Archives for category: Phenomenological Accounts

Phenomenology, as the philosophical attempt to account for the structure of experience, has some methodological relationship with craft, or ‘making’ as it has come to be called. Heidegger’s(1954) phenomenology of silversmithing a chalice provides an example. He describes the experience and significance of wielding a hammer, and of the object that is being made. It is important to phrase the last clause in the passive voice. Heidegger was not a silversmith or practitioner of any other material craft, as far as I know. The contemporary ‘maker movement’ offers philosophers a renewed opportunity to engage with the “things themselves”. As van Manen(2014) notes, much phenomenology entails reflecting on a pre-reflective experience. Often those experiences are not all-consuming. He gives the example of driving home, and skillfully operating the car, with no clear memory of the drive. On the other hand, making an object also involves concentration in- the- moment, but the process is ostensive, rather than performative. The object bears the marks of the process by which one made it.
By making objects intended as subjects of reflection, we can develop new thoughts abductively, which can then be subject to inductive or deductive analysis. While I do not think this is the sole way to do phenomenology, I think this allows a means for engaging with the things themselves with both creativity and wonder.


Words to think on:

imaginative variation (is this not ‘art’?)

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology (1954) in Basic Writings David Farrel Krell, ed. Harper Collins, 1993

Hatch, Mark. The Maker Movement Manifesto.2014

Van Manen, Max. Phenomenology of practice: Meaning-giving methods in phenomenological research and writing. Vol. 13. Left Coast Press, 2014.

Interaction is a kind of action that occurs as two or more objects have an effect upon one another. The idea of a two-way effect is essential in the concept of interaction, as opposed to a one-way causal effect. A closely related term is interconnectivity, which deals with the interactions of interactions within systems: combinations of many simple interactions can lead to surprising emergent phenomena. Interaction has different tailored meanings in various sciences.

Casual examples of interaction outside of science include:

  • communication of any sort, for example two or more people talking to each other, or communication among groups, organizations, nations or states: trade, migration, foreign relations, transportation,
  • the feedback during the operation of machines such as a computer or tool, for example the interaction between a driver and the position of his or her car on the road: by steering the driver influences this position, by observation this information returns to the driver.- Wikipedia, accessed 15:38 EDT 23 May, 2012

The idea presented in the Wikipedia article is that two or more objects effect each other. We don’t have to go far to find examples. A light is dark, we flick as switch( the simplest binary computer we have) and the light goes on. Digital games offer more complex interactions. Different combinations of information, or movement(watch closely, that term, and others that could be replaced with the term ‘motion’).

But when we look at the painting, it does not change. To be sure, age has an effect on paintings, so their colours change and dim due to dirt and oxidisation. But merely looking at them doesn’t change them, does it?

yet I will argue that time and the social frame in which they occur changes them. The painting that is generally ignored will have a different interpretation than a celebrated painting, say the Mona Lisa. It’s audiences will move quickly past, while staring at the good paintings. it is here I am begining to think about Thomas Kuhn’s studies on science. He recognised that motion as contemporary physics defines it is much narrower than Aristotle did. Aristotle used the term motion to mean change. This lead to Kuhn developing his concept of the paradigm. For Kuhn, a paradigm was a series of assumptions and methodologies for developing particular scientific discoveries. These were instrumental principles, in that they developed knowledge that could guide action, but they weren’t absolute.

So each painting isn’t merely looked at; each painting was looked at in a particular paradigm as to its significance. As that significance changes, so the painting changes, even if it’s colours remain stable, and it’s physical form is not changed. For Walter Benjamin, an artistic object has an aura, and I argue this aura can be changed by the interpretative changes around it. For Alfred Gell, an art object was granted an agency by its interpreters. This agency again could change over time, as interpretation changes.

One may object that changing opinion doesn’t reflect a changing object. I would reply that the meaning of an object, its most significant element, is more crucial then the lack of chemical or kinetic changes. This notion of change again can be reflected in earlier metaphyics, that of Aristotle. He defined four causes by which a thing came to be: Its material cause- that from which it is made, and unchanging i.e. paint, laquer and canvas in the case of many paintings; The Formal cause; that which changes such as the particular design; the efficient cause, in this case the artist; and the Final cause, for what was this made.

The possible mutability of the final cause is what leads me to argue that a painting enjoys a form of interactivity. Its final cause is subject to review and revision. Why should we privilege Aristotle’s characterisation of the origins  of an object using his concepts of cause, versus more contemporary notions of origin and change? I will deal with that problem later. But I suggest that answers to that problem can be found in Duns Scotus’ discussion of quiddity, and in the work of Martin Heidegger, especially the origin of the work of art.


Horgan, John. “What Thomas Kuhn Really Thought about Scientific ‘Truth'” . Scientific American, May 23, 2012
accessed 23 May 2012

About ten years ago I had the odd experience of seeing a series of transformations, at least in my mind, of an object. At first I thought I was seeing a miniature deer that had wandered out of the brush along the Lachine canal. As I drew closer, it appeared as an object, sculpted to look like a primitive deer. Finally as I passed and looked back, I realised it was a broken piece of electrical stanchion, probably retrieved from the nearby derelict Canada Malt Factory. This experience of perceptual transformation started me thinking about how we create art objects, and how we perceive aesthetic objects. Especially interesting to me was the role of physical movement in this process. That I was running in the the hot, late afternoon outside, rather than inside  the controlled environment of an art gallery, with a typically static role for the viewer seemed an interesting approach to consider the relationship of creativity to perception.

These photos at were taken at about the 13 km point near the end of the run. To document the experience, I returned a few minutes later with a camera.

A hot day, running and looking

The sun cast shadows reducing the object to a silhouette.

In the late afternoon, I was on the returning leg of a long run. It was very warm, and I was a little dehydrated and coated with perspiration. The run was about 14km. As I headed down a gently sloped, I noticed what appeared to be a small animal. The head seemed small, perhaps the size of my fist. I strained to see whether it was a cat. The legs seemed too long relative to size of the body for it to be a cat. As I jogged closer, I blinked because what I was seeing seemed uncanny. Other people around seemed not to notice this odd animal. The shadows hid details from a distance.

From a  distance of about 100 m, the form was effectively silhouetted, its colour apparently subsumed by the dun hues of the grass around it and the deep shadows cast by the sun, low on the horizon. Broadly, my first impression was that the animal was looking over its shoulder. Thus it first resembled a cat. The grass around it was indistinct, but as I approached I realised the grass was behind the animal, relative to my approach, revealing the long legs. It was at this point my impression was that it might be a small deer, and that I had misjudged it’s size due to the interplay of shadow and slope.

The sun was low and bright, creating a strong contrast.

As I reached the bottom of the incline, its height, about that of my knee, became more apparent, but it’s details were no more distinct than when I had first noticed it. My pace had not slackened as I passed it, and the sun in my eyes further sharpened the contrast of figure with ground. I looked a head then took a glimpse and recognised that it was not an animal, but an artifact. It had apparently been placed against the fence recently. Broken glass had been placed on it, suggesting a ritual of some sort.

The object had gone from being a vague animal, to a cat like then deer-like creature, to a item of industrial scrap, to a quasi- religious icon, over the course of two minutes of my experiencing it. My interaction was mediated by distance, the particularity of the light and perhaps the particular mental and physical state I was in having just run for over an hour.

Reflections on a past moment

This event has often come to mind over the past decade I have thought about it. Thus I have to bear in mind the tricks of memory that may in form my account now. At the time, I did not have the scholarly vocabulary to analysis this experience. As  a result it is only now that I have attempted to write an account of it. I will edit and revise this post over time.