What can you do with a Stupid Detector?

I have an organic machine that gives me quantified readings of the stupidity of things in the world. My machine almost broke beyond repair as I read Christian Tewes ‘The Phenomenology of Habits.’ Below is the last report my machine provided about this article and why it achieved such a high ranking in stupid.

The article claims to be based on “phenomenology in the Husserlian sense.” Instead of doing the hard work of struggling through with Husserl and his words, the article is absent of any of Husserl’s writing. Instead, the article draws from a range of off-topic, online journal articles. Stupid.

This leads to the second stupid. The article has an odd, and rather ‘special’, view as to what “phenomenology in the Husserlian sense” involves. “Phenomenology in the Husserlian sense aims at discovering essential structures of phenomenal experiences. One can differentiate here between the pre-reflexive … everyday experiences and the specification of these experiences from a reflexive stance, the so-called ‘phenomenological reduction’ … . After having suspended the natural attitude toward everyday experiences, the next step in a phenomenological analysis is to find, in a quasi-mathematical spirit, the ideal possibilities or conceptual structures involved in these experiences…”. Stupid.

Let’s recap the generally agreed upon tenets of what can be considered Husserlian phenomenology. It is the study, not the “discovery” of the structures of experience. The study of these structures is partly achieved through writing a particular type of description from the experience, not “about” the experience. This all takes place from the free of charge, egalitarian and non-academic learning centre known as ‘you’; the first-person, the subjective.

This is the salve of phenomenology in our science-greedy, number-crunching, depersonalised era. Phenomenology is a means to rich and meaningful knowledge about ourselves as people. It can help us shape our world to fit us, rather than the reverse which bears out the negative consequences we see around us today. People who feel alienated, ill-suited, failed. Groups of people who experience exclusion or invisibility. The voiceless living—plants, animals, eco-systems—sacrificed for short-thought economies. Phenomenology has the capacity to ‘tell it like it is’ from your experience as binding and authorised.

The word “discovery” makes the structures of experience sound like the dark side of the moon, but they are right there in front of us—we ‘do’ them all the time. We don’t ‘discover’ them, any more than I discover my hand at the end of my arm when I wake up in the morning. And the little word “about” tells us the source of the problem: Tewes thinks of us, in writing, taking up a standpoint outside our experiences; but this is to miss … well, everything—it is to miss phenomenology.

Tewes wants us to know one more piece of stupid; this repeated in various ways throughout the article. “It is important to highlight that the concrete findings of such a procedure are open to falsification.” “The results of such phenomenological-informed neuropsychological research projects would, of course, be open to falsification.”

And this is the heart of stupid. At once using the word ‘phenomenology’ as a handmaiden for a socially destructive agenda while at the very same time not having the courage to trust. Life is open to falsification. Experience is open to falsification. If a loved one tells you about their bad day, do you listen with sympathy knowing that their whole description is, fundamentally, open to falsification?

What is it that makes Tewes so insecure? Why cling to tools that have no place in this domain? Why employ phenomenology with such insincerity? My organic stupid machine cannot answer these questions. I have to figure them out for myself.

Tewes, C. 2018. ‘The Phenomenology of Habits: Integrating First-Person and Neuropsychological Studies of Memory,’ Frontiers in Psychology 9, p1176

How writing rescues us from being dull and blind

Of the experience in writing phenomenology, van Manen says, “it is like falling into a twilight zone, where things are no longer recognizably the same, where words are displaced, where I can lose my orientation, where anything can happen.” A partial loss of self is how van Manen describes his experience of writing. Yet, if we wish to discuss this as one’s relationship to oneself, I think it is not an experience of loss but of suspension and adaptation. We are somewhere other than our Körper place. We are in the space of our Leib self; sensing and animated without the threats of material life and death.

Below is an example from one of Behnke’s phenomenological experiments in perceiving kinaesthetic affectivity. In simple terms, it is an observation made from a practice that creates a space of bodily openness. In this space intersubjective empathetic responses to other bodies can move from being anonymous, or ignored, to being seen and observed. When you read this passage, imagine Behnke gently walking around parts of her urban environment with an awareness of her self as a body and the bodies of nearby ‘anothers’. We enter the description as she is pushing open a door in readiness of walking through the doorway.

“On closer examination, however, one can begin to sense, for instance, how one’s hand is already holding a door open rather than letting it go, in a way whose timing is already coordinated with the movement of others who are about to go through the same door. Or one can feel the pressure of the shopping cart’s handle against one’s hands as one is already checking its motion to make way for another shopper even before consciously ‘‘steering’’ one way or another. (Behnke)

The push of your hand on a shopping trolley, or door-knob, in a named consciousness towards other nearby bodies she calls “interkinaesthetic civility” which “weaves a fabric of reciprocity”. Even without the complicated back-of-house phenomenological theory this description is beautiful and stands with strength on its own. How did Behnke achieve this? How does she write such insightful passages?

In describing a phenomenon we may not know what needs to be chosen and highlighted from the infinitude of experience until the choice is made. Such selections are felt in the process of writing. As we scrawl, one sentence another follows; a sentence is not an idea or meaning but a metaphor (literally a carry-over). As Ingarden insightfully saw, when we describe an aspect of an object we do not describe the object.  “In fact, it is quite the opposite. If the aspects were described, then what is represented in the work would be, not the objectivity that is to appear in them, but the aspects themselves… and the corresponding object would either totally disappear… or would belong to the work only as something that is indirectly represented”. Phenomenology as a practice of writing description is our path around anonymity, dull consensus and predictability to the phenomena as it essentially appears. We can begin to see the truths of the world not through observation but through written description and that is the practice of phenomenology.


[Buy me a coffee]


Behnke, E. A., 2008. Interkinaesthetic Affectivity: A Phenomenological Approach. Continental Philosophy Review, Volume 41, pp. 143-161.

Ingarden, R., 1973. The Cognition of the Literary Work of Art. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

van Manen, M., 2002. Writing in the Dark: Phenomenological Studies in Interpretive Inquiry. London(Ontario): University of Western Ontario.