A phenomenological inquiry

Published on by Catherine Toulsaly

Shooting stars fall to Earth...

Shooting stars fall to Earth...

Essentially phenomenology is a product of the transcendental subject, whereas science in the ordinary sense is a product of the mundane subject. Yet phenomenology necessary “appears” as the product of the mundane subject.

Conversations with Husserl and Fink, p.93, Dorion Cairns, Springer Science & Business Media, Jun 29, 2013

 

Let’s say that we, Homo Sapiens, do not have the ability to see reality as it is. So can a phenomenological philosophy help us understand what lies beneath the veneer of appearances? Sartre calls phenomenology a scientific, and not critical, study of consciousness. Quoting Martin Heidegger, Ingrid Leman-Stefanovic wrote that a phenomenology of death means: “to let death, as that which shows itself, be seen from itself in the very way in which it shows itself from itself” (The Event of Death: a Phenomenological Enquiry,  Ingrid Leman-Stefanovic, Springer Science & Business Media, Dec 6, 2012). As I started this post, I was waiting in Grenoble to host the funeral of my father, wondering about the meaning of life and asking myself, perplexed, whether it was real. What are we really? I wish to believe in an absolute Consciousness beyond each one of us and that my dad’s breath had evaporated into some other place I can not see.

 

To me, phenomenology means watching a loved one breath air in and out, one day, and touching the coldness of his body, another day, in a moment of sudden realization that a loss of consciousness has occurred. It’s in those moments in life that we wonder whether consciousness, too, “is a product of the transcendental subject” that only appears to be sprung from the mundane subject. If some argue that consciousness can only refer to individual consciousness, so where does it disappear when a loved one passes away? I rather believe that the very last breath of life is held by the wind and rides the cosmic waves to the Moon, planets and stars that my eyes catch a glimpse of in the early morning sky. I rather believe that I will fly with the wind and join others who preceded me in the eternal dance of the Universe.

 

As I go down the stream of consciousness, I look upstream hoping to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our universal landscape. I read that Sartre’s central concern was the relationship between Consciousness and the world. He wrote that The World did not create the me, the me did not create the World, They are two objects for the absolute, impersonal consciousness, and it is through that consciousness that they are linked together. This absolute consciousness, when it is purified of the I, is no longer in any way a subject, nor is it a collection of representations; it is quite simply a precondition and an absolute source of existence. Sartre’s poetically phrased claim that Consciousness “imprisons itself in the World in order to flee from itself” strikes me as intuitively true as if there were a standoff between empirical and transcendental consciousnesses. 

 

Many of my readings are meant to deepen my learning. Some may get me off-track, others bring me right back where I want to be and may simultaneously occur at a time of my life when I physically and emotionally experience them. In 1972, Edwin Fink wrote that “The authentic and central meaning of Edmund Husserl’s philosophy is today unknown” and that every interpretation is capable “of proving itself from his writings”. As my own subjectivity echoes that of others, I carry their words down the stream of consciousness. The “epistemic fetters” alluded by Robert Arp hinder Homo Sapiens’ awakening.

One must finally achieve the insight that no objective science, no matter how exact, explains or ever can explain anything in a serious sense. To deduce is not to explain. To predict, or to recognize the objective forms of the composition of physical or chemical bodies and to predict accordingly — all this explains nothing but is in need of explanation. The only true way to explain is to make transcendentally understandable.

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, p.189, Edmund Husserl, Northwestern University Press, 1970

 

The main question that is raised in the quote at the start of this post is where science fits in reality. What is the essence of phenomenology? I have wondered about a phenomenological theory of sciences and noticed that the concept of phenomenology is used in regard to high energy colliders or in the framework of a phenomenological basis for Modified Newtonian Dynamics. On the one hand, claiming that a phenomenological theory might assume that the orbits of planets are circles, since they are observed to be roughly circles (But we know that with sufficiently accurate observations the orbits are actually ellipses, and the circle model is an over-simplification) would imply that phenomenology should not be taken as reality but as the unreliable appearance of the Universe. On the other hand, saying that collider phenomenology plays a pivotal role in building the bridge between theory and experiments would emphasize the importance of the world-phenomenon as a “test ride” in our understanding of the Universe.

Vesica piscis

Vesica piscis

 

At the intersection of the Transcendental and Mundane Spheres lies science, and so creating in my mind an image that mirrors the mathematical shape of vesica piscis. I once wondered what it means when scientists say “this or that agrees with intuition” as if science were entrenching on the realm of the transcendental sphere. I don’t know whether it is possible to differentiate an empirical intuition from a transcendental one.  Husserl talked about the transcendental ego and “the correlation between the world and transcendental subjectivity as objectified in mankind” (Edmund Husserl, ibid., p.187). In the Husserlian phenomenological methodology, the ego demerges from epistemological level to level until finally achieving universal consciousness.  Phenomenologists refer to our life-world as a Platonic cave that keeps us in jail. How to escape from imprisonment is a matter of debate among philosophers and scientists.

The temptation of the Victor, 1949, Ernst Fuchs

The temptation of the Victor, 1949, Ernst Fuchs

 

At that very moment, my autobiographical self jumps in to remind me of the legendary account of the Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma facing at a cave wall for nine years as if the cave is no longer a prison but, on the contrary, a ground for enlightenment. Viewed from the vantage point where East and West meet, there is an antinomy between Science’s constant wiping of our mirroring reality and the phenomenological epoche that defines the spiritual and radical act of “unchaining,”tearing oneself free,”stepping-forth.” From phenomenology to absolute being, does our consciousness would benefit to land on the South Pole of the Moon in order to leap forward, or can it achieve self-realization, still entangled in earthly fetters?

 

I wish to hold on to the movement of the air and the flow of the whispering consciousness. Just as I was finishing this post, last night I dreamt about my father...

 

Bodhidharma
Bodhidharma

Bodhidharma

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