In La peal de chagrin Balzac describes a "tablecloth white as a layer of fresh-fallen snow, upon which ,the place settings rose symmetrically, crowned with blond rolls." "All through my youth," said Cezanne, "I wanted to paint that, that tablecloth of fresh-fallen snow.... Now I know that one must only want to paint 'rose, symmetrically, the place settings' and 'blond rolls.' If I paint 'crowned' I'm done for, you understand? But if I really balance and shade my place settings and rolls as they are in nature, you can be sure the crowns, the snow and the whole shebang will be there." (Merleau-Ponty on Cezanne)
The common sense story of how there is a world out there and how we can study it by science must be questionedThe philosophy is both about ‘how things can be’, which looks like the same question as ‘what things are’, but it is not the same question. What things are already pressuposes *that* things are (and then asks what they are). Phenomenology starts with our own experience of the world and from that asks how things can ‘be’ in the first place. But it is also not about epistomology, which would be asking “How can we know about the things that are”. That also already presupposes that things are and then asks: how can we aquire knowledge of them. Phenomenology insists that we must accept that before we can ask scientific questions (what does reality consist of) and epistomological questions (how can we know about reality), it all starts first with our own experience of the world, and in that experience there is a lot to be investigated already. In that experience we can find the answer to the question of ‘how things can be – for us’.
Edmund Husserl (founder of phenomenology)Martin Heidegger (one of the most important philosophers of the 20th c.)Maurice Merleau-Ponty (working out the role of the body)Hubert Dreyfus (explaining Heidegger & Merleau-Ponty)You might have heard about Paul Dourish who has written a book on ‘embodied interaction’ based on phenomenology.Lucy Suchman wrote her thesis supervised by Hubert Dreyfus and put phenomenology together with conversation analysis in investigating how people deal with artifacts.Toni Robertson applies Merleau-Ponty to interaction design.Philip Agre applied phenomenology to artificial intelligence and computer theory, as did Winograd & FloresPeter Paul-Verbeek is a philosopher of technology who has specialized in Heidegger, but now rejects him in favor of Don Ihde and Latour.I will not speak about the other phenomenologists but it is a whole movement, most of which is not at all about technology or design, but more about social matters and personal identity and society and emotions and so on, the human condition in general.
Klemmer:Unlike theories of information processing and human cognition that focus primarily on thought as something that only happens in the head, theories and research of embodied cognition regard bodily activity as being essential to understanding human cognition. Dourish suggests phenomenology ... as constituting an appropriate uniting lens for social and tangible computing. We draw from this work the focus on the human body and our experience of action.Dourishpage 101Tangible and social computing capitalize on our 'familiarity with the everyday world'Familiarity is based on 'embodiment'.page 102Even in Virtual Reality: users are disconnected observers of a world they do not inhabit directly. They peer out at it, figure out what's going on, decide on a course of action, enact it through the narrow interface of keyboard or dataglove, carefully monitoring the result to see if it turns out the way they expected. Our experience in the everyday world is not of that sort. We inhabit our bodies and they in turn inhabit the world, with seamless connections back and forth.There is a difference between: "inhabited interaction in the world', and 'disconnected observation and control’So what is this 'inhabited interaction in the world'?For this, we need to turn to phenomenology.
a radical way of doing philosophy, a practice rather than a system. ...anti-traditional style of philosophising, which emphasises the attempt to describe phenomena, in the broadest sense as whatever appears in the manner in which it appears, that is as it manifests itself to consciousness, to the experiencer. … avoid all misconstructions and impositions placed on experience in advance, whether these are drawn from religious or cultural traditions, from everyday common sense, or, indeed, from science itself. (moran)it is …a philosophy for which the world is ‘already there’ before reflection begins—as an inalienable presence; and all its efforts are concentrated upon re-achieving a direct and primitive contact with the world, and endowing that contact with philosophical status. It is the search for a philosophy which shall be a ‘rigorous science’, but it also offers an account of space, time and the world as we ‘live’ them. It tries to give a direct de- scription of our experience as it is, without taking account of its psychological origin and the casual explanations which the scientist, the historian or the sociologist may be able to provide (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. vii).
HUSSERLThe term phenomenology was known to philosophy before (X) but the philosophical branch that came to bear its name and made it famous was founded by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). Husserl was an Austrian-German philosopher, trained as a mathematician, teaching in Halle and Göttingen, in central Germany, and finally in Freiburg, in the south. In Husserl’s time, psychology was just starting to become something of a discipline, but still very much connected to philosophy, asking the grander questions of how human beings are able to perceive the world, and whether what we perceive is ‘the real thing’, and ‘imagination’, or something else altogether. Even though science was making serious progress in ‘materializing’ the world, people were also still very much religious, and studying philosophy or theology was often not so strictly separated either. While being the founder and in that sense the grand father of the phenomenological movement, his students, of which Martin Heidegger is without doubt the most influential, at the same time criticized Husserl for not having completely understood the powerful thesis of phenomenology, and for still being locked up in a more traditional worldview. Apparently, it takes multiple generations of thinking to really break away from old doctrines, and Husserl can be seen as a fine example of this: He was the one to take the first, most important step into what Phenomenology would become, but he was also the one that did not dare to go all the way. Holding on to his own, more conservative version of Phenomenology, and realizing that his students each went their own way, he has in later life described himself as the Leader with No Followers.back to the things themselvesThe basic idea here is to focus first and foremost on the structure of our experience, before even assuming there is a physical world outside of our consciousness. How do we ‘live’ the world, before we start to ‘talk about’ the world?Phenomenology tries to get at the heart of what this 'being-in-the-world' is all about.Lifeworld (lebenswelt)The whole of science developed from the background of the lifeworld, the everyday mundane experience, the way we 'find ourselves in the midst of things' already even before we can start to think and reason about them. This lifeworld is given by our practical, skillful 'coping' with circumstances as they present themselves to us in the moment itself.2. Intentionality.Being greatly influenced by psychologist-philosopher Franz Brentano, one of Husserl’s key contributions involved the notion of intentionality, or aboutness. Intentionality should not be read here in its usual sense of ‘having the intention to do something’ (even though there may be relations to ‘doing’ that we will discuss later on). In Husserl and Brentano’s sense of the term, intentionality refers to the idea that everything we can possibly think, that is, every mental phenomenon, is always ‘about’ something: the objects of our consciousness have ‘aboutness’, or intentionality. You cannot simply think, you always be thinking ‘something’. This is to be distinguished from purely physical objects and processes, which are never about anything: they just ‘are’. Only if a physical object comes to be perceived and starts to figure in a conscious mind can that object become a representation of something else (as in when I deduce from seeing an empty glass of wine on the table that somebody has been drinking it), but in this case it is my thought that is having the intentionality, the content, it is not the physical glass as such that has any intentional content, the glass itself is just the glass.all conscious experiences (Erlebnisse) are characterised by ‘aboutness’. Every act of loving is a loving of something, every act of seeing is a seeing of something. The point, for Husserl, is that, disregarding whether or not the object of the act exists, it has meaning and a mode of being for consciousness, it is a meaningful correlate of the conscious act. This allowed Husserl to explore a whole new domain—the domain of the meaning-correlates of conscious acts and their interconnections and binding laws—before one had to face ontological questions concerning actual existence, and so on. (MORAN)Intentionality be- longs, by definition, to experience itself and names that directness of human action that is both prior to reflection and lost at the moment when analysis by an external observer begins. Lyotard wrote “... in the investigation of the immediate data, prior to all scientific thematisation, and the justification of such, phenomenology lays bare the fundamental manner, or essence, of the consciousness of this data, which is intention- ality” (1991, p. 33). (ROBERTSON)3. The phenomenological reduction: bracketingHusserl was thinking and writing about these ideas in the midst of a long running philosophical dispute on the question of what we can know about the world, and through what means we may come to know about the world. In this dispute you find the Rationalists, who believe that knowledge comes through internal reasoning, and claiming that sensory experience only starts to make sense when it gets taken up in such reasoning. On the other hand there are the Empiricists, claiming that all knowledge must come to us from the outside, seeing no way in which knowledge, including the apparatus with which to reason about the world, could be something inborn. Thus, sensory data imprint from the outside on our mind, and we essentially start with a ‘blank slate’ (a tabula rasa). Then there were the Idealists, in various guises, who claimed that all knowledge was essentially ‘inner’, an aspect of ‘mind’, and we have no genuine access to the real world other than in a derivative way, as illustrated by Plato’s picture of the bounded men in the cave that could not see the real people passing by outside, save for the shadows these people cast on the cave’s wall. One of the people in the Idealist camp, arguing both against Rationalism and Empiricism, was Emmanual Kant, who developed his philosophy of ‘transcentental idealism’. We have no space to dig into the philosophy of Kant, but Husserl and others of his time were greatly influenced by Kant (as well as by Hegel, Marx, and Nietsche). Husserl’s solution to the apparent problem of how the mind could know about the world was to first radically question what he calls the ‘natural attitude’, which is the common sense idea in all men to think that there is, in fact, a world out there, consisting of objects, processes and relations, and that it is the task of the mind to find out about that world, that is, to get to know about it. Instead of straightforwardly trying to answer the question of whether this world exists, and whether and how we may come to know about it, Husserl asks us to ‘bracket out’ this world for the moment, and turn our attention to our experience of the world itself, or as he calls it ‘ZudemZachenselbts’ (To the things themselves). Later on, we may start to speak about 'thoughts about' and 'the world out there'. But the phenomenologists suspends, or 'brackets' that discussion, and asks first how the lifeworld is possible in the first place, from which a person-with-thoughts-about and a-world-out-there-that-the-person-thinks-about emerge.
Well, not this kind of experience.This is not what phenomenology means by ‘experience’!
Alva Noe's Tomato. An example of how phenomenologists think:“It may be tempting to bite the bullet and concede that we don’t really see the whole tomato, or the roundness of the plate, or the whole cat, etc. We go beyond what is strictly given in an account of our experience when we in this way describe what we see. Our feeling that we see the whole tomato, say, is an illusion.But this objection misses the point. The puzzle is not that it seems to us as if we see the whole tomato, when we only see part of it, or that we experience the color as uniform, when in fact it is nonuniform. This is the epistemological problem mentioned in the last section. The puzzle is that it seems to us at once as if we only see part of the tomato and as if the whole is perceptually present. It seems to us as if we see the circularity of the plate even though it looks elliptical. We take ourselves to sense the presence of a uniform color, even though the surface is dappled in light and thus variegated in apparent color. We take ourselves to have a perceptual sense of features we manifestly do not see and that we feel no inclination to believe we see.Nor can it help us here to be told that although we don’t see the hidden parts of the tomato, or the cat, we infer their presence. There is something to this line of thought, no doubt. After all, we know what tomatos and cats are, we have these concepts; we make use of these concepts in fleshing out or indeed in “cognitively filling in” what is given to us. I think this must be right; however it provides no solution to the problem of perceptual presence. It can’t be the whole story. For what we want is an account not of the thought or judgment or belief that there is a whole tomato there, or a whole cat there, or a uniformly colored wall there. What we want is an account of our perceptual sense of their presence.”
The young Heidegger meets the great Husserl (1916)
Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976)One of Husserl’s students was Martin Heidegger. Theology, Mathematics, Philosophy.Many followers, but also enemies. Controversial man: nazi.The question of beingDaseinCopingZuhanden and VorhandenValuesHis main project: The question of being. Heidegger was not concerned with investigating what things there are in reality and what things are not, which was the usual project of science. He was also not concerned with the philosopher’s question of how a we can know about the world, how it is possible to have knowledge about the world. This investigation is called epistomology. To a large extent Husserl can be seen as asking epistomological questions: if I am conscious of something in the world, what does that relation really mean? In that sense Husserl was asking pretty much the same kinds of questions as Descartes was, who came to the conclusion that the only thing in the world he could really be sure of to exist were his own thoughts, because at least he knew that he was thinking, and so his thinking must be existing, even if all else turned out to be an illusion.Heidegger went much further than Husserl (he explicitly rejected Husserl’s ideas) and took phenomenology to its most radical extremes. He made of phenomenology an ontological enterprise. Instead of asking about whether this thing exist or that thing is an illusion, and whether or not and how we can know this for sure, that is, instead of asking how consciousness relates to the outside world, he asked about Being itself: What is the Being of beings?What does it mean for something to exist, what does it mean for something to ‘be’? And instead of answering that question as a scientist (to be means to be a flux of energy in a space-time bend, or something), he asks this question phenomenologically. (MORAN)Whereas Husserl made cognition (Erkenntnis) the main connection between humans and the world, Heidegger, influenced by Augustine and also by Scheler, saw that humans are primarily caught up in living their lives, wrapped up in moods and emotional commitments, in cares and worries, falling into temptation, projecting themselves into possibilities, seeking to make themselves whole. Cognition and intellectual activity emerged out of the engaged structures of everyday life where we are on top of things, we are ‘up for it’, able to cope. Intellection and cognition are founded modes, knowing is a derivative mode of the being-in of Dasein, ontologically founded on Being-in-the-world (MORAN)He objected to any suggestion of a difference between an I, the thinker, and a world, something that is thought, and put our own being in the world, which he called Dasein. He said: “Self and world belong together in the single entity, Dasein (being-in-the-world). Self and world are not two entities, like subject and object … but self and world are the basic determination of Dasein itself in the unity of the structure of being-in-the-world…. Dasein is nothing but concerned absorption in the world”Husserl’s notion of intentionality is replaced by a phenomenological account of Dasein’s practical comportments within the world of practical relations with things (Zuhandensein). This leads Heidegger to revise Husserl’s conception of intentionality and finally to drop it altogether in favour of the conception of Dasein’s transcendence. (MORAN)Our lived experiences are practical bodily encounters with things in our environment: for example, in moving around a room I am in an encounter with a ‘thing in the environment’ (Umweltding, HCT § 5, 38; GA 20, p. 49), a chair, not chair-sensations. Hence I can genuinely say “the chair is uncomfortable” and grasp the mode of being of the chair for me, for my living. The chair’s being is one of discomfort for me. Abstracting from these practical engagements with the thing makes it an object of theoretical study. At this point, the chair becomes for me a “natural thing” (Naturding) and different epithets apply, for example the chair is made of wood, has such and such a weight, occupies space, and so on. (MORAN)Our most basic mode of being, says Heidegger, which is Dasein, is not the mode of being that we adopt when we are scientists that want to explain something, nor that of historian that wants to understand something. Heidegger talks about a much more basic form of being, Dasein, which is ‘coping’: Access to Dasein comes through living out a life. (moran)This form of basic being is at the same time a form of ‘understanding’. (dreyfus)we deal with things and in dealing with them we display our understanding of them.our very existentiality is already one of understanding. In part what Heidegger is saying here can easily be grasped: I already understand myself and the world by my approach, by my own situation—as a twentieth- century middle-aged male, as a young girl, as a poor or rich person, as a teacher or as someone who is unemployed, or whatever. My life presents itself in terms of the set of possibilities which I am. (moran)What a huge amount of our lives, dressing, working, getting around, talking, eating, etc is spent in this state. And what small part is spent in the deliberate, effortful, subject-object mode.‘‘The meaningful objects...among which we live are not a model of the world stored in our mind or brain; they are the world itself ’’ (Dreyfus, 1972, pp. 265–266).Based on this ‘primordial’ mode of being in the world in which we understand the world through coping with it, the world shows up for us primarily in terms of what we can do with it, it shows up for us as possibilities for acting. (Remember James Gibson, who, in a different context and based on different grounds, made a similar claim).He says: “What is first of all ‘‘given’’ . . . is the ‘‘for writing,’’ the ‘‘for going in and out,’’ the ‘‘for illuminating,’’ the ‘‘for sitting.’’ That is, writing, going-in-and-out, sitting, and the like are what we are a priori involved with. What we know when we ‘‘know our way around’’ and what we learn are these ‘‘for-what’s.’’ (1976, p. 144; for the translation, see Heidegger, in press.)This is the ready-to-hand (zuhandenheit), to be distinqhuised from ‘present-at-hand’, vorhandenheid.Heidegger emphasises that our initial contact with objects is in terms of their use and availability to us for certain assigned tasks, tasks generated by our interests. We tamper with and manipulate things as determined by our interests and our goals. Things initially present themselves with this kind of available being, what Heidegger calls Zuhandensein, ‘readiness to hand’, or what Hubert Dreyfus renders as ‘availability’.10 Normally we reach for an object to act as a hammer, we see a tree as a source of wood or shelter from the rain, and so on. Heidegger’s descriptions give a certain priority to these kinds of ‘work- worlds’ —the work-world of the carpenter, for instance (BT § 26). Only subsequently, and by a separate act of intention—one which is much more theoretical—do we see the tools as things in themselves, as things standing on their own, available for inspection. This theoretical way of viewing things leads to science, to the pure interest in examining things as they are, bracketed from their connections and engagements with our interests. Things seen in this theoretical mode are vorhandene—present at hand, simply there. (MORAN)Heidegger shows that the primordial way in which we relate to the world is not a conscious ‘experience’ that is implied for instance with the word user-experience. He shows that working with tools in a skilled, involved manner actually takes the tool out of our immediate awareness. A famous example is the blind man’s cane, which completely withdraws into the “experiential background” when it is used normally. Instead, what the blind man experiences is the street (its obstacles, other people, a rough sense of its spatial dimensions, all related to the possibilities for acting (walking) in it. This the blind-man experiences through the cane (mainly by means of the acoustic feedback that ticking the cane on the pavement provides). But the cane itself is not there for the blind-man. This is precisely how we can argue that the cane, in effect, has become an extension of the body with which the world is perceived, rather than a part of the world that is perceived with the body (cf. Merleau-Ponty, 1962).Heidegger’s (1927/1986) own example to this effect is that of the carpenter, in his workshop, using the hammer as part of a carpenting job. The hammer is seamlessly integrated into the carpenter’s activities, and thus is “withdrawn” (Heidegger, 1927/1986; see also Dourish, 2001; Dreyfus, 1990; Verbeek, 2005). The product is said to be “ready-to-hand” (zuhanden; Heidegger, 1927/1986, p. 69).Heidegger’s original text in Zein und Zeit defining the concept of readiness-to-hand is this: “Das Hämmernsselbstentdeckt die spezifische 'Handlichkeit' des Hammers. Die Seinsart von Zeug, in der essich von ihmselbst her offenbart, nennenwir die Zuhandenheit” (p. 69). [The hammering itself discovers the specific ‘handiness’ of the hammer. The mode of being of the thing, in which it reveals itself by itself, we call Readiness-to-hand.]Here, the word Zeug, which I translated as ‘thing’,is translated by Dreyfus (1990) as equipment, to underscore its contrasting with the kinds of things we usually call objects in our scientific mode of understanding, since the mode of being of equipment can only be understood as an “in order to” (an affordance, one might say; Gibson, 1979), that is, linked to other equipment having a bearing on each other in a referential whole (Dreyfus, 1990). Sometimes interacting with the world leads to conflict, which then leads to another mode of being called present-at- hand: “Das nächstzuhandeneSeindekannimBesorgenalsunverwendbar, alsnichtzugerichtetfür seine bestimmteVerwendungangetroffenwerden. ... In solchemEntdecken der Unverwendbarkeitfallt das Zeug auf. Das Auffallengibt das zuhandeneZeug in einergewissenUnzuhandenheit. ... [after which] Die pure Vorhandenheitmeldetsich am Zeug” (Heidegger, 1927/1986, p. 73). } Van Dijk, 2008.The ready-to-hand is not grasped theoretically at all (not something we observe, analyse, reflect on, conclude as a 'this must be the case' fact, and then choosing our best action on the basis of this theoretical knowledge of the world)Heidegger says:The peculiarity of what is proximally ready-to-hand is that, in its readiness-to-hand, it must, as it were, withdraw in order to be ready-to-hand quite authentically. That with which our everyday dealings proximally dwell is not the tools themselves. On the contrary, that with which we concern ourselves primarily is the work.ValuesAmong other troubles, researchers were running up against the problem of representing significance and relevance—a problem that Heidegger saw was implicit in Descartes’ understanding of the world as a set of meaningless facts to which the mind assigned values..Heidegger warned that 'values' are just more meaningless facts. To say a hammer has the function, hammering, leaves out the defining relation of hammers to nails and other equipment, to the point of building things, to the skill required in actually using a hammer, etc.—all of which Heidegger called ‘‘readiness-to-hand’’— so attributing functions to brute facts couldn’t capture the meaningful organization of the everyday world and so missed the way of being of equipment. ‘‘By taking refuge in ‘value’-characteristics,’’ Heidegger said, ‘‘we are...far from even catching a glimpse of being as readiness-to-hand’’ (Heidegger, 1962, pp. 132–133).This brings in the body, but to understand the role of the body we can better turn to Merleau-Ponty.
Merleau-PontyAction-perception coupling: primacy of action before perceptionBody as the grounding structure, being ‘in between’ the self and the world (the basis for both)Body as object vs body as ‘lived body’Optimal gripMaurice Merleau-Ponty Phenomenology of Perception (1962) p. 110To an observer, other peoples’ bodies are physical objects in space, perceivable in the same way as any other physical object, or indeed parts of their own body such as the front of their body, or their arms and legs. But that same observer is always already embodied within their own body, relying on their own embodied experience to be able to perceive any world at all, let alone other objects within it. Merleau-Ponty (1962) referred to these two aspects of embodiment as our phenomenological bodies and our objective bodies, "my body for me and my body for others" (p. 106).I do not need to observe my body and ask it to move: I am my body…A movement is learned when the body understands it, that is when it has incorpo- rated it into its ‘world’, and to move one’s body is to aim at things through it; it is to allow oneself to respond to their call, which is made upon it independently of any representation. Motility, then, is not, as it were, a handmaid of consciousness, transporting the body to that point in space of which we have a representation beforehand.Merleau-Ponty’s explanation rests on his account of human embodiment and how the human body immerses itself, spatially and temporally, in its lived world. This immersion is both constituted and maintained by perception. (Robertson)Perception always has a perspective. As an active process, it goes outwards into the world, from someone who is always somewhere at a specific point in time, taking hold of whatever is available in the environment that is already meaningful to that individual.Over time, as it is lived by any particular person, the meanings generated during perception are continually shaped by what has been lived before, or as Merleau-Ponty described perception as it is lived, “It is like a net with its knots showing up more and more clearly” (p. 12).Dreyfus: optimal grip.What the learner acquires through experience is not represented at all but is presented to the learner as more and more finely discriminated situations, and, if the situation does not clearly solicit a single response or if the response does not produce a satisfactory result, the learner is led to further refine his discriminations, which, in turn, solicit more refined responses. For example, what we have learned from our experience of finding our way around in a city is sedimented in how that city looks to us. Merleau-Ponty calls this feedback loop between the embodied agent and the perceptual world the ‘‘intentional arc’’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 136).1. How the world is available to people; The structure of the body shapes the boundaries of human freedom (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, pp. 434–456).The actual shape and innate capacities of the human body; bodies have two arms with hands that can move in certain ways, two legs, eyes and ears with specific sensitivities, a certain size, gender, weight, a front and back and so on. “In so far as I have hands, feet, a body, I sustain around me intentions which are not dependent upon my decisions and which affect my surroundings in a way I do not choose” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962, p. 440). Over time, particularly when we are very young, we learn how to refine the use of these primary actions and capacities and become skilled in their doing. “[The body] manifests through them a core of new significance: this is true of motor habits such as dancing” (ibid., p. 146). Finally, Merleau-Ponty argued that the acquired cultural skills also correlate with our bodies. Dreyfus (1996, p. 1) used the example of knowing that a letter box is for posting letters. This is not based just on body structure, nor even structure plus a universally acquired human skill, but also requires experience with letter boxes and posting letters. As we refine our various embodied skills for coping with whatever comes along that requires our skilful response, that is to say, as we learn, we encounter increasingly more finely discriminated claims for our actions (Dreyfus, 1996, p. 1). Our relations to the world are transformed as we acquire skills from acting within it and these skills, in turn, will shape how situations show up for us as requiring our response (ibid.).The importance of habit for Merleau-Ponty is that it expresses our power of “changing our existence by appropriating fresh instruments” (p. 142).Experts experience periods of performance, variously called ‘‘flow’’, ‘‘in the groove’’ and ‘‘in the zone’’, when everything becomes easier, confidence rises, time slows down, and the mind, which usually monitors performance, is quieted. Yet performance is at its peak. Something similar happens to each of us when any activity from taking a walk, to being absorbed in a conversation, to giving a lecture is going really well. That is, whenever we are successfully and effortlessly finding our way around in the world. Athletes in such situations say they are playing out of their heads, and in much of our everyday coping, so are we.Sartre makes a convincing case that in such absorbed activity the ego is altogether absent and only emerges with reflection. As a good phenomen- ologist, he describes his own ego-less absorption:When I run after a streetcar, when I look at the time, when I am absorbed in contemplating a portrait, there is no I... I am then plunged into the world of attractive and repellant qualities—but me, I have disappeared.3In general, when one is totally absorbed in one’s activity, one ceases to be a subject.No time to discuss:Merleau-Pontyemphasised that at the same time as we live our bodies, as our acting selves, our bodies are physical objects in the world that are publicly available to our perceptions and the perceptions of others. He called these two aspects of human embodiment “the body as sensible” (as in available to the senses) and “the body as sentient” (1968, p. 136).
The analytic, scientific view, influenced by Descartes’ distinction between mind and physical world, first assumes there is an outside world, then asks (for the empiricists) how we can perceive that world, then asks how we can think about what we perceived (or for the rationalists, it is the other way around: first how we think about the world and then what we thus perceive of it, but the basic split between mind and a pre-existing world is of the same both for the rationalists and the empiricists). Classical, analytic philosophy (as opposed to ‘continental philosophy’ to which phenomenology belongs) then asks, how we, based on our thinking, can take action rationally, intelligently, informed, in the outside world, in order to give the right response to a certain situation.
Phenomenology starts instead with what is ‘between’ our mind and the outside world by bracketing out the ‘inside mind’ and the ‘outside world’ altogether, and looking at the interface between body and environment first to see that there is where experience starts. This experience is governed by continuous interaction, we are always already active with our bodies in the world, we are not outside of the world but ‘in the midst of it’ and we do not at first reflect on the world and describe or talk about the world, we ‘live’ our worlds, which is what Dreyfus calles ‘embodied coping’. This coping, this practical dealing with, the ‘zuhandenheit’ of the world as we deal with it in the ‘flow’ of things is the basis for phenomenology and its texts are about the structure of that involved engagement with the world. Then, based on ever finegrained distinctions the world shows up for us as meaningful and based on our evolving skills in dealing with the world the world shows up for us (presents itself to us) in different ways each time we have learned new skills in dealing with it. Only after we have sorted out all of that can we start to talk about such things as ‘reflection’ or detached reasoning ‘about’ the world, and the whole of science is part of that. So what science has to say about reality is not the ultimate ground of all things (and certainly it would be the wrong way around to say that our consciousness must therefore ultimately be the workings of a a physical brain that is composed of atoms and quarks etc). The ultimate ground is not found in science because science is part of that derivative mode of being, the detached mode of being that presents us with the world in its ‘vorhandenheit’. But before that, we have a more ‘primordial’, more basic way of dealing with the world, called the ‘zuhanden’ mode, or ‘coping’, and in that more basic world we are not detached subjects observing a world outside of us, but we are Dasein, which means we ‘are-with-the-world’, and the world shows up as a set of ‘in-order-to’s, as meaningful ‘solicitations for action’ (affordances).
Phenomenology and Interactive Systems Design
A philosophy of being-in-the-world with relevance for design
Jelle van Dijk
November, 26, 2013,
SDU Design, Sønderborg, Denmark
Why phenomenology is difficult
• Questions basic assumptions
• Not ‘what things are’ but ‘how things can be (for us)’
• Disagreements amongst phenomenologists
• Edmund Husserl
• Martin Heidegger
• Maurice Merleau-Ponty
• Hubert Dreyfus
Phenomenology and technology: Paul Dourish, Lucy Suchman, Toni
Robertson, Philip Agre, Winograd & Flores, Peter-Paul
Verbeek, Charles Lenay, Pierre Lévy
Other phenomenologists (more or less):
Brentano, Jaspers, Sartre, Arendt, Schütz, Gadamer, Levinas, Derrida,
Latour, and more recently, Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, Shaun
Gallagher, Alva Noë.
Why study phenomenology?
(Klemmer, 2006): Bodily activity [is] essential to understanding human
cognition. Dourish suggests phenomenology ... as [a] uniting lens for
social and tangible computing.
(Dourish, 2001): [Even in VR] users are disconnected observers of a
world they do not inhabit directly. They peer out at it, figure out what's
going on, decide on a course of action [using] the narrow interface of
keyboard or dataglove. … Our experience in the everyday world is not
of that sort. We inhabit our bodies and they in turn inhabit the
world, with seamless connections back and forth (p.102)
“User-experience is not like usability—it is about feelings.
The aim here is to create happiness. You want people to
feel happy before, during and after they have used your
product. ... It is a touchy feeling kind of thing. Why, for
instance, does an Audi S6 give you a much better userexperience than a Ford Focus? I mean, in terms of usability
they are pretty much the same. (Baekdal’s designer blog,