The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity
by: William A. Therivel, PhD
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William A. Therivel
William Therivel
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-High Creativity Unmasked
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Biography of Author

Heidegger's seeker personality and his initial poor health are discussed in
Therivel's GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity.

GAM's Heidegger

Was Heidegger a Seeker Personality?
How about Other Existentialist Philosophers and Psychologists?

The above is the title of chapter 26 of volume 1 of volume 4 of William A. Therivel's The GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity (G stands for genetic endowment, A for assistances of youth, M for misfortunes of youth, DP for division of power, UP for unity of power). For an introduction to the GAM part of the theory click "Introduction to GAM"; for an introduction to the DP part click on "Introduction to DP".
In this website, the reader is also offered a shortcut: The GAM/DP Synopsis and an expanded version, The GAM/DP Summary of volumes 1 through 4.

Hereafter I report a few pages from this chapter.

The Seeker Personality

     As outlined in table 1, the seeker personalities have been shaped in their youth by physical infirmity and good assistances. These persons are called seekers because they "seek answers" in the fields of religion or philosophy, or of mathematics, science, and engineering. Those of the first group escape their bodily limitations by moving into the world of the spirit, of God, where the body has little importance or is even a stumbling block, where pain acquires a positive meaning and becomes a way of salvation or of understanding. The second group escapes this world by pushing the body aside as a simple bearer of the mind, and putting emphasis on the less socially oriented worlds of mathematics, science, and engineering.
     Physical infirmity prevents these youths from participating normally in the family life, from playing with other children, from attending school regularly. Like the universalists who suffered of early parental death, the seekers have known much solitude in their youth, but a solitude adumbrated by the betrayal of their bodies. In consequence, for them, "true life" moves away from the realm of body and action to that of feelings and thoughts.

Seeker Aspects in Heidegger

     Heidegger did not teach of God and Hell, but for him "a prerequisite for living an authentic life was coming to grips with the fact that 'I must someday die.' That realization dealt with, the person could get busy and exercise his or her freedom to create a meaningful existence. . . . Since acceptance of the fact that at some time in the future we would be nothing caused anxiety, such acceptance took courage. . . . For Heidegger, anxiety was a necessary part of living an authentic life" (Hergenhahn, 1986, p. 378). Similarly, for him, "the relevance of time, of the finiteness of human existence, is then experienced as a freedom to meet his own death (das Freisein für den Tod), a preparedness for and continuous relatedness to his own death (Sein zum Tode)" (Naess, 1978, p. 740). Specifically, in "'Being towards death' (Sein zum Tode). . . .death has retro-active power: without it, there would be no understanding of life" (Naess, 1968, pp. 206, 208). "In a sense, the history of existentialism in its major phases is an exegesis of man's experience of death" (Feifel, 1969, p. 61).
     One way to interpret this is to relate it to what Heidegger learned from the teachings of the Jesuits, especially from their Spiritual Exercises. On the first evening of the Spiritual Exercises, the participants are vividly reminded of the inexorability of their death, of the fact that death can come at any time and that death is the supreme moment. At death, they will be judged and, if found wanting, condemned to Hell. To stress this, St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, prescribed "to see in imagination the vast fires, and the souls enclosed, as it were, in bodies of fire. To hear the wailing, the howling cries. . . . With the sense of smell to perceive the smoke, the sulphur, the filth, and corruption. To taste the bitterness of tears, sadness, and remorse of conscience" (1951, pp. 32-33). Ignatius had designed his exercises for those who were at a turning point of their spiritual life, and, indeed, many good Catholics take the exercises (in their reduced format of three days only) several times in their lives.
     Heidegger was, indeed, very familiar with the Jesuits and their Spiritual Exercises. Son of a Catholic sexton, he wanted to become a priest: attending first a Jesuit school in Constance for three years, then a Jesuit high-school in Freiburg for another three years. "Those six years of secondary school were momentous in the formation of the young thinker. They were the time, he tells us, when 'I acquired everything that was to be of lasting value'" (Sheehan, 1981, p. 4). Then, in 1909, at the age of 20, he entered the Jesuit seminary at Feldkirch, as a novice, but was dismissed for reasons of health after only a few weeks. He then moved to the archdiocesan seminary at Freiburg, where the spiritual directors were also Jesuits.
     Another piece of evidence for the profound religious or seeker nature of many of Heidegger's writings is the fascination that Heidegger's existentialism has had for many theologians, for instance for Rudolf Bultmann, perhaps the leading New Testament scholar of the 20th century. "Heidegger was enormously influential upon Bultmann, in part because Bultmann felt that he was developing, in philosophical terms, an analysis of human existence that was strikingly parallel to the understanding of human existence implied by the theologies of Paul and John, as Bultmann interpreted them" (Perrin, 1978, p. 479). "When Bultmann 'applied' [Heidegger's] Being and Time to Christian theology he was 'de-formalizing' the existential analytic, and articulating it in terms of a historically specific, existentiell ideal, viz., historical Christianity. . . Bultmann was largely reversing the process that had brought Being and Time about in the first place" (Caputo, 1993, p. 173).
     Probably the strongest influence was exercised on the Jesuit Karl Rahner who "made significant use of Heidegger's conception of Being-unto-death in a short treatise entitled The Theology of Death [1961]. . . [Christian] theologians have found Heidegger's thought so amenable to theological application only because that thought had drawn in the first place upon theological resources" (Caputo, 1993, p. 180).
     In 1988 I wrote that: "Most mystics are seekers" and (important for the second part of this chapter) that the radiologist personality too "has some 'seeker' traits, because of the similarity with the basic misfortune of the seeker. The radiologist will show some religious/mystical interests, but at a lower level, and impregnated with pessimism;" (see also table 1). Was Heidegger a mystic? Not exactly, but sufficiently so to justify a whole book by John D. Caputo (1978 & 1990) titled The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought. Heidegger himself said that "one might easily come to the idea that the most extreme sharpness and depth of thinking belongs to the mystic. This is moreover the truth. Meister Eckhart testifies to it" (quoted by Caputo, 1978, p. 27). Also, Caputo noted that "like the mystic Eckhart, Heidegger's 'way' to Being is not the 'discursive' reason, but the way of meditative stillness. . . As with Eckhart, there is the same 'ascetic' tone of 'surrender' which is expressed in terms like 'poverty,' 'sacrifice,' 'grace,' and, most important of all, 'detachment' itself. These are not the categories of philosophers-or even of poets-but of the mystic" (1978, p. 29).
     In his introduction to the 1990 revised reprint of his The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought, Caputo also wrote that "in their profound distrust of the idols of metaphysics and their openness to the mystery which withdraws we find the common teaching of Heidegger and Meister Eckhart. Each seeks his own way of staying open to the self-deferring, of sheltering what withdraws from the harsh lights and grasping hands of metaphysics" (pp. xxiv-xxv, my italics).
     When Heidegger died in 1976, "he was buried in the Catholic churchyard... [At his request] a Catholic mass was celebrated by Bernard Welte in the church of St. Martin's where Heidegger's father had been sexton. . . . [In his eulogy, Welte said:] 'He who seeks'--that could well be the title for all of Heidegger's life and thought'" (quoted by Caputo, 1993, p. 184; my italics). With all these "seeker results" (personality and works), it made sense to look for the basic misfortune at the origin of the seekers.

Physical infirmity

     "In 1909, the end of his secondary education, the twenty-year-old Heidegger entered the novitiate of the German Province of the Jesuits at Feldkirch, Austria, near the border with Lichtenstein, but he was dismissed after only a few weeks for reasons of health. Thereupon he entered the archdiocesan seminary at Freiburg, where the spiritual directors were also Jesuits, and simultaneously matriculated at the Albert Ludwig University in Freiburg. From the fall of 1909 through the Summer of 1911, he studied theology and some philosophy" (Sheehan, 1981, p. 4). Then his poor health intervened again: "Forced to break off his studies for the Catholic priesthood in 1911 for health reasons, Heidegger turned first to mathematics and the natural sciences and then to philosophy, where he was openly identified with the Catholic confession" (Caputo, 1993, p. 170). Mathematics, natural sciences, and philosophy, as said, are among the most common interests of the seekers.
     "In August, 1914, with the outbreak of the war, Heidegger enlisted in the military but was dismissed on October 9, 1914, for ill health. From 1915 through 1917, he worked in Freiburg with the Control Board of the Post Office" (Sheehan, 1981, p. 6). And this in World War I, when nearly every young German was sent to the front! The point, for our inquiry, is probably less the intensity, or pains if any, or the time span of his ill health, but the consequences: the fundamental disappointments, the forced vocational changes, probably dreaded since years. He was betrayed by his body, by nature and life.
     Let's remember that "those six years of secondary school [with the Jesuits] were momentous in the formation of the young thinker. They were the time, he tells us, when 'I acquired everything that was to be of lasting value'" (Sheehan, 1981, p. 4). He then asked to become a Jesuit, but was refused because of his poor health. He entered the seminary but had to exit for the same reason. And then the same happened when he wanted to be "normal" and serve his country. In the span of five year, because of his physical infirmity, Heidegger was refused three times by the world which he wanted to join: as a Jesuit, as priest, and as soldier. In the following years, the refused-Jesuit transformed the well known Christian emphasis on death into his existential contemplation of death.

Post Scriptum: Additional Information, and a Major Piece of Evidence for GAM

     Several months after the preceding section became part of the manuscript of this book, I read an article by Mark Lilla (1999) titled "Ménage à trois," the three being Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Karl Jaspers. In it, I found a brief mention of what was the physical infirmity that afflicted Heidegger in his youth: heart problems with chest pains. I thus realized that I had missed some important information on his youth. Looking for more Heidegger biographies, I found that by Rüdiger Safranski (1994/1998) which had been reviewed in 1998 by Ray Monk. This, in turn, led me to the biography of Heidegger by Hugo Ott (1988/1993). These two were the probable source of Lilla's comment on Heidegger's health problems.
     In Safranski's words: "On September 30, 1909, Heidegger entered the Society of Jesus as a novice at Tisis near Feldkirch, in the province of Vorarlberg in western Austria. A mere two weeks later, however, on expiry of his probationary period, he was dismissed. Apparently, according to Hugo Ott, Heidegger had complained of heart trouble and had therefore been sent home for medical reasons. Two years later, these pains would recur, causing him to discontinue his training as a priest" (1998, p. 15). So, I was wrong in assuming tuberculosis--a truly preliminary assumption on my part on the basis of what affected so many young people at that time: instead it was the heart.
     More important is what Safranski reported for 1911:

After three semesters at the seminary, while studying theology, his heart began to act up again. Perhaps he had "overexerted himself," as he recorded in his 1915 Lebenslauf, or perhaps his body was rebelling against the wrong kind of work. At the suggestion of the seminary physician, Martin was released in February 1911 for a few weeks of "absolute rest' in Messkirch. His superiors had gained the impression that the physical constitution of the talented theology student was not sturdy enough for later employment in the service of the Church.

Heidegger spends the whole of the summer with his parents in Messkirch. He does not know what road to take. His mood is gloomy; he seeks relaxation in poetic attempts. In these his career doubts are dramatically magnified into 'Gethsemane Hours' - the title of a poem published in Allgemeine Rundschau in April 1911:

Gethsemane hours of my life,
in the dim light of doubt and despair
how oft have you seen me!
My tearful cries were never in vain.
My youthful being, weary of lamentation,
trusted only in the angel of mercy.

     Hugo Ott discovered this poem. (1998, pp. 40-41)

     I could not believe what I was reading. Here was the evidence that--as said at the beginning of this chapter-would "prove GAM right or wrong in this case, and the most important one would be the discovery of some papers by him or others dealing with his youth."
     To begin my analysis, I report hereafter what the Webster says on Gethsemane: "A garden on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, scene of the agony, betrayal, and arrest of Jesus: Matt, 26:36. Also, often, any scene or occasion of agony." Based on this, I read something more than career doubts, even if dramatically magnified. One does not "seek relaxation" when referring to the "Gethsemane hours of my life." That would have been blasphemy for the young religious man of profound theological understanding. The same applies for his "doubt and despair, how oft have you seen me!" and his "My tearful cries were never in vain. My youthful being, weary of lamentation, trusted only in the angel of mercy" (my italics to highlight the recurrence, probably year after year, and the severity of the condition).
     Instead of relaxation, I see here a seeker poem that could have been written by young Teresa of Avila, or Julian of Norwich, or Pascal, or Simone Weil. I read in this the desperate cry of a "youthful being," who feels betrayed by his body when it should be blooming. Not only does the young Heidegger not know what road to take in the professional sense, but what road his health will allow him for his life in its totality, in its ontology.
     Later Heidegger seems to have been able to control his health problems, but they were with him long enough, and severe enough--especially during the most formative years of his youth--to influence his personality, and make a seeker of him. Based on this, it may be easier to understand what I wrote at the beginning of the above section "Seeker aspects in Heidegger":

Heidegger did not teach of God and Hell, but for him "a prerequisite for living an authentic life was coming to grips with the fact that 'I must someday die.' That realization dealt with, the person could get busy and exercise his or her freedom to create a meaningful existence. . . Since acceptance of the fact that at some time in the future we would be nothing caused anxiety, such acceptance took courage. . . . For Heidegger, anxiety was a necessary part of living an authentic life" (Hergenhahn, 1986, p. 378).

     When I wrote this, hoping for the discovery, one day, of some papers on his youth, I had no idea that something so important would come forth so quickly (speed of evidence is also an evidence). Accordingly, I am grateful to Mark Lilla for having put me on the right track, and then to both, Hugo Ott and Rüdiger Safranski, for having devoted enough attention, and space in their books, to young Heidegger's health problems.
     There may be something more that can be inferred from what Hugo Ott said on Heidegger's health problems of October 1909: "Heidegger left the novitiate exactly at the end of his two-week-candidature. According to a well-documented rumour current among Jesuits, Heidegger complained of pains in his chest while hiking up on the mountain pastures near Feldkirch; so he was discharged from the order on account of his weak physical constitution--a highly plausible explanation, as will appear below" (1993, p. 56). Then, referring to what happened two years later, Heidegger himself wrote in his 1915 curriculum vitae: "My earlier heart complaint, brought on by too much sport, returned in such force that I was told there was very little prospect of my being offered a position in the Church" (quoted by Ott, 1993, p. 85).
     Ott gave more information on the second occurrence: "In mid-February 1911, before the winter semester was over, Heidegger had to break off his studies when a medical examination once again revealed nervous heart trouble 'of an asthmatic nature'--a complaint from which the young student had probably been suffering at least since the autumn of 1909, when he stayed as a postulant at the Jesuit novitiate of Tisis near Feldkirch. Heidegger had to struggle with this condition throughout his life" (p. 64, my italics).
     I discussed the above with an experienced family physician who concluded that, probably, Heidegger suffered of angina pectoris, an infirmity characterized by spasms of deep, aching pain felt beneath the breastbone and over the heart and stomach, with sensations of strangling, pressure or suffocation. The attacks, in which the heart sends painful sensations to the chest, are precipitated by exercise or emotional stress, and are caused by the inability of the coronary arteries to deliver sufficient oxygen-laden blood to the heart muscle.
     Beside the pain, there might have been the fearful knowledge, acquired from a physician or books, that a person who suffers from angina pectoris may die unexpectedly, and that coronary artery disease is the most common cause of sudden death (1975 data). In all, a real Gethsemane, possibly also an ontological one for such a great thinker.
     A severe case of angina pectoris would also explain how quickly (after a few days) Heidegger was discharged from the military in 1914 and, relatively quickly, from active duty, the following year, when he was called up again on August 18: "After a good four weeks in a military hospital (13 September to 16 October 1915) in Mülheim/Baden, where he was treated for neurasthenia and heart disease, he was assigned to censorship duties at the Postal Control Office" (Ott, 1993, p. 83; my italics, with a reminder that military doctors, especially in 1915 Germany, would not have been impressed by a mild case of physical and psychological difficulties, when the front was in such dire needs).
     Finally, moving from cause to results, Safranski confirmed my GAM reading of Heidegger as a seeker personality, and part mystic, when he wrote: "Heidegger's passion was asking questions, not providing answers. That which he asked questions about and that which he was seeking, he called Being. . . . He truly was a 'master' from the school of the mystic Master Eckhart" (1998, pp. ix and x).

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