In the 2015 NBA draft, when Kristaps Porzingis was selected by the NY Knicks as the fourth overall pick in the first round, he was widely regarded as a “project,” a player whose skills would have to be developed over the course of a few seasons before he would be ready to play at an NBA level (a NY Times headline said, “2015 NBA Draft: Kristaps Porzingis is a Big Project for the Rebuilding Knicks.”1). However, in his first season, Porzingis proved his doubters wrong by showing remarkable skills as a shooter, rebounder, and defender, averaging 14 points, 7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 28 minutes per game and becoming one of the Knicks’ most exciting and beloved players.
In what sense then is it possible for all of us to rightfully say of ourselves that we are “projects”? If we see ourselves as individuals whose social, professional, or technical skills need to be further developed and refined, as people whose lives are incomplete and unfinished, as human beings whose possibilities and potentialities remain only partially actualized or fulfilled, then we may rightfully describe ourselves as “projects.”
We may also describe ourselves as projects insofar as we project ourselves into the future and imagine ourselves to be what we have the potential to be and what we might possibly become. Our projectedness may be defined by the extent to which we direct ourselves toward the future and think of the future in our thinking about ourselves. Our projectedness may also be defined by the extent to which we think in terms of what we may, could, or should become.
We may also be projects insofar as we are unschooled, unrefined and unpolished in our skills and abilities, and insofar as we are undisciplined and unreliable in our behavior. We may also be projects insofar as we are “not ready for prime time,” and are unprepared for the challenges that await us.
We may also see ourselves, or be seen by others, as projects if we have obvious flaws or deficiencies that need to be corrected. We may be seen as projects if we are inattentive to our tasks and undisciplined in fulfilling our duties. We may be seen as projects if we are easily distractible or capable of lapses of judgment, if we are perceived as untrustworthy and undependable, and if we are seen as lacking in steadfastness and commitment.
We may also be seen as long-term or continuing projects if considerable time and effort will need to be invested in us in order for us to fulfill our duties as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, teachers, students, friends, colleagues, supervisors, employees, etc., and in order for us to fulfill whatever other duties we may be called upon to acknowledge and comply with. At some point, we may have to decide whether our own investment of time and effort in a given person or project is worthwhile, and whether a given project that seems not to be making progress will ever fulfill its potentialities. If a project ultimately seems to be promising and to be a worthwhile investment, then we may simply have to await its further maturation and development. We may have to be patient, and renew our investment of time and effort, and wait for a successful outcome.
Heidegger, in Sein und Zeit (Being and Time, 1927), describes the projective character of being-there (Da-sein) by saying:
“The projective character of understanding constitutes being-in-the-world with regard to the disclosedness of its there as the there of a potentiality of being…And as thrown, Da-sein is thrown into the mode of being of projecting. Projecting has nothing to do with being related to a plan thought out, according to which Da-sein arranges its being, but, as Da-sein, it has already projected itself and is, as long as it is, projecting. As long as it is, Da-sein always has understood itself and will understand itself in terms of its possibilities.”2
Thus, Heidegger says that our being is inseparable from our projecting of ourselves into the future. Our being is disclosed to us as thrown possibility. The “there” of being-there is the “thrownness” of its being, because being-there discovers that it is always being-in-the-world.
José Ortega y Gasset, in a series of articles entitled “¿Qué es conocimiento?" ("What is Knowledge?", 1931), based on lectures he delivered in 1929-30 at the University of Madrid, describes the projective character of being by saying:
“When I say that “I am a project,” I am referring to the fact that my mind sometimes deliberately sets about to think of the future and to construct, at pleasure, a program to live by. I am not a program I have thought about; if at all, I am the one who is thinking of his future…Thus, I would likewise say that I encounter myself being the project I am before I wonder which project I am. What is more: none of us has ever succeeded in thinking through the project each one of us is. That is why at Delphi the commandment, “Know thyself!” was inscribed as a utopian imperative and, so to speak, as a summit hardly reachable [by us].”3
Thus, Ortega y Gasset says that our becoming our future selves discloses to us the project that our present selves are. We anticipate ourselves constantly in the present, and we project ourselves into the future through our present actions.
1Scott Cacciola, “2015 N.B.A. Draft: Kristaps Porzingis Is a Big Project for the Rebulidng Knicks,” in The New York Times, June 25, 2015.
2Martin Heidegger, Being and Time: A Translation of Sein und Zeit, translated by Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), p. 136.
3José Ortega y Gasset, What Is Knowledge?, translated and edited by Jorge García-Gómez (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002), p. 132.