From: "Jeremy Bowman" 
Date: Sat, 4 Sep 2004 12:45:06 +0100
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Phenomenology

It's worth remembering that the people who write entries in dictionaries on
philosophical topics are generally non-scientists who yearn to be
scientists. Half-crazed with an unrequited love of "science", they tend to
CALL their own field a "science" -- but it does NOT follow that their field
actually IS a science.

(Obviously, there are remarkable affinities between phenomenology and
disciplines such as Creationism and psychology.)

As a student I studied a little bit of Edmund Husserl, father of modern
phenomenology. I can safely assure everyone that there's hardly anything
remotely scientific about it.

The basic idea is that Descartes' "I think therefore I am" is the most
profound thought anyone can have. All knowledge is supposed to start from
there, and all science is supposed to be "based" on conscious experience.
So the most important thing is to study the nature of conscious experience.
Hence the word 'phenomenology' -- the "ology" of conscious experiences or

First, this is bad epistemology. We know all sorts of things about the
outside world before we can even begin to refer to our own "inner"
experiences, let alone study them. This obsession with conscious experience
is really a fixation with certainty, because we cannot be wrong about
having a pain, say. Second, it's bad philosophy of science. Science
involves creating and testing hypotheses, which are guesses. They are not
"based" on anything.

The popularity of phenomenology as a philosophical movement is a measure of
the backwardness and self-importance of continental European philosophy
compared with its English-speaking counterpart. But even the Continentals
dropped phenomenology in the early twentieth century, when they embraced
the psychotically unclear Nazi Heidegger (who got Husserl thrown out of his
job because he was Jewish -- and guess who got that job?).

More recently, Daniel Dennett has been saying that we should take conscious
experience seriously as an object of study. But any such study must involve
inter-subjectively verifiable, repeatable reports. Rather impishly, he has
given it the name "heterophenomenology" ("hetero", because different people
are involved -- it isn't just one guy contemplating his own internal
conscious feelings).

(Phenomenology must not be confused with "phenomenalism", the earlier
philosophical movement whose inspiration was Berkeley.)

Jeremy Bowman