21 January 2009


There are things that I really like about phenomenology, things that I find strange, and things that make no sense to me. This post is mostly going to be me rambling about some of these.

The idea, as I understand it, is that the one thing 'I' can be certain of is that while I am experiencing X, I am experiencing X. Husserl seems to take it further, to say that I can be certain that I have experienced X if I can remember experiencing X. However, there is still the possibility of some sort of Last Thursdayism, and that my memories are false. This may be why Husserl spends a great deal of time discussing time, and the phenomenology thereof.

I also find it strange that language itself is "allowed" to be used. I mean, take a word, like "jar." What do I experience when I read that word? I see a series of shapes. Those shapes I experience as connected to a sound and to a meaning. Why? Why should those particular shapes connect to those particular sounds and that particular meaning? Ah... I just figured out what's been bugging me. There is no why in phenomenology. There is only the experience. There is only "what", and, possibly, "when" and "where". It provides no explanation.

That's not to say that it has no practical use. I can think of plenty of places where a phenomenological approach would probably improve things vastly (medicine comes to mind). But I don't like the tendency to treat it as a be-all and end-all in itself. It is very useful to recognize what you've actually experienced vs. what you have inferred/assumed/etc. about the experiences. It is not so useful, to my way of thinking, to assume that the experience you had is all that there really is. We were talking about experiencing the "stream of time" today in class, and a Zen quote kept coming to mind: "Jump into the river of time and swim, instead of standing on the banks and noting the currents!" (as best I remember the quote) Phenomenology seems to be a bit too enamored with watching the currents.

The funny thing is that there's a strong relationship between the phenomenological viewpoint (Husserl's Transcendental Subjectivity) and the eastern notion of detachment. Yet in the latter case, I feel no objection; it makes sense to me. The way it's been described thusfar, transcendental subjectivity seems too detached somehow, to the point that I just might understand why some people have trouble with the notion of detachment. It may just be that the language that Husserl uses makes his version seem colder. I'm not sure.

The other zen quote that kept coming to mind tonight (again, as best I remember it) was, "Before I gained enlightenment, mountains were mountains. While I was seeking enlightenment, mountains were not mountains. After I gained enlightenment, mountains were mountains again." Phenomenology seems to be in a "mountains may or may not be mountains" stage, of just reporting what the experience of some collection of sense-data labeled a "mountain" is like.

I think that's the last of my coherency on the subject for tonight.


John said...

John Carpenter made a short film called "Dark Star". One of the plot elements was that one crew member of the titular spaceship has to discuss phenomenology with a malfunctioning, sentient bomb.

Qalmlea said...

LOL. That could be either hilarious or disturbing, and quite possibly both.

John said...

Both. Definitely.