What can a phenomenologist see when they look at the world?

Husserl talks about gegebenheit when describing the process of perceiving something in the world. In translation to English we usually use the word ‘givenness’. Givenness illustrates two aspects of the world. It is a quality of that which is given, or perceived, as well as the act of it being giving.

Givenness has a generous, immediate and egalitarian quality. It is a process of offering rather than exchange or ‘having’. The world perceived ‘displays’ and ‘contains’ givenness. It is a condition. It is not ‘displayed’ for us to have, nor are we asked a price for it.

Givenness is a quality of the process of being. The givenness of a tree is not hidden nor delayed from our perception, it is immediately present. The givenness is neither reserved for certain types of creatures or those with endorsed qualifications. It is there for all and every and always.

If you look you will see that the world gives itself to you. You don’t need any documented credentials, or socially endorsed status, or sanctioned knowledge. You don’t have to be a celebrity, or a person with a title, or CEO of McMeaters.

The whole world is given to you; how will you describe what you perceive?


Image: Delegation admiring Tom Bass sculpture ‘Ethos’


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Opening into the dog; how phenomenology gives us fresh eyes

Phenomenology goes against the tide. It embraces the first-person, or subjective experience, as authorised, logical, valid and legitimate. In phenomenology the first-person point of view is generous, trustworthy and valuable. To understand the strength and uniqueness of the first person requires we release particular stories or myths about the world and how we perceive it.

We are given a script for how the world works yet often, if we stop and look beyond the script, we can see the story fails to fit, to varying degrees. The world itself differs to the story. Our experience of the world exceeds the structures we have constructed. And, if we allow the old story to crumble, we may see the world with fresh eyes, as it is, not as we narrate it.

Many elements of the script, or story, can be safely discharged. Below is my first suggestion.

First, we must reject the idea of perception as a script between two parties; the seer or perceiver and the seen or perceived. The accepted story of perception is that you look at, for example, a dog. You then perform a mysterious, cognitive, internal, private magic called cognition, perception, thinking, representing, etc..

Many textbooks contain a version of a familiar diagram that claims to depict ‘the act of perception’. In this, a drawing of your eyeball may project an arrow onto the form of a dog. From the dog, a second arrow draws out and targets your eyeball. Inside your skull, or above your head in a fluffy cloud, sits a smaller version of the dog. This script has two roles: there is you, looking, and there is the dog, being looked at.

Yet, what of the arrows? Looking is not an act of the eye upon an object. Looking contains not two ‘performances’ in the looker and the looked. To see is a three part event. Seer, seen and seeing itself. The experience of looking seeing, perceiving is not one of cognising then representing to oneself.

If we are standing beside each other, both having an experience that includes looking at a dog and I ask you, “Where is the dog?” you do not point at your head. You point to the dog. When we perceive the dog, we are putting ourselves ‘in’ the dog. We are not creating a small dog within us. We are, instead, reaching out, accepting the givenness, opening into the dog.

Phenomenology is built on the idea that when we experience, we are experiencing something. That is, that consciousness is always a consciousness of something. ‘Of’, which seems a small word here, is actually doing an incredible amount of muscle work. The phenomenological idea of intentionality is often defined as “consciousness of something” yet this ‘definition’ tends to produce fog not clarity. The key is the power of ‘of’.

The experience of perceiving a dog is an experience whereby our consciousness is sited within the dog. Our act of intentionality is to find that consciousness there.

Let me know what you think of this idea.

And look out for the next few posts where we will challenge other aspects of ‘the script’ about perception through the clean-cutting power of phenomenology.


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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

Phenomenology & Description I

Writing is beautiful. The commitment, the invention, the body and occasion. Falling into a good piece of phenomenological description rivals any epic poem or classic novel. Writing is the flesh of phenomenology. It is, in fact, difficult to imagine phenomenology without it’s body of writing. From the start, Husserl tends to describe the written artefact of phenomenological investigation as “expression”. The written down phenomenological findings are not meant to ‘represent’ the observed phenomenological experience of the past but serve to be a “predictive form derived from it” (Husserl Ideas I p355).

We write for the future. We write phenomenological descriptions from observation not to capture the ended temporalities, but to open the future. From that starting point of Husserl and, more or less, onwards, there has been little attendance to the process and experience of writing phenomenological description.

There are many texts written on phenomenological method. Take for example Kersten’s Phenomenological Method: Theory and Practice. In these 433 pages is the familiar pattern of how we understand phenomenology in its two stages; one spoken, one silent.  First we observe; we then describe, thus producing a written text (which we can call a ‘phenomenological description’). What we find in this book, and many similar other texts, are careful and rigorous treatments of the standard methodological techniques for undertaking phenomenological observations (reduction, the noetic-noematic distinction, unbuilding, bracketing, orientation, critical reflection, etc.). What we do not find, are any discussions of what is involved in the process of writing phenomenology.


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