Logos (Heraclitus, Fragment B 50)


That happens in fact when we are not gathered to what is addressed. But the addressed is itself that which lies before us, as gathered and laid before us. Hearing is actually this gathering of oneself which composes itself on hearing the pronouncement and its claim. Hearing is primarily gathered hearkening. What is heard comes to presence in hearkening. We hear when we are "all ears." But "ear" does not here mean the acoustical sense apparatus. The anatomically and physiologically identifiable ears, as the tools of sensation, never bring about a hearing, not even if we take this solely as an apprehending of noises, sounds, and tones. Such apprehending can neither be anatomically established nor physiologically demonstrated, nor in any way grasped as a biological process at work within the organism—although apprehension lives only so long as it is embodied. So long as we think of hearing along the lines of acoustical science, everything is made to stand on its head. We wrongly think that the activation of the body's audio equipment is hearing proper. But then hearing in the sense of hearkening and heeding is supposed to be a transposition of hearing proper into the realm of the spiritual [das Geistige]. In the domain of scientific research one can establish many useful findings. One can demonstrate that periodic oscillations in air pressure of a certain frequency are experienced as tones. From such kinds of determinations concerning what is heard, an investigation can be launched which eventually only specialists in the physiology of the senses can conduct.

In contrast to this, perhaps only a little can be said concerning proper hearing, which nevertheless concerns everyone directly. Here it is not so much a matter for research, but rather of paying thoughtful attention to simple things. Thus, precisely this belongs to proper hearing: that man can hear wrongly insofar as he does not catch what is essential. If the ears do not belong directly to proper hearing, in the sense of hearkening, then hearing and the ears are in a special situation. We do not hear because we have ears. We have ears, i.e. our bodies are equipped with ears, because we hear. Mortals hear the thunder of the heavens, the rustling of woods, the gurgling of fountains, the ringing of plucked strings, the rumbling of motors, the noises of the city—only and only so far as they always already in some way belong to them and yet do not belong to them.


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Martin Heidegger (GA 7) Early Greek Thinking