The Transcendental Consensus of Zara Jacob and Martin Heidegger Regarding Thought

William Lambert

Humanity is the dominant species on Earth. This fact is alone without question, but looking at the biological exterior of humans, and comparing this with other examples from the animal kingdom, it may be difficult to perceive what causes this distinction of supremacy. Humanity’s principal advantage is, as is widely stated, its intuitive and unique capacity for thought. This capacity, which manifests itself in the physical brain, is incredibly complex and nuanced to a seemingly infinite resolution. As a result, understanding the brain and its capacity of thought has been extremely difficult, such as in writing this essay about thought, I am using my own brain to understand itself and, if I make progress, perhaps to better conceive also the brains of others. In any case, thought has become incredibly fortuitous a trait, as it has allowed us to wonder and ponder objects and ideas, allowing for advancement in knowledge. Large concepts that aid the development of technology such as physics, have been the result of colossal efforts from an uncountable number of humans over thousands of years. Each effort we see to further these ideas and knowledge, start with a person pondering over the architecture of their current system.

Thought, in its essence, has been studied by humans possibly for the entire history of consciousness. Philosophy has been a useful tool for navigating its intricate nature, and many have found exceptional humans’ thoughts to be influences for their own methods of thinking. This influence can come in many forms or appearances such as music and celebrity, but for the purposes of this discussion we will name two people that have explored their own opinions of thought – Zara Yacob (as detailed by Teodros Kiros) and Martin Heidegger. These two, Yacob and Heidegger, have meaningfully similar opinions on this subject, and both of their interpretations are compelling in their own ways. Both indeed provide very deep but often comforting insights – as studying thought has been known to evoke an ephemeral loosening on reality. These insights describe elements of life and touch upon its inherent purposes, but the inherent purpose of this essay, is to compare their two individually intriguing opinions and provide context with a world that is progressed well past both their times.

Zara Yacob was an Ethiopian philosopher, who had progressed his ideas on thought while living as a hermit in a cave while in exile for blasphemy. Yacob, as dictated by author/ educator Teodros Kiros in the latter’s book, Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart, scribed a text in the middle of the seventeenth century, illustrating his views on building upon the ideas of others. Kiros writes, ‘It is precisely the absence of a judge that led Zara Yacob to engage in Hassasa (searching, looking for). ’[1] In this statement, Kiros outlines that Yacob does not have faith in the ideas and dogmas of his society, arguing that each individual must first rationally conceive of ideas and objects, before they can accept them as true. This important meditative act of Hassasa is the crux of Yacob’s philosophy. In this, Yacob partially argues against generational knowledge and tradition, affirming that people need to think on concepts and agree with their architecture instead of being persuaded to accept them by social influence. Hassasa is considered an act of searching simply because it describes one’s attempt to discover what is hidden; the knowledge within. Kiros then writes, ‘Through prayer the lonely self is raised to the summit of Thought, the dwelling place of God. [2]’ Here we now are exposed to Yacob’s idea of prayer, a rational practice that raises one closer to God. Hasassa, according to this interpretation, goes by the name of prayer here, identifying that searching for knowledge, reveals more of God to those who pray. It is by this element of prayer, that Yacob stresses the importance of finding knowledge, not by one’s peers and colleagues both of whom could deceive your trust, but by oneself, embarking only on a personal journey to God. Since God is not a deceiver, embodying the superlative definitions of good, powerful, and benevolent, Yacob is certain the only way to locate true knowledge is to seek it through God.

Yacob centralizes his conception of Thought within his heart, and asserts that each of us is grounded by this attribute as well. Kiros expands on this process; ‘Speaking the truth or searching for it or meditating about it from the very beginning, is sown in the heart. Truth grows there, and then it explodes in the form of the passion of speech. Our intelligence tells us to do the right things. ’[3] The passion that Kiros discusses here has an important origin in the heart, and sways us towards truth. This appears to be Yacob’s location for God in the human structure, and serves as the immortal seat of one’s relationship with Him. Further, it can be interpreted that the more intelligence we accumulate, the better our choices in life will be, and the use of the word ‘right’ here assumes choices realizing God’s essence.

Martin Heidegger is another philosopher who in numerous ways channels much of Yacob’s thoughts on individual meditation, especially highlighting the path of least resistance that we as humans tend to take – ‘Thoughtlessness is an uncanny visitor who comes and goes everywhere in today’s world. For nowadays we take in everything in the quickest and cheapest way, only to forget it just as quickly, instantly. ’[4] This quote is taken from Heidegger’s lectures, captured in his text entitled, Memorial Address. In this statement, Heidegger emphasises that we as humans take information blindly, leaving no time for critique or room for question, as that would cost too much effort. Heidegger argues that this way of living has come at a price; humans are “thought-poor”, and devalue what Heidegger believes is an essential human quality – Meditative Thinking. Neglecting this inherent attribute defies our purpose as humans, Heidegger affirms, and that this stops us from understanding the world and, by extension, understanding the ‘destiny’ which is imbued in all we can perceieve.

This tendency of humans which results in thoughtlessness is given a name by Heidegger – ‘flight from thinking’, illustrating a great divide taking place in societal cognition, that man has removed himself temporarily from meditation. Heidegger does not believe that this flight is permanent, as we can only be thought-poor ‘only because man at the core of his being has the capacity to think.’[5] Thus, he maintains a sense of optimism that humans will be able to incorporate meditative thinking, but only if they expend the effort to ignore their more visibily practical, calculative routine of thought. To further affirm the importance of meditative thinking, Heidegger states, ‘Calculative thinking is not meditative thinking, not thinking which contemplates the meaning which reigns in everything that is.’[6]

Heidegger hails from twentieth century Germany, and experienced vastly different geographical and societal circumstances than Yacob. Yet both interpretations of thought still exhibit fundamental similarities which bind the two together, despite their contrasting origins. The prescence of God (or ‘destiny’ as previously stated) as a facilitator of thought is a focus shared by both Yacob and Heidegger, as both see meditative thought as a very spiritual experience, cultivating one’s connection to the heavens. Both feel as though people are easily coerced by the great influx of information that is available, and forget to evaluate each detail as a result. To this end, both Yacob and Heidegger provide valuable and empowering insight on the potential of humans, to overcome these obstacles which hold back not only progress but knowledge and meaning as well. It is important it seems, to wonder what is important.

Heidegger, Martin, and John M. Anderson. Discourse on Thinking. Harper Perennial.

Kiros, Teodros. Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart. Red Sea

[1] Kiros, Teodros. Zara Yacob: Rationality of the Human Heart, Page 42

[2] Kiros, Teodros, Page 57

[3] Kiros, Teodros, Page 70

[4] Heidegger, Martin, and John M. Anderson. Discourse on Thinking. Harper Perennial, Page 45

[5] Heidegger, Martin, Page 45

[6] Heidegger, Martin, Page 45

Featured Artwork: By Harishbabu Laguduva (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons