From: "Phil Roberts, Jr." 
Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2004 23:55:49 -0400
Subject: Re: [evol-psych] Phenomenology

Jay R. Feierman wrote:

     > I looked up phenomenology in Webster's New Twentieth Century
   > Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1983. Under phenomenology it
   > says, "1. the science of dealing with phenomena as distinct from
   > the science of being (ontology). 2. the branch of science that
   > classifies and describes phenomena without any attempt at
   > explanation.

In 'Consciousness Explained' Dennett offers a nice overview
on this matter (p. 44):

       Philosopher's and psychologists often use the term
       'phenomenology' as an umbrella term to cover all the items
       -- the fauna and flora, you might say -- that inhabit our
       conscious experience: thoughts, smells, itches, pains,
       imagined purple cows, hunches, and all the rest.  This
       usage has several somewhat distinct ancestries worth
       noting.  In the eighteenth century, Kant distinguished
       "phenomena, "things as they appear, from "noumena," things
       as they are in themselves, and during the development of
       the natural or physical sciences in the nineteenth century,
       the term 'phenomenology' came to refer to the merely
       descriptive study of any subject matter, neutrally or
       pretheoretically.  The phenomenology of magnetism, for
       instance, had been well begun by William Gilbert in the
       sixteenth century, but the explanation of that phenomenology
       had to await the discoveries of the relationship between
       magnetism and electricity in the nineteenth century, and
       the theoretical work of Faraday, Maxwell, and others.
       Alluding to this division between acute observation and
       theoretical explanation the philosophical school or movement
       known as Phenomenology (with a capital P) grew up early in the
       twentieth century around the work of Edmund Husserl.  Its
       aim was to find a new foundation for all philosophy (indeed,
       for all knowledge) based on a special technique of
       introspection, in which the outer world and all its
       implications and presuppositions were supposed to be
       "bracketed" in a particular act of mind known as 'epoche'.
       The net result was an investigative state of mind in which
       the Phenomenologist was supposed to become acquainted with
       the pure objects of conscious experience, called 'noemata',
       untainted by the usual distortions and amendments of theory
       and practice.  Like other attempts to strip away
       interpretation and reveal the basic facts of consciousness
       to rigorous observation, such as the Impressionist movement
       in the arts and the Introspectionist psychologies of Wundt,
       Titchener, and others, Phenomenology has failed to find a
       single, settled method that everyone could agree upon.

       So while there are zoologists, there really are no
       phenomenologists: uncontroversial experts on the nature of
       things that swim in the stream of consciousness.  But we can
       follow recent practice and adopt the term (with a lower-case
       p) as the generic term for the various items in conscious
       experience that have to be explained.

Dennett's own approach (heterophenomenology) begins with:

     The British Empiricists, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume,
     likewise wrote with the presumption that what they
     were doing, much of the time, was 'introspecting',
     and that their introspections would be readily
     replicated by their readers.....(Chapt 4, second

only to dismiss their considerable accomplishments (e.g., 
Hume's identification of the three types of association,
Hume's discovery of the manner in which association 
"facilitates the sympathy", etc. ) on the grounds that
they occasionally got things wrong:

     This would be fine if it weren't for the embarrassing fact
     that controversy and contradiction bedevil the claims made
     under these conditions of polite mutual agreement.

Apparently, introspection is ka ka because it is not infallible:

     Ever since Descartes and his "cogito ergo sum," this
     capacity of ours has been seen as somehow immune to
     error; we have privileged access to our own thoughts
     and feelings, an access guaranteed to be better than
     the access of any outsider.

As Dennett sees it, the solution to this problem is, not to
limit introspective reports to reproducible features as they
do in the other sciences, but rather to have the introspectionist
write down her observations and hand them to a second party
who can bring the full weight of "third person objective
science" to bear on the problem.

Funny!  I always thought of Faraday and Rutherford as engaged
in first person observations.  Applying Dennett's rationale,
their work could have been much improved if they had relied on
written reports from lab technicians.  Hey!  If third person
is more scientifically reliable than first person, perhaps
fourth person reports would be better yet.  Think of the
advances science could make with, say, sixth or seventh
person reports.   :)

Admittedly, this is something of a caricature of Dennett's
argument and, admittedly there are times when third person
observations and experiments can indeed enlighten us about
the mind.  My point is simply that there is no royal road to
truth and, until one is found, perhaps we should worry less
about whether data is physical or psychical and worry more
about whether data is intersubjectively reproducible, as 
I have argued in 'Rehabilitating Introspection' 
(see URL below), so that we can all keep an "I" on each 
other.   :)


          Rehabilitating Introspection
  A Procedure for a First Person Psychical Science