Transcendental Phenomenology: A Priori Science of Consciousness

Transcendental Phenomenology is a system of philosophy created by Edmund Husserl, the 20th century German philosopher. Phenomenology is the a priori science of experience: It studies experience without reference to assumptions posited by experience. Phenomenology considers experience in itself and without assuming anything about the reality or unreality of the contents of experience. The experience of seeing has certain universal structures whether the seeing occurs in dream or reality. These universal structures are the subject matter of phenomenology. In this sense phenomenology is related to philosophy as mathematics is related to natural sciences. Although Emmanuel Kant started transcendental philosophy, it was Edmund Husserl who first established phenomenology and its method as a self-sufficient philosophical system that can bring to self-evidence all other inquiries.

Phenomenological truths discovered through phenomenological method have universal validity. It was in transcendental phenomenology that the constitution of human being and its place within cosmos is understood rigorously and on a purely scientific basis. Phenomenology is the ultimate epistemology, and philosophy is possible only as phenomenology, in agreement with Heidegger.

Phenomenology demands a new way of thinking, a new way of seeing, which cuts through all unjustified assumptions of modern science and philosophy. It exposes these unjustified assumptions in an attempt to ground knowledge in a presuppositionless self-evidence. The ultimate ground of apodictic self-evidence is what Husserl calls “The Phenomenological Onlooker.” The existence and reality of this onlooker is established in a self-consciousness of the onlooker, unlike Kant that posit this as a theoretical construct for the sake of epistemological necessity. The way to an experience of this onlooker is for the first time postulated in Husserl’s phenomenology. The method of bringing to self-evidence the phenomenological onlooker is known as “transcendental-phenomenological Reduction.” Although there are many different Reductions performed in phenomenology, the universal Reduction or Epoche is the one that for the first time discloses the onlooker to itself. Phenomenology shows that the human natural life is a life of acceptedness, a life witnessed and accepted by the onlooker.

Phenomenology posts three levels of ego: First is the empirical ego, the psychological human “I.” This ego is the one to which we as humans have access. A deeper level ego is called the “transcendental ego” which constitutes the world as such; this ego has the task of constituting the world around itself; the empirical ego is itself a constitution of the transcendental ego. Phenomenology studies and exposes in detail that modes and structures of transcendental constitution of the world and human ego. At a deeper level exists the “non-participant onlooker” which is a witness to the constitutions of transcendental ego. It is the self-forgetfulness of this phenomenological onlooker that results in our human understanding of world as an objective reality. Phenomenological has simply accepted what is constituted by transcendental ego. The phenomenological Reduction which frees the onlooker from this acceptedness is not performed by the human ego not by transcendental ego. It is the phenomenological onlooker that performs the Transcendental Reduction, thus the onlooker comes to itself for the first time in the performance of Reduction.

The onlooker is captivated by the world. Reduction frees the onlooker from this world-captivation. This experience of freedom from world-captivation which is known in phenomenology as Transcendental Experience is recorded by mystics of all revealed traditions: In Islamic esoterism this moment is known as the extinction of ego after which the mystic utters “Ana-al-haq” meaning “I am the truth.” In Hinduism this moment is known as Liberation, a realization in which the mystic realizes “I am Brahman.” In Christianity it is the identity of father and son that is posited when Christ says in John 10:30 that “I and my father are one.” This identity, the identity of the empirical ego with phenomenological onlooker, is evident in all esoteric paths; it is known as Supreme Identity.

Although phenomenology is not considered a metaphysical system, it is the first systematic exposition of truth not based on revealed tradition. Phenomenology can explain why there is world and human existence, why the world is the way it is, why is there something rather than nothing, etc.

In other words, transcendental phenomenology is a revealed tradition of its own that makes possible the attainment of the absolute truth within itself and without the need of other systems or traditions; it is an esoteric path of Pure Intellect with Supreme Identity not as its goal but as its beginning, for Reduction is the initiation process necessary for becoming a phenomenologist. Thus, phenomenology is true philosophy. It is so because philosophy should be concerned with truth rather than fact which is the business of world sciences.

What is known in other spiritual and religious traditions as enlightenment is none other than the transcendental experience produced as a result of the successful performance of Reduction. The event of enlightenment whose causes and mechanics was unknown to other traditions, mistakenly attributed to grace, purification of mind and soul and body, diet, austerity or religious ritual, is for the first time understood in phenomenology. The precise mechanism by which one attains enlightenment is known in phenomenology as universal Reduction. Phenomenology shows that there is nothing divine or mysterious behind this experience; rather, it is a natural stage of conscious evolution that brings about the transcendental experience of onlooker by the onlooker.

Phenomenological truths are beautifully, however unknowingly, expressed in the postulates of quantum physics. One can even view phenomenology as the inward approach to that which quantum mechanics is the outward approach. Transcendental Phenomenology and Quantum Mechanics form a Yin-Yang pair that give expression to the inexpressible ultimate reality behind all phenomena. In both cases, the subject matter of phenomenology and quantum physics is ultimate reality; through phenomenology and the method of Reduction this ultimate reality is confirmed by direct experience and evidence; through quantum physics it is confirmed by experiments in nature.

Quantum physics and phenomenology arrive at the truth of the ultimate reality independently of all other traditions whose goal was the same thing. What is seen as truth by means of modern science and philosophy, particularly quantum physics and phenomenology, coincides with what was seen by mystics of all revealed traditions, particularly mystics within Islam, Hinduism, Taoism, and Christianity.

The ability of modern science and philosophy at arriving at the ground of truth without the need of tradition and its symbolic, though unnecessary disciplines and rituals, is telling of a new age in which truth is known directly by an individual. Consciousness is at a stage of evolution that it can directly handle truth without the aid of alien means such as traditions. Traditions functions as mere vessels for a specific historical periods in which a direct grasp of the Absolute is impossible for the individual. Although tradition has extreme value in its containment of truth in certain times, it is nonetheless inadequate for the modern man of intellectual temperament. For such seekers phenomenology is the new revelation, a new tradition, that can arrive at truth without recourse to anything outside itself, be it other religious and spiritual traditions or the findings of modern sciences. The one requirement for the task of phenomenology is the capacity of objectivity on the part of the seeker. Such degree of objectivity is never possible within revealed traditions since they all presuppose the revealed truth in their expositions.

If we understand the movement of consciousness to be toward truth, the movement of man is from those of traditions which address the subjective aspect toward pure phenomenology that address the purely objective aspect of man. After all, objectivity of the intellect is none other that the detachment of the individual. Truth had to wait for man to evolve into a a degree of objectivity necessity for a direct vision of the Absolute. This high degree of objectivity is realized in Transcendental Phenomenology.

What makes phenomenology a unique system is its degree of objectivity and mathematical rigor which is never seen before. Its power in unveiling the truth without superstitious and unnecessary demands from the phenomenologist lies precisely in its high degree of objectivity and scientific rigor. It is from this qualification that one can view Transcendental Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl as Supreme Science.

More details about the relation between Phenomenology and Quantum Physics can be found in my book Nondual Perspectives on Quantum Physics.

24 thoughts on “Transcendental Phenomenology: A Priori Science of Consciousness

    1. Thanks for your comment. Actually I would express it the other way around: phenomenology dealing with objective truth while physics grasping the subjective aspect of truth. The conciliation can come about only from the objective point of view; since from the objective point no gap exists at all since the subjective aspect, physics, is only a moment of objective truth. Please let me know if I addressed your question.

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      1. I just re-read this. First off, it is very well written and I appreciate you taking the time to try and explain this. We might be on the same page with some things here. I was wondering if you might start by defining “truth” for me.
        Next, life is transitory and ever changing. Do you think there is such a thing as ultimate truth? If so, would it be objective or subjective? It seems to me that through phenomenology, truth arrives to us as a result of an inward process directed outward as opposed to the truth being revealed by an outward source (Religion, God). Phenomenology from what I understand (which might I add is very little) reveals subjective truth since it is you having the experience.
        Furthermore, you say, “Phenomenology can explain why there is world and human existence, why the world is the way it is, why is there something rather than nothing, etc.” I would say rather, that “why” is not important, but that it reveals what things mean to me.
        As a final side not, Physics seems to act as the embodiment of the transcendental ego (from what I understand of it), insofar as it looks for a systematic approach for the stream of consciousness based on the empirical ego’s data.

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      2. Thank you for following up. Regarding the definition of truth I can offer various aspects such as “truth is ultimate reality.” and truth is “the ground of being.” or “that which exists on its own and doesn’t change.” But it is in principle impossible to define; if it were, then it would presuppose that we already know it. But you may wonder “this is the common answer of people who speak of truth.” But let me give an example of other things that exist but cannot be defined properly. Take color; color is a moment of subjective experience; it doesn’t exist as something physical; it is only experienced. But try to define color. Though we may associate color with frequencies of vibrating atoms, but still those vibrations are not color; they only produce it. See that color though we all know very well what it is still cannot be very well defined which doesn’t mean that color isn’t there. This problem of definition holds for all things that are contents of subjective experience, non-physical (though nothing truly physical ever exists.) Truth too is such a thing, but it is the content of “transcendental experience” rather than natural experience. It is known only when it is experience, exactly like color which is known clearly only when we see color.
        Regarding the existence of truth despite the transitory character of life, I would say the transitory character of life doesn’t impact truth, for truth if exists at all is that which is independent, existing on its own. And by truth I mean objective truth, since what is subjective and mental is mere opinion and belief. I equate truth with objective reality; regarding phenomenological method, though it begins from my experience but it transcends personal-psychological experience of empirical ego; it is for this reason that phenomenological ego is also called transcendental subjectivity. It is not at all a subjective experience since it doesn’t belong to me or you. etc. In transcendental experience you have already transcended the realm of the personal subject. Physics, however, is always inquiring into the world of human subjectivity, world of human experience.
        In response to your question “Do I think that ultimate truth exists” I should say I do not think so; rather I know so. This may sound peculiar or arrogant but I am just stating a matter of fact that is not about me or my opinion. I personally can’t care less about matters of opinion, especially my own. But I arrived at an experience of this ultimate truth precisely at a period of my life where as a physicist I didn’t even believe in such a thing as truth. I didn’t seek truth; I happened to bump into it, and it is as a result of that experience (which is not natural experience is commonly known) that I saw the being of such truth. I understand how strange this may sound but I am aboslutely certain that you would say exactly the same thing if you perform the “Phenomenological Reduction.” Before doing that whatever I say sounds nonsensical. For this reason I find it futile to discuss these matters much since it is a matter of direct seeing rather than intellectual discussion. The reason I say this is not at all to imply I am not enjoying our conversation. I only try to convey the very radical nature of “phenomenological Reduction” and the transcendental experience that follows Reduction. That experience is the real proof of it. I assure you that the moment before that experience I had the exact same position that you have now, which the common trend for physicists; but everything changes after since you realize how our natural thinking is filled with presuppositions of which we are unaware, presuppositions that conceal the real nature of things. So “transcendental reduction” is the only thing that can answer your question. Only then we know that objective truth is not a matter of opinion but of absolute certainty. In fact it is the only thing that is. I hope I had something to offer to your questions.

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      3. Let me also add that I totally understand every bit of objection you may have since they were all my own criticisms. But there exists an experience so radical shocking to our human understanding whose sight changes everything, everything that so far we have taken for granted to be commonsense and logic. Reduction is the gate to that experience. In one glance you would recognize it as the ultimate truth with most apodictic certainty. You will know that you are staring at the face of truth. Without that experience really nothing can be said of it.

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      4. For a more detailed discussion of possible definitions of truth and their forms you can refer to a series of posts of mine titles “Morphology of Truth.”

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      5. I’ll peruse “Morphology of Truth” and look into your claim about “Transcendental Reduction”. Perhaps you could take a look at my “Analysis of the Ambiguous Ideology of “Truth”, “Good”, “Justice” and “Love”: The Intellectual Revelation of Freedom” on my blog ‘Pandora’s Pondering’ and tear into it. I’d welcome your critique.

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  1. I like this because we as humanity have definitely reached our maturity, spiritually speaking. According to my belief system, we no longer are in need of clergy or gurus. It is time for independent investigation of truth. This is a sacred task, that of the observer, that no one can legislate even the seeker. We have to be willing to give up all traditions in order to understand who we really are. Then the truth becomes easier to experience because we let go of the fear of our own level of awareness; God consciousness. I simply understand that phenomenology resonates with my understanding of our level of potential consciousness and awareness. Thought provoking as always, dear heart!!

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  2. Tomaj, I have a question that has been bothering me off late. You are the right person to clarify it. Here it is:

    I am decoupling non-duality for this question here. An object or a being that has no conscious does not have the fundamental realisation of ‘I am’. I think animals have this realisation at a baser level which, I think, is how they have instincts for breeding and survival/ to have that level of existence. And for that matter plants have instincts too. But if a person who is aware of his existence/ is conscious has a breakdown of his neural system (coma for instance), he does not have consciousness anymore. Doesn’t this indicate that the brain is instrumental in realising consciousness of the self? Or to put it the other way, we can have some level of self realisation or realisation of self -existence only if we have a functional brain. Am I right in saying that in the absence of this a person can have a very baser level of conscious like in the case of animals or plants?

    I am asking this because the fact that a person who is normally conscious, even if he seems to lose it during deep sleep, regains his realisation of self-existence waking up, if not for a functioning brain. But a person who exists otherwise, if brain dead does not have any sense of self awareness (Another example- kids with extreme case of Down’s syndrome who are literally inactive ). Thank you.

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    1. Ram.G, interesting question and I am not sure if I know the answer in a satisfactory manner, but I say what I know of it so far: Brain, is instrumental in the consciousness of the self, self here meaning the human self or the sense of “I” in the human being. But this doesn’t mean that it is the brain the produces this consciousness, though it is true that the brain absorbs the Universal Consciousness and makes it in the form of the sense of “I” in the human. This goes back to the question of causes: Brain is the material cause of human consciousness but universal consciousness, or Intelligence, is the principal cause. Consider this example: In a movie theater, in order to have a experience of the movie you need two fundamental entities: One is the light that is being projected and the other is a screen that can reflect that light. Without either of these there cannot be an “experience of movie” but the light can still be there shining in empty space. The screen, as the material cause, is necessary in order to reflect the projected light but it doesn’t produce the light, light here being the principal cause of experience.
      In the same way, brain is necessary for experience but the real source of experience is pure intelligence or pure consciousness that exists even without the brain but has no experience as its object. This pure consciousness is there in all state: Waking, dream, and dreamless sleep. Even in the dreamless sleep there is consciousness, and that is why we know about such a state. But since the mind isn’t there, there can be no experience. Consider the empty space that is dark. The empty space is filled with light but it is dark. That is because there is no object to reflect that light; but this doesn’t imply the absence of light.
      The supreme Self has no sense of “I” in the human sense. In the absence of brain or the mind the supreme Self is still there is never affected but it has no objective experience. It shines like the sun in empty space. Brain or mind plays the role of objects that reflect the light and hence create experience or the sense of “I” in the human sense.
      I am not sure if I addressed your question, but please let me know if I did or not. Thanks

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    2. If there was no consciousness in the dreamless state we would not even know that there is such a state as dreamless state. We all know about it but none of us can explain it or say what it’s like because we are conscious but there is no experience. In fact, the dreamless sleep is a perfect example of the nondual state of consciousness, and it is inexpressible precisely because nothing is experience or reflected in it; where there is no two things, there is no way to describe or explain anything. But consciousness is still there in its pure form and without being refracted by the mind producing experience.

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  3. “But this doesn’t mean that it is the brain the produces this consciousness, though it is true that the brain absorbs the Universal Consciousness and makes it in the form of the sense of “I” in the human.”

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks for this comprehensive explanation and a clear analogy. Consciousness is not a phenomenon of the brain. Only a person who has the ability for any cognitive perception can hope to realise the ultimate reality. But brain is the seat of this cognitive perception. Which makes brain the agent of this ultimate realisation. If pure consciousness is the ultimate reality and nothing exists outside of it, what bothered me was that we should not be requiring brain as an agent to to realise it (which in case reduces it to an objective experience). If we consider this, this makes us to question the nature of consciousness itself.
    Sorry for rambling on 🙂 I guess it ultimately boils down to this. I am just grappling to ‘intellectually’ understand this, no matter how much ever I attempt, I will be never able to get a hold entirely without the ultimate transcending experience.

    “where there is no two things, there is no way to describe or explain anything”
    Profound and true..

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    1. No doubt that the actual transcendental experience removes all doubt and makes all things clear instantly.
      Regarding the necessity of brain in realizing the Self I must say that the Self is always already realized, with or without a brain. It is only our ignorance of this eternal realization that makes the Self appear as the object of attainment. In other words, empirical experience veils our knowledge that the Self is already realized. It is only from the point of view of ignorance, i.e. our human state, that it appears we realize the Truth. Once that moment comes, we realize that we were already Self-realized. So, the path toward realization is not so much about attaining something, or knowing something new; but it is all about removing the ignorance that we are finite and different from the Supreme Self. It is akin to waking up from a dream in which nothing new is realized except the fact that the dream was unreal and we were only ignorant of it.
      This fact makes realization both very simple and very difficult at the same time: It becomes simple because nothing new is to be achieved; we only have to remove ignorance, the ignorance itself being illusory and unreal. But it becomes difficult because it is so simple that we don’t know how to do it, because it is done in a way that nothing else is done; it is not done like a task starting from point A to B, but it is an act of realizing that there are no two points, that point A and point B are one and the same point, i.e. nonduality.

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      1. There is a popular saying in the Indian metaphysical tradition: “Those that know, do not speak, and those that speak, do not know.” Needless to say, ‘those that know’, refers to people who are in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or in a state of non-dual consciousness, or in a state of self-realization, whichever way one may put it.

        So only way to get real answers to question such as asked above is to bloom into self-realization. Meanwhile, maybe one should ask questions, but not be satisfied with the answers.

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      2. Thanks Ravindra for your comment, though I would appreciate it if you could be clearer about the point you were trying to make. Regarding that Upanishadic statement, it is both true and false. The statement is meant to say that knower of Self are empty of egotism and not that they don’t speak about it. As a matter of fact, if knower of truth did not speak, then there would be no religion, spirituality, gurus, etc. The difference is that they speak only to share and guide instead of making fame, etc.
        Another point is that knower of truth has realized the identity of self and Self but is not permanently in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Nirvikalpa Samadhi (NS) is a spiritual state and not a spiritual station, the former being temporary while the latter is a permanent acquisition. NS is not a human state; and in it the world has already disappeared; so a knower of truth cannot be there permanently and yet function as human; so they go into that state but return; however, their knowledge of Truth remains eternal and permanent even though they don’t remain in NS permanently.
        Another point is that NS is a yogic state; it may or may not lead to supreme realization of the Self. One can also attain that supreme realization directly and without having to go into NS. This is called Brahmanubhava in which the state is not changed but it is realized (directly perceived) that everything is the Self. Now as I mentioned above, NS may or may not lead to Brahmanubhava, so it is not by itself the end of spiritual ascent.
        And at the end I agree with you that we should not be satisfied with any answer whatsoever unless it comes with absolute self-evidence, a certainty that is attainable only in Turiya or Brahmanubhava.

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