Phenomenology is a term that is used in different ways in different fields of study. In philosophy, it is the name of an approach pioneered by Edmund Husserl in the early 20th century. In science, it is a term that describes the first steps of an investigation of a new field, in terms of charting the basic phenomena, before constructing more detailed theoretical models. Although Husserl earned his living as a philosopher, he could equally well be considered a scientist. In fact, he systematized a kind of phenomenological analysis, based partly on thought experiments, that has been used extensively in science. A classic example is Einstein's derivation of special relativity, in which he systematically imagined and analyzed the phenomena that Maxwell's theory of electromagnetism predicts for high velocities.
Unlike most philosophers, Husserl was not content with theoretical analysis and speculation. Instead, he followed the scientific empirical model where theory and experiment go hand in hand. He introduced an experimental tool, the `epoche', as an approach to investigating phenomena through a systematic suspension of judgment. In contrast to Cartesian doubt, the Husserlian epoche suspends everything: belief, disbelief, doubt, and so on, and by disclosing phenomena as such, made them open to investigation in their own terms. In doing so, he aimed at extending the scientific method to include a broader base from which to start. In addition to the standard scientific empirical method of studying objects and objectifying subjects, Husserl explored ways to study subjects in their own right and the the subject-object relation in a newway. In short, Husserl critically investigated the empirical method of science, thereby enlarging the notion of `empirical' to include all of experience, not only the narrow study of the object pole of experience.
In the Kira Phenomenology Workshop we set out on an exploration of phenomena in every-day life, in the spirit of Husserl. We took our inspiration from Husserl's approach. We realized there was no need to read tens of thousands of pages that Husserl wrote in his life; as little reason as there is to read all of Newton's or Kepler's work in order to do research in mechanics. Instead, all participants were encouraged to develop a joint approach, on a basis of peers, building a vocabulary that we developed together. All our discussions and our findings were published in complete detail on the publicly visible web pages listed below (icons also at the top of the page). If you are interested in seeing more of our way of conducting research or are seriously interested in participating in similar investigations, please see these.
This weekly workshop series took place at 2pm SLT every Friday in the Kira Cafe between December 2008 and May 2009. It was hosted by Pema Pera, Tarmel Udimo and Scathach Rhiadra. No prior knowledge of phenomenology, or any other kind of philosophy was required. We focused on actual exploration and critical reflection, in that order. Each workshop the group collectively came up with an exploration for the week and between workshops did homework individually, off-line. At each workshop the group members: 1) reported their findings 2) critically reflected on these findings; 3) together chose a new form of exploration as the homework for the next week.
The Phenomenology wiki where members submitted weekly "lab reports" is publicly readable, so if you would like to see all the reports and workshop transcripts go to:
The Phenomenology group also has a google group for meeting notices and general discussion of lab reports.
To read a series of debates on Phenomenology between Pema Pera (astrophysicist) and Gilles Kuhn (epistemologist) please see Events Transcripts.
For more on phenomenology, please come along to the Virtual Institute for Phenomenology.