The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:

Werner Heisenberg

“What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.  Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.”–Werner Heisenberg


In examining what we call the natural sciences we are asking the question: what are the essential characteristics of the modern age and how are these related to what we call the natural sciences? In understanding the essence of the natural sciences, we shall see why it is the most dominant of the subject choices in the IB Diploma program. Why is the knowledge arrived at in the Natural Sciences considered to be “knowledge” in its most “robust” form and what is it knowledge of?

The characteristics of the modern age: 1. the first is science itself, particularly mathematical physical science, and we will look at the details of this science later. 2. Second is machine technology which arises from out of the essence (the “whatness”) of modern technology which is identical with the essence (the what and the how) of modern metaphysics. 3. Third is the ‘experience’ of art as aesthetics, which is considered to be a ‘subjective experience’, and this is dealt with in the section on The Arts as an Area of Knowledge and in Reason as a Way of Knowing. 4. Fourth is the idea that all human activity is conceived and consummated as ‘culture’ (our IB Learner Profile). 5. Fifth is the loss of the gods and the resulting psychological and historical investigation of myths.  These characteristics of the modern age have been determined from out of the metaphysics of the modern age which we call modern technology.

To characterize what modern technology is, we can say that it is the disclosive looking that disposes of the things which it looks at. Technology is the framework that arranges things in a certain way, sees things in a certain way, and assigns things to a certain order: what we call our ‘knowledge framework’. TOK uses the term “modelling” for this framework that arranges the things. The looking (the theory) is our way of knowing which corresponds to the self-disclosure of things as belonging to a certain order that is determined from within the framework itself. From this looking, human beings see in things a certain disposition; the things belong to a certain order that is seen as appropriate to the things i.e. our areas of knowledge. The seeing of things within this frame provides the impetus to investigate the things in a certain manner.  That manner is the calculable. Things are revealed as the calculable. Modern technology is the disclosure of things as subject to calculation. Modern technology sets science going; it is not a subsequent application of science and mathematics.  Technology is the outlook on things that science needs to get started. Modern technology is the viewing/insight into the essence of things as coherently calculable. Science disposes of the things into a certain calculable order (the knowledge framework). Science is the theory of the real, where the truth of the things that are views and reveals those things as disposable.

The metaphysics of the modern age (technology) has been accomplished by the determination of what is as ‘object’ and the judgement regarding what we conceive to be the essence of truth. This metaphysics grounds our age in that through a specific interpretation of what is (beings/things as objects) and through a specific comprehension of truth (as correspondence, correctness), it gives to our age the basis or ground (history) upon which it has been and is essentially formed. This basis or grounding holds complete domination over all the things/beings that come to distinguish our age in that it provides the interpretations of what those things/beings are. It is our metaphysics as technology that forms the paradigm that determines how we perceive things/beings in our age and, thus, the methodologies of our sciences. This paradigm is the understanding of the environment, including our whole being-in-the-world (shared knowledge) as object. Technology is the meta-physic of the age.

How Is Modern Science “Mathematical”: The Essence and History of Method

Ta mathemata
is what the Greeks meant by that which human beings know in advance in their observations of whatever is and in their interactions with the things of the world: the corporeality of bodies, the vegetable character of plants, the animality of animals, the humanness of man. Along with this already-known (the mathematical in the Greek sense) are numbers. If we come upon three books on our desk, we recognize that there are three of them. But the number three, threeness, we already know.  This means that number is something mathematical.  Because numbers represent the most striking example of the always-already-knowns and is thus the most familiar instance of the ‘mathematical’, mathematics is understood by us as numerical (Heidegger). But the essence of the mathematical for the Greeks was not numberness. This is discussed in more depth in the area of knowledge Mathematics.

Physics is, in general, knowledge of nature and in particular knowledge of material corporeality (mass) in motion. The corporeality (mass) manifests itself immediately and universally in everything natural, even if in a variety of ways (chemistry, biology, etc.). If physics takes shape explicitly as something mathematical, then this means that something is projected in advance as what is already known. That projecting in advance as what is already known is already what is determined to be nature i.e. what we call the “object”, the ‘standing against’. This projection or ground plan which establishes nature as object is, for us, what we call Classical Physics or Newtonian physics. In Classical physics, nature is set up as a grid or framework of calculable forces. Physics constrains nature in its very way of posing nature, in its theoretical stance. Nature is required to report in a certain way and can only report in this way, and the way is determined by the principle of reason. In modern atomic physics, unfortunately, Nature is not reporting according to our expectations and so we speak of the crisis of science as to what it conceives knowledge to be. We cannot have knowledge of nature in the way that we have traditionally understood knowledge and in the way that we have traditionally understood Nature.

In what is called Classical Physics, the projection or ground plan is the self-contained system of motion of units of mass related in space and time. Motion means change of place. In Newton’s physics, no motion or direction of motion is superior to any other. Every place is equal to every other place. No point in time has superiority or preference to any other. Every force is defined according to (is only) its consequences in motion, and that means in the magnitude of change of place in the unity of time. Every event must be seen as to be fitted to this ground plan of nature. Only from within this ground plan of nature does an event in nature become visible as such an event. From this, Physics must report itself numerically and as calculable. The projected plan of Nature finds the guarantee of its truth through the physical research (the scientific method, experimentation) in that every one of its questioning steps is bound in advance to adhere to the ground plan which is the principle of reason. This rigor of experimental research is bound within the projected plan at any given time.  It is somewhat analogous to a blueprint in architecture. The ground plan is what has been called the principle of reason.


The idea that nature is a calculable framework of forces stands at the beginning of experiments, or prior to the experiments, and is not the result of experiments. Galileo’s rolling of balls down an inclined plane does not result in a view of nature as calculable forces; Galileo must first see, must first have the “theory” in view in advance of what he believes that things in general are like. The grounding of this theory, this looking, is beautifully encapsulated in the title of Newton’s great work Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which we translate The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. “Natural Philosophy” is science of nature or what we call knowledge. Modern science must possess this disclosive looking, these mathematical principles, before it sets to work, before it conducts experiments. In the light of this mathematical view, science devises and conducts experiments in order to discover to what extent and how nature, so conceived, reports itself.  Experimentation itself cannot discover what nature is, what the essence of nature is, since a conception of the essence of nature is presupposed for all experimentation. Without the conception of nature in advance, the scientist would not know what sort of experiments to devise.

The rigor of mathematical physical science is exactitude. Science cannot proceed randomly. All events, if they are at all to enter into representation as events of nature, must be defined beforehand as spatio-temporal magnitudes of motion. Such defining is accomplished through measuring, with the help of number and calculation. Mathematical research into nature is not exact because it calculates with precision; it must calculate in this way because its adherence to its object-sphere (the objects which it investigates) has the character of exactitude.  In contrast, the Group 3 subjects, the Human Sciences, must be inexact in order to remain rigorous.  A living thing can be grasped as a mass in motion, but then it is no longer apprehended as living. The projecting and securing of the object of study in the human sciences is of another kind and is much more difficult to execute than is the achieving of rigor in the “exact sciences” of the Group 4 subjects.

Knowledge Questions in/for the Sciences

In examining knowledge questions that arise in the sciences, we can begin by saying that science itself cannot discover whether nature in itself is mathematical or that nature is lawful or that nature excludes final causes. Science presupposes these ideas in advance (faith as a way of knowing) and then conducts experiments especially designed to determine which mathematical formulas apply and which laws hold for nature. The mathematical goal or result has to be designed into the experiment; only mathematical experiments give mathematical results and, thus, physics must report itself mathematically. This is what the philosopher Kant meant when he stated that natural science was set on a secure course only when nature was constrained to answer not random questions but questions stemming from an explicit design of reason. The design of reason in natural science is the design of mathematical reason which, as we have seen in the section on Reason as a Way of Knowing, is founded on the principle of reason: nothing is without reason.

Modern science then could never discover that nature is non-mathematical, or unlawful, or that final causes exist in nature for these results are ruled out in principle. Modern science’s faith in itself is a fundamentalist faith; it is a faith based on the principle of reason.  Scientific experiments can do no more than demonstrate how nature reports itself if viewed in a certain way when asked certain sorts of questions. Science can indeed prove that certain laws apply to nature, but science must assume that it is nature to which the laws apply. This is the meaning of the statement from Heisenberg which begins this writing; and he should know as he is the one who discovered or created the new mathematics necessary for the development of quantum physics. Science has made great strides within its domains once it has been given its domains to work on. Science, however, has no power over the adequacy of those domains as a conception of nature. Is the field in which science does its work of experimentation truly nature? According to Heisenberg, no.  Are things, in general, essentially mathematical? Is nature genuinely a calculable framework of forces? The answers to these questions depend on how much truth there is in the theoretical outlook that precedes the practice of science.

Van Gogh sunflowers
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: Pb(NO3)2(aq) + K2CrO4(aq) –> PbCrO4(s) + 2 KNO3(aq)

The pursuit of science is the human response to a certain mode/way in which truth discloses or reveals itself. Science arises as a response to a claim laid upon human beings in the way that the things of nature appear. It is Being that makes this claim (but, then, what is Being?). The sciences set up certain domains and then pursue the revealing that is consistent within those domains. The domain, for example, of chemistry is an abstraction. It is the domain of chemical formulas. Nature is a realm of formulas. Scientists pose this realm by way of a reduction; it is an artificial realm that arises from a very artificial attitude towards things. Water has to be posed as H2O. Once it is so posed, once things are reduced to chemical formulas, then the domain of chemistry can be exploited for practical ends. We can make fire out of water once water is seen as a compound of hydrogen and oxygen.

What are the implications of this? The things investigated by chemistry are not “objects” in the sense that they have an autonomous standing on their own i.e. they are not “the thrown against” as is understood traditionally. For science, the chemist in our example, nature is composed of formulas, and a formula is not a self-standing object.  It is an abstraction, a product of the mind. A formula is posed; it is an abstraction. A formula is posed; it is an ob-ject, that is, it does not view nature as composed of objects that are autonomous, self-standing things, but nature as formulas. The viewing of nature as formulas turns things into posed ob-jects and in this posing turns the things of nature, ultimately, into dis-posables. This is what the physicist Heisenberg is saying in his quote introducing this unit. The viewing of water as H2O is an example of a Rubicon that has been crossed. There is no turning back once this truth has been revealed. That water can be turned into fire has caused restrictions in our bringing liquids onto airplanes, for instance, for they have the capability of destroying those aircraft.

Technology as a Way of Knowing and Science

How is modern science related to technology? It should be remembered that technology is theoretical and not instrumental as has been discussed throughout these writings. Technology reveals or discloses truth or aletheia and determines the modes of disclosedness or revealing of truth within the areas of knowledge or domains of the natural sciences. Theory in its original sense means ‘the looking back’ in response to Being’s look upon us. Technology is the way of our looking back upon things in correspondence to the way that the things give themselves to us to be revealed as what they are. Technological knowledge is knowledge of what it means to be; it is an ontology. It comes prior to the establishment of the domains or areas of knowledge of the sciences. The challenging, commandeering stance of technology views nature as a reserve of disposables and gives rise to this stance or under-standing of nature, the ground of our standing.

The focus of this looking upon nature is energy. All we see in nature is energy or the power to be harnessed for our purposes, for the securing of our purposes. Money is, really, congealed energy. The main point here is that nature presents itself as a storehouse of disposables, particularly in the form of energy, only when disclosed in the mode of disclosure that is characteristic of modern technology. A contrary view to this looking is presented in imagination as a way of knowing.

It is not because science attacks or challenges nature with experiments and instruments that leads to the commandeering stand. It is the pre-understanding of nature as something that can be challenged and attacked that gives direction to the experiments and sets science to its work. The challenging precedes the experimentation and imposes the frame or understanding of nature, through its mathematics, that allows the experiment to fill in the details, reporting how nature is in its details mathematically. Nature has to first be established as that which can be dominated through the applications of mathematics and instruments and this establishment of nature as such is a choice or judgement of human beings. Science presupposes technology, not vice versa. Modern technology is not applied science; science is applied technology, the applied knowledge of what we think things are. Technology is the basis of science and is not based on science.

But, someone may argue, mathematical natural science arose almost two hundred years prior to modern technology so how can this assertion be correct. This view is based on the instrumental view of technology and does not consider the essence of modern technology. The essence of modern technology is nothing technological. The framing or en-framing stance is not a technological gadget, not an IPad or a technological thing at all; in fact, it is not a thing at all. The essence of modern technology is not a thing but a theory, a way of looking and of understanding of what makes a thing a thing at all. It is a way of looking disclosively at things that allows the manufacture of high-tech things. If we look at the order, we have: technology > modern science > modern technological gadgets, Science works as mediator: it serves to establish the world view where modern technological gadgets can find their home, their place. Science serves the essence of technology by bringing about the com-posing (composites, the producing) of high tech things. The essence of modern technology is the beginning or source, but it does not manifest itself until the end, in the technological things, much as the acorn does not manifest itself as the oak until the end.

The essence of what something is determines from the start what that something will be, but it does not manifest itself until the end. We cannot see the oak in the acorn until the acorn fully manifests itself as an oak. We do not see the efficacy of the theory until it comes to its fruition and realization in practice. The essence of something does not show itself from the start but remains hidden until the end, until its end products appear. The essence of what something is keeps itself concealed the longest. Science mediates between the essence and the things of technology. Science is logos. 

Modern Physics and Causality: A Few Notes on Heisenberg

Heisenberg in his lecture “The Picture of Nature in Contemporary Physics”, from which the quote that begins this writing is taken, presented the thesis that the picture of nature in contemporary mathematical physics is not a picture of nature. Natural science is no longer natural science. The nature that the scientist explores is no longer the nature of common sense or common experience. Heisenberg states that the representations of physicists are abstractions and do not picture that which we experience as nature. Currently, many physicists do not care what the object of scientific knowledge is as long as the practical results are guaranteed. This is a fundamentalist faith. From this fundamentalism we can speak of the crisis of science.

For Heisenberg, that what has been called nature has been ordered to report mathematically is the first level of abstraction. The mathematical viewing of nature makes the ob-ject of science non-intuitive. What does this mean? In the example above of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the color yellow is reduced to a formula describing a variety of chemical reactions between various compounds. In physics, the color yellow would be reduced to a formula describing a certain electro-magnetic wave. A person can then possess a perfect scientific understanding of the color yellow and yet be completely color blind i.e. they could not experience Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. In the same fashion, a person who knows yellow intuitively by perceiving yellow things such as sunflowers will fail to recognize the scientific formulae as representing her lived experiences of the color yellow. This is what is meant to say that science is non-intuitive and is, thus, an abstraction. Sense perception as a way of knowing becomes very shaky in the sub-atomic realm of particles.

Initially, physicists attempted to hold on to the view that the things of nature, as we experience them (for example, sunflowers), were still represented by the scientific formulas only somewhat indirectly. Heisenberg showed that a further abstraction has occurred in physics. In Heisenberg’s own principle of indeterminacy, physicists today have no confidence that their formulas apply to autonomous objects, to an independent nature, but are only responses to the scientist’s intervention through experiment on nature. According to the principle of indeterminacy, what is registered by the experimental apparatus (sense perception as a way of knowing), is produced by that apparatus. What is recorded, the results, are separate from a supposed nature “in itself” and science has no way of attaining to an independent nature. As a result, scientific formulas are not even indirectly applicable to nature; there is no picture of nature in modern physics. Science is not a picture at all in that it is not like a picture that is a representation of some original because in science there is no original.

Quantum joke
Quantum Joke

Heisenberg demonstrates most emphatically “thinking outside of the box”.  From Heisenberg we can understand that the ob-ject of science is something which is posed or created by science in the very act of carrying out scientific experiments. Heisenberg in his lecture acknowledges that the object of natural science is not “nature”. The efficacy or ‘usefulness’ of Heisenberg’s principle is demonstrated in the very ability we have of creating blogs or in all of the electronic devices surrounding us. Their creation is all dependent on Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle and their understanding as tools or instruments requires a very different understanding of what tools and instruments are and what we traditionally understand as causality.

Heisenberg claims that physicists have resigned themselves to this situation. The fact that we are able to make electronic devices illustrates that the experiments are able to give us data that can be relied upon and applied in practice. As long as the results can be guaranteed and applied in practice that certain phenomena will appear simultaneously or successively, as long as the predictions of science are dependable, as long as science “works”, it does not matter whether or not physicists know what, if anything, science is supposed to be a picture of:

“We [physicists] have resigned ourselves to the situation just described, since it turned out that we could represent mathematically and say in every case, dependably and without fear of logical contradiction, what the result of an experiment would be. Thus we resigned ourselves to the new situation the moment we could make dependable predictions. Admittedly, our mathematical formulas no longer picture nature but merely represent our own grasp of nature. To that extent, we have renounced the type of description of nature that was customary for centuries and that had been valid as the self-evident goal of all exact natural science. Even provisionally, we cannot say more than that in the field of modern atomic physics we have resigned ourselves, and we have done so because our representations are dependable.” (Werner Heisenberg, “The Picture of Nature in Contemporary Physics”)

What are the consequences of what Heisenberg is saying here? What he is saying is that the world of science is not the world in which we do live or could live. We can only inhabit a meaningful world and meaning derives from intuition or from ordinary sense perception. It is the intuitive world that gives meaning to the abstract mathematical one and not vice versa. We do not gain our understanding, our personal knowledge from an abstract mathematical world. The worlds in which we live, walk about, experience, could not be livable if reduced to mathematical formulas. We could, of course, use the mathematical formulas to program a laser knife and reproduce a person’s face exactly or sculpt Michelangelo’s “David” exactly, but no one could use the formula to recognize a friend in a crowd. A world reduced to mathematical formulas would be schizophrenic: on the level of abstract thought, everything would be perfectly rational; on the level of ordinary experience, nothing would make sense. It is the implication of this ontology that has not been thought through by the proponents of artificial intelligence. A machine bearing artificial intelligence will never be able to compose a poem because it does not inhabit a “world” nor is the language that will be given to it the language of human being. It will be the language of the commandeering, mastering sciences. For those involved in researching artificial intelligence, it is clear that this will not matter as long as they receive results from the machines employed.

Gottfried Leibniz: The Founder of Finite Calculus

What motivates the renunciation of the lived world by science? The renunciation of the lived world is contained in the stance of how beings/things present themselves today as a world to be imposed upon and disposed of i.e. the essence of technology. The view of the world in the time of Newton and Leibniz required the creation of infinitesimal and finite calculus. The modern world requires Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics as its mathematical view and logos. Science must have recourse to the abstraction that is the mathematical because mathematization serves disposability.

The light that we see can be manipulated more efficiently by reducing the colors to wavelengths, mathematical formulas. The formulas have no intuitive meaning but they do have practical applications. The laser, for example, is so intense because its light is “coherent”; it is one single mathematically determined wavelength imposed on light. The scientist’s mathematical view of the world, reducing it to the calculable and the quantifiable, is the renunciation of things as intuited and makes the greater efficiency of imposition possible. Science has recourse to mathematics because science is already under the sway of imposibility and disposability that is the securing of nature for our own ends.

While physics can renounce the world as we intuitively understand it, physics and modern science can never renounce its use of algebraic calculation which creates a world understood as disposable systems of data. Modern physics may no longer provide a picture of nature and may no longer care to provide a picture of nature, but it does care to provide a coherent picture, a calculable, dependable, predictable picture. Such a picture is required by the viewing of things as disposable and such a viewing arises from the manner in which things have revealed themselves as disposable, as resources, to be stored as standing reserve and to be at the beck and call of human beings. Should a ‘brave new world’ arise and the viewing of the world as disposable be overcome, the viewing of this new world will not be science as we understand it.

What occurs to the concept of causality in contemporary science? In modern science, causality becomes the recording of the challenged contents that are guaranteed to appear simultaneously or successively.  As Kant has said, nature must be constrained to present itself in a certain way, constrained to respond to questions which arise from the nature of pure reason. It is the “pure reason” which grounds the dominating, commandeering stand of the technological viewing, the theoretical viewing. In Heisenberg’s terms, the contents of science are produced, at least in part, by the scientific intervention into nature, produced by the experimental apparatus that is meant to look into nature. What does a scientist observe? She observes (or rather her instruments record) the path of a humanly induced streak of light in a humanly constructed cloud chamber. The light’s path is a humanly constructed phenomenon. It is not an observed phenomenon of nature. It is something we order up: it is a constrained, challenged content.

Martin Heidegger

If we refer back to our example of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the chemical composition of Van Gogh’s yellow is what identifies the painting. The composition is understood in terms of simultaneity and succession: using the compounds indicated, you will end up with Van Gogh’s yellow. What has been recorded by chemistry is the succession of events that will occur in bringing together these compounds. What the contents of the compounds are is of no interest to the chemist. Science is not knowledge of contents as such. Science has abandoned its goal of knowing what the compounds or contents are in themselves. Science is the knowledge of the order of the compounds and which events will occur once they come together. The chemist records which contents regularly appear together and which succeed one another.  They are an order of events in time and space. The chemist knows which contents will bring about which results. She can make dependable predictions. The chemist can guarantee the order of the appearances, but she can claim no insight into the essence of what is appearing. For science, causality is no longer an essential connection; it is a customary one. Causality is not what it was for the ancients (Aristotle in our examples), namely the active letting that brings forth, nor is it efficient causality and, therefore, it is not a formal causality.

The older ways of understanding causality all presuppose an insight into essence: the active letting begins with a contemplation of the essence, which is then nurtured and brought forth into visibility. The formal cause is the essence for the ancients. The efficient cause (which is a later understanding or misinterpretation of Aristotle’s causality) implies an insight into an essential connection and is not reducible to a mere recording of the temporal succession of events.

Plato Cave
Plato’s Cave

Let us return to Plato’s cave for a moment. We can see from the above descriptions that the scientists exemplify the prisoners of the cave when it comes to providing a “likeness of our nature, with regard to learning and ignorance” (Republic, 514a). They are able to see only the shadows in front and not that which is behind the shadows. They are ignorant of the nature of that which they see. They have been in this condition since childhood; it is their shared knowledge from their historical and cultural contexts. They are unaware that the shadows are shadows. They are, nevertheless, learned. They record very well the order of succession and simultaneity in what they see which enables them to make predictions; and those who are capable of making predictions are honoured in their Cave. The cave-dwellers honour the prisoner “who best remembers which of the shadows customarily pass by prior to others, which succeed others, and which appear simultaneously, and who thereby has the greatest power of prophesying which shadows will come next” (Republic 516c-d). The mastery of the shadows, despite the ignorance of their true nature, is all that counts for the cave-dwellers. They are content with their learning (such as it is) and would even do violence to anyone who attempted to release them from their bondage to the shadows (517a). Mastery, the power to predict, is more honoured than insight into the object of the mastery. The resignation of the scientists as pointed out by Heisenberg is the contentment of the prisoners of the cave whose knowledge of predictability and dependability makes up for the lack of knowledge of the object of their studies and helps them alleviate the human condition: “Thus we have resigned ourselves to the new situation the moment we could make dependable predictions,” as Heisenberg has said.

Projection and the Apriori: What is Personal Knowledge?

Projection is ‘to throw’; it suggests ‘throwing away, off’, and is thus related to ‘jacio’ (Lat. ‘to throw’) and subject/object. It originally meant ‘to form a picture, design’ in weaving by turning the shuttle to and fro. It then came to apply to literary and mental formation. It acquired the sense of ‘provisional, preliminary drafting’ under the influence of the French projeter, ‘to plan, lit. throw before’. Today projection means ‘to sketch, design, draft, draw up, depict, outline’. Similarly, a project is a ‘sketch, outline, design, blueprint, draft’. The words are thus aptly translated as ‘project’ and ‘projection’, from the Latin proicere, ‘to throw forward’. Think of the steps of the Design Cycle which you learned in your MYP courses.

A projection is not a particular plan or project; it is what makes any plan or project possible. In TOK we have given various accounts of what is projected: a world; the being of beings/things or the ‘constitution of their being’; fundamental scientific conceptions of being such as the mathematical view of nature; Human Being itself. Human Being is the projection of something onto something else: the understanding projects the being of Human Being onto its ‘For-the-sake-of’ and onto the significance of its world; understanding, or Human Being itself, projects Human Being onto (its) possibilities or onto a possibility; beings are projected onto their being; Being is projected onto time. The answer to the age-old question “what is the meaning of life” is “Life itself is the meaning of life”. It is this “projection” which is the ground of our understanding of “the empowerment of the Self”.

A project (ion) is ‘free’. It is not determined by our prior knowledge or desires, since it is only in the light of a project that we can have any specific knowledge or desires. A project is not projected piecemeal, by gradual steps, but all at once, by a leap ahead. It might be understood as a ‘paradigm’ for the project indeed ‘stamps’, ahead of time, what we conceive ourselves to be. It is the project that determines what we call ‘personal knowledge’ and what we call ‘experience’.

There are three main types of project:

  1. Any Human Being must project a world and have a pre-ontological understanding of being, i.e. a human being must project being, including its own being. Such a projection occurs at no definite time: it is an ‘original action’ of Human Being. This projection enables Human Being to understand, for example, what a tool is or what another person is, independently of the particular tools and persons it encounters. It is comparable to one’s overall understanding of what a town is and one’s general sense of direction. This is our ‘personal knowledge’ and how it participates in our ‘shared knowledge’.
  2. A science involves a project (ion) of the constitution of the entities/things it deals with, for example, Galileo’s and Newton’s projection of being as mathematical or a chemist’s projection of being as formulas. Such a project is not grounded in the experience of beings/things: the project decides in advance what counts as a being/thing and as experience. Nor is it grounded in a previous project or in criticism of it: a new project is not commensurable with its predecessor; it alters our whole view of being and beings/things.  It is a paradigm shift. This type of project does not supplant the project of type 1: a mathematical physicist still needs a pre-ontological understanding of tools, people, time, etc. A scientific project is analogous to a selective map of a town; it cannot dispense with one’s overall pre-ontological understanding of beings any more than a map-user can do without a
    Thomas Kuhn

    sense of direction. Think of this in relation to Thomas Kuhn’s The Nature of Scientific Revolutions and the paradigm shifts which he speaks of in that understanding; but Kuhn’s paradigm shifts all occur within the overarching paradigm of the scientific projection itself and do not involve any change in human being’s orientation to the things that are.

  3. What you are required to do in TOK is to acquire a conceptual, ontological understanding of being, which involves an understanding of projects 1 and 2. The thinker cannot simply painstakingly describe these projects without any specific philosophical projection. The nature of being, of Human Being, etc. is ‘covered up’, not open to unvarnished empirical inspection or sense perception as a way of knowing. As a thinker, you must undertake an ‘existential’ projection or ‘phenomenological construction’ of, for example, Human Being’s historicality or what is called the social/cultural contexts.

The thinking human being must project a being (e.g. Human Being) onto its being and its structures. We understand something, x, by projecting it onto something else, y, the ‘Upon-which’ of the projection and the ‘sense’ of x. There is, thus, a ‘stratification’ of projects. We understand beings by projecting them onto Being. We understand Being by projecting it onto time. The regress ends with time: time, owing to its ‘ecstatic unity’ (past, present, future are at one in time), is ‘self-projection’; it need not be projected onto anything else to be understood. TOK asks that your projections proceed in the reverse direction to the projection they conceptualize, Human Being’s basic project. This agrees with Aristotle’s view: what is prior in itself is posterior for us. Time is prior to being and makes it possible; Being is prior to beings and makes them possible. But owing to the obscurity of these relationships, we proceed from beings to Being, and thence to time.

A project involves ‘anticipation’ and the ‘apriori’. What a tool is; other people; that there is a world: these are apriori within project 1, and thus for every Human Being. That things/entities are calculable and exactly measurable: this is apriori for mathematical physics. That Human Being ‘exists’: this is apriori for us. ‘Apriori’ comes from the Latin for ‘what comes before, earlier’; the apriori is ‘the earlier’.

Immanuel Kant

The apriori is not true or ‘correct’, beyond the project which it helps to define: the apriori is the title or name for the essence of things, what things are. It is the determiner of what we call “facts”. The apriori and its priority are interpreted in accordance with our conception of the thinghood of the thing and our understanding of the Being of beings in general. A project is more like a decision than a discovery (this is a possible response to the question “Is mathematics discovered or invented?”); it cannot be correct or incorrect: correctness, and criteria for it, only applies within the light shed by the project. What the light of a project reveals are possibilities – for our everyday knowledge, but also for our other everyday dealings with beings, the beings understood and delimited/defined by the project. Thus in projecting, Human Being always projects itself on its possibilities, though the range of possibilities varies depending on whether it is resolute or not. In doing this it understands itself in terms of the possibilities open to it. Human Being projects itself in its own project – one of the meanings of the claim that a project is the thrown forward. Human Being does not have a constant, project-independent understanding of itself: it first understands itself, or understands itself anew, after the projection.  Both Galileo and the Church leaders who oppressed him saw the same ‘facts’. It was in their differing ‘projections’ that those same facts came to be interpreted. Later, Descartes, Newton and Kant grounded the projection that Galileo initiated.

The essence of science is “re-search”. The projecting of a ground plan and methodology are essential features of research. Research is the search for the fixity of facts in the constancy of change: the “rule” = the fixity of facts; the “law” = the constancy of change.  Investigation as research in the physical sciences takes place according to the field of investigation (the domain of the things being investigated/the areas of knowledge) by experiment and according to the explanation aimed at. Explanation accounts for the unknown by means of the known and it verifies the known by means of the unknown.  Experiment becomes possible where the knowledge of nature is transformed into research.

Methodology: How Technology as a WOK Determines the Theory of Modern Science

Technology as a way of knowing takes priority over modern science and determines what has come to be known as modern science; it is prior to science’s manner of looking at the world. What we call the scientific method is a predicate of the subject technology; science is applied technology.

Rene Descartes

Technology arranges things in a certain way, sees or reveals things in a certain way, and assigns things to a certain order. Technology discloses things as belonging to a certain order and things are only allowed to appear as within that order. Modern technology is the looking which corresponds to the self-disclosure of things as belonging to a certain order; this looking or revealing is what we hold as truth. It sees in things a certain disposition, it sees things as belonging to a certain order, and it sees a certain order as appropriate to things.  Modern technology does not simply come onto the scene after the things have been investigated insofar as they pertain to this order; on the contrary, modern technology is that which sees this order as pertaining to things in the first place and so gives the investigations, the experiments their initial impetus.

What is this order and what is this way of disclosing things? It is the scientific way/method. The order is the scientific order, which means the mathematical order, the calculable order: things are only allowed to reveal themselves as that which can be algebraically calculated. Modern physics must report its results in the language of mathematics. It can do so because the seeing allows nature to be revealed as number and to see number as being the language (logos) that is in accord with nature’s revealing. Both time and space are revealed as uniform units (ones) and the objects that are revealed in time as space (conceived as mass) are calculable according to these uniform units.

Technology is the disclosure of things in general as subject to calculation. Technology reveals things as the possible objects of science. Technology is the outlook, the disposition which sees that things may only reveal themselves such that they are subject to scientific investigation. If they cannot, then they are only “subjective” and have no “actuality” or “reality” (Energeia).  It is modern technology that starts science going; modern technology is not a subsequent application of science and mathematics.

Modern technology is the outlook on things that science needs to get started. Science is driven by the conviction that nature is calculable, that is, knowable. Modern technology is an insight into the essence of things in general, namely that things in general are coherently calculable. That is an insight into the essence of things, an insight into the Being of beings. As an in-sight, technology is a disclosive looking that rests in the unconcealment of the truth of the essence of what some thing is; and in this disclosiveness it is an assigning of things to a certain order (domain/area of knowledge), it is a disclosive looking that disposes of the things and makes the things disposable.

An “ob-ject” is something that we “throw in the way,” i.e., something that stems from our throwing or projecting or constituting. Our word “object” is correlated to “subject.” An object is precisely that which a subject has projected; an object is dependent on some subject. We could also say that an object is that which is opposed to a subject. But the word “op-posed” has to be taken in its literal sense: an object is that which has been posed by a subject to stand over and against itself. An object has no standing on its own; it is precisely posed by a subject, placed in a certain position by a subject. The sense of the word “object” is also captured by the term “proposal.” An object is something pro-posed, something the subject poses in front of itself. In this posing by the subject, the object does not get to “stand” on its own. Nature, the things about us, do not get to stand on their own, in their own right. They are revealed as that which can be dis-posed. They become disposables.

The Distinction between World View and World Picture:

In your study of Group 3 subjects, you will hear the word “world-view” said often. What does it mean and how does it differ from a “world-picture”? World views and world pictures distinguish the Group 3 from the Group 4 subjects.

World-view comes from the German Weltanschauung which is formed from Welt, ‘world’, and Anschauung, ‘view, etc.’, and means ‘view of, outlook on, the world’. This word is relatively new (19th century) and expresses the change in our seeing of ourselves in our world.

A “world-picture” comes from the German Weltbilt, a ‘picture [BiId] of the world’. A “world-view” and a “world picture” are not interchangeable. A “world-picture” is usually associated with science or a science (‘the mechanistic world-picture’, ‘the physicist’s world-picture’, etc., the chemist’s world-picture), while a “world-view” can be pre-scientific or scientific. A “world-picture” is usually a theoretical view of the external world, while a “world-view” is essentially a ‘view of life’, a view of our position in the world and how we should act (our ‘lifestyle’). Adherents of the same “world-picture” may hold different world-views and enter into conflict employing the weapons supplied by their common “world-picture”. A “world-picture” is only one constituent of a “world-view”. A world-view may be understood as what we mean by our “social and cultural contexts”.

“World-view” contrasts with science and with philosophy. Human being’s being-in-the-world essentially involves a “world-view”.  How is this “world-view” related to Human being’s transcendence? How is it related to philosophy? Philosophy and “world-view” ‘are so incomparable’ according to the German philosopher Heidegger, ‘that no possible picture is available to illustrate their difference. Any picture would still bring them too close together’. The ‘world-view’ narrows and constricts real experience. [. ..] Philosophy opens up experience, and for that reason cannot directly ground history. World-view is always an end, mostly a long drawn-out and unconscious end. Philosophy is always a beginning and requires its own overcoming’. A ‘world-view’ is often arbitrary and peremptory. It may be ‘personal’, expressing one’s own particular life-experience and opinions (personal knowledge), or ‘total’, extinguishing all personal opinions (shared knowledge). A total ‘world-view’ cannot understand itself, for this would put it in question. Hence its initial creativity is soon diverted ‘into the gigantomania of machination’. Philosophy too makes a claim to ‘totality’, if it is ‘knowledge of beings as such and as a whole’. But this applies to metaphysics. Technology, for example, is a world-view which encompasses and determines the many world-pictures from out of itself. “Ism” words are the pictures from the technological world-view i.e. communism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, etc.

The modern world-picture involves several constituents: mathematical science; machine technology; the reduction of art to an object of ‘experience’; the conception of human activity as ‘culture’ and as the realization of ‘values’, the concern of a ‘cultural policy’; a godlessness that co-exists with the ‘modernization’ of the Christian ‘world-view’ and with intense ‘religious experience’.

Blake's tyger
William Blake: The Tyger

Underlying all this, even natural science, is the very idea of a ‘world-picture’. At first sight it means a ‘picture of the world’, where the picture is not co-extensive with the world. But if we read it in the light of such expressions as ‘being in the picture’, ‘putting oneself in the picture’, ‘getting the picture’ – which imply a complete mastery of what the picture is a picture of – we see that ‘world-picture essentially means not a picture of the world, but the world conceived as picture. (cf. Blake’s “The Tyger”). Beings as a whole are now taken in such a way that they are in being first and only insofar as they are presented by man the representer and producer. The emergence of the world-picture involves an essential decision about beings as a whole. The being of beings is sought and found in the representedness of beings’.


World-picture is a distinctively modern conception of human being’s place within the world. There is no medieval world-picture: men are assigned their place by God in his created order. There is no Greek world-picture: man is at the beck and call of being. There is no ancient or medieval ‘system’, an essential requirement for the reduction of the world to a picture (look at how we have designated the new areas of knowledge as religious knowledge ‘systems’ and ‘indigenous knowledge systems’). Ancient and medieval man was not a ‘subject’: ‘The world’s becoming a picture is one and the same process as man’s becoming a subjectum among beings’. Hence humanism arises at the same time as the world-picture, a ‘philosophical interpretation of man that explains and assesses beings as a whole in terms of man and with a view to man’.

Since man is ‘in the picture’, is the central focus of the world as picture, world-view, which concerns man’s position in the world, goes together with world-picture: ‘As soon as the world becomes a picture, the position of man is conceived as world-view’. Man’s present ‘position in the midst of beings’ not only differs from that of ancient and medieval man: ‘Now for the first time is there anything like a position of man at all’. For just as modern man decides about the contents of the world as picture and their arrangement, so he decides what his own position in it is to be; he positions himself, takes up a position, in a way that no previous type of man has done. Our age is ‘new’ or ‘modern’ not only because it differs from previous ages, but because ‘to be new belongs to the world that has become a picture’. The whole picture and our position in it are within our control, so we can start from scratch and remake everything anew. This is what is meant by the earlier statement that metaphysics, humanism and technology are one.

There remains, however, an ‘invisible shadow that is cast over all things, when man has become the subjectum and the world a picture’. To manage the world as picture we need to think in terms of quantity and measurement, the ‘calculable’. ‘Each historical age… has its own particular concept of greatness’ (Heidegger); and our concept of it is the purely quantitative, the ‘gigantic’ – not only gigantic monuments, but the traversal of vast distances at immense velocities, etc. The difference between one concept of greatness and another is not, however, a quantitative, but a qualitative difference. Hence the ‘gigantic of planning and calculating…veers round into a quality of its own’ (Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture”) and then it becomes incalculable. We can see this view most specifically in the construction of the new Dubai or in the calculations necessary for the new Singapore. Just as the essence of technology is not itself technological, so the essence of calculation and the calculable is not accessible to calculation. We should not retreat into tradition and reject the world-picture, but think it through in an uncalculating way.


Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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