Science, Scientism & Dharma

Does a scientific viewpoint clash with a transformative understanding of the EBT’s?
Many philosophers of science would suggest that it doesn’t have to – but a scientistic or methodological naturalism viewpoint might.

Prof. Massimo Pigliucci is a critic of scientism.

You can’t really do science, especially deep theoretical science, unless you take on board a number of philosophical assumptions, I would even dare say metaphysical assumptions.

Philosophers and scientists are just not on the same wave-length much of the time. They tend to be ignorant or dismissive of each other’s efforts and that is an unfortunate state of affairs which I’ve pushed back against.
– from the Secular Buddhist interview

Pagliucci also regularly appears on a podcast that is part of the network created by Robert Wright author of Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Related Topics:

Related Topics That Deserve Their Own Thread

  • Other person’s Beliefs / positions on scientism or methodological naturalism unless you reference and quote from actual written passages, audio or video. References to materials available on-line strongly preferred.

Here is my short version of the meaning of science.

Science & the philosophy thereof

Understanding the meaning of science requires the philosophy of science. Why? Short version. Describe a scientific test that can prove that a scientific study or ‘finding’ was properly conducted using the scientific method.
I’ll wait.

You will likely quickly notice that this thing we call the scientific method isn’t a thing in the sense of being a physical object. Futhermore, the practice of thinking about these non-physical things we call ideas – that practice of thinking is called philosophy.
Lesson 1: Science and the Philosophy of Science rely on each other.

Science also requires mathematics and/or logic. Usually both. Logic and math requires rational thinking and rational thinking requires a sentient being.
Reason. Sentient beings. Thought. Awareness. Familiar ground for the student of the EBT!

In western thought logic has traditionally been considered part of the domain of philosophy. And mathematics as sub-set of logic

Lesson 2: Science depends on reason, logic, math.
Lesson 3: Science depends on sentient beings to do science and to understand it’s results.

So there is a inter relatedness, a inter dependency – other reoccurring theme in the EBT.

Holistic Naturalism

There is a view that claims that philosophy has certain proprietary methods and ways of knowing, which should be distinguished from those of science. From this view one would say that physics belongs to science and metaphysics belongs to philosophy.
Even from this camp there are those who will admit that drawing a ‘bright line’ distinction may not be worth the effort. With more information what is today called metaphysics tomorrow may be accepted as science.

I prefer a more interdependent and integrated idea sometimes called holistic naturalism.

[Holistic] … naturalists see philosophy and the sciences (in the plural) as cut from the same cloth, and as mutually dependent. Both are enmeshed in the same web of knowledge. Disciplinary boundaries reflect accidents of history, and may have some pragmatic justification (division of cognitive labor), but they carry little epistemic import.

From a holistic view it still makes sense to speak of metaphysics but now we can understand it’s meaning with more nuance, not as an either-or situation.

One implication of these various views is that it is a mistake to equate talk of “rebirth as metaphysics” as a dismissal of rebirth. The meaning varies depending on one’s views.

A practical problem is that there are a number of different views of science and philosophy. A statement that makes perfect sense from one view point sounds like non-sense from another. Even for a experienced philosopher of science it can be hard to figure out what someone else’s view is. So without some discussion and clarification of meanings and views misunderstanding is just about %100 guaranteed.


I understand scientific causality in terms of causal process which is generally based on scientific notions of physical process and thus physical causality. It’s not particularly exceptionally stringent and most certainly it is scientific. Stanford for example has an accessible definition(s) of causal process for your edification.

This focus on physical causality also defines the general scope of the sciences, and in that sense scientific method is self-limiting. It is thus not controversial to point out that the limit of scientific enquiry is precisely its focus on physical phenomena. Some proponents of physicalism however, claim that everything in the universe must ultimately be explained in physical terms. This latter metaphysical belief is in my opinion a form of pseudo-religious faith, its proponents are also commonly believers in scientism which is the related and rather naive faith that science can answer all questions.

There are many philosophers of science as well as ‘everyday scientists’ who have a much more pragmatically mundane view of the sciences and scientific method.

This is also in my view where the scientific and phenomenal disciplines (such as anglo-american philosophy of mind, phenomenology and Buddhist insight understanding) part company. Science simply has no purview over the phenomenal world as such, as its focus is on explaining physical phenomena in physical terms. Historically, the phenomenal world has been relegated to ‘inner’ subjective experience, the mere appearances of which are somehow draped over the ‘external’ space-time of a physical world beyond our senses. Phenomena are ‘epiphenomenal’ in this view, in that our phenomenal experiences do nothing and the underlying physical reality remains the ultimate cause, whether that is thought in terms of reductive physicalism or as a supervenient hierarchy.

The ‘hard problem of consciousness’ is interesting for me as it problematizes this phenomenal-physical relationship at a fundamental level. And if you want to understand this problem it’s important to make that phenomenal-physical distinction as clear as possible, thus:

From a scientific perspective your question can be answered in two senses, one being physical (‘objective’) and the other being phenomenal (‘subjective’).

The phenomenal case: Do I doubt that when I open my eyes it is the the phenomenal experience of seeing the tree in the afternoon’s phenomenal light that is causally responsible for that conscious (phenomenal) experience?

Your question here makes no real phenomenal sense - “is the phenomenal experience of seeing a tree the cause for that phenomenal experience?” is a nonsense question. I would have to say that it is ‘my volition in opening my eyes to see’, that is the phenomenal cause for what is then seen. Volition sets the stage for the direction of my conscious attention towards perceiving the tree standing there in the afternoon light. Without the volition there is no directed attention (intentionality) and thus no perception.

The physical cases:

  1. Do I doubt that when I open my eyes and look at a tree it is the electromagnetic radiation reflecting off the physical substance of the tree that then causes retinal stimulation in my eye with a subsequent propagation of electrochemical signals through to my brain? No, I have no doubt that is the case as that’s a fairly simple and rather well understood bio-physical causal chain.

  2. Do I doubt that this physical process is associated with the phenomenal experience of actually seeing the tree? Of course not, for it is the phenomenal experience that first gives rise to the question of what’s going on physically between my body and physical things in the phenomenal world.

  3. Do I however, also doubt that this physical process is then causally responsible for that non-physical phenomenal process and its conscious experience? Absolutely I have doubts, and so welcome to the ‘hard problem of consciousness’!

Scientists working in the brain sciences alongside philosophers of mind have absolutely no idea what phenomenal experience is composed of, how such a non-physical process might arise from physical processes, or even how to go about conceiving of the possible causal or emergent relations responsible for the self-evident correlation between the phenomenal and physical realms. At the moment all we have is correlation and a philosophical confusion about all the causal terms of reference.

Physicalism is something like a working hypothesis and guiding methodological standard in science, not some kind of fundamental law. It does not define the nature and limits of the scientific, and is not even a conceptual standard that can be precisely defined other than to point to the inventory of theoretic entities and principles in current physics. Some scientists and philosophers have a deep, quasi-ideological commitment to physicalism. But whether the growth and expansion of scientific knowledge will ultimately bring with it ontological commitments to entities or phenomena that we would presently find difficult to regard as “physical” is not something we can know a priori, and ahead of time.

Nor can we know for certain that the kinds of knowledge we accumulate about our own conscious mental phenomena, from direct first-person observation, exhaust the reality of those phenomenon, or limit what might be knowable about them from other sources. There is one strain in philosophical thought that insists that the essence of conscious phenomena is to be consciously perceived. But that is simply a philosophers’ dogma. There is no way one can ascertain from a survey of the intrinsic, cognized character of the phenomena themselves that one has succeeded in grasping their essences.

So long as observational data on some class of phenomena can be collected, and hypotheses about those phenomena formulated and tested against such observations, science can be done. But none of us can predict ahead of time what the resulting science will look like, or set down a priori boundaries on the ontology or logical structure of all future scientific theories. In the case of the science of the mind, the data collection is difficult, because we only have direct access to our own personal conscious experiences, and knowledge of the experiences of others must be gathered by testimonial reports and comparisons. But that doesn’t mean useful data of this kind cannot be assembled.

I come back to the fact that, whatever one might affirm as a conclusion from a priori philosophical theorizing, we all take for granted in our everyday life that the causal antecedents and histories of our conscious experiences include external causes. When I pluck some strings and someone else experiences consciously introspectable pleasure, we take it for granted that the plucking of the strings caused the pleasure. We also take it for granted that if a person experiences conscious pain or displeasure as a result of our deliberate bodily movements, then that pain is our fault, because we are its causal origin. We can even do experiments to build up and confirm a set of elementary causal hypotheses about which physical movements, performed in which sequences and combinations, produce painful experiences, pleasurable experiences or some combination of the two.

Some might prefer to insist that these apparent causal relationship are merely and entirely appearances, and that ultimately there is only an inexplicable and unbridgeable parallelism between the conscious realm and the physical realm, with absolutely no causal penetration of the one into the other. But this kind of parallelism strikes me as an unconfirmed metaphysical conjecture, which cannot be established on any firm grounds, either a priori and a posteriori, and is not a justified conclusion from the observed phenomena themselves.

The phenomena of causation and causal relations supervene on the fundamental natural processes in which these relations happen to be instantiated, and so causal hypotheses can often be tested prior to the possession of a deep theory of the processes that sustain them. A further consequence of the supervenience of causal relations is that we have no basis for thinking that our current theoretical understanding of fundamental natural processes, be they “physical” or otherwise, exhausts the fundamental ontological basis for the causal knowledge we already possess. Since you are fond of the Stanford Encyclopedia treatments, you might also look up their articles on probabilistic causation, causal mechanisms and counterfactual analyses of causation. All of these approaches sanction a broader and more liberal and open-ended account of causation than you seem willing to allow.

I agree with the first two statements but not the third. It is probably true, I think personally, that scientists have as yet no idea what phenomenal experience is composed of. That’s why they need to do the science. Similarly, at one point in the history of optics, scientists had absolutely no idea what light was composed of, and what accounted for the basic facts about illumination and darkness … and their earliest theories were quite wrong. The very idea of waves of electrical and magnetic force potentials moving through an electromagnetic field had yet to be devised.

And yet, even before they knew what light was, they knew that light could heat objects, and that heated objects would emit light, and stimulate motions in the parts of the eye in predictable and testable ways. That is typically how science proceeds. At first you have some observed phenomena; then you proceed to the testing and confirming of hypothesized causal regularities and dependencies involving the phenomena. Only later do you arrive at deep explanations for the higher-level causal phenomena.

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“We” being you again? What is ‘externality’ as opposed to what I assume must be the ‘internality’ of your conscious experience? I take it these external causes are physical causes unless phenomenal causes can also be ‘external’ to your conscious (phenomenal) experience? And are they external to consciousness or only external to the physical body … or both?

As far as I’m aware there is no world that is ‘external’ to my conscious experience of this phenomenal world we all live in, but then I am a phenomenologist.

Which brings me back to phenomenal causality. I remain interested in the relation between the phenomenal and the physical and how Buddhist thought might throw some light on this very Occidental dualism. As concerns the phenomenologically causal relations at play when one opens one’s eyes to see a tree caught in the afternoon’s light …

Feelings related to sense perceptions have been left out here, and they play a part in the Husserlian ‘motivational web’ that is included in the temporality of perception in his Ideas 2. The pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings associated with perceptions, give rise to inherent and habitual motivations that drive volitional actions that then set the stage for directed conscious attention and its sense perceptions; and so the circle of temporality constantly cycles through the present with its past and future horizons.

These concomitant phenomenal causes are all co-dependent as well of course, as without one the others will not arise. And they belong to a dynamically cyclic temporal process rather than to a linear chain of cause and effect.

But where do the physicality of the world and body belong here in this cyclic phenomenal causality? There is a body with photosensitive jelly eyes electrochemically connected to a mass of jelly tubes that form a clump of brain meat all of which is stimulated by external electromagnetic radiation reflecting off a wooden surface…

I have some ideas regarding the notion of ‘contact’ and ‘consciousness’ in relation to ‘physicality’ but would be interested in anyone else’s thoughts on the matter.

Ok, well that seems more than just phenomenology, but is a kind of solipsistic idealism. As for me, I assume that there is a world of some kind that exists independently of my conscious experiences of it, and that when I die, that world will continue right along producing effects in the lives of the living. There is not much point even debating whether physical events cause conscious mental events unless one is willing to posit a realm of physical events that are not in themselves conscious mental events.

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The question was whether that world is ‘external’ to conscious experience, and if so what your notion of ‘externality’ might be.

If it continues to exist independently of my mental experience of it, isn’t it obvious that it is external to my mental experiences?

So I mean that the physical world is actually external to my experience of it, and not just that it appears as external. If I look at my hand and foot at the same time, then I experience a complex conscious visual phenomenon, in which the hand appearance is separated from the foot appearance in “phenomenal space”. But that’s not the externality I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fact that when I go so sleep, and lose all visual and somatic awareness of my hand altogether, it continues existing there at the end of my arm, even though neither I nor anybody else has any experience of my hand at that time.

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That’s good that your hand continues to exist when you’re not conscious of it, I would certainly hope so! But I’m still unsure about how that simple fact follows from your apparently metaphysical belief that “the physical world is actually external to my experience of it”. What does the term ‘external’ actually mean here because, no, it isn’t at all obvious!?

Do you mean that your conscious experience of the phenomenal world is like a VR movie playing somewhere ‘inside’ your head? Thus the actual physical world it represents is ‘external’ to that ‘inside’?

These external/internal metaphors are still very much part of the current debates and seem to rely on the notion that phenomenal experience is in some way the (I would say alchemical) non-physical product of an individual’s brain meat and its physical processes, whether that is via physical causation or supervenient emergence.

From this externalist perspective, the phenomenological notion that the phenomenal world is what we live in and share can perhaps seem to be “a kind of solipsistic idealism” and this indeed has been a repeated critique of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s philosophies.

But it only makes sense if you believe the phenomenal world is already ‘in your head’, a mental world of mere appearance with an underlying physical reality that is ‘external’ to that mental ‘internality’.

Is this what you believe?

event e is external to mental phenomenon m =df it is possible for x to occur even if m does not occur.

The “possible” should be taken in the broadest modal sense. It is “metaphysical” or “ontological” independence.

The claim that my hand continues to exist during some period when there is no conscious experience of the hand, and that its continued existence even during periods when it is consciously perceived, is independent of of its being consciously perceived, implies no conclusions about the nature of those conscious experiences. The independence could be the independence between two different physical phenomena, or it could be the Independence of a physical phenomenon and some other kind of phenomenon.

I believe the world of physical systems and entities, both microscopic and macroscopic, described by natural science is a world of entities that do not depend ontologically on their being cognized or represented by some entities not represented as part of that system. We come to have what knowledge we do the existence and some of the properties of these systems and entities by causally interacting with them. Fully understanding the nature of those causal interactions is on an ongoing task for science.

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So ‘external’ means for you that even if you aren’t conscious of something, it’s still there… a physical thing’s existence is ‘independent’ of whether one consciously experiences it or not? Fair enough, but the antonym of ‘external’ is ‘internal’ suggesting that physicality is ‘outside’ or ‘encompasses’ our being conscious of it. Why use this spatial metaphor if it doesn’t mean that sort of hierarchical relation but just a neutral ‘independence’?

Another variation on this question of existence is whether that thing, your phenomenal hand that you experience seeing and feeling there attached to your arm, is still ‘there’ when you are unconscious. This boils down to a definitional question: Do phenomenal experiences exist when one is not experiencing them? Well, no, of course not!

So the event e (or x) occurs in 2 senses, one as the phenomenal event itself, and the other in terms of its physicality. I think it’s good to keep these senses in mind otherwise one can get in a bit of a conflated tangle.

No conclusions apart from that phenomenal experience can have no effect on the physicality that apparently exists independent of it … I think you stretch ‘independence’ here a bit far though. Presumably you were at some point conscious of the fact you had a hand, perhaps first as a toddler, and that any subsequent empirical claims as to the existence of said hand do depend on yourself and a witness both being more or less conscious in order to verify said claim?

In this case existence is very much dependent on our being conscious of it. Our whole phenomenal world is dependent on consciousness, along with all the phenomenal things in it, the sky and earth, mortals and gods, numbers and ideas. If we weren’t conscious of the totality of what belongs to human existence how could we talk about it and theorise its apparently ‘externally independent’ physicality?

(The reference to ‘gods’ is a Heideggerean theme to do with ‘conceptuality’ for the naive atheists out there!)

Yes, I think the debate has very much moved on to the hard problem concerning the ‘independent’ or otherwise relation between physical processes and their correlated phenomenal experiences, therefore your ‘independence’ is very much between physical and non-physical phenomena.

Again, I’m not sure framing this relation as one of physical ‘independence’ from phenomenal experience really says all that much, and seems to just reiterate the physicalist distinction and hierarchy that would then have to account for epiphenomenalism. Does ‘independence’ mean that phenomenal experience has no function in the physical world apart from reflecting that ‘independence’?

The relation itself is what is becoming more and more questionable due to us increasingly not knowing in any real sense just what, how or why the phenomenal side of that relation is what it self-evidently is. And so I return to the theme of opening oneself to the question by uncovering one’s own unthought presuppositions about the phenomenal world one lives in. Are you open to questioning DKervick?

A nice way to define the physical scope (and limit) of the sciences! And a form of physicalism in that you believe in an ‘externally independent’ world of physical stuff somehow related to but apart from the phenomenal world that you live in. I think we’re getting closer to the heart of your dualistic concept of existence!

But why do you need this rather strange belief in a physical world beyond or independent of our phenomenal world, and is it a world that we can’t directly perceive but can only think about? This latter has always reminded me of Catholic cosmology in that the physicalists have a blind faith in a heavenly realm beyond our senses but where all the gods are dead and long gone. All that’s left of heaven is a four dimensional space-time grid extending into mathematical infinity and bounded only by reason.

I much prefer deflationary accounts of where science stands with regards to physical and other phenomena, rather than this sort of 17th C metaphysics. Untangling the sedimented presuppositions of our scientific understanding is however rather painstaking don’t you think?

Lest we be accused of a naive scientism, this last I would rephrase as “Fully understanding the physical nature of those phenomenal causal interactions is an ongoing task for science” alongside the philosophical disciplines, which is what is happening in the ongoing debates in the brain sciences and the philosophy of mind concerning the ‘hard problem of consciousness’ and its neural correlates.

I think I’m using the term in a completely conventional way, as it is used in most philosophical discussions of the “problem of the external world.” To say that my hand is external to my mind is just to say that my hand is not one of the things that exists “in my mind”, but is something that exists independently of my mind and about which my mind merely provides me with some information.

I don’t think there is any ambiguity between two senses of “the event of my hand’s existence”, because my hand doesn’t exist as a phenomenal event in any sense. The conscious event that is my experience of my hand is one thing, but my hand is a different thing. My hand doesn’t literally exist “in my mind” in any fashion.

I wouldn’t say so. I expect that when I die my conscious experiences of my hand will come to an end. But my hand will still be there, hanging cold and rigid at the end of my arm on my lifeless cadaver. Whether a physical object is seen is a contingent, external, and relational property of my hand, and not intrinsic to the hand itself.

I don’t think we know that. Much remains to be discovered about where conscious phenomena fit into the natural world. Perhaps they will turn out just to be parts of the physical world that, so far, have not been encompassed within physical theory. Or perhaps not. Or perhaps we are just so muddled about the very terms and concepts that we are using to describe our experiences that the whole issue will dissolve.

It’s not just my belief, but the belief of the natural sciences, which have proven themselves to be much more successful as an intellectual enterprise than armchair philosophical speculation. Frankly, I think only a madman thinks that there is no world beyond and independent of his own mind.

I prefer my own formulation.

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If it were impossible to get to the bottom of these philosophical problems in one’ lifetime, shouldn’t we just focus on what we can fully explore ie the process of perception and how it creates the world?

With metta

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Finally we get to the heart of the matters at hand!

And from your initial rather pragmatic, anti-metaphysical, scientific (if somewhat scientistic) position, where you eschewed the “pre-established dogmas” of metaphysics, and where “Scientists are empirically-minded, and don’t care much about metaphysics. Metaphysics is just something my dogmatic philosopher friends get all worked up about.” We now have you with left hand on heart, right hand raised, pledging allegiance to the flag of the Cartesian metaphysics of perception!

And just to make sure there’s no ambiguity here:

Your scientistic prejudices, I think, do tend to make you over egg the pudding here. The “problem of the external world” remains a problem in many senses, from the never-ending skeptical debates through to deflationary criticisms of ‘metaphysical jargon’ (ala Chomsky) and the more pragmatic and epistemological traditions of anglo-american philosophy in the line from James, Russell through Whitehead, Quine and Davidson… I much prefer to think of the notion of an ‘external world’ as a way of talking about the relation of scientific thinking to empirical perception, like Quinean myth making, rather than as an actual place (like heaven) that we can’t directly see, hear, feel or sense apart from as a suprasensory concept. To unquestioningly believe that this concept reflects a reality ‘out there’ is to ascribe to a belief system based very firmly in nothing other than a scientistic leap of faith!

One might even say, as you seemed to hold earlier in this thread, that the sciences get along perfectly well without the extra baggage of metaphysical belief systems that posit suprasensory worlds beyond our empirical/phenomenal world, science being a pragmatic and very practical minded approach to theorising the physical causes of empirical phenomena.

So the notion of an ‘external physical world’ is most definitely NOT the belief system of ‘the sciences’ writ large, nor of all scientists, and most certainly not of all philosophers! The matter is much more contentious than you seem to hold.

But this notion of an ‘external world’ and its (I would say delusional) belief system are very stubbornly lodged as one of the predominant “pre-established dogmas” of Occidental scientific thinking, as a sedimented and often unrecognised ground for thought as taught in our schools and professional workplaces. I also think this notion of the ‘external world’ marks a foundational split with other forms of thought such as found in the Buddhist literature for example. No other culture or belief system has anything quite like it really, although I think it is historically founded in an atheistic interpretation of Catholic cosmology.

Your “problem of the external world” also marks the division between phenomenology and analytic thinking, from Husserl’s Lebenswelt through to Heidegger’s hermeneutics of Dasein, where what is actually real is the phenomenal world and our ways of talking about it (logoi). The subject-object dualism here has a third component that defines the two poles and conjoins them, and that is the relation between the subject and its objects - intentionality/temporality/presencing. To suggest that ‘physical objects’ exist externally to the phenomenal world is itself an interpretation of (a way of talking about and understanding) one’s own relation between self and world/subject and object.

In what sense are these forms of thought ‘mad’ according to your own personal interpretation of the relation between self and world? If you could answer that question then perhaps you could get an understanding of how your (in my view delusional) belief in an ‘actual external world’ forces you to see other forms of thought as ‘insane’.

Especially where it leads you to make what I find to be rather remarkable statements such as:

So … by ‘phenomenal experience’ what is meant is the actual perceptual experience of your hand, its visual form, the colour, shading and texture of its skin stretched over bones and flesh, and the tactile feeling of tingling, warmth or whatever is felt. When you open your eyes to look at your hand … there it is in all of its phenomenal glory!

That is what is meant by phenomenal experience in phenomenology and for the ‘hard problem of consciousness’. If you were a biological robot (a philosophical zombie) you would not have the actual perceptual experience of seeing the hand, all you would have is photons stimulating a photosensitive detector sending signals to a processing centre with appropriate behavioural outputs. The fact that we have this non-physical phenomenality added on is precisely what is so problematic in the hard problem.

So I have absolutely no idea what you mean above when you say your “hand doesn’t exist as a phenomenal event in any sense”. Do you see it there or don’t you?

We’re just going over old ground here. You’re not presenting any arguments.

It’s mad to think the world itself depends for its existence on one’s perception of it.

The problem of the ‘external world’ is for me the fundamental difference between so called analytic thinking and phenomenological and what I understand of Buddhist thought, and it does not seem to be ‘old ground’ for this thread. It’s a pity you no longer wish to participate in turning this ‘new ground’ for thought.

I am also quite obviously arguing for a definition of ‘phenomenal experience’ which means ‘perceptual experience’ in the phenomenological sense of schlichte sinnliche vernehmen, or straightforward sensory perception as opposed to whatever your notion of phenomena is. I think this is important if we are to unpack the paradigm confusion between our different points of view, especially where this concerns the ‘hard problem of consciousness’.

But I thank you for your devil’s advocacy so far and would invite anyone else who may wish to weigh in on what ‘perception’ means and whether the Occidental ‘external world’ exists for them.

So once more unto the breach!

If by ‘world’ you mean the phenomenal world of our sensory perception, which is this world we live in and share, then of course the phenomenal world “depends for its existence on one’s perception of it”, for what else is Dasein if not one’s own being here in this phenomenal world?

What I think you mean to say of course is that it would be mad to think that the ‘physically external world beyond our sensory perception’ - that you believe is not merely a story we tell about physical phenomena but actually exists somewhere - “depends for its existence on one’s perception of it”, which I would of course agree with … at least in the definitional sense … more or less.

As an empiricist however, I would have to say that any claim that such an ‘external world’ exists would most certainly depend on some sort of experiential i.e., phenomenal evidence in support of it, such as certain physical aspects evident in the phenomenal world disclosed in the regularities of one’s own sensory perception. But that would also be a fundamental condition for doing science about the existence or otherwise of an ‘external world’ wouldn’t it?

The diversity of traditional phenomenology is apparent in the Encyclopedia of Phenomenology (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1997, Dordrecht and Boston), which features separate articles on some seven types of phenomenology.

  1. Transcendental constitutive phenomenology studies how objects are constituted in pure or transcendental consciousness, setting aside questions of any relation to the natural world around us.
  2. Naturalistic constitutive phenomenology studies how consciousness constitutes or takes things in the world of nature, assuming with the natural attitude that consciousness is part of nature.
  3. Existential phenomenology studies concrete human existence, including our experience of free choice or action in concrete situations.
  4. Generative historicist phenomenology studies how meaning, as found in our experience, is generated in historical processes of collective experience over time.
  5. Genetic phenomenology studies the genesis of meanings of things within one’s own stream of experience.
  6. Hermeneutical phenomenology studies interpretive structures of experience, how we understand and engage things around us in our human world, including ourselves and others.
  7. Realistic phenomenology studies the structure of consciousness and intentionality, assuming it occurs in a real world that is largely external to consciousness and not somehow brought into being by consciousness.

Where are you getting the idea that phenomenology straight up rejects the external world? Early Husserl, or what?

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Throughout this discussion I have asked you several straightforward yes or no questions to which you have declined to answer. Knowing what you think the answers to those questions are would help me understand what you are actually saying. One of those questions was about your hand. Do you think your hand will continue to exist for some time after die, even even during times when time neither you nor anybody else is experiencing it?

It is a simple yes or no question.

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The early reading yes, from the Logical Investigations through the phenomenology of time (John Barnett Brough translation of the Boehm archive edition) and through to Ideas 2, this is the generative (or process oriented) perspective of his works where temporality (Zeitlichkeit) is the fundamental basis for understanding Ideas 1 and his later neo-Cartesianism. This view is becoming much more popular in anglophone circles since Brough’s translation became available in the early 90’s, the most expensive hardcover philosophy book I’ve ever bought!

Heidegger’s famous critique of Husserl amounted to basically saying that yes, the latter’s notion of temporality is the basis for existential phenomenology but Husserl was still a naive Cartesian with regards to internality/externality. This, in my view rather disingenuous, caricature of Husserl formed the basis for several generations of German, French and Anglo interpretations of his phenomenology centred around Ideas 1, the transcendental ego and its natural attitude, and there is still fierce debate on who the real Husserl is/was.

For me, Husserl’s insight into the circular nature of phenomenal time is one of the fundamental philosophical insights of the 20th century and remained the temporal basis for Heidegger’s entire oeuvre early through to the late Zahringen seminars on openness and presencing.

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