The human lives in two worlds: the one that is there (knock on wood), and the one that is here (tap on temple). The explicit awareness of this idea—that the human experience of the world is overlaid or “doubled” by some form of representation—has become a mark of philosophical sophistication.[i] The “epistemological gap” between “appearance and reality,” or the “self and the other,” or the object and its name, presents philosophy with a seemingly inexhaustible subject. Philosophy has taken on the consolatory job of policing this gap, though scientists and even mathematicians have worked here too—Heisenberg and Godel, for example. Among philosophers it is Heidegger who tells the best story about this doubling, and the gap it opens, saying it reflects the human awareness of Being.

According to Heidegger it was not always like this. He believes there was no gap “in the beginning.” Instead, he thinks that Being “revealed itself” directly to the human witness, who he named “Dasein,” as the person who “was there” for Being (and to whom Being Was There). Everything changed when the Pre-Socratic philosophers first “noticed” this presence, though, and were inspired to celebrate it. Heidegger feels the Western Meta-Physical Tradition began when the Pre-Socratic philosophers’ adulatory words piled up before that presence and their explanations vied to “capture” its truth. These re-presentations gradually formed a wall behind which Being withdrew, and that inspirational direct experience evaporated.

Of course, language had long preceded the Pre-Socratics inadvertent interruption of its unmediated access to the world; before the Pre-Socratic’s tried to explain everything words were connected to the world as directly as the physical objects and actions they named. Once the words found a new purpose in explanation, though, and that explanation discovered the utility of abstraction and metaphor, the words wandered from the objects themselves. This new experience in the world—self conscious thinking—gradually got in the way of that direct un-self-conscious experience of the world. Finally, with Plato that “visible” experience was permanently demoted in favor of its idealized invisible double, the “intelligible world,” accessible only to thought.

Being’s withdrawal obviously did not mark the end of existence or human awareness. But it did mark such a fundamental a change in that awareness that the doubling-as/of-representation can be considered another way to describe consciousness itself. This is certainly Heidegger’s intent in his discussions of humanity’s essence, as Dasein, as the witnessing of Being. Being is unavailable to the unconscious entity, to the being that is not self-aware, the being that cannot notice that it is noticing. Understood this way, the withdrawal of Being behind its representation (which Heidegger lamented for an entire career) becomes simply the present sense of Being (the tragedy in his lamentation)—what can be known now that direct experience is so conditioned by the understanding that precedes it.

In other words, since the advent of the Western Meta-physical Tradition, consciousness of the world has actually been consciousness of an image of the world. Despite the bias of Plato’s formulation (favoring the “intelligible” that can only be accessed by the mind over the “visible” apparent to the eyes), this “image” of the world is not a ghost, though. As Husserl first claimed and Heidegger reiterated, consciousness is always directed at something, even if it is not directly of something. This something is the “other,” from which the self gains awareness of its own apartness and eventually a general understanding of its discreteness. To Heidegger this something was Being, beyond mere presence or existence. It was this something’s somethingness that drew the attention and inspired the simultaneous awareness of that attention (that obscured the thing attended).

What marks this as a uniquely human appreciation beyond the doubling itself is the fact that this consciousness of something (other) is intentional. This doubling is fundamentally performative, purposeful: it asks always how does this thing relate to me? What is this thing means what does it do? What is it for? Will it hurt me? Is it in my way? Can I use it somehow? It is this fundamental, primal concern that initiates the doubling, gets the thing noticed, gives the thing its name. The thing is not noticed until it appears as an issue for the subject. As an issue it is presented, presents itself, as something to be considered: an active experience.[ii]

The doubling that concerns science and philosophy—the epistemological gap—is all but invisible to non-specialists, who inhabit the world as a fish inhabits water and “see” no such gap. The lay person’s unselfconsciously intentional orientation to the world in fact seems to evade that doubling by riding such intentionality directly towards the object, confusing that directness of concern with a (mistaken) sense of a directness of awareness of the thing anchoring the concern. Instead of obscuring the object, as Heidegger laments, this concern seems to reveal it. What produces the epistemological gap seems instead to eliminate it, or at least to cover it up. The abyss is never visible from the middle lanes of the bridge’s roadway.

But the world is also doubled in ways that can be seen, that specifically feature the visibility of this intentionality. The roadway may always hide the abyss, but it can also be visible itself as the bridge connecting the object with its representation. Primarily, since the beginning, this has been the role of Art—as symbolism, decoration, iconography, representation.[iii]

This doubling and the functionality of that relationship is highlighted in artistic representation. The self-consciousness of visual art and the increased attention paid to the manner of delivery as well as the content make art “stand out.” Though its exceptionality exceeds attempts at explanation—a traditional feature of art has been its ineffability—it can be attributed at least in part to degree to which the intentionality of its presentation rises above the intelligibility of its message. The connection forged by art is often misunderstood as merely a connection rather than being itself the point, so this opacity leads the unsophisticated viewer to judge the artwork in terms of its verisimilitude. The lay person assumes that the artist’s intention is to achieve a transparency to the object or message, precisely because of the visibility of the effort. The more sophisticated viewer knows that verisimilitude is just the starting point, a general context that gives an orientation to the artist’s effort, marking the abyss, the gap, and providing thrills at its crossing.

Even during the (brief) period when verisimilitude was mastered and such intelligibility was assured by the Dutch Masters, the awareness of the skill with which that mastery was achieved was primary, and the affect captured in the fleeting moment—the play of light and shadow, the mood, the mystery of the activity just missed—was enhanced by a recognition of the magic—artificiality—of its means.

Eventually representation in art moved from a concern with verisimilitude to what the scientists would call the mechanisms of perception. Art became a bridge to itself. Impressionism, cubism and other abstractions from verisimilitude emerged as the primary focus of the artistic imagination, and these mechanisms became the subject of representation. Art became an epistemological activity and its value to the layperson as a reminder of the doubling of experience waned. Art has become another thing in the world, rather than a picture of a thing.

In language on the other hand, the representational role of art has been preserved, because language is already removed—an abstraction—and the mechanisms of perception are themselves on display in the medium itself. This is most clear in the explicit use of representative language mechanisms like metaphor and simile, compared with the onomatopoeic verisimilitude of poetry[iv] where the relationship between words is more akin to the chemistry between the individual brush strokes, cuts of the chisel or tectonic interplay of the parts in the physical arts. But it is at this elemental level finally that the actual mechanisms of relationship can begin to be parsed in each medium. Here is where the definition’s equational clarity is contrasted with the metaphor’s coyness, where the confident stroke is measured against the tentative dab. Here is where the epistemological differences between them are bared, and where simile offers its helpful preposition, where the intentionality of the symbol is distinguished from the purpose of the sign. Here is where the movement between them all acts out the fact of doubling otherwise obscured behind their own magnificence.

[i]Technology has begun to offer some challenges to this generalization with the advent of “virtual reality,” which claims a parallel rather than secondary ontological status. But the “existence” of this new dimension only amplifies the delaminating of experience that begins with the apperception of “real” reality.

[ii] The architecture Benjamin so famously claimed was experienced in a state of “distraction” is not really experienced at all until it is noticed, and this distraction is noted as well—and in being noticed the state of distraction is dispelled. Surely the thing, the building, is there, but it has not entered consciousness until it is there for the subject, which, again, is a condition of its being noticed in the first place.

[iii] Heidegger reserves the practice of Art as the one possible way back to “the things in themselves,” but such practice has historically been complicated by Art’s concomitant and more obvious representational status with respect to these “things.”

[iv] Heidegger considers poetry to the the art form most directly in contact with Being, a “saving power” that might in fact be the only way we have to glimpse reality directly in the way the ancient Greeks might have been able