Negation …

Technology and the Anti-Environment

Richard Schutte
9 min readMar 2, 2023

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“The spirit is the cause of all our thoughts and body-action, and everything, but it is untouched by good or evil, pleasure or pain, heat of cold, and all the dualism of nature, although it lends its light to everything”…

– Swami Vivekananda

In Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Ancient Wisdom –Lessons from our Past, the importance of revisiting our rich history to gather insights from ancient wisdom were explored.

One idea examined was the dualistic nature of reality and the notion of Absence and Presence.

In Vaisheshika and Nyaya – a Hindu metaphysics and naturalism philosophical framework – there is the notion of Negation.

An ontological concept anchored in the idea of dualism.

There must be absence and presence.

Negation can be Absence or Difference.

“A is not in B” is Absence

“A is not B” is Difference

Absence can be further sub-categorised into Antecedent, Subsequent or Absolute.

“A is not yet B” is Antecedent

“A is not more B” is Subsequent

“A is not here now” is Absolute

In contrast, Modern thought focuses on what is Present.

What is not present is implied.

The absence of negation in the West — an absence of dualism inhibits our capacity for reflection and is succinctly captured in this quote from the late Canadian Professor, Media Theorist and Philosopher — Marshall McLuhan.

“One thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water, since they have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in” …

– Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village

The dominance of a Materialism ideology focuses on what is literally present (i.e. a fish oblivious to the water) and ignores the anti-environment.

We are increasingly unconscious of the trade-offs in the choices and decisions we make.

There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs”…

– Thomas Sowell

Technological Anti-Environments

“The machine is a tool. But it is not a neutral tool. We are deeply influenced by the machine while using it”…

— Jacques Ellul

The growing impact of technology is an excellent example of this unconsciousness.

European Philosopher Martin Heidegger explored this issue as it relates to the nature of technology and its relationship to Humanity in the mid-20th Century.

“Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly pay homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology”…

– Martin Heidegger

Heidegger did not necessarily see technology as good or bad; however, he saw how technology shapes the nature of human thinking and ways of human existence (being).

Technology as an enframing and manifestation of Being

Heidegger saw the essence of technology as by no means anything technological but as an enframing – the manner in which being manifests itself in a Technological Society.

A Gestell — mode of reframing and understanding that underlies the technology.

For example, Science and Modern Technology are revealed through seeing everything in nature as a standing reserve – a Bestand – or – as orderly resources for technical application.

The standing reserve of a river is viewed as a resource that could be dammed to generate energy.

The standing reserve of a forest is viewed as a resource to be used for timber and furniture.

Even the adoption of terms such as describing Humans as Capital in Capitalism, Human Resource departments in Organisations, or describing a particular category of a Government Agency – a Natural Resources Department – can be seen through the prism of a Technological Society enframing.

People and nature are resources to be used for technical means.

A Technology Society where Scientific and Economic Rationalism were the primary forms of legitimate knowledge and enframing.

“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilisation, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human activity”…

— Jacques Ellul

A way of structuring our experience, attitudes, values, and the nature of our relationship and engagement with the Material World.

“Education no longer has a humanist end or any value in itself; it has only one goal, to create technicians”…

— Jacques Ellul

A technological understanding of being that underlies and shapes both Modernity and Post-Modernity.

Humans' relationship with Technology and uncovering its essence

“We are questioning concerning technology in order to bring to light our relationship to its essence”…

– Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

In Martin Heidegger’s Book – The Questions Concerning Technology – he moves beyond the notion of “enframing” as the essence of Technology to explore Human Beings' embodied semiotic relationship (Observer & Observed) with Technology.

It was a significant shift because it re-introduces human consciousness and agency into the discussion.

Rather than being trapped by technology as it enframes the World towards an inevitable technological dystopia (e.g. Humans and Nature as Standing Reserves), technology has the capacity to be a form of illumination similar to how the Ancient Greeks saw Humans' relationship with Nature.

In doing so, human consciousness has the capacity to be awakened into a “free relationship to technology” once we “open ourselves” to the essence of technology.

Vorträge und Aufsätze — Lectures and Essays — The text for The Questions concerning Technology was originally published in 1954 in Vorträge und Aufsätze.

Seeing things as they are – letting things appear as they are – in the condition of revealing Truth.

Technology as Illumination

The great discovery of Ancient Greek Philosophers, such as Aristotle (Father of Modern Science), was to begin to understand Humanity’s relationship with the Natural World as a force and light that could be used to illuminate lasting Truths.

Nature could now check the maths.

Heidegger embraces the same ancient logic and applies it to Human’s relationship with Technology.

It recognised our embodiment — how Human’s existential identity is embedded in the Material World, and it is through the evidencing of the World that primordial Truths could be revealed (via Semiotics).

“The essence of technology is by no means anything technological”…

– Martin Heidegger

Through Human’s relationship with technology, the essence of technology could be revealed.

Until now, our Modern Technological Society’s conception of technology had been anchored in it being a means to an end and a human activity.

An idea that was instrumental and anthropological in the nature of how we viewed technology. One that has been anchored in power and control.

But what if technology had its own spirit that emerged through the primacy of human consciousness – our ego?

A spirit that had a life of its own and increasingly whose desires no longer aligned with Humanity’s survival and flourishing? One whose power increasingly could not be controlled.

Verstand without Vernunft.

Existential Risks emerging from new technologies, such as nuclear weapons and the application of more & more computation to decision-making (i.e. the alignment problem)

In the book, Heidegger questions the prevailing means to an end and instrumental conception of modern technology’s essence.

He also questions our ongoing capacity to master the spirit of technology.

A quote:

“But this much remains correct: modern technology too is a means to an end. This is why the instrumental conception of technology conditions every attempt to bring man into the right relation to technology. Everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner as a means. We will, as we say, “get” technology “spiritually in hand.” We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.

But suppose now that technology were no mere means: how would it stand with the will to master it? Yet we said, did we not, that the instrumental definition of technology is correct?”…

Heidegger then revisits the answer to the question of technology lying in uncovering its true essence.

“However, in order to be correct, this fixing by no means needs to uncover the thing in question in its essence. Only at the point where such an uncovering happens does the true come to pass”…

Heidegger begins to explore technology through the frame of Aristotle’s Theory of Causality and his four causes in an attempt to answer the question Why?

Exploring causality enables Heidegger to move beyond the notion of technology as an instrument to be mastered, and he concludes the true essence of technology is one of revealing the truth.

“So long as we represent technology as an instrument, we remain transfixed in the will to master it. We press on past the essence of technology.

When, however, we ask how the instrumental comes to presence as a kind of causality, then we experience this coming to presence as the destining of a revealing.

When we consider, finally, that the coming to presence of the essence of technology comes to pass in the granting that needs and uses man so that he may share in revealing, then the following becomes clear:

The essence of technology is, in a lofty sense, ambiguous. Such ambiguity points to the mystery of all revealing, i.e., of truth”…

Negation: Technology as an anti-environment (absence) that illuminates the eternal nature of the Human Condition (presence)

“Science brings to the light of day everything man had believed sacred. Technique takes possession of it and enslaves it”…

— Jacques Ellul

Through technology’s capacity to create an anti-environment (negation), the essence of technology is revealed.

The Ghost in the Machine.

One of illumination that reveals the essence of being Human and eternal Truths.

As we increasingly embrace more and more technology, our awareness of the anti–environment ( an absence) is exposed through a growing cognitive dissonance.

Providing the capacity for reflection and learning.

An idea that can be illustrated through the recent emergence of Artificial Intelligence and high-dimensional computation.

Answers begin to emerge to questions that challenge prevailing World Views and narratives.

Is Artificial Intelligence really Intelligence, or is it simply the high dimensional manipulation and transformation (e.g. multivariate statistics & computation) of abstract semantic signs with those signs not necessarily having to have any nexus with reality ( i.e. a Semiotic Triadic Collapse)?

Can computation derive meaning?

How vital is semiotics to Reason?

How important are Vernunft and Practical Reason?

Is Reason integrated and embodied a Priori and a Posteriori process vis-a-vis the prevailing endemic Cartesianism?

The Application of Technology

The discovery of essence is vital because through knowing what something is, we can then be conscious of the way we use it and the way we should use it.

“Human life as a whole is not inundated by technique. It has room for activities that are not rationally or systematically ordered. But the collision between spontaneous activities and technique is catastrophic for the spontaneous activities”…

— Jacques Ellul

It enables us to begin answering the question:

“Technology is driving the future, but who is steering? [1]“…

Shifting Reason to a higher-order thinking from Verstand to Vernunft by embracing principles of Practical Wisdom, Phronesis, our Human agency, and embodiment.

The nature of Dasein – the subject of Being – reveals the essence of the Human Condition and the way things can be.

[1] – Technology Is Driving the Future, But Who Is Steering? – “https://informatics.tuwien.ac.at/news/2020”

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Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid