and fore-closing from the very start, in the establishment of its very objects.
At the second level, once reduced to mathematical objects, natural objects and processes are subjected to experiments that further impose on their ‘natural essence,’ in so far as the manipulations of the objects and processes are apriori seen solely in terms of coordinated measurements between observers using instruments to get more “pointer readings” about ‘real things’ that only appear to science as mathematical objects. So a boulder rolling down a mountainside is not seen as a natural object moving from one place to another, and understood as such, with all the natural variations its movement entails. Instead, in its place a ball is rolled down an inclined plane and measurements are taken with an eye to formulating a natural law that will describe any falling object as such. The very setup of the experiment ignores everything about a falling or rolling object that makes it the falling object or rolling object that it is and instead creates an artificial situation in which the object isn’t even falling, one where the true object investigated isn’t even an natural object anymore but is instead a sphere with a specified diameter and mass, one ‘rolling’ down an angle, not even down an actual piece of wood (or whatever material the skewed platform is made of). In short, natural events are not simply observed for what they are, as they occur: instead artificial situations are created to test and verify the abstractions science imposes in order to formulate mathematical laws that then can be imposed on the natural events they purport to characterize. The very execution of an experiment, then, is an imposition on the natural process it purports to test, in so far as it precisely prevents all that is natural about the process from appearing, i.e. all its variation and imperfections, as it were. As Galileo called them, experiments are cimenti, or “trials by ordeal”—a notion that itself recalls the Inquisition and its means of forcing a confession by imposing pain through torture. In this way, science is impositional in its second stage—experiment—in that it imposes on nature artificial situations as the sole means through which nature is compelled to “confesses” it secrets.
Third and lastly, once the abstractions of science are established, tested, and verified by experiment, they impose over the essences of natural things and processes in a third and final way, in so far as these conceptual impositions are declared more real than the commonplace objects and events they purportedly describe. Sellars and Eddington, as representatives of science, are quite clear on this discounting the everyday real in favor of science: the abstractions used in science reveal that the reality of everyday objects and events is an illusion. By discounting the essence or reality of natural things and processes against an inherently impositional conceptual abstraction, science takes the final step as imposition. For any essence a natural object or event might have is foreclosed completely by declaring it an illusion, and as “illusion” the question of its self-emerging essence or reality never even arises. Any such emergence is simply replaced in advance with the artificial essence imposed by science—to wit, the table is merely a collection of atomic particles interrelated in fields of force and therefore in reality it has no specific essence to consider. By reducing the naturally and everyday real to illusions, science effects a final imposition in the extreme, in that the very possibility of having a essence other than scientific reality is precluded in advance.
Now as much as the formulation of the problem of two tables suggests “science as imposition” as Heidegger describes it—and it apparently does on three levels—the pragmatic resolution of the problem casts both its formulation and the subsequent impression of imposition in a different light. For recall that pragmatically resolved, the very problem of two competing realities between the ‘two tables’ is itself an illusion, therefore the very formulation of the problem in terms of “imposition” is suspect. In other words, in so far as the solution to the ‘problem’ as posed by Sellars and Eddington—here taken as exemplary representatives of a tendency among some interpreters of science—dead ends in irresolvable paradox or nonsense, a closer look at how the problem is misleading in its very formulation is warranted. Specifically, in this closer look it might turn out that little to nothing like a “challenging imposition” as described by Heidegger actually occurs—or better stated, any ‘imposition’ that does occur occurs equally between seeing natural objects and events in the everyday sense versus seeing them in a scientific sense, these two senses being contiguous with one another and not different in kind. In other words, a closer look at the solution to the ‘two tables’ problem, not its fallacious formulation, might call into question the very notion of science as a “challenging imposition” that conceals, not reveals, nature. If so, the solution to the problem offered here would call into question any sense in which it can be granted to Heidegger that science is impositional whereas poiesis and philosophy are not.
The “artificiality” of essence
As a starting point for this closer look, recall the contiguity already described between the everyday, commonsense object “the table” and the scientific object “the table” as a ‘swarm of atomic particles’ in ‘fields of force’. Both the common noun and the scientific object, it was asserted, represent the transformation of an immediately apprehended qualitative “this thing” given in sensuous experience into a stable, determinate object of cognition, i.e. into a cognitive object. That is, the immediacy and constancy of “this thing,” taken as existing as it does only in so far as it is livingly apprehended in a “multitude” and “varies series” of experiences, is hypostatized into an object that can be taken up in subsequent thought while absent, while it is no longer experienced as such. In a word it is assigned, as it were, objective status. Instead of a transitory “this here” merging and blending in and out of immediate experience as it ocucrs—existing, as such, as a bare constancy in a “multiple” and “varied series” of change— the table becomes a “the table” i.e. an ordinary object as a common noun. As “the table,” the table persists as a determinate (and further determinable) object both possessing stable properties and being capable of accruing further properties or realized potentialities in future cognition and use. Whatever the ultimate nature of this genesis of cognitive objects from non-cognitive experience, and whatever the relationship of this non-cognitive experience to cognitive objects once established, something like this genesis must occur at some point in cognitive life, and as such “the table” as everyday common object is contiguous with and not different in kind than the scientific object “the table.” For both represent merely different levels of instituting objects within a generalized cognitive interest, with one interest as more circumscribed and narrowly focused on practical interests and the other more broadly oriented to knowledge as such.
To clarify the import of this genesis for the issue at hand, consider “fire” as encountered for the first time by any human being. For our earliest ancestors, “fire” initially encountered would have been an entirely new ‘object’, and as such, initially, it would have been apprehended only with respect to its immediate, sensuous qualities. In other words, its status as a determinate object would have been entirely in question. To be sure, “the fire” (as we know it now) would have been seen as bright and flickering. It would have been perceived as heat. It would have appeared present yet insubstantial…and so forth. As experienced non-cognitively, all these qualities would have been apprehended and noted as real, as being the qualities they are, and this apprehension and notation could and would certainly generate a response of some sort, perhaps prior to any cognitive taking up per se. In any case, prior to any cognitive taking up proper, the qualities would simply have been perceived as the qualities that they are, i.e. merely in terms of the direct consequences of experiencing them (feeling heat as caused by the constancy of the fire, seeing the brightness from it, etc.).
Now consider what would happen in cognitively taking up fire for the first time, however incidental that cognitive taking up might be. Almost certainly the presence of “the fire” would have been a stimulus for some kind of inquiry. Say it is approached, and the increasing heat is noted. Already this notation of ‘increasing heat as approached’ is cognition, for in observing it a means-consequence relationship is appreciated: as it’s approached, the heat increases. Assume the approach reaches touching. A hand is put into the flame, and it burns. Immediately a new cognition forms: “this thing” burns! “Burn” would almost certainly be a new experience, but the pain would not, and the inquiry into the new injury concomitant with the recognition that his new ‘object’ caused it would institute the “this thing” into “the injuring thing”—the fire as “this thing” would take on, as it were, a determinate status as an object with a property related to a remote consequence arrived at through interaction. In short, “the fire” would take on a meaning, and that meaning would represent an indication of remote consequences if a certain action is taken, i.e. approaching the fire, touching it, etc. Whatever exploratory actions were taken, and whatever subsequent determinate properties thereby assigned to “this thing” because of them (thus converting it into an object), all those exploratory actions would be cognitive in so far as they establish connections between immediate apprehensions and remote consequences; all these cognitive acts would work in concert to establish an object “the fire” where once only a constancy of immediate qualities with immediate consequences existed. In cognitively taking up “the fire,” meaning as appreciation of remote consequences from immediate givens is established.
Now it is asserted here without argument that this institution of stable, determinate cognitive objects as meaningful with respect to remote consequences occur in humans conjointly with the capacity to speak, i.e. with the capacity to establish reference between a symbol and a thing; that it is only in this capacity to speak that objects as instituted can take on their meaning. In this way, for humans, speaking and cognition are inextricably intertwined and linked, such that without language non-cognitive experience would remain merely an oriented apprehension among ‘objects’ only with respect to immediately perceived qualities, and the immediate effects of these qualities as directly perceived (“bright,” “flickering,” “heat”, etc. are all noted, felt, etc.) . In effect it is asserted here without argument that for humans the capacity to speak and the institution of objects are in essence one and the same. By speaking—or simply by being able to speak—stable, determinate cognitive objects as such can be generated from non-cognitive, immediate apprehension. Recurring to the fire example, once some symbol for “this thing” is established (any kind of iconic gesture or vocalization, it doesn’t matter), the fire becomes “this fire,” and once it is “this fire,” further acts of exploratory cognition and use can render “this fire” into “the fire”—i.e. can render it into “fire” as a common noun, as a meaningful object in general, one capable of taking on new meanings and properties, whatever the context in which it is apprehended and/or used. Once so instituted, “fire” enters cognitive life as something that can be, and is, spoken about, taken up, and used. In short, once symbolized “fire” enters the linguistic community as a common referential object, one that partakes in the purposes and intents of that community of speakers. In this nexus of purposes and intents of apprehenders, users and speakers, the meaning of “the fire” is instituted.
Once this institution takes place—once “fire” is established as a common, referential object—fire can take on more rich, more expansive meanings. That is, once “the fire” is taken up and enters communal cognitive life as an object, i.e. once it is spoken about, explored, used, etc., “the fire” simply can be seen as fire, a symbol to which accrues more significant and more expansive meanings through more expansive testing, apprehensions and uses—in sort, fire takes on an “essence,” as it were. The specific genesis of this expanded testing, apprehensions, and uses is not important; simply some testing and uses occurs. But a few hypotheticals may make the point clearer. For instance, fire as encountered (not created) could become a mystical gathering point for the spiritual life of the speaking community. In this case, fire would take on spiritual significance of some sort, perhaps a connection to lost tribe members, etc. As it is encountered, someone may note that it can be replicated by placing what it burns into the flames and then removing it once enflamed; thus fire would take on the meaning of ‘portable’ and ‘transferable,’ though of course within limits as a certain kind of portability and transference. Once fire takes on these meanings, it can be replicated away from its source, so perhaps a stable fire is created at some location, and perhaps it becomes imperative on some members to keep the fire going… and so forth and so forth, all the way up to figuring how to create fire as such, thus giving humankind the power of a natural force for the first time… Again, the specific expanding testing and uses need not be specified in order to establish the point that in these expanded uses and apprehensions, fire takes on new meanings, and in taking on new meanings, an “essence” of fire can and does, as it were, emerge. Fire becomes, in effect, what it is “as fire” through various explorations, testing and uses—all the cognitive acts in which meaning accrues to it (recall these meanings can be as spiritual as practical, or even aesthetic, etc.). Whatever these cognitions and subsequent meanings, in general fire becomes meaningful by “making possible and fulfilling shared cooperation,” in so far as it is “responded to in its potentiality, as a means to remoter consequences” critical to the intents and uses of the linguistic community. Again, whatever the details of its genesis, as fire accrues these meanings, the essence “fire” emerges as the “happy outcome of [this] complex history.” As part of a speaking community, fire becomes “what it is” as fire as such. In other words, through this communal cognitive taking up, fire comes to have an essence.
For present purposes, the most salient feature of this hypothetical primitive encounter with fire is that strictly speaking, the institution of an essence “fire” is itself an “imposition” onto the common noun “the fire,” just as the common noun “the fire” is an “imposition” on a “this thing” as it is natively apprehended in all its immediacy in non-cognitive life. In other words, any object relative to the fire as first encountered and experienced is “imposed,” as it were, on the non-cognitive constancy of the immediately apprehended fire, just as “lumber” is imposed on wood, or “energy as such” is imposed on wind, etc., however much higher up the impositional chain these notion are. The very genesis of common objects in commerce with immediate existences presupposes an imposition as such on those existences, since all existences are first—and always remain potentially—non-cognitively apprehended in perceptual life, without, as it were, “impositions” of any kind. With this genesis in mind, where the distinction is made between “imposition” and “non-imposition” after this genetic hierarchy is established is rather arbitrary, at least with respect to kinds. Although there are, genetically speaking, levels of “imposition” as accruals of meaning, i.e. levels at which objects as such are constituted (to use the phenomenological term), these strata represent differing cognitive interests that are all alike in kind with respect to being cognitive interest as such. Summarily put, aside from simply apprehending qualities in immediate, non-cognitive experience, all cognition is, strictly speaking, an imposition—if, following Heidegger, “imposition” is the term at issue. This fundamental sense of “imposition” has far reaching consequences for the question of apprehending a natural essence, as opposed to “imposing” artificial essences through science in such a way that the natural emergence of an essential nature is foreclosed, i.e. in a way that forecloses poiesis.
Simply put, the “essential nature” of an existence, i.e. what makes the existence what it is—“fire” in the instant example—is itself nothing more the culmination of a complex history of accrued meanings that, genetically speaking, always amount to an imposition on existences apprehended simply ‘as they are’ in the strict sense of the term. For taken simply as the existence that it is, fire (using the word as we now know it) is simply a constancy in a “multitude” and “varied series” of immediately perceived qualities like “flickering,” “bright,” “semi-substantial,” “hot,” etc.—the precise terms don’t matter. Now to be sure, these qualities may be given as accruing to an ‘object’ in a non-cognitive sense, but the only “as such” sense of a non-cognitive ‘object’—the only sense in which “it is what it is”—occurs in the experience of it as the experience that it is, in all its immediate consequences, i.e. in terms of all the effects the qualities unavoidably have in perceiving them. But in this non-cognitive experience there is no “the fire” as such—or alternatively, no essence “fire” as the fire being “what it is” in its “being”—and there is no such sense of “being” or “essence” simply because there is at this stage no object to be an “object-as-such” of. In other words, prior the institution of an object, ‘being as such’ can’t apply to the any ‘this here’ thing because ‘being as such’ first requires a cognitive object. To employ the traditional terms of essence and existence, that something exists as the existence that it is can and is immediately apprehensible in non-cognitive experience; as noted already, experience is that apprehension. But what the existence is—i.e. what it is aside from its immediately sensed qualities and effects—can only follow upon cognitive acts; “what it is” is only established in prior cognitive acts, and only after that establishment can its “what,” its “being,” be apprehended. In short, the essence of an existence is prescribed, or instituted, or emerges (again, many terms could apply) through cognitive commerce with it, be that commerce cognitive interest as such—simply determining what it is—or practical interest built on that determination—with of course “practical” interest including spiritual and aesthetic interests, etc. Genetically speaking, the very notion of a natural essence—in the sense of an existence self-emerging as “what it is”—is inherently problematic. As the culmination of a complex history of speaking, using and cognizing, “essence” isn’t really natural or native at all—or alternatively put, with respect to experiencing an existence simply qualitatively for the existence that it is, all essences are impositions. As products of a cognitive history, there is nothing native or natural, at least in the sense in which they are differentiable in kind from an “imposition” like the cognitive objects deployed in science. In this respect, all essences are artificial, existing as they do in a genetic continuity with one another.
The “essentiality of essence” and “productive seeing”
If the idea of a ‘natural essence’ in the sense of an entity’s essence ‘self-emerging’ without prior cognitive “interference” or “imposition” is inherently problematic, two questions naturally arise. First, is this notion of ‘essence as imposition’ consistent with our experience of essence as it is typically granted philosophically, and second, how might this proposed sense of “essence” apply to Heidegger and the question of science as an imposition precluding the self-emergence of natural essence as such? What consequences, that is, might the understanding of essence proposed here have for Heidegger’s ‘question concerning technology,’ as that question pertains to science, and are those consequences consistent with what is presumed ‘known’ about essence in general, at least as far as the philosophical presumptions about its nature go?
As it happens, both questions can be answered at the same time by considering what Heidegger himself said about the “essentially of essence” and its “productive seeing.” For in his account of “essentiality” and “productive seeing” can be seen confirmation of the idea that essence as such is the “happy outcome of a complex history,” and not something pre-existing the cognitive object as an alternate ontological reality—a history that is, and can only be, a cognitive history in which meaning, and therefore essence itself, is established, and therefore, genetically speaking, “imposed” on the first manner in which existences are given, as they are in non-cognitive life. For this reason, Heidegger’s understanding of the ‘essentiality of essence’ in ‘productive seeing’ bears close examination.
Heidegger prefaces his account of the “productive seeing” of essence by first examining what “the essentiality of an essence” is for Plato and Aristotle, and perhaps not coincidentally, he discusses both the “essentiality of the essence” and the possibility of ‘productively seeing’ with the essence of a “table” taken as his example. Taken together, the four characteristics the ancients noted of “essence” require that essence be apprehended in a unique way, a way that must include establishing its own ‘ground’ in the apprehension of essence itself. This unique apprehension of essence is a “productive seeing,” and as noted shortly, this productive seeing is essentially related to poiesis, and therefore it bears directly on the question of modern versus ancient technology, and on science as imposition.
Heidegger notes, for the ancients the essence of a “table” is essentially characterized in four ways. First, the essence “table” is universal to all particular tables, not in the sense that a single property can be derived from a given set of particular tables, but “only insofar as it is [first] the essence can it apply to individual tables.” In this way, universality is a “consequence of the essence,” not its antecedent. Second, the essence “table” defines what the table is as such; essence is what makes the table exist as a table and not as a chair, or the floor, or the room in which it is placed, etc. Third, the essence is always prior in the sense of apriori to the actual table; that is, it occurs in some way prior to its actualization in any particular table. And fourth, as the ground of any particular table, the essence is “that from which a particular [table], and indeed in what it is, has its origin, whence it derives.” In other words, the essence is the condition for the possibility (in some sense) of the table being a table. Taken together, all four traits—universality, what-ness, apriori, and ground—determine what an essence is in general, and in this particular example, what a “table” is as such.
Heidegger elaborates on all four characteristics to some extent, but most important here is the fact that for him, in order to act on or know a “table” in any way, one must “have in view in advance…what is constantly present” in the table as such; in other words, one must always already understand, in some way, what makes the table what it is—its essence—“though not explicitly” so. As Heidegger stresses, “if, in our immediate comportment toward individual beings, we did not have the essence already in sight…then we would be blind, and would remain blind, to everything these things are as individuals, i.e. as such and such, here and now.” But even more important than the simple fact of this apriori understanding, Heidegger adds: “according to the way and to the extent that we regard the essence, we are also capable of experiencing and determining what is unique in things,” meaning that “what is viewed in advance and how it is in view are decisive for what we factually see in the individual thing.” Concluding the same point he finally notes: “what is essential is the view in advance that first opens up the field for anything to be established”—or more concretely, whatever is seen in particular tables is always determined by ”what we have in view in advance.”
Following the ancients, Heidegger calls this “sustaining and guiding” view in advance—i.e. the apriori “acquaintance with the essence” — ύπόϑεσις, or “hypothesis,” and as hypothesis, this “ordinary and necessary” advanced seeing of an essence is the basis for “bringing [it] forth” in a “productive seeing,” i.e. the two processes, hypothesis and productive seeing, are essentially bound together as one and the same unique kind of seeing, one peculiar to seeing an essence. As a hypo-thesis, productive seeing puts forth in advance the manner and terms in which an entity is disclosed as the entity that it is; that is, hypo-thesis is “the positing of a determinate essence of the beings aimed it,” and as such it must—according to Heidegger—be distinguished from “hypothesizing” in science, which in essence presupposes hypothesis in this more fundamental, productive sense. Hypo-thesis, and therefore productive seeing, in some sense puts forth in advance what is to be seen, even as in another sense it remains a seeing of something besides what it puts forth as it own ‘creation.’ How is this possible? How can productive seeing both ‘generate,’ as it were, its own ‘object’ even as this ‘object’ (the essence) remains something more than the generation of it?
Now productive seeing is, as Heidegger himself indicates, admittedly paradoxical when understood in this way, just as it is paradoxical when understood solely in terms of seeing ordinary things—the natural basis for comparison. For when seeing ordinary things, one comes across them, as it were, as something existing quite independently, prior to being seen. And in a sense, “productive seeing” is “indeed a coming across something,” but it is a ‘coming across’ something that simply cannot “exist” in the way an ordinary thing exists and is thereby ‘come across’ and apprehended. Instead, by contrast, productive seeing “first brings before itself that which is to be seen” in such a way that what is seen (i.e. the essence) “has its own origin,” in that “the very act of seeing compels what is to be seen before itself.”  There is probably no simple way to parse out this ‘compelling what is to be seen’ into ordinary terms that don’t reduce ‘what is come across’ to what is also ‘put forth,’ and indeed for Heidegger seeing an essence is a most “extraordinary” kind of seeing. Suffice it to say that even though productive seeing is “that which brings forth the essence in the first place,” it nevertheless ‘conforms’ to that essence in so far as both the ‘production’ and ‘the produced’ is “that from which the conformity must take direction.” In other words, hypothesis as productive seeing amounts to “positing the whatness itself as the ground,” and in this sense it serves as its own foundation in so far as hypothesizing “grounds itself in what it brings forth and it brings forth that in which it grounds itself.” In this respect, productive seeing of an essence may perhaps best be described as Michelangelo’s described his own creative process, where what is created emerges out of the creation even as it somehow pre-exists the creation as latent the marble—where the creative process is simultaneously and equally instrumental and consumatory. Understood in this way, then, “productive seeing” essentially becomes another term for poiesis, making hypothesis and poiesis related (if not equivalent) terms.
The essential equivalence of ‘artificial’ and ‘natural’ essence
With this account of hypothesis, “productive seeing,” and poiesis in place, the question of apprehending a “natural essence” as such—and by extension the question of science as imposition—can be directly addressed. That is, in what sense can “table” be a natural essence of any kind when a “the table” itself is an artifact of meaning, an object subtended by founding acts of cognition that make it the object that it is? Obviously, no table naturally exists; it must have been originally constructed. Therefore what could ever “naturally” exist as an essence table—“naturally” in the sense of ‘native to the being of table itself’ without any sense of imposition, as preceding all human fabrication? As noted already, Heidegger maintains that something like a natural essence exists for the wind, a tree, and for nature in general? But how can such a ‘natural’ essence exist for a table when the table itself is an artificial creation? Even if some sense of the “essence” of “table” must precede the actual construction of a specific table, especially the first one—as it must—how could this essence itself pre-exist the cognitive acts within the linguistic community that coordinate and orchestrate over ‘raw materials’ and purposes in such a way that the need for a table—or in general, the intent for the table—arises? Surely the inventor of the table did so within a context of collaboration and cooperation in which various actualities and meanings converged into the ‘idea’ for the table, actualities and meanings that both pre-existed and conditioned the emergence of that idea. For unless one wants to stipulate that essences exist fully formed in some alternate reality and are then apprehended and incarnated into particular real things, then essence—no matter how “natural” it might be or not—must itself have an origin in a pre-established nexus of meaning. In this sense, essences are “artificial,” at least those for created implements, and even for those natural object that enter into knowing and doing. None are natural in the sense of pre-existing human intents and purposes in a sense essential to their basic formation. “Essences” for implements like tables, chairs, and the houses in which they are put may exist independently of specific acts of apprehending them, but that apriori existence is genetically subtended by a “complex history” of prior cognitive acts in which that sense of independent existence inheres. That this is the case with artifacts like tables and chairs and all similarly manufactured implements should be rather obvious, but even for a natural object like fire, this native origin of essence in linguistic meaning can be made clear.
For consider the question: what could the essence of fire possibly be to the first humans who encountered it, somewhere and sometime long forgotten in our cultural past? Prior to establishing “the fire” as an object of cognition, any “essence,” as it were, of fire would be nothing more than the constancy of sensed qualities in the specific acts of experiencing them. The “this thing” (for us now the fire) taken ‘as such’ would simply be “hot” as such, “bright and flickering” as such, and so forth as such. It would not yet be, properly speaking, an object with properties accruing to it, an object possessed of a “what”—or more precisely, possessed of a “what” as sensory qualities as experienced. Even if these qualities ‘as such’ were ascribable non-cognitively to an ‘object’ as abiding qualities of ‘objects’ like it, i.e. even if there is some kind of constancy that could be called ‘object recognition,’ this ‘object’ still would not be the cognitive object in the pregnant sense, one that can then be taken up as an object as such. For to be taken as such, any cognitive object must first be established. In effect, then, prior to establishing cognitively “the fire,” fire could have no essence—no what-ness, as it were—but once established as a cognitive object, fire could take on determinate traits, a “whatness,” as it were, and even universal determinate traits apprehendable apriori as this what-ness. Fire could become, in other words, “the fire” and eventually a full essence “fire,” one established and built upon though continued meaningful commerce with the otherwise strictly sensory object (again, the interest can be strictly cognitive, practical, spiritual, aesthetic—the specifics do not matter because all could and almost certainly do apply). Apprehended in and of itself, prior to being an object, ‘fire’ is simply the qualitative existence that it is, as given in experience of it; any ‘meaning’ to the fire in this limiting sense is limited to these direct, qualitative consequences. But to take on an essence—to become meaningful—qualitative ‘fire’ must first be cognized and then its meaning instituted (or constituted, established, etc.). Only then does essence take hold as what makes ‘fire’ fire. Only then can the “essence” both be subsequently apprehended and guide future apprehension. Genetically circumscribed, like the essence “table” is for a table, the essence “fire” is an artifact of meaning. For all its apriori specificity—and this specificity is admittedly clear—“fire” as an essence remains a product of a long cognitive history, and for that reason is more “artificial” than in any useful sense of “natural.” A similar genesis is subtend all natural essences.
With this genetic account of “fire” as an established essence in mind, all the elements in Heidegger’s description of the “essentiality of essence” and the “productive seeing” in which that essence is apprehended can be put into their proper perspective. As this perspective applies to the example of “fire,” so it would apply to all essences as such. Taking the four characteristics of the “essentiality of essence” first, and then consider “productive seeing”…
With respect to “essentiality of essence,” once instituted, the object as an artifact of meaning, i.e. the essence “fire,” can accommodate all four characteristics Heidegger describes. First, once instituted, “fire” will always be understood priori to any encounter with this or that particular “this thing” that is in fact fire. In this respect, the “essence” fire will be always be apprehensible—if not actually apprehended—apriori; one will always have it available as part of the background of already understood meanings against which sensory things are perceived as the things they are, in the immediacy of that experience. Similarly, once established, all future instances of fire will be recognized immediately as the kind that it is, namely “fire.” In other words, what it is will be first apprehended, then the particular, ‘factual’ features it has in this particular case will be determinable as instances of this kind—or to recur to Heidegger directly, everything seen in the particular fire will always be determined as part of fire by what is seen in advance of those particular features. In short, kind or essence “fire” will be immediately re-cognizable. Furthermore, some universal trait distinguishing the fire from the wood it burns, the smoke it produces, etc. will be determinable in consequence of having the established essence “fire” already in view. That is, some distinguishing trait will characterize all particular instances of fire prior to and as a condition for the extraction of a trait or traits universal to the kind. Finally, once established, the essence “fire” will act as ‘its own ground,’ in so far as it is always already understood as “fire,” meaning that since no direct origin to where the meaning comes from can be discerned, it will simply act as its own source; it will be, as it were, simply understood as such, with its origin apparently emerging out of its own use. In short, essence as natively acquired accounts for all four standard philosophical features of “essence” just as well as essence existing apriori in some nether realm, be it the realm of Platonic Forms or Heidegger’s substitute, Being itself—and it does so without recourse to an unverifiable metaphysics. Simply put, no other hypothesis of essence beyond its genetic origin is necessary.
With essence as a genetic norm—and therefore as an artifact of meaning—Heidegger’s “productive seeing” as poiesis can also be seen in its proper light, for in so far as “essence” emerges from and folds back into prior cognitive life, essence will always be both ‘brought forth’ from the background of always already understood meanings and be still ‘produced’ in acts that make that background meaning explicit. In other words, once the cognitive origins of essence are forgotten—as they invariably are in cognitive life—‘productive seeing’ will best describe how “essences,” such as they remain, are apprehended. In effect, essences will be apprehended poetically, in much that same way that artistic creation, as simultaneously “instrumental and consumatory,” is poetic—or to put it summarily, seeing essence will still be poiesis. Whatever the method used—and the question of a method for seeing an essence is discussed shortly—poiesis as self-emergence still best describes the result of that method, in that “seeing an essence” will permit one to ‘self-emerge’ out of the implicit background in which it is always already understood, simultaneously making seeing the essence seem like both a new discovery and a re-cognition. Heidegger is therefore right to find in apprehending an essence a unique kind of seeing, even as he failed to trace the origin of the essences apprehended their native abode in a genesis of cognitive life. Once this genesis is appreciated, however, the generally recognized characteristics of essence and the subsequent seeing of them in ‘poetically productive’ apprehension make perfect sense. In so far as apprehending essence will be both instrumental and consumatory in equal measure, it will always seem—even be—poiesis.
The genetic account of “essence” presented here, along with its accommodation of what is general recognized in apprehending essences, has direct consequences for the question of science, imposition, and natural essence as these three themes unfold together in Heidegger understanding of science , particularly as that characterization is contrasted with philosophy. Those consequences can now be specified in four parts.
First, despite Heidegger’s intent otherwise, all seeing of “essence” requires prior cognitive acts that are, strictly speaking, impositional. That is, all essences are artifacts of meaning generated in a speaking community bound by the terms of cognitive life, and those terms require establishing an object as the correlate of cognition from out of pre-cognitive experience. As such an establishment, or institution, or constitution—again, several terms apply—the ob-ject cannot be but imposed onto the qualities and immediacies as natively apprehended. “Imposition,” for all its limits as a paradigm term, remains apt because some meaning these qualities do not apriori possess is superadded to them, i.e. something ‘foreign’ form a ‘foreign standpoint’ is ‘imposed.’ To be sure, this imposition is benign; it comprises the basis of our cognitive life and offers the milieu in which object become meaningful in the first place. But nevertheless, the meaning the object becomes does not inhere in the non-cognitively experienced ‘object’ itself, and as such all “essence”—with respect to any sense of “natural”—is artificial. “Natural essences” like what Heidegger wants to ascribe to wind or water or to nature in general as correlates of poiesis remain artificial impositions with respect to any natural significances they might have. Objects as the correlates of cognitive life are alone capable of bearing fixed traits and properties, and as such only these objects bear essence in the strict sense.
Second, as noted twice already, the objects of science are contiguous with objects of commonplace experience; they do not differ in kind with respect to imposition. Recurring to the original example of this section, both the common place object “table” and the scientific object “table” impose with respect to the table as experienced natively in non-cognitive experience, which remains our primary experience of things, even as that experience is overlaid with the products of cognitive life. It’s just that while the commonplace object “imposes” on the non-cognitive object to institute an abiding object with fixed properties, the scientific object “imposes” in a sense on the common place object to determine new properties, properties not limited to our daily commerce with things, but rather a stance broadened to include any interaction the table might take on with respect to surrounding things, not just human intents and purposes. In any case, as contiguous these “impositions” subtending the commonplace object and the scientific object are one of apiece, for even the scientific object ‘imposes’ directly on the non-cognitive object as the ultimate explanandum to which it refers as an explanation. In short, the scientific table is as much or as little an “essence” of the table as is the commonplace “table” as an object for enjoyment or use.
Third, since there are strictly speaking no “natural essences,” it simply make no sense to say, following Heidegger, that any form of technology—even and especially technology understood as a mode of apprehension—abets non-impositionally the self-emergence of a natural essence, e.g. something like wind as “force in a certain direction” for the ancient windmill. “Force in a certain direction” is itself an imposition in so far as it presumes “wind” as cognitive object, for only after “wind” is instituted over the non-cognitive qualities of air passing over the body can it become a “force in a certain direction” to then be ap-prehended (“force” itself is another cognitive object requiring its own institution, and so forth). As a mode of disclosive looking, poiesis admittedly allows an essence to productively self-emerge, but as noted this self-emergence requires as a foundation prior cognitive acts establishing the essence as such. Since all essences as such are in this sense artificial, distinguishing ancient from modern technology in terms of imposition is entirely arbitrary, for both manners of disclosive looking require imposition. Referring to the point already made, the “wind” as “energy as such” is simply an imposition with a different scope than wind as “force in a certain direction”, a scope that broadens the interaction of wind with other phenomena to include forces and agencies beyond a parochial human context, interactions more suited to how “wind” as such is itself generated. As this rejection of natural essence applies to technology as subtending science (and for Heidegger it does), so too does it apply to science itself. Nature as “a calculable nexus of forces” is no more or less an imposition on nature than “lumber” imposes on wood, “force in a certain direction” imposes on wind, or “poiesis” imposes on silver to make a silver chalice. All these cognitive objects represent impositions on a non-cognitive life, a life full of a richly textured native significance of it own.
Fourth, and lastly, science as imposition—even “imposition” described as consistent with Heidegger’s sense of imposition—is simply a matter of where the line of imposition is drawn, and how it is drawn, not whether it is drawn as such. In this respect, then, science is not “impositional” in Heidegger’s sense either because differentiating scientific cognition from a commonplace experience of meaningful implements ready for appreciation and use is entirely arbitrary if “imposition” is the distinguishing criterion. For even granting that science is subtended by a manner of ‘disclosive looking’—as it must be—it is not distinguishable from the ‘disclosive looking’ of everyday commerce with things with respect to imposition because both science and everyday cognition impose. Both “impose” on the rich, native significance of pre-cognitive life, and science merely imposes an additional stratum to everyday objects that are already an imposition on pre-cognitive life, and it does so for a specific purpose. The nature of that purpose remains to be seen, but as already noted, poiesis, hypothesis, and “productive seeing”—as differentiated from science—all require “imposition” as their ultimate origins, even as proximally speaking essence can be seen to “self-emerge.” As genetically founded, the differentiating line is again rather arbitrary, and more than that, the so-called “originality” and “primordiality” of this proximal self-emergence—as Heidegger understands it—is itself an illusion. Essences aren’t primordial and original, and they don’t emerge from the Platonic Realm of Forms or from Heidegger’s substitute, Being itself. Instead they emerge as artifacts of meaning from out of an implicitly understood background that is the “complex history” of our cognitive life, communal or otherwise—or alternatively, a background that is our acquisition and use of language. In any case, science, as its own form of hypothesis and “productive seeing,” simply draws the line of imposition in another place in another way, as it were, one best suited for another purpose—a purpose next to be distinguished in both its differentiating features from the cognitively practical concerns of everyday life and its dependence on its own form of hypothesis, poiesis, and “productive seeing.”
 It is also ignored here that the birth of modern physics arguably began in a tradition that specifically excluded treatment of forces as the cause of motion and focused instead on motion as such, i.e. on kinematics, not dynamics, and that kinematics as a tradition in physics persists in many aspects of Einstein’s special relativity. This origins of this tradition is examined in Clagett’s The Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages, chapters 3-6, both with respect to its own development and for its profound influence on Galileo, who himself observed: “the present does not seem the proper time to investigate the cause of acceleration of natural motion concerning which various opinions have been expressed by various philosophers, some explaining it by attraction to the center, other to repulsion between the very small parts of the body, while still others attribute it to a certain stress in the surrounding medium which closes in behind the falling body and drives it from one position to another. Now all these fantasies and other too, ought to be examined; but it is not really worth while. At present our Author merely wishes to investigate and demonstrate some of the properties of accelerated motion (whatever the cause of this acceleration may be)…” (Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences, p 166-7). At the end of the day, physics is about forces, but it need not be in order to describe motion—and early on it was not.
 And most interpreters of science in this way belong to the Anglo-American positivist and analytic tradition…
 Dewey used this “fire” example as well in Chapter Five of Experience and Nature, and it is apt here not for that reason but because ‘fire’ is clearly something both natural yet culturally understood only within a history (a point the significance of which becomes clear in the discussion). The account offered here follows closely Dewey’s train of thoughts throughout Experience and Nature and his related works, even where for the sake of flow it is not specifically cited.
 Again, this institution is not to be confused with an idealism that asserts existence is created by the institution. Only the object as an object of cognition is created—a mere tautology, as it were. The existence as apprehensively real in immediate experience—experience as that apprehension of the non-cognitively real—is not only not denied; it is presupposed as the basis of the transition from non-cognitive given to cognitive object. So far from representing any kind of idealism with respect to the existence of ‘objects,’ it presumes the reality of them in the institution of objects.
 It is noted here that non-human primate clearly establish cognitive objects, as almost certainly do other animals. But saying in humans this establishment occurs “conjointly with” the capacity to speak does not deny this. It merely asserts that two things happen when humans who speak form cognitive objects: first, significance relations appreciate among objects are noted, and those notations are taken up in language, even as language creates new opportunities for noting new significance relations, as well as creating new meaningful relationships only possible through the vehicle of language. For the difference between significant relations among objects and the meanings in discourse, see Dewey, Logic: Theory of Inquiry, chapter x, pp. x-x.
 EN 149
 Unless “essence” here is simply noting qualities as such in immediate experience, being the constancy of those experiences itself. But essence has yet to be defined in this way, and it would be hard to see how qualities experienced as such can be ‘what a thing is” prior to the institution of an object to have properties, etc.
 For one account of these levels, see Husserl’s Experience and Judgment and Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis.
 The Lecture course Basic Questions of Philosophy: Selected “Problems” of “Logic” were delivered in 1937-8, about a decade after Eddington’s Gifford lecture and subsequent book in which the nature of the “table” was discussed. Whether Heidegger had this account in mind or not when offering a philosophical discussion of the “table” is an interesting speculation, but remains only a speculation. In any case, coincidence or not, the convergence is fortuitous.
 59, emphasis added.
 76, emphasis added
 Heidegger notes that “to bring forth is a kind of making, and so there resides in all grasping and positing of the essence something creative” (83). This observation is merely emphasized here.
 But it should be stressed: despite this appearance of having no origin, genetically speaking the essence “fire” has a source somewhere, somehow, even if ascribable to multiple ‘someones’ in prior cognitive (and specifically, in priori community cognitive) life. Regardless of whether that cognitive history is seen as the initial emergence of the essence for humanity as such, or as its emergence in an individual as he or she comes to be a member of a speaking, acting, and cognizing community, essence emerges from this source, this source in terms of meaning. It could even be said that all the problems of the origin and apprehension of essence parallel, just in metaphoric terms, the scientific problems of language creation and acquisition.
 See note 72.
 See pp.
 So color as a number indicating wavelength frequency applies in a sense both to color as artistically or poetically understood and to color as a terminal quality in non-cognitive experience that has condition and causes for its emergence. The relationship of scientific explanations to qualities as directly apprehended is discussed shortly.
 Examining this native significance is perhaps the entire thrust of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, a work whose idea of a cognitive overlay on pre-predicate life strongly resonates here.
 The sense granted to Heidegger regarding “imposition” is re-examined in the next subsection.