Q: What is Phenomenology?
A: In its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences. Although phenomenology seeks to be scientific, it does not attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead, it seeks to determine the essential properties and structures of reality through systematic reflection on observable facts and events.
There are several assumptions behind phenomenology that help explain its foundations:
- Phenomenologists reject the concept of objective research. They prefer grouping assumptions through a process called phenomenological epoché – a technical term typically translated as “suspension of judgment” it refers to a process of setting aside assumptions and beliefs.
- They believe that analyzing human behavior can provide one with a greater understanding of nature.
- They assert that individual persons should be explored. This is because persons can be understood through the unique ways they reflect the society they live in.
- Phenomenologists prefer to gather accounts of conscious experience, rather than traditional data.
- They consider phenomenology to be oriented toward discovery, and therefore they research using methods that are far less restrictive than in other sciences.
Philosophically, the goal is not to prove a definitive theory to explain any particular event. The phenomenological objective is to understand an event as it is observed and experienced. The methodological attitude of phenomenology is to refrain from judging whether anything exists or can exist as the first step in recognition, comprehension, and description of what we agree is real. This framework is particularly apt for examining Fortean phenomena.
The phenomenologist does not ultimately care if UFO’s are or are not real because the point of interest is that so many people believe quite sincerely that they are. Likewise, the phenomenologist is not invested in whether there are yet to be discovered great apes or relic hominids alive in the world today. To the phenomenologist, even if you accept for arguments’ sake no such creatures exist, the question becomes: why do so many people claim to have real, memorable, often life altering, encounters with a non-existent creature? Fifteen or twenty accounts are a curiosity; two or three hundred stories are folklore; two or three thousand are a phenomenon.
Q: Isn’t this just a fancy term for Paranormal Investigator?
A: No. The two are superficially similar pursuits, but the major distinction comes down to intentions and objectives. Typically, the self-styled paranormal investigator is motivated to solve mysteries, or to prove their own hypotheses. The phenomenological approach includes investigatory methods but is not specifically focused on paranormal anomalies or conclusive outcomes. Youthful adventurers go out hunting for ghosts, or monsters. Dedicated dilettantes will invest in high tech equipment in the hope of documenting high strangeness. A phenomenologist gives as much attention to those adventurers and dilettantes as the actual mysteries, working more like a journalist than a detective. If a paranormal investigator discovers a hoax, they’ll call off the investigation; but, a phenomenologist will study the anatomy of the hoax. If a hoax can be proven, then how was it perpetrated, by whom, and most importantly why?
Q: Is this Occultism?
A: Many of the topics of interest are associated with “the occult” but the ultimate purpose phenomenology is to reveal rather than hide what can be known. It might be said that an interest in occultism is a gateway to phenomenology because so many aspects of spiritualism, metaphysics, et c., are nearly incomprehensible to a closed and unimaginative mind. However, just as a person can have a comprehensive knowledge of the history of baseball statistics but no aptitude for playing the game, one can have expertise in witchcraft and demonology without practicing Black Magick.
Q: How do you become a Phenomenologist?
A: Phenomenology is the philosophy of experience, and by extension the application of that philosophical perspective to how we understand our individual and collective experiences. Rather like journalism, one can go through a university program to become an academically qualified expert; but, ultimately it is a matter of doing the work. The freelance investigative reporter is no less a journalist than the senior columnist who never leaves their office.
There are multiple career paths that benefit from adopting a phenomenological perspective, and can lead one to focus on the peculiar topics most suited to that method of inquiry. Outside of academic philosophy very few individuals intentionally set out to make a career in phenomenology. Rather, a confluence of coincidental events will result in an almost vocational fascination with Fortean phenomena and the understanding thereof. While police officers, members of the military and clergy often have uncanny experiences within their line of work that might spark an interest in unexplained phenomena; a background in journalism seems common among those who pursue those phenomena diligently enough make it a career.