Part 3

Continuing on with our tangent, I would like to discuss some more of the structures of experience that are available for phenomenological reduction. By now you should be into the feel for performing reductions. Remember, a reduction is going back to the field of direct experience in order to find out for ourselves what's what -- seeing things as they are instead of how we are conditioned to see them. The reduction is the isolation, adumbration, relevation and eventual understanding and conceptualization of properties of our own mind as we discover them through disciplined introspection.


Most scientific models of causation fall unwittingly into what Alfred North Whitehead called the "fallacy of misplaced concreteness." They commit the error of reifying rational conceptions of causation upon a process that is essentially transcendental. Real, operational causation should actually be considered as problematical. A starting point in clarifying the problem of causation is to realize that the roots of our conception of causation are to be found in the structure of our everyday experience of the world, and in the organization of the neurocognitive processes that mediate our experience.

Counter to the classical view of David Hume, who considered causation as only the rational imputation of necessity upon the world of perception, causation is demonstrably an attribute of the organization of perception [see A. Michotte, The Perception of Causality (New York: Basic Books, 1963), M. Mandelbaum, The Anatomy of Historical Knowledge (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), J. Jaspars, M. Hewstone and F.D. Fincham, "Attribution Theory and Research: The State of the Art." in J. Jaspars, F.D. Fincham and M. Hewstone, eds., Attribution Theory and Research: Conceptual, Developmental and Social Dimensions (New York: Academic Press, 1983)]. Furthermore, causation is fundamental to experience from the earliest stages of childhood development (Jean Piaget, Understanding Causality , New York: Norton, 1974).

In other words, causation, just like the sense of reality or apodicticity discussed in an earlier tangent, is "already there" to perception prior to any rational reflection upon it. Causation is, as Whitehead rightly taught, an "aboriginal," or primitive aspect of the organization of perceptual awareness. If one turns to the exploration of ones own stream of consciousness, one may quickly ascertain that causation is an essential element in the construction of experience.

Perhaps the most complete phenomenological account of causation in the Western philosophical literature is to be found in Part Two of Maurice Mandelbaum's book, The Anatomy of Historical Knowledge (pp. 49-142) cited above. In that work, Mandelbaum demonstrates that the apprehension of causation in everyday experience involves an inherent awareness of interrelations among elements and phases of a process, and not the rational attribution of a cause-effect covariation among distinct events. These interrelations may occur simultaneously, as when the interaction between two opposing football players during the course of a "play" results in a "tackle" and the end of the "play." The interaction between the players causes the tackle, but is simultaneous within a single process. In actual experience, the interaction is the tackle which is the end of the play. Or, the sense of causation may derive from adumbrating a pattern of regularity in a sequence of events -- this being a kind of intuitive leap from experience to recognized pattern.

The interweaving of movements among otherwise distinct objects within a single process is what Michotte (1963:217) termed ampliation : ...ampliation of the movement is a process which consists in the dominant movement, that of the active object, appearing to extend itself on to the passive object, while remaining distinct from the change in position which the latter undergoes in its own right.

What we are aware of is both objects and their interrelated movements, and not merely objects to which we rationally attribute interrelations. Moreover, because consciousness is essentially intentional, in some moments of consciousness it is the object awareness that is predominant and in other moments of consciousness it is the overall movement (" kinematic integration " in Michotte's terms) that predominates. In the latter case, it is the awareness of the covariation of the different phases and elements comprising a movement that is of essence.

Of course, upon reflection we may interpret the covariation of phases within a movement, or the adumbration of regularity in a sequence of phases, in an analytical way. Abstract patterns of causal relations encountered concretely in perception may be projected upon experience in the absence of actual ampliation or adumbration -- a process Whitehead called "extensive abstraction. We might say that X occurred and then Y occurred as a consequence, or that every time X occurs, Y also occurs. But our perceptual system is neurognostically organized to perceive the entire movement as an integrated process -- to re -cognize the process as both a complex of interacting parts and a whole. "Taking a sip of coffee" is not normally experienced as a series of distinct, causal events (although it can be rationally analyzed as such after the fact), but rather is an integrated whole which may involve phases of movement occurring simultaneously or over time. The intent to have a sip which initiates the process occurs before the cup reaches the lips. But the tipping of the cup at the lips and the sipping may occur simultaneously.

The process of extensive abstraction may result in an over-simplified model of causation. Where there are multiple types of causation in direct experience perhaps a single pattern becomes abstracted and elevated to the status of a logical necessity. Among other things, failure to recognize the roots of causation in experience may result in ignoring the precise contextual variables that must be considered in order for an explanation to successfully account for an actual event.

The awareness of objects within an integrated process involving kinematic integration and ampliation, and the adumbrated significance of covariation and regularity is fundamental to adult human consciousness. Piaget suggested that this construction of the world of physical objects and relations develops slowly as a person adapts to the nature of things. But do we first have to learn about causation from the world, or is it possible that causation is fundamental to the neural processes that mediate experience from the beginning? There is now a lot of evidence that we are born with a "causal operator" as part of our neurognostic tool kit. We are operating on a rudimentary causal world from early infancy.


Much of our discussion so far about the structures of experience have centered upon some of the essential structures of phenomena. That is, we have been concerned with the screen and the movie. But what about the audience, the "you" that is not just producing experience, but the "you" who is watching the production?

We have seen that every moment of experience is intentional. Presumably you have watched your experience stream through and seen that it is organized around some object. Now, every time you watch the object of consciousness, and the organization of meaning, feeling, action and other operations centered on the object, it is also possible to ask yourself, who is studying this intentionality? That is, you can turn the intentionality of your phenomenological exercise around 180 degrees and ask who is on the other end of the intentional effort? What is the nature of the "me" that is doing the watching?

This 180 degree shift in the reduction is fundamental to a Husserlian phenomenology. Indeed, it is why he called his method a "transcendental" phenomenology, because it allows one to transcend their conditioned view of the ego. In biogenetic structuralism we call the culturally conditioned ego the empirical ego , while the understanding of ego attained by a mature contemplative we call (copying Husserl) the transcendental ego .

And although it is hard to pin him down to precise methodology at times, it is quite clear that Husserl was teaching a full-on process of self-discovery and ego transcendence -- one with similarities to the Theravadin Buddhist system of phenomenology. This process of transcending the empirical ego was one of studying the subjective standpoint and coming to understand the "I" as it really is appears in experience, and contrasting what we come to experience about ourselves with what we are taught we are. To see the real ego, the transcendental ego, is a radical procedure because it inevitably entails the transformation of the being as a consequence of eliminating delusions. As Husserl said: Unlike Descartes, we shall plunge into the task of laying open the infinite field of transcendental experience. The Cartesian evidence -- the evidence of the proposition, ego cogito, ego sum -- remained barren because Descartes neglected, not only to clarify the pure sense of the method of transcendental epoche, but also to direct his attention to the fact that the ego can explicate himself ad infinitum and systematically, by means of transcendental experience, and therefore lies ready as a possible field of work. This field is completely unique and separate, since it indeed relates likewise to all the world and all the objective sciences, yet does not presuppose acceptance of their existence, and since thereby it is separated from all these sciences, yet does not in any manner adjoin them. (Edmund Husserl (1977) Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology . The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, p.31)

Even the cognized self does not escape unscathed by the transcendental reduction. Where once reigned the mundane empirical ego of the naive cogito, there now reigns the "transcendental," or "pure" ego that has always been there and that is characterized as being, among other qualities, a spectator to both the essential givenness of perception and the processes of constitution of the world.

The process of reducing the empirical ego is deceptively simple. Just turn your concentration to attributes you consider to be "you" and study them. Adumbrate them from the flow of experience and relevate them into the clear light of scrutiny. What you will discover when you do this is that there is still a whole "you" studying this attribute. If you are studying the attribute, then the watcher, the real ego cannot be the attribute.

In our naive "natural attitude" we are conditioned to think of a pain as "my" pain -- "I am hurting!" But when you reduce a pain through phenomenological reduction, you will discover all sorts of interesting things about pain, and among them is that you are not "your" pain, that there is pain happening and "you" are watching it arise and pass away. The pain comes and goes and "you" are still there watching.

The same happens when you reflect upon any other feeling that arises. We are conditioned to think "I" am depressed, or "I" am happy, sad, ecstatic, angry, etc. But actually you can reduce the symptoms of depression (sadness, anger, ecstasy, etc.) and examine them as adumbrated attributes, and the "you" that is studying the feeling is still whole and "you" are distinct as a subject from the feeling that is the object of the reduction. And the feeling as object changes and comes and goes and is impermanent, while the "you" that is watching remains.

Try the process of reduction with the thoughts that arise and change and pass away. Are we out thoughts? Our internal verbal chatter? Our fantasies? How can we be those attributes when we can turn our intentional focus upon them and reduce them to the status of phenomenological objects? Who is the "you" that is watching the thought, the fantasy?

Well, if you continue to reduce all the attributes you are conditioned to think of as "you," and discover that they are all distinguishable from the watching you and that they are all changing and impermanent, then who is the "you" that is watching? Husserl's answer is that it is the transcendental watcher, the transcendental ego that is a subjective standpoint without phenomenal attributes. When you have reduced all the attributes you can reduce about "you," the "you" that still remains as watcher is the real you, the transcendental you that is relatively freed from identification with phenomena.

The realization of the transcendental ego does not happen overnight. It emerges developmentally as the ego becomes progressively freed from the cognitive operations upon which the naive natural attitude about the self was constituted. Just as the object of consciousness is reduced to its essentially pure nature by adumbrating, relevating and conceptualizing its essential properties, so too is the ego reduced to its essential subjectivity -- in fact, reduced to the role of undeluded watcher: The psychic life that psychology talks about has in fact always been, and still is, meant as psychic life in the world. Obviously the same is true also of one's own psychic life, which is grasped and considered in purely internal experience. But phenomenological epoche ... inhibits acceptance of the Objective world as existent, and thereby excludes this world completely from the field of judgement. In so doing, it likewise inhibits acceptance of any Objectively apperceived facts, including those of internal experience. Consequently for me, the meditating Ego who, standing and remaining in the attitude of epoche, posits exclusively himself as the acceptance-basis of all Objective acceptances and bases ..., there is no psychology, i.e., as components of psychophysical men. ...By phenomenological epoche I reduce my natural human Ego and my psychic life -- the realm of my psychological self-experience -- to my transcendental-phenomenological self-experience. The Objective world, the world that exists for me, that always has and always will exist for me, the only world that ever can exist for me -- this world, with all its Objects, I said, derives its whole sense and its existential status, which it has for me, from me myself, from me as the transcendental Ego, the Ego who comes to the fore only with transcendental-phenomenological epoche. (Husserl 1977: 25-26)

The human being who has realized his or her transcendental ego is a qualitatively different being at the cognitive level than other human beings. There is a power that derives from the transcendental reduction. It is simply the power that comes from the capacity to discriminate the real "I" from the delusory, culturally conditioned "I." The Buddha upon his awakening was reputed to have said, "I have found you, O' Builder, and you will build no more." He was talking about the place in each of us that constructs a false view of our selves. Because we are weighed down with this false view due to our being reared in whatever culture, we have to look carefully at our real ego to see what's what. And when we expend the effort to do this, we basically reconstruct ourselves by peeling back the onion layers of false attribution until we see clearly our essential subjectivity.

We have come to the end of yet another tangent. You may wish to return to the Day Seven discussion of training transpersonal anthropologists, or to the tutorial index.