Tag Archives: reality

Humanistic phenomenology

Interestingly, I spent four months on my research paper entirely focussing on phenomenology in philosophy and never came across the parallel ideas of phenomenology within psychology.

Looking more into Carl Rogers’ theories, I feel like I am hovering over the core of what my MA proposal is really about. I have only just made the connection that I started my own working career as a phenomenologist, albeit in physics, but as a researcher using the observation of experiences to guide our understanding of the workings of the world. This too is at the heart of phenomenology in both philosophy (getting back to Heidegger) and in psychology: our existence is a subjective construction – the ‘reality’ we observe is really a “private world of experience….the phenomenal field” ([1], Rogers, 1951/1977)

First some background: Unlike Freud, who teaches that our basic instincts are sexual and aggressive, Rogers had an inherently positive view of humanity. His theory, is built on a single ‘force of life’ he calls the actualising tendency, which is a fundamental motivation toward positive growth. From [3]:

Rogers disagreed sharply with major emphases of Freudian theory: its depiction of humans as controlled by unconscious forces; its assertion that personality is determined, in a fixed manner, by experiences early in life; its associated belief that adult psychological experience is a repeating of the repressed conflicts of the past. Rogers’s view emphasized conscious perceptions of the present rather than merely unconscious residues of the past, interpersonal experiences encountered across the course of life rather than merely parental relations in childhood, and peoples capacity to grow toward psychological maturity rather than merely their tendency to repeat childhood conflicts.

A few points in summary of his theory [2, 3]:

  • We value positive self-regard (self-esteem, self-worth or a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up.  Without this, we feel small and helpless, and can fail to become all that we can be.
  • However, society can lead us astray with conditions of worth, when others only give us what we need when we show we are ‘worthy’, rather than just because we need it. (e.g. a dessert if we finish our greens, or love and affection if and only if we behave)
  • These conditions are very powerful and we can adapt ourselves determined not by our inherent self-actualising tendency, but by society. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualising our potentials. Since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not we find ourselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem. This conditional positive regard leads us to deny parts of ourselves that elicit rejection.
  • The aspect of your being that is founded in the actualizing tendency and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the real self.  It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become.
  • Where we receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard, we develop instead an image of the self which is out of reach.

Rogers posits that people seek self consistency and a sense of congruence between their sense of self and their everyday experience. He believed anxiety is the result of discrepancy between experience and the perception of the self. Once this happens, the person will be motivated to defend the self; he or she will engage in defensive processes against the loss of a consistent, integrated sense of self.

Rogers describes a range of characteristics of what makes a fully-functioning person. These are in short a person who is: Open to experience, living each moment as it comes, trusting their feelings, not worried about disapproval, nonconforming, with deep feelings, rich and an expressive emotional life. One of the points struck a chord with me, this quote taken from ref [2]

2. Existential living.  This is living in the here-and-now.  Rogers, as a part of getting in touch with reality, insists that we not live in the past or the future — the one is gone, and the other isn’t anything at all, yet!  The present is the only reality we have.  Mind you, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember and learn from our past.  Neither does it mean we shouldn’t plan or even day-dream about the future.  Just recognize these things for what they are:  memories and dreams, which we are experiencing here in the present.

This idea of experiencing the present moment is a key concept of the humanistic approach. Humanistic phenomenology emphasises the individual’s subjective experience of his or her world – in other words, his or her phenomenological experience. Quoting from [3]

  • The space of perceptions that makes up our experience is a subjective construction.
  • The individual constructs this inner world experience, and the construction reflects not only the outer world of reality but also the inner world of personal needs, goals, and beliefs.
  • Similar ideas can be traced back at least as far as the Allegory of the Cave by Plato, who depicted persons as perceiving mere shadows of reality, being unable to glimpse the objective world world of existence

These ideas, of an existential, subjective reality are going to be the basis upon which I build my project. I would like to investigate how we can map our sense of self by understanding the reality we have constructed – by looking at its manifestation in our sense of place, and places we identify with – these places being themselves a subjective experience of the world. Our ‘places of identity’ (for lack of a better term) are constructed from an overlay of real and imagined places, fiction, memory and promise.



[1] http://www.personalityresearch.org/courses/B15/notes/phenomenology.html
[2] http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/rogers.html
[3] https://quizlet.com/21110437/personality-theories-chapter-5-a-phenomenological-theory-carl-rogerss-person-centered-theory-of-personality-flash-cards/

MA Project proposal 1.5

I have been looking again at all of the key themes and contexts which have been in the four drafts of my proposal so far. I want, for version 1.5, to create something which pulls out these main threads into something core which runs through them and which encapsulates what has been underneath what I have been making towards the end of term.

As a way of summarising what has come before, in order to make sense of where I am going, this is the key question from each version of my proposal so far:

  • v1.0: How an individual’s cultural psychology (mythologies, rituals, superstitions) affect the way they view and interact with objects
  • v1.1: Ritual as the language of identify and cultural cohesion – exploring how we experience ritual behaviours and ritual processes as a way of defining our cultural identities; how the process of making itself can be a ritual process
  • v1.2: Liminality – exploring the liminal state as part of how we experience transformation and transition
  • v1.3: Seen / Unseen: Translating the search for meaning in one’s life into objects which encourage the user to do the same. How through the journey of reflection, contemplation and revelation, can society reconcile mankind’s search for meaning with life in the modern age
  • v1.4: Seen / Unseen, the search for the ghost in the machine – what can the interplay of light, shadow and space represent about the nature of reality; or visual perception of what we believe to be reality filtered through the inner world within our minds?

This feels like an orbit of ideas, flying around a central point I can’t quite identify or picture yet. I don’t think any of my research questions have been quite right yet – but you can definitely see the progression of ideas in the making, and hopefully in the words too. I redrew a quick mind map to sketch out the core ideas and see how they all fit together

Photo 25-11-2014 14 58 51The way that I see it – humans have since time untold, had the desire (need?) to try to explain the world around them and the fundamentals of their existence on the planet on which we find ourselves. In early history, storytelling was used to describe how the world was created, how the world works and the eternal cycles of life, death, rebirth and the human emotions of love, loss and betrayal. These themes are repeated the world over in every civilisation on the globe both past and present: through myths, legends, religions and shared stories. In modern history, over the last few centuries, we have slowly evolved from our descriptions of the world through god and goddess, to a language of mathematics and science – looking outward to the farthest reaches of the cosmos and inward to the smallest particle of matter we can identify, and beyond.

Both of these however are just different ways of addressing the same human need, that of interpreting the nature of reality. No matter who you are, within each human is the same desire to know man’s place in the universe. This is played out differently in every person – some as deep thinkers and philosophers, and others who just silently question truth at occasional times throughout their lives. Our societies have used the languages of mythology, magic and mathematics to both interpret and try to manipulate what we observe of the world. These languages collide / coincide as we look forward into the future and wonder what we will see there. I think this dichotomy in some form exists in all of us as we balance our traditions, cultural heritage and history with the ever-moving, modern, technological age; whether or not people still tell their children tales of old gods or fairies roaming in the hills, or follow any of the worlds theistic religions, or nature-based religions or anything else.

How do we find sacred space in the never-sleeping city?

I haven’t quite got my finger on my question yet, but I think my aim is as follows: The subject of my research is to explore how we, as humans, try to interpret and manipulate the nature of reality. I will conduct this exploration by considering the boundaries between layers of reality, considering our physical reality (the fundamental, inherent nature of the world and the wider universe), and our cultural reality (our understanding of how things are through stories, myth and superstition) and our inner reality (our perception of truth filtered through our own mind). Objects can be used as levers to interpret, understand or to manipulate the nature of things; they exist between these different realities – the physicality / materiality of the object and our perception of it which differs between people and through interaction with the object. These boundaries intersect upon the object – 1) the object space existing within and around the object, 2) the inner space of the user interacting with the object and 3) the space beyond.

As a final word for now, a quote to capture the mood from Norman Maclean:

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters

A thought experiment

Imagine for a moment, that you are out walking in the hills. It has been raining hard all day and you decide to rest in the entrance of a small cave to escape from the rain. You light a small fire and sit near it a safe distance away. The warmth is comforting and other than the fire, the cave is in darkness. Tiredness overcomes you and soon you are asleep. You awake suddenly and see the light of the flames flickering on the cave wall. In the flames are pictures and images dancing across the walls. Are you still sleeping? Are the images real? If they are just in your imagination, then are they any less real just because they are in your head? If they are real, are they just shadows, or are they being made by something outside of your perception that you cannot see? How would you ever know which is true?

This scenario, is a thought experiment which I have based on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which essentially describes how we cannot know the truth of reality. What is real may be invisible to us if we are trapped within our own plane – a 2D shadow made by a 3D object you cannot see. I think this is true not only of our physical known universe but the internal workings of our consciousness – which, even in this age of information is still a vast frontier in modern science. If the universe has 11 dimensions, or there are other universes entirely out floating the void, how would they connect with us – would they project shadows onto our own visible 4 dimensions? What would a 11D shadow look like? Does our brain see flickers of the unknown as we stare into the darkness of the future? How does our consciousness interact with our subconscious mind? Does it also offer us shadows of truth flickering upon our mind?

This, fundamentally is the premise of my project proposal, currently in divergent stage as opposed to narrowing down my specific question just yet. I have been working on visualising these concepts for next week’s Getting Making workshop 4 – which I think is the final workshop in the series. I’ve made some objects representing different aspects of this to present to the class on Wednesday. We need to do 6 objects in all, and these are glimpses of three of them finished so far.




Mirrorcity at the Hayward gallery

I am a strong believer in the power of serendipity. I used to give lots of talks and lectures on the principles of innovation, and one of the top tips was to create situations for yourself in which serendipity can happen. You can’t force coincidences of course, but you can be the right place, or with the right people, or critically you can have the right mindset, for the magic moments to work.

It was with this mind that I casually strolled onto the south bank yesterday, killing time and looking for a cup of tea when I stumbled upon a rather striking exhibition just opened at the Hayward. I really like the Hayward Galley; it always has really interesting stuff on and seems to be one of the more approachable galleries for the ‘man on the street’. I do seem to have a liking for their big, unusual installations. I think perhaps they feel more engaging, more real to me than stuff like paintings – which just make think of men in tweed coats drinking Port and discussing the merits of Picasso. I really do have some issues over school art education!!

Anyhow, this exhibition was MIRRORCITY which was badged as from ‘fiction to reality’. With my research question practically in the exhibition title, I just had to drop in! IMG_0132.JPG

The brief is that:

“MIRRORCITY explores the effect the digital revolution has had on our experiences. MIRRORCITY shows recent work and new commissions by key emerging and established artists working in the capital today, who seek to address the challenges, conditions and consequences of living in a digital age. JG Ballard believed that reality had already exceeded the visions conjured by science fiction by the end of the 20th century. Drawing on the digital era we now live in, the artists in MIRRORCITY respond to and address this new perception of the world. Artists have always created alternative realities but recently they have been exploring where the digital and the physical space crossover and fold into each other. The exhibition considers questions specific to our time such as: ‘How can we navigate the space between the digital and the physical?’ and ‘What is the effect of advanced technologies on our lives?'”

I thought it was a great exhibition. I think I will need to go back and look at it again, to be able to take it all in. What struck me? Well, the feeling of alternate perceptions, realities a little strange and in some cases just bizzare. They sucked you in and made you want to look – that’s the power of a good installation.

Key artists I resonated most with:

— Lindsay Seers – wow, her video installation was so captivating I could have watched it all the way through a second time. She was looking at the presence of the past as a alternate reality, lost histories, how in the current age our emotions and feelings are stored online in public view in perpetuity. Just one text message could alter the course of history. Just brilliant.

— Mohammed Qasim Ashfaq – work in blackness, sheer and shiny – where precision and simplicity give an otherworldly presence. Meditations on light and it’s absence. I need to look up more of his work, I loved the effects as they captured some of the feelings I want to in my own proposal.

— Emma McNally – maps which are not quite maps, and look so detailed and so precise, but all come from her imagination.

— Ursula Major – also interesting, I really liked her mix of 3d objects plus interacting videos which cut out and changed a random points. She also had a projection which looked something like evolving coloured fog. Creepy but enticing – I am keen to use this type of effect. Didn’t quit get the 3d objects so well though, mostly as I had no idea what they were.

— Susan Hiller – brain numbing video installation. Not sure I quite understood anything, but it felt like being in an episode of the outer limits. Weird and amazing.

Also picked up some very interesting books (photo below). A reminder to self, I must ask Maiko if I would be allowed to have a tutorial with Jonathan K, to ask about guidance on incorporating digital imagery my work.



MA Project proposal v1.3.1

Tweaked again (and hopefully improved) from the paper version I shared with Maiko at my tutorial last week – including a research question now, general tightening and the first steps in a plan.


MA Project Proposal draft v1.3: Seen / Unseen

Research question

What can the interplay of light, shadow and space represent about reality: our visual perception of what we believe reality to be filtered through the inner world within our own minds?

Light is the fundamental information carrier in the universe.  It has an infinite reach – no information can travel faster.  Light has an immense spectrum far beyond the minute fraction of wavelengths which the human eye can observe.  It pervades our entire universe – it is both the flicker of the flame and the warmth of the fire. Modern physics suggests that the universe has more dimensions than we can observe – the rest are hidden, compactified, mysterious. Light however can only travel within our known four dimensional universe – it is bound onto the plane our own existence.  What if the theory is true, and there is something beyond this plan which light cannot penetrate – out into the void and these hidden dimensions of space or time – other universes, other realities?


Philosophical debate: How can objects help provide a lever for us to contemplate meaning in our lives and existence, and encourage us to question the nature of reality. How can society reconcile mankind’s search for meaning in the modern age through a journey of reflection, contemplation and revelation.

  • What visual cues or impressions can we use to connect our ‘inner selves’ with the wider universe around us?
  • What mindset change can occur for the user of an object / viewer of an image – what emotions can be invoked – a sense of transcendence or meditation?  of curiosity?

The objective of my research study is therefore to ask:

  • Can an object represent something of the things we cannot see or which exist at the boundary of our perception? The hidden meaning / worlds / realities we search for?
  • Can I create works which describe the unseen depths: appealing to the edges of our senses? (Is this a question about the phenomenology of perception?).  Visually obscuring / only partially seeing something?
  • What hidden understanding can only be revealed in the shadows (hidden spaces, hidden messages)? Add what becomes clear in the light?

I would like to make a series of contemporary objects which explore these properties which combine my traditional craft skills with functional art and with modern design (using my inspiration from modern Scandinavian aesthetics).

Relevant artists and collections (extract – full table is on written document):

James Turrell
Frank Lloyd Wright
Anthony Gormley (Another Place, Blind Light, Event Horizon 2007)
Fred Eerdekens (Shadows)
Ekkehard Altenburger (Mirrorhouse, 1996)
Leonid Tishkov


I am interested in looking at semi-transparent materials, or changing the nature of a material to be able to reveal something (e.g. holes, carvings etc).  I also plan to make use of natural and LED lighting to experiment with light and shadow within an object (making an “object space”) and seeing what alteration or embellishment of the object space can say or change about the user’s mind (the “inner space”).

1. Main project thread, initially starting off with a mini project: “Ghost candles”

Ghost candles: aim to complete by end of term 1

Ghost candles (or will o’ the wisp) are a swamp phenomenon often associated with seeing fairies or spirits (perhaps of the dead); these are observed as diffuse misty lights which disappear as you get closer to them. A string of fairy lights will represent the range of spirits which people may see as they observe the lights – everyone sees something different based on their own mind and experiences – but be careful not to follow the lights, else you get lost and make little candles of your own.


  • Taking a string of simple white LED fairy lights and using them to create light covers for each one using different materials including fabrics, papers, glass, paper clay.
  • Will need to design a simple construction method and use the same form for each cover to be able to compare
  • Reflect and select ideas to take forward and asses which materials I enjoyed working with

Objectives to test properties of different materials in a quick and simple way and see what effects the materials have on the way the light is diffused and filtered through the covers. What effect on the mood of the space does the light intensity and the pattern (light / shadow) have?

2. Research and literature study on historical and contemporary context including the art v craft debate; how non-fashion based textiles (and stitched textiles in particular) are viewed by the community; and looking into other connected artists works.

3. Experiments – current plans:

  • Photographic narrative – what is revealed through darkness, shadow and partial light
  • How is an object seen through distortion (reflection, water, moonlight) and does this change how we perceive the object?