In light of deeply transformative changes driven by technological advancement, shaping both our everyday experience and complex socio-economical circumstances, questioning the essence of life in such phenomenon has become an intellectual necessity. But essentially, why is a phenomenological enquiry still relevant to positivist issues? How might different notions of phenomenology offer insights to the question of being in changing circumstances? How might the phenomenological methodology contribute to a rigorous analysis and hence a wiser response?
To begin with, the originator of Phenomenology, German philosopher Edmund Husserl, established the school of thought as a set of scientifically open methodology (Philosophy as a Rigorous Science, 1910), which would focus on the once neglected philosophical study of structures of human consciousness and its intentionality. Throughout his lifetime, Husserl insisted Phenomenology remain a set of experimental principles and methods than a theoretical content. Phenomenological reduction, meaning an abstention of judgement and the analysis of conscious experience intending the transcendental entity, is one among the methods of conducting a phenomenological enquiry. Would adopting and focusing on the method of phenomenological reduction alone help us examine its impact? What remains after a reduction? What follows? What is the relationship between a reduced perception of entity and the horizons of consciousness, in which it is situated?
Robert Irwin, known for attributing his inspirations to reading the philosophy of Husserl, in particular the methodology of a reduction, shows us how art, as an reverse inquiry, might provide a reduced response and in turn impact the views’ own consciousness. “what would an art of the phenomenal be like? Where and how would it exist, and how would we come to know it?”
Irwin begins his book, Being and circumstance, with a 20-page reflection on the philosophic issues of change, inquiry, qualities and art’s two separate perceptual realms of the pictorial and the phenomenal, closing with his speculations on a possible ‘conditional art’. According to Irwin, what would follow a reduction, is our dynamically environing senses, art’s phenomenologically reduced response, and the viewer’s direct participation in the setting, and intending, of his or her own meaning.
Nevertheless, can phenomenological reduction prove relevance to challenges beyond perception and attention-detailing? Can Husserl’s establishment of a scientific phenomenology of consciousness meet today’s changing challenges? The school of phenomenology has certainly moved on. The late Husserl had acknowledged the concept of “Lifeworld”, extending his transcendental philosophy to include the state of affairs in which the world is experienced. And certainly Heidegger’s departure from his teacher. Today, contemporary philosopher within the school of phenomenology, such as Peter Sloterdijk, writes about our ontological constitution, “spaces of coexistence” and hybrid realities created by common technological advancement. The breadth and depth of phenomenology has been stretched enormously over the past decades.
Can phenomenological reduction prove relevance to challenges beyond perception and attention-detailing? If the word ‘reduction’ is taken to mean an elimination of the excessive, rather than a rigorous philosophical return to the consciousness, there are many examples available, some of them associated with a radical rethinking driven by technological advancement. On the fundamental question of dwelling for example, in “the Minimum Dwelling” (1932), Czech architect and cultural critic Karel Teige summaries the concept of Existenzminimum (subsidence minimum), discusses alternative collective living to sustain the minimum requirement of living. In 1927, Buckminster Fuller asked the question, “How much does your house weigh?” Incorporated airplane manufacturing techniques, Fuller’s prefab Dymaxion House, and later Dymaxion Car, reduced the ‘heaviness of dwelling’ from 60 tons to 3 tons. A micro housing initiative today wrote on their blog – “In general, compact, lightweight homes use less energy to maintain and heat; lighter cars use less fuel; fewer possessions weigh less, cost less and use up less physical and mental space.”
The most revolutionary technological transformation today is less physical than digital. The circumstances of our being is a world highly regulated, systematized, or networked. How have such changes inform responses to fundamental question of how to live? Already starting in the 1950s, a radical confusion of architecture/urbanism and network has begun. In Network Fever, Mark Wigley argues, much of what we hear today about the dissolving of architecture into the invisible, is an echo of the fanatical past.
(In 1976), Fuller attended a United Nations conference on habitat as the representative of Ekistics, but he published his contribution under the title “Accommodating Human Unsettlement,” arguing that it is precisely the stability of unseen infrastructural networks that makes global physical instability possible and desirable.
When infrastructural network remains crucial for engineer’s city planning, much of other pioneering experiments serve more for a polemical argument. In “Learning from utopia: contemporary architecture and the quest for political and social relevance.” , Antoine Picon wrote, “as a deeply social art, architecture is about both the stabilization of existing social uses and their possible mutation.”
At the conjunction of possible mutation and the struggle to establish real life relevance, is a point of interference where an investigation into essence of phenomena is crucial. How may design avoid totalistic view and allow for users’ own intending? How should experience be crafted so that phenomenon will self-reveal? Other than today’s much discussed UI or UX design, how should experiences be crafted? If positivist solutions will evolve, is the essence of phenomenon a constant or a variable? What would that reduction be – and what remains? What follows?