Technological Extensions ‘R’ Us: Martin Heidegger and Marshall McLuhan Were Right!

A new study actually testing a direct speculation of Martin Heidegger’s (that we see through our technologies, and so are our technologies) seems to have confirmed it at the neurological level. I think that Marshall McLuhan, who long touted a similar idea, calling technology the “extensions of man,” should also be given some credit here. We are, it appears, already cyborgs. Here’s a quote from Wired discussing this issue:

An empirical test of ideas proposed by Martin Heidegger shows the great German philosopher to be correct: Everyday tools really do become part of ourselves.

The findings come from a deceptively simple study of people using a computer mouse rigged to malfunction. The resulting disruption in attention wasn’t superficial. It seemingly extended to the very roots of cognition.

“The person and the various parts of their brain and the mouse and the monitor are so tightly intertwined that they’re just one thing,” said Anthony Chemero, a cognitive scientist at Franklin & Marshall College. “The tool isn’t separate from you. It’s part of you.”

Chemero’s experiment, published March 9 in Public Library of Science, was designed to test one of Heidegger’s fundamental concepts: that people don’t notice familiar, functional tools, but instead “see through” them to a task at hand, for precisely the same reasons that one doesn’t think of one’s fingers while tying shoelaces. The tools are us.

Read the whole Wired article, which is very good, here.

One thing I’d add to this: if we were to lose our computers (as an example) we would be like people who have lost a limb: we might well find ourselves floundering about for quite a while, trying to find methods of compensation; trying to become someone different. I wonder if this isn’t also true of ideas themselves. Once we adopt an idea, then lose it by ceasing to believe it, we are no longer the same person: one of our extensions—the scaffoldings on which our minds had once comfortably and unself-consciously rested—is gone. Human beings in Medieval Christian Europe might be genetically similar to modern secular Europeans of today, but Medieval Christians were in fact a very different “species”: their intellectual and technological extensions were worlds apart from their descendents. The same will no doubt be said of us a millenium from now. Will our descendents really understand us? And would we really understand them?

What would Heidegger and McLuhan say about this extension of the human hand?:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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7 Responses to Technological Extensions ‘R’ Us: Martin Heidegger and Marshall McLuhan Were Right!

  1. Pingback: A great Albert Einstein quote on critical thinking—and being a cyborg « Prometheus Unbound

  2. Heresiarch says:

    I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it’s an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio

  3. santitafarella says:

    Heresiarch:

    I plan to listen to your audio, but haven’t got to it yet.

    Thank you for the link.

    —Santi

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