Enhancing Experience Through the Phenomenological Method

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please consider a print or digital subscription!)

Phenomenology is a philosophical study of the structures that underlie our conscious experience from a first-person point of view. In other words, it’s a multidisciplinary school of thought that attempts to understand how we experience things and what meaning things have in our experience.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty eloquently articulated the concepts of phenomenological philosophy in “The Phenomenology of Perception,” a book many consider his greatest work. The “phenomenological method” in particular — one of the work’s recurring themes — stands the test of time. Below, you will discover three of its foundational aspects and how they can positively impact our lives day to day.

1. Approaching Experience

The most fundamental aspect of the phenomenological method is its unique approach to experience. For this method, we must cast aside all preconceptions regarding the lived experience. These preconceived notions could affect anything from our own life experiences to our particular areas of expertise. This state is called the “phenomenological stance” and is arguably unachievable. However, the key is to make an attempt. Setting aside any preconceptions is intended to guide us to experience what may be a common everyday occurrence or perception as if it is happening for the first time. Fresh perspective is the goal; it will help us resist the tendency to make mindless and biased judgments.

2. Accumulating Perspectives, Accumulating Insight

It is common for us to accept the particular points of view shared with us by family and friends or formed via our own everyday life experiences; some may refer to this phenomenon as “groupthink” — a term describing our herd-like tendencies. It can cause a bias in our encounters with the world and the other people in it. Furthermore, it may cause us to miss the nuances and abundance of details found in any one particular moment. Issues in life are rarely black and white, so there are many points of view that can be adopted on any given topic. To gain a new perspective does not necessarily imply that one loses another. Therefore, by accumulating numerous perspectives, a higher degree of insight can be exercised. In fact, possessing a wide variety of viewpoints may reduce bias since individuals who put this method into practice must learn to appreciate the countless perspectives others hold to be true. This is regardless of how the individuals view the positions that other people express, whether the issue at hand is a life decision or a judgment. Think of it like this: You can enhance your own empathic sensibility by taking other points of view into consideration.

3. Suspend Judgments.

Open your eyes. View the “horizon practice” of intentional perception: mindful awareness of your environment, rather than a passive reception of your surroundings, will cultivate much greater skills of observation. This will enhance your day-to-day experiences, amounting to an overall enrichment of yourself and how you see others.

(Editor’s note: This article is from a past issue of Brain World magazine. If you enjoy this article, please consider a print or digital subscription!)

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