The Phenomenology of Lived Experience

Sunday, April 23, 2017

What is it

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of experience and consciousness, performed by philosophers ranging from Sartre and Heidegger to contemporary analytic philosophers of mind. But what methods do phenomenologists use to study the mind and experience in general? How can phenomenology help us understand a range of human experiences from agency to awe? And why does neuroscience and cognitive science need phenomenology? John and Ken learn what it’s like to talk to Shaun Gallagher from the University of Memphis, author of How the Body Shapes the Mind.

Listening Notes

Ken muses that even the best imagination cannot substitute lived experience that varies from person to person. Furthermore, the same objects in the world can cause different experiences for different people. Ken asks: how can we bring the experience of these objects to the fore and study consciousness itself?

Ken is joined by Shaun Gallagher, a professor of philosophy from the University of Memphis and author of Phenomenology among other works on philosophy of mind. Ken asks Shaun if phenomenology is at its core a technique of bringing consciousness into focus, and if so, how does it do that? Shaun says that this description is partially correct. Consciousness is always directed toward the world (intentionality), so experience always has something of the world in it. Phenomenology studies not just consciousness and its structure but also how the world appears when it inhabits our conscious experience. 

Ken follows up by asking: what is the benefit of bringing consciousness to the fore? Shaun brings up Edmund Husserl, for example, who tried to figure out how to describe intentionality for a scientific purpose. In that sense, phenomenology especially early on was not at all opposed to science. Ken asks how scientific phenomenology really is and how well it aligns with contemporary scientific research, especially since scientific research aims toward objectivity. Shaun responds that subjectivity is never absent and that all endeavors are experiential in some respect. We can try to study subjectivity from the third person, but that still would not include everything. Shaun argues that the aim then is to combine phenomenology and science to get the full picture of lived experience.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 3:55): Liza Veale looks at the study of mindfulness and its relationship to phenomenology. They have one idea in common: our experience of the world is mediated through our body, in possession of a past. 
  • 60 Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:35): Ian Shoales discusses the politics of phenomenology and the difficulty of explaining things to each other, fake news, and mansplaining.

Get Philosophy Talk


Sunday at 11am (Pacific) on KALW 91.7 FM, San Francisco, and rebroadcast on many other stations nationwide


Sunday at 1pm and 11pm ET on the SiriusXM Insight Channel


Individual downloads via CDBaby and iTunes


Comments (2)

Carl Hosticka's picture

Carl Hosticka

Sunday, May 14, 2017 -- 8:54 PM


Ideas very similar to those expressed on your show can be found in the Ancient Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

See Tenzin Gyatso "Studying Mind from the Inside" in the book The Universe in a Single Atom:The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Double Day Broadway publishing.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, December 27, 2017 -- 9:14 AM

Life, Death, Lived-experience, immortality and who-knows-what...

All of these topics are what might be included under the broad canopy of the human condition. I was going to comment on the blog post regarding the question of life-after-death. Could not get a window for that at the site. So, anyway, many years ago, I read a little trilogy of books by one Robert Monroe. Depending on what one believes (or wants to believe), Monroe was either charlatan or seer. His books were purported accounts of journeys out-of-the-body. In one book, he said that regardless of what we believe (or want to), we are destined to hang around after bodily obliteration. Just how Monroe knew this was unclear, but his books were intriguing. I am pretty sure his earthly existence has been over for sometime. But if you want an interesting fiction(?), pick up his books, if they are still in print... And, BELIEVE what makes you happy. It is, after all, your life and times.

Shaun Gallagher, Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Philosophy, University of Memphis

Researched By

Truman Chen

Upcoming Shows

23 September 2018

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the first global public intellectuals, famous for his popular existentialist philosophy, his works of fiction, and his...

30 September 2018

The New Golden Age of Television

They called it a “vast wasteland” in the 1960s, but TV is very different today. Freedom from the broadcast schedule means TV makers can create longer...

07 October 2018

White Privilege and Racial Injustice

“White privilege” has become a buzzword in discussions about racial inequality and racial justice. The call to “check your privilege” appeals to...