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Lecture Four [57-59]

to render reasons and at the same time we have an uncommonly difficult time simply paying attention to this demand so as to hear that language in which it genuinely speaks. We indeed make use of devices to ascertain and check the radioactivity in the atmosphere. There are no devices for hearing the demand that requires the rendering of reasons. Surely the constant presence of devices and the constant presence of what the devices register bear witness to the fact that the mighty principle of reason now displays its bepowering character in a manner previously unprecedented.

Humanity now has come to the point of naming that epoch into which its historical existence enters according to the atomic energy that has become available to it. We are, one says, in the atomic age.

We don't at all need to fathom what this means. Who would presume to actually fathom this? But today we can do something else. Each person can meditate for a little while on the uncanniness that conceals itself in this apparently harmless naming of the age. Humanity defines an epoch of its historical-spiritual existence by the rapacity for, and availability of, a natural energy.

Human existence—molded by the atom.[19] Today this word [atom] names something which, perhaps for the time being, is accessible to only a limited number of "thinkers." Nevertheless, the characterization of an epoch as the atomic age probably touches on what is. For the remainder—whatever else there is and what we call culture: theater, art, film, and radio, as well as literature and philosophy, and even faith and religion—everywhere all of this hobbles around behind what the configuration of the atomic era accords to our age. One could go into all the particulars, a business the "Illustrated Newspapers" take care of these days with the greatest adroitness and courteousness. Of course, this sort of "Information" is also just a sign of the times. The word "Information"—which is [not a word of German] provenance—speaks more clearly here insofar as it means, on the one hand, the instant news and reporting that, on the other hand and at the same time, have taken over the ceaseless molding (forming) of the reader and listener. Let us no longer allow it to escape our meditative view: an epoch of human history molded by the atom.

Indeed there would be no atomic age without atomic science. That is, as we often say, a truism. Yet this would be but a half-baked truth if we let ourselves rest content with it. Hence we may and must ask: where does atomic science come from? It is governed by the discipline of nuclear physics, which today is more adequately characterized as the physics of elementary particles. Only a little while ago modern science only knew the proton and neutron as the parts of the atom. Today we know more than ten parts. And already science is swept along in the effort to push this dispersed manifold of elementary particles into a new unity that supports them. What is the significance of the sciences being swept along towards the secure establishing of an evermore adequate unity, a unity of theories and observations that offer themselves to the sciences as


The Principle of Reason (GA 10) by Martin Heidegger