Philosophy, Time Tunnel, and Motorcycle Riding: Heidegger

In the late 1960’s there was a TV show called The Time Tunnel about two scientists, Doug and Tony, who got caught up in a time machine. While their scientific compatriots were trying to bring them home Doug and Tony bounced around from one historic time period to another. This week they might show up on the Titanic; next week in the Badlands of South Dakota on the day when Custer made his last stand.  Their appearance in another time zone was inevitably accompanied by them being thrown, tumbling out of the swirling black and white striped cave and onto the ground in their new temporary home.

The philosopher Heidegger coined a term “Geworfen” which essentially translates to “being thrown”. He suggests that individuals are essential “thrown” into the world. We’re thrown into this world with an attendant list of people, circumstances, sufferings, and conditions that we had no control over but must make the best of.

This is how I felt when I returned to the USA after having lived in Ireland for 17 years – as if someone had thrown me out of the time tunnel and I had landed here. I still feel it now and again when I’ve entered into some new situation, something unknown. As the poet Rilke put it:  when “Our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity”. These feelings are accentuated when I travel long distance, especially on the Harley. I end up being thrown into towns where I don’t know anyone, and folks are eyeing me suspiciously. (People eye me suspiciously even in the town I live in!) The choice is to accept the way others see us, to live up to their expectations – to avoid the anxiety inherent in the possibility of freedom – or to embrace it. In addition to being thrown into our existence, Heidegger also says that humans are Sein-zum-Tode – “Beings toward Death”. (Those Germans have a word for everything! Mark Twain once exclaimed that eternity was invented by God so that people would have a long enough time to learn German!) Living with this truth, that we are all on the road to death, is not meant to be depressing, instead, it allows us to step out of our “Everydayness” (“Alltäglichkeit” in German), and to become more passionately aware of our freedom and choices. It reminds us to be aware that our time is limited, that we need to dare to be ourselves despite external pressures, so that we can move from an inauthentic way of living to a more authentic one.

Along with Doug and Tony, we’re constantly being thrown out of the time tunnel. It’s up to us to decide and act upon, who we’re going to be.

Philosophy, Time Tunnel, and Motorcycle Riding: Heidegger

In the late 1960’s there was a TV show called The Time Tunnel about two scientists, Doug and Tony, who got caught up in a time machine. While their scientific compatriots were trying to bring them home Doug and Tony bounced around from one historic time period to another. This week they might show up on the Titanic; next week in the Badlands of South Dakota on the day when Custer made his last stand.  Their appearance in another time zone was inevitably accompanied by them being thrown, tumbling out of the swirling black and white striped cave and onto the ground in their new temporary home.

The philosopher Heidegger coined a term “Geworfen” which essentially translates to “being thrown”. He suggests that individuals are essential “thrown” into the world. We’re thrown into this world with an attendant list of people, circumstances, sufferings, and conditions that we had no control over but must make the best of.

This is how I felt when I returned to the USA after having lived in Ireland for 17 years – as if someone had thrown me out of the time tunnel and I had landed here. I still feel it now and again when I’ve entered into some new situation, something unknown. As the poet Rilke put it:  when “Our feelings grow mute in shy perplexity”. These feelings are accentuated when I travel long distance, especially on the Harley. I end up being thrown into towns where I don’t know anyone, and folks are eyeing me suspiciously. (People eye me suspiciously even in the town I live in!) The choice is to accept the way others see us, to live up to their expectations – to avoid the anxiety inherent in the possibility of freedom – or to embrace it. In addition to being thrown into our existence, Heidegger also says that humans are Sein-zum-Tode – “Beings toward Death”. (Those Germans have a word for everything! Mark Twain once exclaimed that eternity was invented by God so that people would have a long enough time to learn German!) Living with this truth, that we are all on the road to death, is not meant to be depressing, instead, it allows us to step out of our “Everydayness” (“Alltäglichkeit” in German), and to become more passionately aware of our freedom and choices. It reminds us to be aware that our time is limited, that we need to dare to be ourselves despite external pressures, so that we can move from an inauthentic way of living to a more authentic one.

Along with Doug and Tony, we’re constantly being thrown out of the time tunnel. It’s up to us to decide and act upon, who we’re going to be.

Day 19: Motorcycles, Heidegger in LA, Thrownness, LA Traffic, Splitting Lanes, Devil’s Highway, Out of Gas, Synchronicity.

Heidegger, that pesky German philosopher, had a lot to say about existence. My hacking of his thought goes as follows. We find ourselves as a being in this world. This, I imagine, is like us coming to our senses, patting ourselves down: Hey, I got arms, legs, stomach. I touch my head; there might be a brain in here. Next, he says we always find ourselves in a mood. The mood has to do with how we are relating to the world; happy, sad, fearful, anxious. Every guy who has ever gone to pick up a girlfriend has thought at least once, if not more: I wonder what kind of mood she’ll be in. But our mood is more than this. It’s pitch, tune and timbre. It’s how we find ourselves attuned to the world. It can be like a sound track playing in our head. For me, when I think of heading out into LA traffic I hear the soundtrack from the movie “Jaws”. Heidegger also talks about thrownness, the idea that we are thrown into this world into a concrete, historical time and place where choice and possibilities are always limited. There used to be a TV show called the “Time Tunnel” where scientists Doug and Tony went traveling into the past (and future). Whenever they landed in a new place they fell down onto the ground and rolled. Why? Because, like us, they were thrown! We are thrown into this world. Can’t help here but think of Jim Morrison’s lyrics from “Riders On The Storm” (The Doors).
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out on loan
Riders on the storm

In many ways what we make out of life is what we make out of our “thrownness”.
And when you ride a motorcycle it’s like you’re trying to take a little more control over this “thrownness”. You ride it. At the same time you’re maximizing your openness and vulnerability to your environment. Not just the sights, sounds, smells of the road but also you open yourself to meeting folks everywhere you put your kickstand down. No drive throughs or take aways for you.
Sometimes the “thrownness” can be a bit scary as in yesterday when I chose to hurl myself at LA traffic. Granted, I was on my trusted Road King but this environment was different. Not the peaceful back roads of Hwy 50, the “loneliest highway in America” but instead, the California interstate, the Devil’s Highway. I needed to get an oil change for Big Red and thought I’d see the Pacific Coast Highway again as well. I was on the road before 7 am, but so was everyone else. Uneven surfaces and folks in a tremendous hurry not to be late for a job they don’t like. In California, they allow “lane splitting”, sometimes called lane sharing or white-lining, when you can ride between lanes of cars. I had to do this a few times because the traffic was so slow, or stopped and my engine was over-revving and over-heating. I made it to the dealership, had the oil and filter changed and “You need to get that exhaust looked at. It’s leaking a bit but it should do you till you get back to Georgia.” I guess we will see about that.
Then I “threw” myself down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway riding along the turquoise ocean. I stopped for coffee a few times and walked out onto the Santa Monica pier (remember those Rockford episodes!). Then I had to head back onto Interstates 10 and 405 and finally the Ventura Freeway. I was so busy avoiding bumps and uneven pavement that I didn’t notice that I was almost out of gas. I shouldn’t have been. Normally I can go another 20-30 miles on a tank of gas but then I remembered the over-revving and over-heating. I decided to take the next exit and cut over (carefully) three lanes of traffic to get to the exit lane and I did. I just didn’t get off the freeway. The bike died. I stopped and did what most bikers do and shook the bike sideways a few times to see if there was any more gas I could get into the system. I cranked it up and rode down to where the exit hit a main road. Then it died again. More shaking, cranked her up and I got a quarter of a mile down the road to an intersection where there wasn’t a gas station but there was a parking lot. I coasted into a space, parked it, turned around and there was a beer shop. Synchronicity!
Since it was after 5pm and I was hot, sweaty and exhausted I “threw” myself at the beer store and bought an Anchor Steam lager, took a few swigs and called my daughter who was just 10 minutes away.
I plan to engage in more “thrownness” on this trip but I’m hoping to stay away from the Devil’s Highway.