top of page

What's It All About, Alfie?

David Cowles

Sep 12, 2023

“It’s simple: anything is nothing without something, but something is nothing without anything…or life is a ripe banana. Take your pick!” 

Certain themes permeate Intellectual History like swirls of chocolate in a pint of fudge ripple; they pop up in different guises in different eras in different Weltanschauungs; for example:  

Aletheia vs. Doxa – Parmenides 

Substance vs. Accident – Aquinas  

Noumena vs. Phenomena – Kant 

Existence vs. Essence – Sartre, et al. 

Être vs. Neant – Sartre 

Pour Soi vs. En Soi – Sartre 

One vs. Many – Whitehead 

Actual Entity vs. Eternal Object – Whitehead 


While each of these memes has its own special merit, one formulation sums them up best: 

Dasein (that it is) vs. Wassein (what it is) – Heidegger 

Wassein includes everything you’d ever want to know (or could ever know) about an entity: its size, shape, color, etc. It concerns what philosophers call ‘Qualia’ (aka ‘qualities’). Anything that defines, describes, or qualifies an entity or event is part of its Wassein. Rule of Thumb #1: if it can be expressed as an adjective or an adverb, it’s Wassein

Dasein, on the other hand, has no qualities. Rule of Thumb #2: If you can describe it at all, it’s not Dasein. In fact, Dasein tells you one and only one thing about an entity: that it is! Anything other than that belongs on the other side of the ledger.  

Some ledger! On one side, you have everything there is to know about Universe; on the other side, you have just one thing: that it is! And yet, the two sides balance. As the song says, “You can’t have one without the other.”  

It’s simple: anything is nothing without something, but something is nothing without anything…or life is a ripe banana. Take your pick! 

Every Wassein is unique. Two things can’t be identical; if they were, they’d be one thing. To be X is not-to-be ~X. Even God is three distinct persons. Duplication is strictly prohibited by the nature of Being itself, and it’s a good thing, too, because otherwise we’d drown in an infinity of identities.  

Unlike Wassein, Dasein never varies, never changes. It's a ‘Qualia-free Zone’. If you’ve ever said anything at all about Dasein, you’ve misspoken. It truly is ineffable. My ‘I am’ is your ‘I am’; they are one ‘I am’. They are not similar, or congruent, or even identical; they are one thing. My ‘I am’ is your ‘I am’, God’s ‘I am’ and the ‘I am’ of a bacterium soon to be discovered on Mars.  

Now, don’t get me wrong. We couldn’t be more different, and I’m certainly not a bacterium or, last I checked, God. You’re a Mensa member, a tenured Ivy League professor, and a celebrated cellist… I am not. But your ‘being what you are’ and my ‘being what I am’ are one thing! Not similar, not alike, one.  

But there is no Dasein without Wassein. The universal ‘that’ of Dasein is incurably linked to the particular ‘what’ of Wassein. Undifferentiated Dasein ‘borrows uniqueness’ from Wassein; like a virus, it infects Qualia with Being.  

Wassein is finite; Dasein is infinite (eternal). It is. It is is. It is is once only. Dasein is incurably one, just as Wassein is incurably many. The coincidence of Dasein and Wassein is what Whitehead called an ‘Actual Entity’: the many expressed as one and the one expressed as many. The Universe consists exclusively of Actual Entities. 

When an Actual Entity (AE) has run its course (i.e., ‘achieved satisfaction’), it transitions to ‘Objective Immortality’ (OI). Ab initio, every AE is sui generis; it can literally become anything it wants, provided what it wants is compatible with the Actual World (AW) it inherits.  

I’m 5’ 9” and 75 years of age – “I know who I am, and I know that I can be whatever I want to be”, but that does not include playing basketball for the Boston Celtics. That is incompatible with my inherited Actual World. 

Once an AE enters OI, it is, it can no longer not be, nor can it be other than what it is; it is no longer an Actual Entity. An Actual Entity is process; once an AE becomes ‘settled matter of fact’, it ceases to be ‘in process’ and so ceases to be an AE. 

And Dasein? When an Actual Entity passes into Objective Immortality, what happens to its Dasein? Absolutely nothing! Nothing can ever happen to Dasein; if it could, it would be Wassein. Dasein is eternal and universal; it occurs only in the context of Wassein, but it is entirely uncolored by such associations.  When an Actual Entity becomes settled matter of fact, Dasein no longer ‘associates’ with that specific Wassein, but it remains associated with the Wassein of all remaining Actual Entities.  

The fate of Actual Entities per se is governed by cosmology: Big Bang, Big Freeze, etc., the details of which are well ‘above my pay grade’…but they don’t matter anyway! (Sorry, Professor Hawking.) What does matter is this: 

  • Every unique Actual Entity comes to be as a reaction to a unique Actual World. 

  • That Actual World is a nexus that includes the OI of every logically prior AE.  

  • There is an Actual World that is a nexus of all Objective Immortalities.  

  • The Actual Entity that corresponds to this uber-nexus is what we used to call “God”.  

Does that mean that we are all ultimately God? Not exactly. For God, Dasein and Wassein (existence and essence) are a single phenomenon (note that this is a restatement of the old ontological argument for God’s existence).  

For us, however, Dasein is always distinct from Wassein. Therefore, God is ‘essentially good’, while we, at best, are ‘accidentally good’. The ‘non-identity’ of Wassein and Dasein is Free Will. So the Bible had it right all along. We are the image and likeness of God (Dasein) but not God himself (Wassein). 


Keep the conversation going!

1. Click here to comment on this TWS.
2. To subscribe (at no cost) to TWS and ATM, follow this link.
3. We encourage new articles and reprints from freelance writers; click here to view out Writers’ Specs.
4. Aletheia Today Magazine (ATM) will be devoting its entire fall issue (released 9/1/23) to artificial intelligence (AI). What are the philosophical, theological, cultural and even spiritual implications of AI powered world? If you’d like to contribute to the AI Issue, click here.



Do you like what you just read and want to read more Thoughts? Subscribe today for free!

- the official blog of Aletheia Today Magazine. 

Have a thought to share about today's 'Thought'.png
bottom of page