Updated: Aug 31, 2022
Edited by Dinorah Delfin
One main objection that commonly comes into conflict in the field of technology is a dualistic one - if technology means artificial creation, then technology confronts nature. This objection is often ignited by the question: do we want to create so much that we are going to ruin all of what nature has done?
This dualistic technology vs. nature paradigm seems strengthened by nowadays technoscientific tools such as CRISPR-Cas9 and IA; to name the “infamous ones.”
Our overview will explain how Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), an important German thinker in the field of metaphysics and phenomenology, has especially expressed in a beautiful language several fascinating elements about the human condition. One, in particular, is the human relationship with technè.
Technè is what could be called the “essence of technology.” Heidegger reminds us that, in ancient Greece, art was also called technè. This, however, does not imply that art was reduced to craftsmanship; but that technè embraced a broader domain of experience than the one which is usually implied when we think of fabricating a technological tool.
Technè “belonged within poïésis.” The Greek definition of poïésis refers to the act of creation, be it of a tool, a piece of art, an argumentation, or a technological object. Thus, poïésis not only refers to the creation of a technological tool (a smartphone for instance), but it covers any human creation in itself. As such, technè also follows this principle of creation, invention, and fabrication.
This is the reason why, following a Heideggerian perspective, technè is one way for humans to express themselves in the world; and can be seen as part of the human dwelling.
Heidegger states that we do not build houses to inhabit the world; we inhabit the world, and this is why we build houses. “To build is in itself already to dwell.” For Heidegger, dwelling is not only about being somewhere but revealing an existential intimacy between humans and the “artificial” world.
For this reason, we find the idea of what is “natural” a rather exclusive concept. To state that technè is a way for humans to express themselves into the world invalidates the idea that technology is entirely opposed to nature.
Technè, just like art or the imagination, is part of the human condition co-existing with the natural world as a symbolic and practical agent.
Furthermore, it is more thorough to study technology relative to physis, the Greek word for nature. Physis questions what is “natural”; just as technè makes us understand what is considered “unnatural”.
Aristotle said that technè imitates physis and achieves what physis is incapable of achieving.
By using mathematics, physics, biology – laws that are undoubtedly natural – technology indeed imitates nature; and goes beyond its first combinations.
Because of this, technè does not destroy nature but opens it. Thrust, for instance, was not invented by humans (physis), but a shuttlecraft going into space uses its laws (gravity, thrust, and energy combinations…) to induce spatial/space propulsion (technè).
Technè is an act of creation and expression of the virtuality contained in nature.
Therefore, technology and nature are fundamentally compatible. Heidegger underlines that technè is a means of “uncovering”, or “unveiling”. He refers to the Greek word alêthéia – a form of truth. Technè “unveils” the following alêthéia: the world is both a masterpiece and a never-ending evolving canvas where nature and technology interact and co-exist to shape reality.
We do not deny that technologies can jeopardize our societies and the environment. Just like the Anthropocene (our current era characterized by human activity affecting the planet on a geological scale) can be attributed to humans' top-of-the-food-chain perception in relation to the environment, the Anthropocene usually leads to a plea against technology, because of its potentially damaging impact.
“The fundamental character of dwelling is sparing and preserving.” Indeed, how could we inhabit if we are destroying what we are living on? Is it impossible, however, to create and use tools and technologies more responsibly?
Our view is that technè in itself has nothing to do with our current ecological and sociological problems – The major issue of our society is human biases and misperception. What should change in the Anthropocene era is both how we see technology, and how we use it. Technology is not intrinsically against nature; it should be conceived as part of the human condition, just like cultural “tools” like language or the fine arts, for instance.
Once this alêthéia is properly understood, our focus on building technologies that are in better alignment with the environment and humans could follow.
A Question For IM Readers:
What Is Needed To Ensure That Technology Works With Nature Instead Of Against It?
Please share your thoughts below!
About the Author:
Jessica Lombard is a Philosopher & former Lieutenant. Ms. Lombard graduated from the Special Military School of Saint-Cyr (France) & obtained her philosophy degree in Paris (ENS-EHESS). Currently works as a PhD researcher for the FINO Consortium (Italy) focusing on technology and transhumanism in the field of metaphysics and phenomenology.