Free Essay About Heidegger, Technology And Science Fiction
Martin Heidegger, the great German philosopher has probed into the essence of modern technology, its fundamental relation with human species, its danger and finally the saving grace in a very complicated essay “The Question Concerning Technology”. We will discuss the essay and three science fiction films made at different times. The movies tend to highlight what Heidegger has written in his essay in different ways and in different historical contexts. The movies are Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1927), Logan’s Run (1976) by Michael Anderson and Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpincer (2013).
The essay, “The Question Concerning Technology”.
The traditional way of defining technology is that: “Technology is a means to an end.” Also, “Technology is a human activity”. (Heidegger 4). However if we ponder deeply this definition becomes inadequate for modern technology. Heidegger further elucidates what technology encompasses. He cites four causes which are responsible for “bringing forth” something from the raw resources. These are causa materialis, causa formalis causa finalis, causa efficiens. First is the actual raw material, second is the shape it goes in to, third is the motive behind the process and forth is the maker. Heidegger says this technology was creative art (poesies).
The modern technology however has a different aspect to it. It aggressively exploits the resources to the extent that is harmful to everybody concerned. This Heidegger terms as challenging-forth. The challenging forth is different from bringing forth in that it “one sets upon the elements of a situation both in the sense of ordering (i.e. setting a system upon) and in a more rapacious sense (i.e. the wolves set upon the traveller and devoured him)”. (Waddington). The machine controlled challenging forth turns everything to just a resource or as Heidegger defines it “standing reserve”. This belittles the value of everything as they become just another disposable item in the process of challenging forth. A beautiful forest is no more than a standing reserve of woods to make paper (Derrida20).
Heidegger goes on to say that the result of this challenging forth is “enframing” (from German word Ge-stell) (Heidegger 19). The word hints at compartmentalizing of everything. In effect it compartmentalizes and entraps the human being himself. His existence becomes nothing but a standing reserve for the challenging forth. He becomes just a cog in the wheel in the challenging forth. Enframing strikes out poetry and soul from life and thus proceeds to utter danger.
But there is a hope in this utterly dismal affair. Heidegger quotes the poetry of Holderlin who says where there is a danger there is a saving power. He sees the saving power of essential spirit of freedom and art of human being. He can choose the way technology moves (Waddington). Human spirit is bound to rise in the end and guide technology in such a way that both the process and result of technology frees him from entrapment or Enframing.
Metropolis is a very well made film in 1927, directed by Fritz Lang. It explores the relationship with human beings with the strait jacket of technological existence. It also dwells with relation between human vices like avarice and lust with extreme use of modern technology.
Joh Fredersen is the controller of a futuristic metropolis where the top echelon of the society lives in leisure and pursuit of pleasure and controls the machinery which gives them such privileges. On the other hand machinery is run by the labour class who toils throughout the day in inhuman condition yet gets the crumbs. Freder, son of Fredersen lives a life of pleasure until one day Maria, an angelic woman tells him to look into the lives of his labourer brothers. Naive Freder goes to the underground factories and finds out the inhuman and polluted working condition. The labourers are in a state of silent unrest but Maria gives them hope telling them that “mediator” will come and deliver them from such inhumanity. Fredersen gets wind of the activity of Maria and asks Rotwang the inventor for help. Rotwang creates a machine woman who has physical appearance of Maria but her intentions are guided by Rotwang which is evil. Rotwang is intent on destroying the city of Fredersen because he secretly harbours terrible hatred towards him. The machine Maria spreads hatred, greed, lust among people. She tells labourers that no mediator will come but they should destroy all the machines which are causing them so much suffering. Labourers think she is Maria and obey her words. Real Maria is taken in captivity by Rotwang but ultimately freed by Freder. The labourers destroy the machines which cause terrible flood in the city but their children are saved by Maria and Freder. By this time the people understands their mistake and burns the false machine Maria. Rotwang is killed by Freder in a fight and. Finally there is an understanding and air of friendship between the dictator Fredersen and the labour class because Freder acts as a mediator between them (as Maria promised). There is renewed hope among everybody that life will be better.
The film tells almost exactly what Heidegger is trying to tell. Extreme greed and exploitation through technology makes the human life unbearable. Man himself has become just another machine or standing reserve with nothing else to look forward to. Only when the spirit understand the danger and a mediator comes about there is saving power. Technology harnesses nature for man but technology itself has to be harnessed by goodwill and kindness of human soul.
Logan’s Run. (1976)
Logan’s Run is very different outwardly from Metropolis and yet close to it in central theme. This is another futuristic city where everything is clean and beautiful but men are only allowed to live until 30. After that they are “renewed”. Although what renewal is, is not very clear it seems the original man is killed and his genes are used for another machine made reproduction. Most abides by to the “tradition” of killing and renewal but many secretly want to live as long as they can. However the machine control uses people known as “sandmen” to extinct the guys who try to “run” from this. There is a secret group which wants to get away from it and take shelter in “sanctuary”. Logan is a “sandman” who is assigned the job of finding the sanctuary and liquidate it. However, so that he can achieve his job, six years are deducted from his life span and he becomes someone who will be immediately killed and renewed. This propels Logan to become another “runner” who tries to flee from the oppressive and inhuman machine administration. With the help of Jessica, a woman who is secretly collaborating with runners he finds sanctuary. But he finds that the sanctuary is another contraption of the machine dictator who freezes all those who try to break free. Logan and Jessica after some violent action frees themselves and finds the way out to the outside world where nobody before has set his feet. There they find an old man and gets to know about normal human activities like marriage and love and mother and fatherhood. Above all they know that they can live as long as their body functioning permit. They return to the “city” and manages to break the strangle hold of the machine. People gets out of the city and once again live as long as they want to.
The most poignant aspect of the film is to make life clean and beautiful and pleasure seeking the man machine “challenging forth” has made life inconsequential. You are killed as soon as you approach an age designated by machine so that everything remains clean and beautiful. To achieve a goal of happiness it strikes at the essence of life, the right to live. The technology has evolved to such monstrosity that life is insignificant. Yet at the end once again the spirit of man rises against such technology and frees itself.
It is perhaps the goriest of three films and looks in to the immediate future. A technological solution to stop global warming fails disastrously creating ice age. Almost all life is extinct expect a few who are aboard a train running globally. The resources are scarce in the train but that are used by the controllers who remain in the front section. Most people are in tail section that are abominably tortured and exploited (including their children) to the end of running the train and keeping people of front section comfortable. A revolution occurs. Curtis and Gilliam, with the help of Namgoong Minsu (the security expert) and his daughter Yona manage to capture front sections after heavy fight. Close aides of Curtis are killed including Gilliam. But eventually they manage to reach the front and encounter the lord Wilford. Wilford explains the rebellion was one of his strategies but Curtis has been too successful. He orders killing 74% of rest of population. Curtis, Namgoong and Yona find abominations where small children are used as part of the failing engine. Earlier people resorted to cannibalism to keep themselves fed. Finally they manage to burst the train when an avalanche happens outside. When they come out they that there is a polar bear and sign of life. So the ice age must be coming to an end.
The film forewarn us about what can happen if technology goes wrong in the first place. Secondly to support the technology no amount of cruelty is spared. The whole population is geared to only one thing that is running the train. Finally the free spirit of man manages to break free (as Heidegger hoped) and see new light and freedom.
Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt. New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1977.Print.
Waddington, David. I. A Field Guide to Heidegger: Understanding ‘The Question
Concerning Technology’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, Vol. 37, No.4, 2005. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing. 2005. Print
Derrida. Jacques. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby. Chicago/London: Chicago UP, 1989.Print.
Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. Perf. Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Frӧhlich. Blu-Ray. Kino Lorber films, 1927.
Logan's Run. Dir. Michael Anderson. Perf. Michael York, Jenny Agutter, Richard Jordan. DVD. 1976.
Snowpiercer. Dir. Joon-ho Bong. Perf. Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton. Seen in Theater. 2013.
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