Phenomenology Version 0.01

    by Calvino Rabeni

    The Kira Institute until recently (January 2010) sponsored a weekly phenomenology study group.  For reasons I won't go into, it was discontinued, without ruling out future activities in this subject area.

    On this page I've collected some personal, first-person-perspective notes regarding these topics.

    Disclaimers:  I'd like to point out these personal impressions do not represent anything about the views of the Kira institute or about phenomenology as it may be understood by any experienced or professional philosophers.


    One of the previous classes assigned as homework to make an exercise of the "epoche" practice; also known as "bracketing" - an element in various practices of experiential philosophy associated with phenomenology.

    This document is my record of some of my investigations as a rank beginner and shouldn't be understood as representing anything about either phenomenology or the practice of "epoche."

    I hadn't done this before and didn't know what to expect.  It was a bit unclear from the brief descriptions given in the class transcript.  I later did a little study on the web to see what I could turn up.  I found no actual step-by-step instructions or guidance material, and no "investigator's reports", relative to doing this process.

    I did, however, find an article titled Phenomenological Reduction, which presented phenomenological reduction as a type of mystical practice leading - for the persistent and faithful perhaps - to a total shift of awareness similar to a religious conversion.  I have to admit, I was looking for a tool to add to my empiricist's toolkit, not a religious "path" to follow.  Not dissuaded, I continued on to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's general article Phenomenology, in which I was somewhat relieved to learn that there are phenomenologists of many stripes.

    I was not entirely disabused of a suspicion, however, regarding which of the following may be more common:

    • Is the "epoche" an investigative practice that phenomenologists employ, and then record and analyze their observations as part of an "empirical" methodology, or
    • Is the "epoche" something they write about "in principle" as a poetic description of certain insights or style of thinking they experience while reading Husserl and/or theorizing about perception, cognition, and the like?

    In spite of this, I went ahead and attempted a number of "epoche" sessions, or at least, attempted to observe and remember (and then later report) my experiences while "being somewhere" and "bracketing" the phenomena as much as I could.

    And indeed, that brought up question number one, which was - Am I attempting to:

    1. Observe my "natural" observations as if I weren't trying to observe, them, or
    2. Observe my observations while trying to capture and isolate them through "bracketing"?

    It seemed reasonable to assume that the observation of the observation would bias the observation, but not having any principle to go on, I went ahead with the exercise, assuming that the results would be a mixture of the above, and valuable in spite of their "experimenter's bias".

    Practicing "Epoche"

    Case 1 - Waiting Downtown

    I started the epoche while waiting in the car to pick someone up.

    I'm waiting in my car in a bus zone with the engine idling.
    I feel impatient.  I feel this in my body, chest, shoulders.
    I am trying to relax my tension.
    I'm aware of my surround, a familiar, complex street at rush hour.
    I am thinking, here I am doing epoche.  I must try to remember some things in order to report them.  I assume I trust my memory to a degree.  I assume I will remember a small percentage, and be able to consciously recall a smaller percentage of what is going on.
    I'm having thoughts about my passenger (...).
    It is night.  There are many things and shapes.
    There's a blinking flashing light.
    It is on top a vehicle shape - I assume it is a police vehicle.
    The light is flashing quickly.
    A man with orange vest and two wands of different colors waving them around.
    There is a wall, a sign.  I look again, it is an alley.  The sign is "one way".  It has an arrow.
    There are white lights, clouds of them, christmas decorations.  On I think, trees.  I don't really see the trees, just dark networks.
    The blinking light has two sides.
    The blinking light has colors - white, yellow, blue.
    The flashing comes in different rhythms.
    I am still impatient.
    I am feeling the vibration in my feet of the engine, and the grip on the steering wheel.
    I consider turning off the engine.
    I notice the man looking my way.
    I feel he might be looking at me.
    I decide he is looking at oncoming traffic.

    Retrospectively, it is a one-way street, although I didn't think that at the time.

    There is a flow of traffic.
    The lights on trees have two sides of the street.
    I notice again the moving things.  They start in peripheral vision.
    I feel them in stages.  First like something is happening, something that is going to be a car but isn't yet.  Then shaping into a SUV-like car shape.  Then maybe I notice some attributes.
    But they pretty much seem alike.
    The scene is less like a kind of picture-with-movement, more like it has specific things in it.
    It reminds me of how things rez-up when you jump into a SL scene, filling out.
    I am not sure if this SL analogy is retrospective, but the experience was there I think.
    The things keep turning into cars and then going past and away.
    There is a rhythm to it.
    Cars come out of the parking garage.
    I notice that is assumption - they come out from the right side - I assume from below.
    The man waves them into the traffic.
    Now I notice they go to different places in the traffic, sometimes crossing all lanes.
    I am looking in the mirror.
    I think "I am doing epoche, and this is a really complicated experience, how could I possibly remember much, it changes in little bits of time".
    In the mirror I see cars approaching.
    I see more trees and lights.
    Then I notice the mirror outline more.  The tops of the trees are not visible.  In that view they look cut-off.
    Way down the street I see vertical orange neon sign on left side, with letters SAM.
    I recognize the letters as standing for Seattle Art Museum.
    There are lurking shapes of pedestrians across the street, moving.
    One moves to cross the street.
    The shape walks like a woman with swaying motion.
    Wearing an overcoat.   Woman has short tidy-looking hair.
    I turn to near sidewalk.  There are several people there - not sure how many.
    A baby in stroller, a mother figure (I assume) leaning over.
    Baby looks in my direction.
    I notice the baby sees me.  Sees into my car.  We are looking at one another.
    The baby's head swivels a bit, the gaze is unstable.  I think, surprised or shy.
    The baby looks away, and so do I. I have a feeling we will do it again.
    I look back.  Then the baby looks back.  We gaze again.  I notice the baby's face more.
    I think, the baby found the gaze interesting and returned to do it again.
    I'm noticing again the slipperiness of object-ness.  How the whole scene comes in and out of detail, sometimes more like a kind of wavery picture, sometimes I notice the specific objects and see the background less.  I don't think I really see the background at all, because it recedes as the foreground (objects) get my attention.
    I'm considering making a phone call to my passenger because I am impatient.
    I wonder if the police traffic director will ask me to move from the bus zone.
    I invent a routing of speaking to him if he comes over to request me to move my vehicle.
    Every now and then I focus on my breathing to relax, because I still feel tense.
    Time seems to be crawling along while I am waiting.
    There are small brown leaves on the ground.  It is cement, with squares.
    I notice it took a long time to notice the ground.

    Retrospectively, I didn't remark on sounds other than the engine, but there must have been lots.

    Some movement to right side.
    My passenger appears.

    I forget all about the epoche exercise.


    Case 2 - Cafe Epoche

    The following events are true and portrayed accurately, for reasonable values of "accurately." 
    I took a place in a familiar cafe and started the exercise.


    The overall feeling of the cafe. Familiar and bright.
    Sitting at a table, near the front windows.  There are tables and things outside.
    I am facing this direction, by habit.
    No, because I like to watch the customers.
    And because I like to have no action behind me because it feels distracting.
    I want my face pointed at where things are happening.
    The main action of the cafe, ordering and such, are the "main action".
    Not whatever I presume is happening behind me.
    Which I fill in from imagination and memory - middle class young people with laptops sitting by themselves.
    The lit up glass roundish case with the pastries.
    Two sides, a few shelves, not sure maybe two to four.
    Ah, there are three.
    Counting the bottom, four layers for trays.
    There are "some" women working behind the cases.
    As an expectation of who is here, I somewhat recognize them all.
    Hands and arms moving within the case.  Wiping.
    There are menus on blackboards near the ceiling.  On two walls.
    I can't read them, but I more or less know what is there.  I know the basic sections.
    I remember where to look for sandwiches.
    The feet on the bicyclist who came in earlier.  Athletic shoes, rolled up pants.
    Now the bike is by the display case.  I don't know what happened in between.
    I must have been writing, I think.
    Voices asking and answering about his order.
    Bob Dylan (-like voice) on the music system.  Based on it having been on for a while, it seems the "same" but different now.
    Attracted to movement outside the entry door.
    It opens, a man, an old man walks in - bushy white beard, long white hair.
    I don't think for a moment it could be some other kind of human, maybe in disguise.
    Except, that I do, or else it wouldn't have occurred to me.
    It's clear that my constructions far outpace my deconstructions.  I wonder, if the epoche technique has a strategy for dealing with this mismatch.  Note to self - next time, try observing a pea.  Or watch the minute hand of the alarm clock go round.
    Checkered red jacket. Probably blue jeans, something dark and baggy.
    Now he's leaving with a clear bag of pastries suspended from one hand.
    I remember the women who work here.
    I can see into the back room, people moving there.
    I presume the baked goods are manufactured there.
    A man walks in.
    Something is familiar.
    The posture, the size,the hunch to the shoulders, the hat on squarish head.
    Suddenly I apprehend that it is a friend of mine, in an unlikely location (for him).
    I crept up and said something like "I have a warrant to apprehend you!"

    Things happened...we returned to the table.
    I set aside my epoche notes.
    My friend picked up these notes, and started reading.

    "The overall feeling of the cafe, familiar and bright..." he reads (see above).
    "Calvino, have you been taking drugs?"
    He didn't mean it.
    I said, no, it is an exercise in empirical philosophy.
    I wanted it to sound like it had the respect of history, so I added that it had been invented by the German philosopher Husserl around the start of the 20th century.
    His eyes were as bright as I've seen.
    He said - how do you spell that?

    The exercise was suspended while I showed my friend Cafe Kira in Second Life where the Phenomenology class had discussed doing the exercise, but there was nobody there.

    I knew then that I'd finish these notes in the future, if what I believed then turned out later to have been true.
    And I desired then for it to have been becoming true, so I returned to write the rest of the report.
    I'm in the cafe writing.
    I now think of this place as Cafe Epoche, with a rhyme in the sound and in the content.


    Case 3 - Just One "Thing"

    For the purposes of learning epoche, does it matter what sort of environment is chosen for the exercise, ranging in complexity from say, a pea, to waiting on a busy downtown street to pick up an intimate friend?  I wanted to say "no" to that question, but also to try the simpler case.

    I chose a thing-environment simpler than the downtown street and the cafe, so I chose something closer to the Pheno classic "chair" object.  I chose a Lamp, arguably simpler than the Chair, and removed the phone, clock, and other potential distractions from the surface near the Lamp.


    I'm looking at a lamp on a stand.
    I'm ignoring the base of the stand, where it hits the floor, where there are some papers and a book.
    I take a new position where I don't see the base.  This edits out the part I was ignoring.
    The stand is a wooden block - a partly covered parallelepiped - but that seems a contrived description.  It has a dark fabric front, dark wood sides.
    It looks like "real" wood, not a composite / reproduction.
    It is made of walnut wood, I think, looking at the arrangement of pores and grain.
    It could be a veneer.
    I don't know what's inside the box.
    Other than on the assumption that since it is a speaker cabinet, it must have mostly air with a speaker suspended in the center somewhere, facing the front.
    I don't know the structure of the inside of the wood layer.
    There are some hairs affixed to the fabric. 
    No, some things.  Various fibers, light colored, hair, some short ones (looking closer) probably synthetic, and some tiny feathers - I remember some candidates for their source.
    I remember, I was looking at the lamp base earlier.
    There it is still.  I am not thinking about its structure.
    But now I am but not much. I deduce, there must be a felt layer on the bottom, and as evidence, there are no scratches on the surface.
    I notice mostly the dust on the surface.
    I could reach and brush it clean.
    There is a switch I could turn.
    The lamp is lit, I forgot to remark.
    The letters "OFF" are stamped (I assume a manufacturing process) on the metal, which has a brushed chrome look, with gold accents.
    The word "OFF" will not be in the language of the manufacturers, which I believe to be Chinese.
    The lamp is made of a hard shiny substance, I am thinking of as "metal".
    This is partly because in the past, I lifted it, and it felt heavy. 
    Thus it is not shiny plastic.
    My thinking seems mostly descriptive.
    I have an implicit feeling about the dust now.  Moving from description of object to description of feeling-about-object.
    And another feeling about the wall, which has been there in a certain way, but I haven't looked directly at it.  My peripheral vision looks at the same time, but with a different feeling.
    It seems silly to point out that I assume that I know what is behind the wall.
    In a general sense, not the particulars.
    The arm of the lamp is jointed.
    There are two screws with tension joints.
    On this or similar lamps (I don't know) I've in the past seen that if the screws are loose, the joints flex, lowering the lamp head in an annoying way.
    The screw slots seem a little bunged up.  Based on that I infer it was this lamp.
    There is a world of things I don't know about those two screws.
    The dust gives me a complex feeling about a history of housekeeping and others who I have
    related to around that activity.
    The lamp is off-center on the surface, partly projecting but not enough to be unstable.
    The lamp is reasonably stable in time - I think it has been there between 1 and 2 years.
    I don't know exactly when I last adjusted its direction.

    Retrospective Notes

    I'm thinking about the exercise, whether and how it might be useful, and how far I might "go" in perception, imagination, formal inference, etc.

    The whole process seems to consist of fairly "normal" perceptive and cognitive activity.  And it seems biased by two things that present a dynamic tension, firstly, the "gaze" of looking at "objects", and secondly, the idea of "here I am doing an epoche exercise" and remembering that there were some suggestions that it could be radically deconstructive and/or lead to a state of "wonderment".  So I wonder whether a little more effort and attitude (holding a feeling of doubt? curiosity?), or some kind of intentional focus, or some formal technique could move the experience more towards the wonder / deconstruct pole.  Lewis Carrol had a tongue-in-cheek poem containing instructions for the beginning poet - "You have to learn to look at all things with a kind of mental squint."

    So now I'm thinking a blank white wall would be just as complex an observational environment for the purposes of phenomenological reduction.  I'm having difficulty believing there is a point when the account could be in some way "complete", because, the more you dig, the more it unfolds.  Ten days, just the pea, then satori?  On the other hand, the complex experience might be felt to be "complete" at any time in its dynamic, partly unfolded state, but I question whether that is too "mystical" to fit within the empirical perspective of phenomenology.


    Case 4 - Play As Being Pauses

    I think the Play As Being pause exercise qualifies as a type of epoche, in which the bracketing is to stop the normal focus of the "doing self" and the attention is on one's experience within the space created by the pause.  It is an appearance of self to self.

    • Just drop everything (that can be dropped); ignored things may enter awareness - such as feeling in part of body, etc.  Sometimes can choose to "go into" or "drop". 
    • When there is space cleared by dropping - be open to experiences.  Can ask "now what?" or "what else is true?"  This is done by being attentive and inviting.
    • I hold a focus going into the pause.  It might be, a topic from the discussion that I want to contemplate (look "into").
    • The feeling is very jumbled and tumultuous.  Usually it partly "lets go" and relaxes.  Then I feel some free attention for other matters.
    • I feel a pocket of bliss-like feeling expanding from solar plexus into heart, after letting go of some compulsive thought.  The bliss has elements of relief, then expansion and gratitude.
    • I notice different "parts" of myself appear separate, and in the larger space of attention, they come back together.
    Tag page (Edit tags)
    • No tags
    You must login to post a comment.
    Powered by MindTouch Core