Phenomenology (0122-402-01) Fall 2002


Challenging a Phenomenologist

What would be a (Husserlian) phenomenologist’s explanation/reply to the following?

(Elizabeth says)

1.  It seems to me that there IS actually a world out there, independent of my consciousness.  Suppose there was a bug that crawled on me while I was asleep, and I was completely unaware of that fact in my deep sleep.  But even if it was not “registered” in my consciousness, there was in fact a bug that crawled across my belly in my sleep.  (Maybe my friend saw it, but did not tell me.)  So it doesn’t seem true that all reality is “appearance to consciousness.”

2.  Whether I know it or not, there is in fact a room beyond that wall, with a desk (probably) and there are probably a bunch of stuff on the desk.  None of that is in my consciousness, but they are there.  So this seems to be another example of how things could be “in reality” even though they are not in my field of consciousness.

(Tommy said last semester)

3.  It makes no sense that reality and consciousness are so connected—way before humans appeared, there had been, has been, and still is, this universe that is governed by laws of physics, and humans came along, and now we “discover” what is out there, and as we discover more and more about reality, we adjust our theories.  Obviously, reality has long preceded us, and it will exist long after humans (or my personal consciousness) cease to exist.

(A scientific realist might say)

4.  It is not true that “reality” is appearance to consciousness, as the phenomenologists say.  Reality is rather what is articulated in physics.  There are really measurable molecules, electrons, quarks, and their movements (basically all is “energy”), and in fact, reality just might be “vibration.”  This is an objective fact, true now, true 10,000 years ago (even though we did not know about it), and all this has nothing to do with “how they appear to us in consciousness,” although, they do appear to us in this particular way.

5.  In fact, what we take to be “consciousness” is just a particular way in which our human brain processes information.  As such, they are an imprecise way of referring to the by-product of some complex neurochemical reactions at the molecular level, perhaps even involving quantum physics, that are going on in the brain, and all the so-called “modes of consciousness” are explainable in terms of how these neurochemicals interact.  As such, “consciousness” does not exist, as if some “mental substance” is floating around us.  Just “where” is this “consciousness?”  You cannot point to anything that exists.  It’s just a figure of speech.  “Describing consciousness” might as well be poetry.  It has nothing to do with reality.

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