We are going to look at one of the fundamental structures we have as human beings. To be a human being is to be in the world. A fundamental structure that goes to make us what we are is: being in the world. At this point we just want to get a sense of what the word “world” will later mean for us.
A big part of working with Heidegger consists in examining stuff that shows up. Once it is in front of us, we can look at it in different ways to reveal details we haven’t seen before. We can then use language to point out what we see so others can see it too.
Please take a moment to look around yourself, and see that you are surrounded by the physical ‘world’. It contains a lot of stuff. To talk about stuff that shows up we will use the word Greek word phenomenon, a name for “stuff that shows itself as itself”.
There are a lot of phenomena in the ‘world’ you are ‘in’. (I’ll tell you about the quotes soon.) There are physical things close to you, your left hand, and maybe a computer screen and keyboard. We will also use the word entity to name a phenomenon that shows up as a discrete unit.
When you ‘just look’ at something, it shows up in a particular way. We call the way a thing can show up for us when we just look at it: present-at-hand. It’s there for us something present-at-hand. For example, my keyboard is a real thing right there at my fingertips. I can examine its properties and tell you about my keyboard: It’s flat, white, and has 108 keys; and there’s some dust between the keys. My keyboard is also now a present-at-hand thing for you, even though it’s not in your “physical presence”.
Of course all the other physical ‘stuff’ in the universe can be present-at-hand for us in the same way. We know that physical reality would be present-at-hand if we were close enough to see it, or we had a stronger telescope, or had more direct access to it.
But physical entities aren’t the only things that are present-at-hand. The ‘world’ you are ‘in’ also includes thoughts, ideas, concerns, concepts, feelings and sensations. These entities can be actually present for you as well. If you step back and just examine a thought you see that the thought is really there, even though it is at least not directly in the physical thing. One of the key factors about present-at-hand entities is that you can examine them and talk about their properties and characteristics.
For thousands of years reality, existence, and even “being” itself has been determined on the basis: “Is it present?” We even have specialists to deal with the question. Scientists are one group of experts who look at specific phenomenon and report what is present. We have religious leaders who report what they see when they are ‘present to’ certain spiritual phenomena. Our culture has a lot of complex history and thinking about these issues. But we can start with the simple fact that in our own experience, and based on our relationships with other people, we have access to entities that are present-at-hand.
We use the word ‘world’ (with quotes) to represent the totality of all present-at-hand entities. It includes the physical universe as well as all the other present-at-hand phenomena. The “raw” existence of present-at-hand entities does not depend on us.
The world (without quotes) includes other kinds of entities as well.
There are also phenomena that show up for us in a way that isn’t present-at-hand. This is not a mystical claim in any way.
Well, what else is there? Remember that we got access to the present-at-hand entities by ‘just looking’. When we are ‘just looking’, entities show up as present-at-hand things ready for our examination. But ‘just looking’ is only one of many possible ways we can be-in the world.
Are there other ways for us to be where different kinds of entities show up?
The vast majority of our lives is spent encountering and being involved with a kind of entity you have probably never explicitly noticed – the ready-to-hand.
Ready to hand entities show up as transparent equipment we use when we are involved with concerned coping. This is discussed on another page: The available world and equipment. There are also Human Beings, which are not just present entities.
The world is the phenomenal basis in which anything at all can show up. The ‘world’ is itself one of the entities that shows up in the world. This phenomena that as such would next interest us what is it the worldhood of the world?
Where this page fits the series:
Being and Time: Introduction: Being-in-the-world: world: present-at-hand