In the organization of everyday life, phenomenology admits only “occasional” truths. These are called on anew on every occasion on which it is asked: “What is this?” or “What is going on here?” or “What does this call for?” etc. Where science does not fear to tread into the vacuum of meaninglessness by assuming we already know the answer to our “what”- questions, the phenomenologist’s prior question is “What does this (the phenomenon) function as when viewed as part of a whole?”
You cannot engage in the favorite occupation of science – measurement - unless you first determine “what” is this thing you are attempting to measure. Narrowly conceived as things and measures of things, objects in science and math are defined in terms of location in time and space and precision of measurement.
Phenomenology does not focus on things; it focuses on how things – long before being reduced mentally to mere objects -- show themselves to us as phenomena: things that matter, matters we care about. As phenomena, things appear in their own terms but in ways that are open to us and only when properly addressed.
Phenomenology is the way of so addressing things that they can show themselves in their own terms. Phenomena are the residual constituents of all that we today call fact. It is in this ability to “show” themselves itself as what they are – in and for themselves – that phenomena appear and appeal to us by way of a silent call.
Roger Boisjoly heard this call when his single voice was shouted down in the Challenger disaster. Richard Feynman heard that call when he investigated the misuse of science in the Challenger launch decision. But we also hear this call when we are asked to provide measurement to our judgments – “What do the rules say about that?” or “Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis for this?” or “What gets measured, gets managed…can it be measured? ”
Science helps to provide us information about the object, while phenomenology helps us to understand what the object means within the context of a situation. For example, a bicycle is an object containing two wheels, two pedals, a chain, sprockets, seat and handle bars. Science helps us explain things like why the wheels rotate when force is applied to the pedals or how a gear system can influence resistance and speed. In other words, science tells us about the bike.
Phenomenology helps us understand what the bike means within the context of bike riding. It sheds light on the differences within the facts that matter. I can know about something, without having to experience it. I can know about a bike by simply looking at or thinking about riding a bike (thinking about the task at hand and making something happen). In contrast, I know how something “fits” into the context of a situation when taking on riding the bike and becoming a bike rider (handling the bike within the context of a broader situation and letting things emerge on their own).
The chasm between the science of knowing and the phenomenology of knowing how is the essence of the phenomena. It is what makes us stand in awe of the gymnast, weep at the opera, engage in creative works, challenge norms, and…understand what it means to be a bike rider.