In his 1935-6 lecture ‘Basic questions of Metaphysics’, Heidegger does not seek to replace science, or indeed even to reform it. He wants science to avoid a metaphysical pitfall. He relates a story, via Plato, of a philosopher who is so fixated at looking at the heavens, that to the amusement of the watching maids , he falls down a well. It seems as if science has well and truly overcome this risk, it focuses on the ‘here-below’. Today’s scientist would have identified the well and steered clear of it. We moderns are defined by our aversion to metaphysics.
What is a thing, today, seems a trivial question. We have multiple fields of sciences to tell us what various things are. In the pursuit of a general knowledge, in lies the sacrifice of singularity. Take global warming as an example. We can’t say that a particular extreme weather event is caused by global warming. We are limited to stating that we can expect an increase in the number of extreme weather event over a particular time span. We can’t say that the essence of this storm, that which made it particularly intense, was due (caused) by man made global warming.
This being the case, we might expect that Heidegger makes his case out of exceptional cases. However, this is where science erred. The philosopher looking at the heavens and falling down a well should be thought of as Newton, not that of a metaphysican. Science picks topics for study which by its very nature oppose us.
His point of departure is the banality of the every day, the things which surround us, the things that we use without reflection. The things that we use that we come to reflect upon only when it is broken, when the computer crashes. It is only in the latter case do we approach something like a subject-object dichotomy, when the thing that we use breaks, we cease to take it for granted. Take it for granted, we receive it in its giveness, until it is withdrawn and it invokes a question. Phenomena is not reducible to subjective sense perceptions, but is the extension from the thing in-itself to us, whilst remaining in itself. We participate with its Being.
We have landed on the moon, sent probes to planets and asteroids. If we are composed of two natures, our world and our subjectivity, how do we explain the apparent correspondence between our theories and the world that enables us to do stuff? Kant offered us one way to overcomes the epistemological gap, phenomena only gives us effects, reason allow us to posit causes to those effects, but only to the extent that phenomena is mediated through the understanding using forms of sensibility that derive from reason and not that of experience. The relationship between an idea of reason and that of a concept, that is a linked series of representations who have their source in sensibility, is one of analogy. The transcendental I of apprehension, that which allows (re)presentations to belong to a subject, in turn, allows reason to postulate an idea that in an analogous way, allows reason to say that these representations not only belong to the transcendental subject, but also to that of a transcendental object as correlate. Note that the totality and unity of conditions that this implies, is not given in the object itself, but is an end which is proper to reason by analogy. The object posited by reason which grounds phenomena, is an indeterminate ‘something’ as opposed to a particular ‘thing’ that we have direct claim over.
Heidegger gives us three ways of thinking the ‘thing’, but ultimately one of the choices is dismissed..
1. Thing as it is presented (contrast with that of representation)
2. A consideration of the horizon of Being, that is, context acting as end (how does this compare to Kantian analogy sketched above?)
3. ‘Something’ (ultimately discarded, as the transcendental object in Kant is what left over from Descartes)
Descartes, ‘I think therefore I am’ (aka brain in a vat), whose radical rational scepticism lead to the conclusion that the subject as substance can do without a body, lives on in Kant in terms of the formal transcendental subject/object. If today we have stopped believing in this Kantian analogy of transcendental subject/object, and we slip back into a kind of Humeism, this too would also be a kind of dwelling in Descartes’s shadow.
Remembering the question of Being, promises to give us access to the object in-itself without analogy. Metaphysics is a kind of internal obstacle to realising this aim, an obstacle that needs to be tarried with in order to be overcome. For the success of the Juno probe, we have the failure of MCO that highlights the importance of precomprehensin of ‘lived experience’, i.e. of language as metaphysics…
At the beginning of the trilogy Bruce falls down the well by accident but goes on to chose to dwell within the well with his futuristic toys that are gifted by science. If he thinks that by choosing the well, he can choose to leave at anytime, in the last movie of the trilogy he still finds himself stuck in the well. He needs to cut the rope that saves him from the consequences of falling, in order to make a leap of faith to escape.
Perhaps the only risk greater than unintentionally falling into the well, is to intentionally avoid falling. Pre-Enlightenment, they chose Batman strategy of making camp in the well, post-enlightenment we cover the well and affix a health and safety warning.