The Way Out of AI Anxiety: Poetic Dwelling and Renewal Through Grief

Feb 13, 2024 | T's Notes

The Way Out of AI Anxiety

The Way Out of AI Anxiety – Recently, I had the serendipitous pleasure of reconnecting with Ms. Leah Edmonds, a bright, recent MA graduate in Philosophy and the daughter of cherished friends from my university days. Although our paths hadn’t crossed since Leah was in middle school, I leaped at the opportunity to reconnect when she reached out to explore my thoughts on her interest in law school. What I anticipated would be a simple catch-up and discussion about the future of law quickly transformed into a stimulating exchange on a topic I found unexpectedly riveting—Heidegger’s1 perspectives on funerary practices, the focus of her major research paper. This conversation, veering into the philosophical underpinnings of today’s AI era, was a revelation.

Those of you who follow this blog are aware of my quest for enlightenment through the wisdom of classical and seminal texts during these transformative times. The enlightening dialogue I had with Ms. Edmonds, coupled with the insights gleaned from her exceptional paper, deepened my conviction. I believe that now, more than ever, we are in desperate need of our philosophers and creative thinkers. Their depth of reflection and academic rigor may hold the key to helping guide us through this remarkable juncture in human history with grace, gentleness, wisdom, and profound insight.

I would like to express my gratitude to Ms. Edmonds for her unique, meticulous, and insightful research paper, Heidegger, Funerary Practices and the Fourfold, and for allowing me to share some of her ideas with you and the profound application to our grappling with the challenges we are confronting in the face of our new AI world. Her paper is rich and detailed, and what you find below are mere snippets that inspired my own views. To explore her work in detail, her Major Research Paper is available in its entirety here. For developing views on this topic from Ms. Edmonds, watch our discussion here and connect with her personally on LinkedIn.

Heidegger and Funerary Practices

Edmonds’ paper meticulously tracks the shift in Heidegger’s perspective over time to ultimately underscore the potential of funerary practices to serve as a form of “poetic dwelling,” a concept that Edmonds argues is central to understanding Heidegger’s later views. Below is an extreme digest of her examination of this topic.

Martin Heidegger, initially dismissive of funeral practices in his book “Being and Time,” viewed them as mere factual occurrences with little insight into the true nature of death. He distinguished between the tangible aspects of existence (“ontic”) and the philosophical inquiry into being itself (“ontological”), emphasizing the need for individuals to confront their mortality individually for a more authentic existence rather than through societal rituals like funerals. However, his perspective evolved in later works such as “Building Dwelling Thinking,” where he recognized the symbolic and ritualistic value of funerals in revealing profound aspects of being and our relationship with death.

In these later works, Edmonds’ argues that Heidegger’s philosophy introduced the idea of human existence as a form of “poetic dwelling,” suggesting that mourning rituals and memorials are expressions of this creative living, offering insights into deeper existential truths. The concept of rituals and artifacts of mourning and remembrance can be seen as expressions of this poetic dwelling.

Heidegger’s seminal essay on “The Question Concerning Technology” plays heavily in the analysis, and we are reminded that much of Heidgger’s evolving views were taking place during a time of great technological change, including the damming of the Rhine River for hydroelectric power as well as the rapid industrialization of warfare during WW2. Heidegger introduces the concept of “enframing” (Gestell), which he considers the essence of modern technology. Enframing is a mode of organizing, understanding, and approaching the world that treats everything as a resource to be optimized, used, and controlled. This perspective transforms nature into a standing reserve (Bestand), an inventory of resources to be exploited. For Heidegger, this approach to technology poses a danger because it can limit our ability to relate to the world in any other way, thus constraining our understanding and experience of being. In scholarship, this is referred to as a “flattening of reality.” As Edmonds notes, in nearly all of Heidegger’s post-war texts, he expresses a fear that in the epoch of technology, we have nearly lost the ability to see things beyond the veil of enframing.

However, Heidegger does not view technology purely negatively, and his reflections are complex and nuanced, intertwining his views on ontology (the study of being), art, and human existence. His critique is not exactly of technological devices but of the mindset that modern technology embodies and promotes. He encourages a thoughtful and questioning approach to technology, one that seeks to understand its essence and its implications for our way of being in the world.

Through this lens, Heidegger integrated death into the broader fabric of existence, highlighting the interconnectedness of life, death, and the cosmos in a way that embraced cultural and societal practices within his philosophical understanding of being. Confrontation with death, then, is the antidote to gestell and begins a change from the way of techne to that of dwelling poetically.

Finally, Edmonds builds out the notion of “the Fourfold,” a concept in Heidegger’s later philosophy describing the intertwining of earth, sky, mortals, and divinities in our understanding of the world. Through the lens of the fourfold, Heidegger’s more holistic view is revealed where death and mortality are integral parts of the whole. By embracing the “fourfold” and the concept of “poetic dwelling,” Heidegger comes to see funerary practices not just as rituals of mourning but as opportunities for profound reflection on Being itself. This shift is emblematic of a broader movement in Heidegger’s thought, from a focus on the individual’s confrontation with mortality to a more holistic view of how we inhabit and understand the world.

After her detailed formulations, Edmonds’s conclusion is breathtaking, and I include her final words verbatim:

What is more, I hope to have shown how Heidegger’s meditations on mourning as a source of healing, has bearing on our contemporary lives lived in technological modernity. Instead of shuffling on the next task, Heidegger encourages us to pause and dwell in our grief, no matter its cause—whether it be the loss of a loved one, or a generalised feeling of lostness in the world. For it is in grief that we moderns come nearest to the truth Being, and it is in grief that we may discover renewal.

And now, how are these philosophical ponderings relevant to support both our fears and our hopes at this extraordinary moment in time?

Poetic Dwelling and the Need for a “Metaphorical Funeral” for These Times

I find Edmonds’s development of the concept of “poetic dwelling” gorgeous on its own and a beautiful framing for engagement in our days. As Edmonds details, poetic dwelling can be seen as a way of living that is particularly gracious and reflective. It allows individuals to engage with the world in a deeper, more meaningful way by recognizing the interdependence of world and thing, medium and mediated. But the broader concept of a need for deep mourning in the face of loss, as both a moment of grace and an opportunity for renewal to face the days ahead, struck deeply. Could a “metaphorical funeral” be the bridge to calm at this time? In the age of AI, where technology increasingly mediates our relationship with the world, the concept of poetic dwelling and a reflective, collective funeral may provide a framework for not only calm and reflection but renewal.

Edmonds’ work shows that a funeral can be considered a rite of passage (it is the last one for an individual), and there are many other examples, such as “coming of age” rituals or marriage. Each involves a sense of loss – the loss of a former self engaged in a way of life that can no longer be.

In advocating for a “metaphorical funeral” as humanity enters the new age of AI, this argument draws on Edmonds’ work to emphasize the importance of confronting and letting go of that which we have lost or are losing. I do not believe that this process has to be one of despair but rather an opportunity for renewal—encouraging a more authentic, ethical, and thoughtful engagement with the profound changes AI is bringing. Relevant questions to ask may be: what are we losing, and how can we let go of it? What are we gaining, and how can we make the most of it? And how can we make this transition not only smoother but more meaningful for everyone involved? Through this collective reflection and reevaluation, we can embark on this new era with a sense of purpose, openness, and readiness to explore new possibilities of coexistence with AI, redefining what it means to live authentically in a technologically advanced world.

The concept of community and collective mourning in the age of AI is about more than just acknowledging loss; it’s about actively engaging with the changes AI brings in a way that fosters resilience, adaptability, and ethical awareness. By creating spaces for dialogue, education, and emotional expression, communities can come together to mourn the passing of an era and embrace the possibilities of the new world AI is creating.

The Way Out of AI Anxiety

May we, therefore, slow down and make space for grieving and remembrance and, by doing so, reconnect to the richer reservoirs of meaning as we simultaneously absorb this tide of innovation.

Please join this conversation, in any form, to help build out our “collective mourning” by creating spaces, rituals, art, and narratives that facilitate our shared process of reflection, letting go, and reimagining. I believe that this communal endeavor can help us navigate the profound changes we are experiencing by ensuring a more cohesive, ethical, and adaptive approach.

Related Articles:

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Teresa (T) Troester-Falk, Founder, BlueSky Privacy

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  1. Martin Heidegger stands as a seminal figure in 20th-century philosophy, contributing profoundly to existentialism and phenomenology. However, his affiliation with the Nazi Party casts a long shadow over his intellectual legacy. This aspect of his life has sparked intense debate among scholars and critics. Some argue that Heidegger’s philosophical ideas are inextricably intertwined with his political missteps, suggesting that his work is irredeemably tainted. Others, however, advocate for a critical separation between Heidegger’s political actions and his philosophical contributions, arguing that his philosophical insights can be evaluated independently of his political affiliations. In our analysis, we align with the latter perspective, choosing to focus on the intrinsic value of Heidegger’s philosophical work while acknowledging the importance of critically engaging with the moral and ethical implications of his political decision.
Teresa Troester-Falk
Teresa Troester-Falk

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