Presented at the Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences, October, 2003.
Phenomenological practice and yogic practice can lead to wisdom. Yet being part of the life world of human
realities, striving for wisdom (or growth) may ironically turn against itself. If I got a Ph.D. in wisdom studies and put this on my card, would you trust me? What about all those atheists with degrees in theology?
Professor Richter invited me to be a part of his exciting panel inspired by his desire to critique the concept of “growth” as it has been used in the social and human sciences. This endeavor is part of Professor Richter’s
profound critique of many concepts of scientific psychology. The effort lends itself to a reconstruction of the
social sciences as we know them to be replaced by an integrated approach to knowledge, which would not
isolate one part of our being from another and would include the knowing and being of the body, the
emotions, the brain, and all their communicative networks.
A bold and productive beginning has been made in this endeavor over the past century—it is called
phenomenology. However, phenomenology has established itself as a corner in the academic world, a small
segment in the field of academic philosophy (SPEP) accompanied by some renegade social scientists—also
mostly academics from a number of disciplines—with a few independent scholars and practitioners thrown in
(SPHS). Nevertheless, these phenomenologists have not only cleared the pathways to thought about lifeworlds,
but have changed and deepened the beings of those who have “become” phenomenologists. (Becoming a
phenomenologist is quite different from learning about phenomenology, or “using” some of its techniques in a
research project.) (See Simpson, 2003)
My purpose here is to present some examples of how the practice of phenomenology and that of Vedantic
yoga, open up the being of the practitioners. This opening may be described as a growth towards wisdom. I
will illustrate this by describing how a notably stupid character, the television character, Archie Bunker,
could be changed by taking these pathways.
Should we have a center for training phenomenologists, (not just academics who read difficult
phenomenological texts) These are: viewing the world as a phenomenon, bracketing, imaginative variations,
transcendental reduction, and horizontalization. The phenomenologist’s view of the world, as a “lifeworld,” is
an immediate step towards wisdom. Reflecting on the structures of all lifeworlds, as outlined by Schutz and
Luckmann, forces one to see that between lifeworlds and within each lifeworld, there are many possible
vantage points and stocks of common knowledge. Someone could not take this perspective and believe that
their perspective on the world is general. If he were Archie Bunker, however, he may limit his understanding
of this by categorizing those with a different viewpoint by a derogatory name, such naming his son-in-law,
As he continued in his study of phenomenology, Archie woud leam that the world is not separate from his
perceptions of it, that the objects of his consciousness influence what it is he sees, and can indeed effect the
world by that perception. Archie Bunker would then have to realize that his son-in-law’s “meatheadedness”
was partly attributable to Archie himself. Archie may begin to wonder how many of these qualities were
“projections” (to borrow from Freud) or parts of his own noema. (NOTE BE SURE THE WORD HERE IS
NOEMA, NOT NOESIS)
As Archie went on to practice “bracketing” he would then be asked to become aware of all the assumptions
and qualities he attributes to meatheadedness, and then to set them aside. In these 1970s shows Archie
would have had to put out of operation his sense that to be anti-Vietnam war and pro civil rights were
negative or misguided. He would have had to set aside his assumption that peace and civil rights activists
were “communists”. He would come to see that the word “communist” is a typification which has variable
meanings. He would have to turn off his television set, stop seeing peace activists portrayed as drug addicts
In his next lesson, Archie would be asked to set aside all distractions, (following Lyson, 1986 -in Varella) and
free his mind from images from earlier shows, even his favorite from the 1950s, “I Was A Communist for the
FBI.” All the thoughts of dangerous and smelly men in overcoats and black cars shooting at each other from
windows in dismal and cold European alleys, would have to be set aside. This may take Archie a while to
When he did, he would have to go even deeper, performing the “transcendental reduction.’ Here he would
have to set aside everything about his son-in-law (here use Meathead’s real name in the show, not Rob
Rciner) which was not given in his direct experience. He would then notice that Meathead (substitute name)
is a hard working person and a student, a loyal husband to his daughter.
With the distractions off, he may begin to hear what Meathead actually said to him. He may find himself
asking Meathead questions about his experiences at school, or his reasons for being anti-war. He would
realize that he didn’t know him very well. Having lost his fear about his own cognitive limitations, Archie may
develop some honest humility as a preface to confidence in his ability to see things more deeply.
Archie may then learn to apply imaginative variations to see what Meathead would be like if he treated him
differently. What if MH were just like Archie? Would Archie then come to like him better, treat him better?
Would Archie then come face to face with his self-disgust? Archie would then be instructed to make a list of
all of MH’s qualities, and make them of equal value. “Communist, Hippie, Longhaired, Young, Strong,
Friendly, Reliable, Studious. He would then come to see that his son-in-law, is a complex, mysterious being,
and begin to see him as an amazing manifestation of energy. They would have a long conversation about this
which would cause them both to seek the counsel of Yogi Bhajan, on a visit to Los Angelos.
Some Other Examples of Deep Changes From Becoming Phenomenologists
Before we embark with Archie on his journey to California, I’d like to review some nonfictional changes which
have been documented as others took stepped over the threshold into phenomenology. (Haines, Novokowsky,
Tower, Simpson, Heap, Cordova, Bentz)