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Filtering by Tag: being-in-the-world


Mark Douglas

Tools (Zeuge) are gear. Gear withdraws in its execution. To say that gear withdraws is not only to say that the properties and features of gear withdraw. It is to say that the gear itself withdraws. It goes unnoticed by slipping into contingency. The mode of withdrawal is the ready-to-hand. I have characterized it as the veiled moment. "The structure of the being of what is ready-to-hand as equipment [gear] is determined by references or assignments" (BT, p. 105). Reference or assignment structures the being of what is veiled. The assignments are also veiled in withdrawal. How might we highlight the assignments?   

It is a perturbation of the execution of gear that makes the assignment noticeable. It is "when an assignment has been disturbed--when something is unusable for some purpose--then the assignment becomes explicit" (BT, p. 105). Consider the matter of operating a zipper. As long as the zipper zips, somebody goes on about their dealings. If it jams, then the sensibility becomes oriented toward the gear. Gear serves a function and a purpose. These are called the "in-order-to" and "towards-which" aspects of gear. Zippers zip in-order-to close a gap towards-which two sides are held fast. The in-order-to is to close a gap and the towards-which is to the purpose of fastening. 

The zipper and its context go unnoticed until there is a perturbation, a disruption in the referential context (image credit: Toussaint).

The zipper and its context go unnoticed until there is a perturbation, a disruption in the referential context (image credit: Toussaint).

In a perturbation of operation the "towards-which" can be seen. Not only that, "we catch sight of the 'towards-this' itself, and along with it everything connected with the work--the whole 'workshop' --as that wherein concern always dwells. Forgetting the zipper let's go back to our example of the y key on the keyboard as gear. If there is a malfunction of the y key then the role it plays it typing the word 'key' is highlighted along with the referential whole of my office as a matrix of desk, filing cabinet, monitor, walls, floor, chair, door, window, etc. "The environment [umwelt] announces itself afresh."

In the sense of gaining apprehension of the in-order-to structure, the worldhood of world is what is disclosed through circumspection and somebody catches a glimpse of worldhood in the disruption of referential context. The referential context as a whole is the umwelt. It is what somebody is circumspectly familiar with in their skilled coping and application of know how while effectively wielding gear. Circumspection is not awareness so much as it is understood situatedness. The section below will revisit some of my previous thoughts for the purpose of gathering a clear understanding of the structure of the referential whole of the umwelt afforded in circumspection.

Section 17 is a subsection of "An Analysis of Worldhood and Environment in General"  in Division I of Being and TIme . Heidegger's intent is to disclose the ontological origin of reference or assignment. When the notion of assignment or reference is first encountered in the text there is a lengthy footnote to interpret the German term: Verweisung . The full sentence is: "In the 'in-order-to' as a structure there lies an assignment or reference of something to something" (BT, p. 97). To repeat what I shared before in the 'Gear Turns' post, the "in-order-to" aspect of gear relates to its role in assignment or reference. Macquarrie and Robinson use this hendyias and then explain themselves more fully in the footnote: 

The basic metaphor seems to be that of turning  something away toward something else, or pointing it away, as when one 'refers' or 'commits' or 'relegates' or 'assigns' something to something else, whether one 'refer' as symbol to what it symbolizes, 'refers' a beggar to a welfare agency, 'commits' a person for trial, 'relegates' or 'banishes' him to Siberia, or even 'assigns' equipment to a purpose for which it is to  be used. (BT, p. 97)

The term is also used to form the word for "the referential whole" as  Verweissungsganzheit. What is important here is that to refer is literally to re-fer or carry back. Of course, the next question is what is carried back by reference? I will maintain that referentiality forms the ontological structure of significance which will scale up to manifesting meaning. However, before jumping to such a conclusion, it is important to gain the clearest understanding of referentiality.

In sharing the understanding of the phenomenon of readiness-to-hand Heidegger chose the hammer for his archetype (connotations of Hephaestus and Thor abound). In order to share the understanding of reference or assignment he chose the sign and straight away he declares that "the sign structure itself provides an ontological clue for 'characterizing' any entity whatsoever" (BT, p. 108). The German word is zeichen  and the closest etymologically related English word is token with both taking root in the language of "showing" or "teaching". 

Reference has to do with relating. However, relation is too general a form to adequately characterize references, signs, or significations. Next we get the example of a turn signal on an automobile. The turn signal is gear "ready-to-hand within-the-world in the whole equipment-context of vehicles and traffic regulations" (BT, p. 109). The turn signal is gear in the umwelt (surrounding environment) of the driver and in the mitwelt (with-world) of other folks about the way. In deploying the turn signal the driver is referring as indicating the direction the person intends to turn.

Heidegger stresses that "this 'referring' as indicating is not the ontological structure of the sign as equipment" (BT, p. 109). Rather, it is the serviceability in the sense that the turn signal functions in a "towards-which" (wozu ) capacity that demonstrates that "the kind of reference we get in 'servicability-for', is an ontologico-categorical attribute of equipment as equipment" (BT, p. 109). This means that the gear-nature or equipmentality of the turn-signal as a sign is highlighted not by the fact that the turn signal indicates the direction to be taken in the turn. Instead, the gear-nature of the turn signal is shown in how it plays a role in the contextual whole of the world of driving (its serviceability-for operating an automobile). That is to say, the turn signal itself "takes its turn" and serves its function by taking or playing the role that it plays. To use a turn of phrase, the sign, as gear, rolls in the sense that it takes its turn and plays a role. This shows the turning nature of reference or assignment as it constitutes the ontological structure of gear. "[T]he sign in its turn is related in a peculiar and even distinctive way to the kind of being which belongs to whatever equipmental totality may be ready-to-hand in the environment, and to its worldly character" (BT, p. 109).

Going further we get that somebody encountering a car's turn signal justly comports themselves in giving way (gangway; recalling our understanding of umgang as dealing or rolling with as in "rolling with the punches") or standing still in regard to the car with the signal. What we're after in this respect is the indicative (not servicability-for) role of the sign. Heidegger stresses that it is not that we apprehend in a sense of grasping the sign in our encounter through identification of it as a sign. Rather, the sign affords somebody "circumspection of our concernful dealings, and it does so in such a way that the circumspection which goes along with it, following where it points, brings into an explicit 'survey' whatever aroundness the environment [umwelt] may have at the time" (BT, p. 110). Signs are the compass needle orienting somebody to its surrounding world (umwelt).    


The indicative role of assignment or reference grants circumspection or orientation.

The indicative role of assignment or reference grants circumspection or orientation.

We then come to our first definition of a sign as "an item of equipment which explicitly raises a totality of equipment into our circumspection so that together with it the worldly character of the ready-to-hand announces itself" (BT, p. 110). Signs also indicate "what sort of involvement there is with something" (the term 'involvement' holds a significance that will be later developed; BT, p. 111). Signs are peculiar. There is a sense in which the south wind (ventus) may be reduced to a meteorological occurrence. Thus its existence as an event is impoverished. The farmer who takes the event as a sign interprets it in the ready-to-hand and the meteorologist holds it present-at-hand. The point is that the south wind as a ready-to-hand sign of rain comes to be primordially (ontologically) in the context of a farmer's involvement with the landscape in farming. The meteorologist grasps the wind merely ontically. Here the sign structure has been (hopefully) helpful in explicating the nature of the ready-to-hand.

Heidegger makes the case that the elemental character of airflow as an event precedes the ready-to-hand role the wind plays in the referential whole of farming practices. The role the wind plays as conspicuous in its indicative sign function is foregrounded only on the condition of the possibility of there being wind in the referential whole of the world of landscape. "[T]he sign itself gets its conspicuousness from the inconspicuousness of the equipmental totality, which is ready-to-hand and 'obvious' in its everydayness" (BT, p. 112). 

We can gather three senses in the relation of sign and reference. 1) Indication of the towards-which of a serviceability in relation to the in-order-to in the sense that signs highlight the constitution of the role gear plays in "taking its turn" in the referential whole. Not only do signs indicate that gear can play a role but also 2) signs situate themselves within the "context of assignments or references" (BT, p. 113). In addition, 3) signs grant clearance to the illumination of the surrounding world (umwelt) through circumspection.  

I want to close this post with an illustration of the difference between the sign structure as such and the ontological structure of reference (referentiality). Heidegger remarks that "the reference of the assignment itself cannot be conceived as a sign if it is to serve ontologically as the foundation upon which signs are based. Reference is not an ontical characteristic of something ready-to-hand, when it is rather that by which readiness-to-hand itself is constituted" (BT, p. 114). For the longest time now I have been struggling conceptually to interrelate semiotics (not semiology) with Heideggarian thinking. I wanted to map the two one to one in order to investigate wilderness meaning. I now believe I see the difference. The structure of the sign may be conceptualized in the semiotic triangle seen below.  

The triadic structure of the sign (from  Herrmann-Pillath & Salthe, 2011 ; a paper in  Biosystems   on physiosemiosis

The triadic structure of the sign (from Herrmann-Pillath & Salthe, 2011; a paper in Biosystems  on physiosemiosis

What we see above correctly models the structure of signs. However, it does not demonstrate the ontological structure of readiness-to-hand. This means that it does not show the ontological constitution of assignment or reference. To clearly stand before and understand the ontological structure of assignment or reference. That is, to grant clearance to and clarify referentiality we cannot only focus on the triangle's vertices. We need an interpretation of the being of Verweisung as it takes it turn. To fully understand the surrounding world (umwelt) we need an understanding of signs playing roles and the rolling turns of reference. Hopefully the image below clarifies the structure of those those rolling turns.

  Verweisung  as the turning not of gear, but the referential work of gear in its significance (image credit: Patakk).

 Verweisung as the turning not of gear, but the referential work of gear in its significance (image credit: Patakk).