Category Archives: Phenomenology

Reduction versus Reductionism

Let’s take a house. The thing about looking at a house is that under no circumstance do you see the entire house at one time. You can walk around it, but you never see the entire thing standing in a single spot. If you are in the front, you do not see the back. If you are in the back, you do not see the side. And so on. You always see what objectively is a complete house, but you see it only from one subjective viewpoint at a time.

Can you be in error regarding your own, subjective viewpoint? Yes. Let’s say you are looking at a white house. You describe it as a red house. You are wrong. No matter where you stand (your subjective viewpoint), you are looking at a white house, not a red one. So, we have subjective understandings but are always faced with objective reality. We can misperceive reality. We can be objectively wrong in our subjective perceptions.

The eidetic reduction was Husserl’s method of determining the true, objective essence of an object knowing that we never see something in its entirety from any single viewpoint. To discover the true essence of an object, the eidetic reduction strips away all that is unnecessary. What if we changed the color? Does a house have to be white to be a house? No. Remove color as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have two stories? No. Remove the number of stories as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have a roof? Yes. Keep a roof as inherent to the essence of a house. And so on and so forth until we have the “eidetic principles” governing the concept of a house.

“Reductionism” on the other hand is something entirely different from Husserl’s eidetic reduction. Reductionism is the dome of oppression under which we suffer in our model world. Reductionism is the situation where I see the front of the house and hold that my view of the house is the only one. What I see from the front of the house “is the house.” My view from the front defines the essence of the house. You tell me you are seeing something a little different from the back. I tell you that you are a heretic, that your position is not orthodox, it is an evil teaching because the view from the front is the only correct one.

Notice that reductionism closes the reductionist from any expression of the truth that remains to be discovered. Discovery of “new truths” that follow the “objective principles” of the objective house are stifled. I can “discover” new expressions of the one, objective house if I were to walk around and look from other viewpoints, all without violating the objectivity inherent in the house. To more fully understand the objective essence of the house, I need to be open to “phenomenological discovery” which requires an openness to what the house “gives” of itself from various viewpoints while rejecting only those perceptions that are erroneous to the objective principles underlying the house (it’s white, not red). I cannot say the white house is red. However, I can be open to what the house reveals to me from the back or the sides in order to get a more complete picture.An openness to true phenomenological reduction would be a significant help in the modern world.

An openness to “phenomenological reduction” would help mitigate the divisive tribalism resulting from “reductionism.” Phenomenological reduction is an openness to the world, while reductionism closes us off from it.

We even can discover “new truths” in a world of “unchanging truth.”

Phenomenology

Phenomenology is about the intellectually honest pursuit of the true essence of an object (eidetic reduction) and an openness to the meaning of that truth (its givenness once that truth is discovered). The dome of oppression in the modern world is the opposite; it is a projection of a narrative onto the essence of an object. Phenomenology seeks truth and meaning, while the modern mind seeks only narrative and power. Phenomenology is an openness to what an object gives, while the modern mind is a violent imposition of narrative, a forcing of itself, without regard to what the object gives from its essence.

The phenomenological influence of Nolwenn Leroy

There are two epilogues to my model that I will address going forward. One is the influence of Martin Heidegger and the other is the odd and seemingly serendipitous inclusion of the music of Nolwenn Leroy. Nolwenn’s influence led me to the final component which was syntax. Syntax is my addition to the Husserlian and Steinian phenomenological model.

Heidegger I will cover in more depth later. One of his critiques of his master Edmund Husserl was that we do not live our lives constantly “eidetically reducing” everything we do to its core essence. We run around doing things without thinking much of everything we’re doing. So, he developed the concepts of “present-at-hand” (being aware) and “ready-at-hand.” Contemplating the meaning of the wine glass in your hand makes it “present-at-hand.” Just drinking your wine with little to no regard for the glass makes it “ready-at-hand.” More on that later. The second is his notion of “presence.” An object locked inches from me behind a door is less present to me than an object a block away that I can access. The latter is “closer” to me than the former. The third Heideggarian influence is the need for a hermeneutical process in the science of phenomenology.

Nolwenn’s influence begs more explanation, and I will focus on this in more depth later as well. It began when French social media introduced me to her version of Tri Martolod. I then downloaded her Histoire Naturelle live performance to an unmarked CD. For five or so years I listened to this performance on my commutes without remembering who she was. I would just play that “French singer” over and over.

Simultaneously I was writing and developing the model. More and more the flow of the Histoire Naturelle music, the syntax, became part of my “thematic field of noematic meaning.” Of itself, I would say this could easily be explained away through psychologism. But then I discovered that medical tests demonstrated that her music was more efficacious in some respects than even Mozart. And she is a pop singer. How can a French pop singer have an affect that matches or exceeds that of Mozart?

I began to look beyond psychology and toward phenomenology to answer the question. What I found was an “eidetic” principle of syntax. Her music was pointing to something more transcendent than the instantiation of the music itself. That principle was the capstone to my project. When I listen to Nolwenn, I hear more than marvelous music, I hear my project.

We can speak of what is true and not true – phenomenologically

We tend to think of values as being purely subjective, something that we cannot view as “true” for everyone. They are subjective and depend on the individual. We cannot rely on subjective “values.” Only on empirical science. The basis for discussion is only in “science” since it alone is objective and true. This, of course, means we only can be guided by “scientists” and other “specialists.” Your values are not real in the sense that science is real.

Except, maybe, that is not so obvious after all….

“That happiness is intrinsically better than misery, and that unprovoked injury must be rectified and compensated, hold universally and necessarily, and can be readily seen to do so, with genuine insight, in a way that it is not true of empirical truths, such as that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.” ~ Detmer, David. Phenomenology Explained (Ideas Explained) (p. 174). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

We need to get back to the basics – back to reality – if we are going to relate with each other and break out of this cycle of doom in which we are engulfed. We can speak of “true” and “not true” values at the most basic level. Let’s get back to the basics and start building our communications, our relationships, and our communities back on a foundation of what’s real.