Reality is not real

20.06.2021

From time to time I have decided to dedicate my Directives to Philosophy. Today let's talk about phenomenology. 

Phenomenology became one of the broadest trends in philosophy in the twentieth century thanks to the unique work of the German philosopher Edmund Husserl. Husserl was a direct follower of the Austrian philosopher Brentano, the father of the founder of this movement. Husserl's own ideas were later developed by his brilliant pupil Martin Heidegger, the Prince of Philosophers.

Husserl quickly captured the minds of many of the world's thinkers with an unexpected twist. The main point of his philosophy was this. 

He proposed to construct a picture of the world by putting out of brackets (ἐποχή) the question of whether or not things outside the realm of our perception are real.

For Kant this thing-in-itself -- Ding-an-sich, things outside us, things as such - already posed a problem. Husserl proposes not to solve it, but to forget - if only for a while - about it altogether. And focus more on howwe perceive and comprehend reality. After all, the word 'reality' is derived from the Latin word “res”, that is, thing. And we should not turn it into an idol. Nobody is encroaching on reality. Phenomenologists only invite us to its demystification.

That's where the most interesting things begin. 

Husserl affirms: our consciousness is always directed at something. That is main idea of the intentionalityintroduced by Brentano. And what it is directed at is inside our consciousness. It contains the names, forms, qualities and attributes of things perceived, “intended”. Things are constructed within perception, and only then – afterwards, a posteriori - do we relate them (conventionally) to what should be outside consciousness. But Husserl shows that such a test of inside comparing with outside is far from necessary to build a full-fledged philosophy of consciousness. We can do quite well without it.

This is not just psychology, although it may seem so at first sight. No. It is precisely a philosophical system, elaborated in detail and brilliantly expounded and founded. Phenomenology studies things as they are in our mind, in the structure of the intentional act (according to Brentano) or as existential (according to Heidegger – Existentiale not Existentielle). The fact that we may be mistaken about an external thing, taking a hallucination for reality, does not essentially change anything. In sociology this is clearly manifested in the main rule: the social fact is not what is, but what the society believes to be. Psychology complements this by examining the effects of hypnosis, trance, and psychoanalysis by theories of desire and dreams. 

But phenomenology is more than that. It is the study of the world as constructed by human consciousness - through perception, language, distinction, evaluation, relation, connection and disconnection. Husserl insists that we subject all modern sciences to a serious phenomenological rethinking, revision – otherwise we constantly fall under the hypnosis of the naive 'myth of reality', and are drown in paradoxes until we reach the horizon of the theory of relativity or quantum mechanics, where previous mechanical views are rejected. The more reliable and accurate the science, the clearer the fact is: whatever man studies, he studies only himself. It is better to admit this honestly, without waiting for the total collapse of science.

Reality is unscientific. Recognizing this, it is possible to build a complete building of a new science. On the basis of phenomenology.

Phenomenology is perfectly suited to comprehend images of the world of different peoples and civilisations. Not only religions and myths depend on cultural environment. Every people has its own idea of the world, of matter, of time, of space, of man. A people carries the world within itself - as its cumulative giant intentional act. It is not for nothing that Martin Heidegger calls the very notion of 'world' part of the existential (Existential) - 'being-in-the-world', in-der-Welt-Sein.

I foresee the audience shrugging their shoulders in annoyance. What for all that stuff? What this directive is about? What is to be done?

Phenomenology's answer is: turn your gaze inwards

We cannot deal with something outside just because we have no order inside. There is nothing inside at all except what we put there. Let's put something there that is more decent, beautiful and sublime...