Monday, September 21, 2009

Shapes and Forms

"The Dasein finds itself primarily in things."
Martin Heidegger

Today, it has been exactly one year since I broke my kneecap. (In fact, the annual PhD course that I was not able to participate in because of the accident starts again today.) Needless to say, my jogging schedule was affected quite seriously. This semester I started running three times a week again, but it's been hard going. The knee is fine; I'm just out of shape. I had a really great run yesterday, though, so things are looking up. And I actually didn't do so badly in the relay race on Tuesday, come to think of it.

Also, this semester I'm taking piano lessons during my Friday lunch break. As with jogging, the trick is to practice regularly. I need to get into shape and then to maintain it. I have some exercises to do every day, and I can already, as expected, feel my hands getting stronger and more precise. My main goal with these lessons is to make my left hand a little more independent and versatile. That's all coming along nicely.

Finally, I'm reading Heidegger. His "Dasein" (the "entity" that each of us is, our "being there") is, I'm told, an attempt to interpret Aristole's definition of the human soul as "topos eidon", "the place of forms". Our existence gives "shape" to the world in our perception of it. The mind is "where" that happens. (This may be the source of the imprecise image of a "head full of ideas"). Thinking is an activity that we keep in shape for; our so-called "ideas" come from the shape we're in mentally. And, as with jogging and playing the piano, the only way to keep in shape is through regular practice. It takes discipline.

I very seriously suggest that you train your ability to think, i.e., to shape our world, i.e., to be "the place of forms", on the model of all other practical exercise. As researchers, we can concentrate on staying in shape (maintaining a form) in regard to a relatively narrow range of objects (particular kinds of organizations and managerial practices for most of my authors). And the most concrete way to think of this training is through your writing. Set aside some time every day to practice. Describing things is like practicing scales and running up a hill. It makes you stronger, more precise.

"In every day terms," says Heidegger, "we understand ourselves and our existence by way of the activities we pursue and the things we take care of" (BP, p. 159). Heidegger's preferred example is the craftsman and the "things" in the workshop (tools, materials, end products). Researchers craft their research objects in language, mainly in writing, and, as the appeal to metaphysics suggests, the stakes are pretty high. This is all about keeping yourself "in the world", or, better, of keeping the world in shape.

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