Phenomenology 1

Phenomenology 1

In this post I intend to sketch out the parameters of the phenomenology project and say something about what I take phenomenology to be.

Although not the first to touch on this approach to philosophy, the founder of contemporary phenomenology was Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). His investigations into the ways we direct our conscious experience towards and give meaning to the objects of our attention opened up a field research that has proved immensely rich and has provided may insights. His ideas were taken up and developed, often into something else entirely, by many others, including Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger and Sartre.

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy says of Husserl’s approach and what phenomenology has become:

Basically, phenomenology studies the structure of various types of experience ranging from perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activity, including linguistic activity. The structure of these forms of experience typically involves what Husserl called “intentionality”, that is, the directedness of experience toward things in the world, the property of consciousness that it is a consciousness of or about something. According to classical Husserlian phenomenology, our experience is directed toward—represents or “intends”—things only through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images, etc. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience, and are distinct from the things they present or mean.

The basic intentional structure of consciousness, we find in reflection or analysis, involves further forms of experience. Thus, phenomenology develops a complex account of temporal awareness (within the stream of consciousness), spatial awareness (notably in perception), attention (distinguishing focal and marginal or “horizonal” awareness), awareness of one’s own experience (self-consciousness, in one sense), self-awareness (awareness-of-oneself), the self in different roles (as thinking, acting, etc.), embodied action (including kinesthetic awareness of one’s movement), purpose or intention in action (more or less explicit), awareness of other persons (in empathy, intersubjectivity, collectivity), linguistic activity (involving meaning, communication, understanding others), social interaction (including collective action), and everyday activity in our surrounding life-world (in a particular culture).

Anyone who runs regularly will recognise that all the topics of the second paragraph quoted above could be considered as substantial for a description and analysis of what it is like to run, particularly over longer distances. Both Lars and I have tried to say something about the stream of consciousness aspects of running, what we think and think about when running; and I suspect my concerns for ‘being’ in the running experience are part of this, together with how awareness-of-oneself presents itself (or indeed absents itself at times). Both these areas of investigation will be central to my analysis. But additionally, as I have already indicated, a phenomenology of running will of necessity address kinaesthetic awareness and embodiment, together with the role of intentions and goal-setting (or otherwise). What I have not thought about including, until now, is analysis of awareness of other people, communication and social interaction. At first I thought these might be optional and dependent on whether one runs alone or with others. However, when I run I see others and communicate, and others see and communicate with me, even if this is just at a road crossing, or passing on a country path. So we could ask: to what extent does this seeing and being seen as a runner influence the experience of running? I cannot think of a run when I have encountered no one at all, and, of course, mass-participation events, such as the marathons I take part in, present a whole new set of experiences, with others running and watching. So I think the social and collective experience also has to be part of the account I want to give. Finally, I am hoping that Lars will be able to make valuable contributions on the last point in particular, the place of running in everyday activity, since he and I have discussed this off-line on many occasions; and in any case, there is a dimension of running as culture that shapes what it is and what we experience that simply cannot be ignored.

This gives the following core topics:

  1. Spatial and temporal awareness when running. The focus of attention and how it develops and changes as the distance of the run increases; stages of attention.
  2. Self-consciousness and self-awareness in running; how being is experienced in movement and the skill of running.
  3. The felt experience of a body running; fitness, illness, stress and effort.
  4. The goal and purpose of running; running without goals; running every day.
  5. Running with others, in the presence of others, and for others (in the sense of running for a charitable cause).
  6. The culture of running and how it alters or affects all of the above.

I think this takes me a little bit further forward in what I want to do and say about running. If you think I have missed anything, please feel free to comment.

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A Phenomenology of Running: A Proposal

In the posts during the last year I have been touching on the phenomenology of running from a range of perspectives. This is really the topic I want to capture, it occurs to me. It will become a project on this blog going forward.

A complete philosophical account of the phenomenology of running would need to meet a number of criteria.

First, it would need to cover all aspects of running, including the physical sensations of the body moving through a space and the sensations of the body’s own efforts, as well as the alterations to the subjective framing of these within the intentionality of running as it shifts and changes.

Second, it should address running at all speeds and distances, from short sprints to ultra-marathons and beyond. Of course, I am most interested in how longer-distance running affects the nature of our awareness of what it is to be a physical being, but it would be wrong to exclude the impact of sprinting on thought, sensation and perception.

Third, it must address the deeper phenomenology of the alterations to consciousness itself, and what initially might be called ‘higher’ awareness of self, no-self and other.

Finally, it should make reference to and be informed by the many approaches to running that already exist. I could not possibly hope to begin without these guides that range over accounts of barefoot running with indigenous tribal peoples, ancient wisdom from Buddhist masters, new running ideas and mindfulness, tales from champions, and leading-edge running science and philosophy.

Doing this will allow me to draw on all the interests and perspective on running I have mentioned to date. I hope readers will think it worthwhile. I shall continue to post about my running more generally alongside this project, and include information on races as before.

If anyone else would like to jump into the conversation, please do leave a message.