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5D Thinking Team
Using Phenomenology to Derive Lessons from a Driving Experience by Dr.Necati Aydin
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5D Thinking Team
13 Mar 2021 16:42

I would like to reflect on key phenomenological concepts and the Husserlian phenomenological approach using a metaphor of a driving experience. I will then extend my reflection using the Nursianmana-i harfi approach. I hope this will help formulate a comparison between Husserlian phenomenology and the Nursian mana-i harfi approach. I think it is worth making such a comparison because the main pillar of both approaches is the human self. It seems to me that they both believe in the self as the key to human understanding (as a foundation of epistemology; in fact, phenomenology at its core is nothing but a new epistemology). 


I am currently teaching my daughter how to drive a car. Three days ago, we went out in the early morning to practice driving. While trying to teach her how to drive, I realized that I have to first reflect on my own driving experience to recall the essence of driving in order to do a fair job in teaching my daughter how to drive. That is where phenomenology comes in. I could almost hear Husserl telling me that I should first start with giving up my natural attitude (unreflective mode) on driving.  Since I have been driving for over 30 years, I am not acutely aware of the experience of driving when I drive. I decide to start with “intentionality” meaning I will direct my attention (consciousness) to the driving to understand the essence of driving. Husserl argues we only learn what we intend to learn because our consciousness works like a car which goes wherever the driver wants it to go. Of course, this does not mean that I should drive as if I never have before. It means that I should direct my attention to my driving experience in my memory to understand the essence of driving (Husserl calls it “eidetic reduction”).  



My first thought was that since I already know what driving is, I should just teach my daughter how to drive. While thinking this way, I could hear Husserl telling me that I should suspend my judgement (epoche) on my knowledge of driving. If I really want to know the essence of driving, I should reflect on it as if I do not know anything about it. That is what Husserl calls bracketing- putting aside what I already know in order to learn something new from the experience. I need to ask my “self” what driving means to me. That is necessary according to Husserl because my understanding is how my “self” (transcendental ego) relates to the object of my experience. It is how my “self” constitutes (builds up) meaning from being exposed to driving a car. After overcoming my inner resistance, following Husserlian advice, I began directing my consciousness to my driving experience. I asked the following questions: what is the essence of being a good driver? What makes a good driver be a good driver?


When reflecting on my own driving experience (Husserl calls this reflective act “lived experience”), I realize that driving is nothing but understanding the governing structure and related laws (rules) of controlling a car while using it. Thus, instead of having my daughter discover those laws through her experience, I decided to begin telling her about the governing structure of a car and the laws (rules) to follow in order to control it. Though she was going to discover them anyway in order to be a good driver, telling her what she should look for would make her task easier. I introduced her to the essential mechanisms of the car including the wheel, gear, footbrake, gas pedal, and mirrors. I explained how each should be controlled following the governing rules (laws) of good driving. I also conveyed the rules governing the traffic for when she was ready to drive along with other drivers.


While doing that, I remember how costly it was for me to learn some of those driving rules since I was not trained properly at the beginning. I had two easily avoidable car accidents when I learned driving many years ago. In fact, I had to share those stories with my daughter to have her believe in what I was saying. According to Husserl, the transcendental ego always asks for “justificatory force” in believing what is presented to him. Thus, from a phenomenological perspective, for my daughter to follow my instruction, she should trust me as a good driver and know that I speak from experience.  



In a nutshell, I told my daughter that good driving is nothing but knowing and following the rules (laws) governing the structure of cars, traffic system, and the behavior of other drivers. I began to mention them one by one: Rule #1: When you get in the car, put your seat belt on and check your mirrors before you start the engine. Rule #2: Arrange your seat and place your hands on the wheel in a way to feel that you are in the control of the car. Rule #3: Practice with brake, gas pedal, and gear to understand how they work before you move the car. Rule #4: Practice how to use the mirrors. Keep in mind not using the mirrors is like closing your eyes while driving. Rule # 5: Always leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you... and so on. Of course, telling her the rules did not mean that she instantly learned how to be a good driver. It was just the beginning of the learning journey. She has to practice them one by one to perfect her driving skills. 


Interestingly, while rediscovering the essence of good driving and sharing it with my daughter, I learned two important lessons: First, it became clear to me that Husserl was right in considering the laws as the essence of experienced phenomena. Indeed, the essence of any phenomenon, physical or otherwise, is not matter, but knowledge. Thus, the essence of our experienced phenomena is nothing but an awareness of manifested knowledge driven by power. Physical phenomena are mirrors to the manifested laws (knowledge). Understanding any phenomenon is to penetrate to the apparently governing laws which are nothing regularity in the manipulative acts of the driving force. Second, it was puzzling to me why one cannot learn driving just through reading about good driving or even by going through simulated training. If the essence of good driving means to penetrate to the governing laws, then, one should be able to learn the laws without driving at all. From a phenomenological perspective, understanding is not just abstract conceptual learning by the mind. Rather, it is the totality of the experience of the transcendental ego which experiences sensory information as well as emotional and intellectual data. In other words, true understanding is possible through the experience of the transcendental ego which uses many other subtle faculties beyond the intellect to make sense of experienced phenomena. Therefore, it is impossible for any person to drive professionally in a crowded highway without any driving experience. 



In short, I certainly found pure Husserlian phenomenology helpful to understand the essence of driving and communicate my understanding to my daughter. For her to have the same understanding, she has to directly expose her transcendental ego to the phenomenon of driving and go through a similar experience (like any other driver). Thus, my experiential knowledge of driving is reliable because it came through direct exposure to the very essence of driving. It is even superior to pure observational data about driving because the self learns more than abstract concepts through direct exposure. That is why Husserl claims essential knowledge derived from a phenomenological approach is a rigorous science. It is universal. It is true for any driver in the present, past, and future. Once my daughter becomes a good driver, she will join millions of others confirming the very same essence I conveyed to her from my own experience. If that is the case, it is not right to limit rigorous science (reliable knowledge) to observational and experimental data. It is not right to disregard first-person experience as a subjective point of view. Afterall, the entire human knowledge base is driven from first-person experience. Knowledge is all subjective in terms of coming from a subject. Even observational and experimental knowledge have to go through the prism of the transcendental ego of scientists. Therefore, first-person experiential knowledge should be considered as reliable and rigorous as long as it is verified by other subjects through their own experience. In other words, intersubjectivity is the ultimate source of objective and universal knowledge. 


That is how far I could go with Husserl in making sense of the human driving experience. Now, I will appeal to Nursi’s mana-i harfi approach to take me beyond the factual meaning of driving experience. In Nursi’s view, the entire embodied human experience is given to us to know God with all of His attributes (metaphysical meaning). That is because the ultimate reality manifested in all phenomena (the essences) is a reflection of the Divine Names. Thus, the more we have experience in life, the more we have the opportunity to know about God. However, Nursi thinks we should start directing our consciousness to the self to know who we actually are. If we follow the Husserlian phenomenology and deeply reflect on our nature, we will realize that each of us is like a baby who has no power, who cries for help for everything she needs to sustain her life. Thus, any actions that appear to come from us are not actions that we created. They are creative acts of God granted to us at our will. Therefore, we have to start with the Tawhidi worldview within which we will make sense of our experience. Husserl agrees that we give meaning to our new experiences based on the accumulated life experience which he calls lifeworld (which is similar to worldview).

Comparing Key Concepts of Husserl and Nursi





Transcendental ego


1) They both put the human self at the core of their epistemic inquiry 2) They both accept the self to be real 3) Unlike Husserl, Nursi does not give any agency to the self believing that the acts of the self is not from him, but from God. 



While Husserl claims that the self gives meaning to new experiences through lifeworld, Nursi thinks that should be done through Tawhidi worldview (mana-i harfi nazaari)



Husserl claims we see what we intend to see through directing our consciousness; Nursi considers niyaah as the soul of human deeds. Thus, purification has to start with nihaah.

Natural attitude


Husserl’s natural attitude (unreflective mode) is quite similar to Nursi’s concept of nazaar-i ulfah (veil of familiarity). It is important to overcome that while seeking knowledge and meaning.

Intentional acts


Husserl separates the object and the act of intention. Meaning is given through intentional acts by the transcendental ego. Nursi thinks we give meaning through nazaar which could be in the mana-i ismi (self-indicative) or mana-i harfi (other indicative) perspective.

Essence of phenomena

Divine Names

Husserl considers “form” or “meaning” as the essence of phenomena. In other words, it is essential knowledge presented us as phenomena. Nursi thinks the essence of all phenomena is the Divine Names. Both agree we should aim to go to the essence through the use of self.


Hads-i imani

Husserl thinks knowing is the awareness of the self in terms of its relation to the object of experience. Thus, we all can access the essence directly through the transcendental ego. That is knowing by intuition. Nursi uses hads as fast recognition of truth. 

Factual meaning

Metaphysical meaning

Husserlian phenomenology is limited to the factual meaning while Nursi pursues metaphysical meaning through the self.


The Tawhidi worldview gives everything to God who creates and sustains everything from moment to moment. Nursi thinks if we use the transcendental ego properly, we will bear witness to the Divine Power and Knowledge manifested in everything. The mana-i harfi approach helps us to see God manifesting Himself in all phenomena as long as we look at them through the right lens. Thus, we should begin acting in the Name of God because everything happens with His power, knowledge, and will. However, we should respect His apparent causal mechanism while driving the car. For that matter, Husserlian phenomenology helps us understand how to use the car to move around safely. Discovering those laws and obeying them are a form of submission to Takwini Shariah of God. While Husserl helps us derive factual meaning from the experienced phenomena, Nursi’s mana-i harfiapproach teaches us how to go beyond that and derive the metaphysical meaning. 


The journey to truth of any phenomena should start with the self as mentioned above. Once I read my true nature correctly and conclude that I am indeed like a newborn baby with no power to even feed my own body in a true sense, then, I will recognize that the power, knowledge, wisdom, and mercy working within me to sustain my life belong to God. The more I learn about my body, brain, soul, emotions, and other subtle faculties, the more I will directly (intuitively) know about my Maker. Since I know that even my apparent actions of eating, drinking, talking and moving are not happening with my own power and knowledge, I can recognize the Divine Power and Knowledge through His works within me. Indeed, the more I learn about my own body, the more I will become amazed with the extraordinary acts happening within it. Thus, according to Nursi, the self should know directly (intuitively) from his own life that he is absolutely powerless and needy.  



Once the self reaches such an understanding in reading itself properly, it can relate everything else to itself to realize the true Driving Force behind everything. That includes everything given to him during his lifetime. In fact, Nursi argues that what makes us (humans) superior to angels is that we gain a higher level of understanding and appreciation through our embodied self while angels largely rely on observational data to do the same. Thus, using the mana-i harfi approach, in the process of learning how to drive a car, we should also derive direct intuitive evidence about the Driver of billions of stars. We could do it through analogical thinking (wahid-i kiyasi). If we liken moving stars to cars, we will realize the Necessary Driver who moves stars. Indeed, stars move like cars. They do not move on a physical ground, they move in space. Thus, they are like flying cars. They move much faster than any car. 



It is estimated that we have 10 trillion galaxies in the sky. Each galaxy is estimated to have 100 billion stars. Thus, we have 10 trillion times 100 billion stars moving around for nearly 14 billion years at a very high speed. Indeed, a recent study estimated the fastest stars move at the speed of 24,000 km per second. That is 86,400,000 km (nearly 100 million km) per hour. When I told this to my daughter who was driving at the speed of 24 km per hour, she was shocked. Even with her little experience, she knew that as the vehicle gets bigger and faster, it becomes much more difficult to control. In fact, when I asked her to drive as fast as a star, at least at 100 km per hour, she just laughed at me. She knew I was joking. She replied “I will do that if you want me to trash the car”. After the second day of practicing, I asked her to get on the highway. She again knew that I was joking. She knew it was not possible to drive among many cars with very little experience. Then, I asked her to reflect on the number of stars in the sky. 





In conclusion, I argue that anyone with driving experience has no excuse for not knowing the Driver of stars intuitively. If it takes knowledge and power along with intelligence and the sense of sight to move a car around, how is it that billions of stars in billions of galaxies for billions of years can move around at speeds of 100 million km per hour without crashing into each other. For sure, they must be controlled by a much greater power and knowledge. Thus, as we compare cars and stars in terms of their speed, size, number and system in which they operate, we should know with certainty that they must be controlled by the Infinite Power and Knowledge. That is because they all are connected like cells in one body. They move together as a unified system like thousands of parts in a car. In short, Husserl’s phenomenology helps us to better understand the essence of driving while Nursi’s mana-I harfi approach helps us derive deep meaning from the driving experience to understand the Driver of stars and atoms in the universe. Thus, the entire experience of life is a form of direct communication with God who speaks to us through His constant creative acts in the universe and is with us wherever we go as stated in the following verses:

سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ

“ALL THAT IS in the heavens and on earth extols God’s limitless glory: for He alone is almighty, truly wise!” (Sura Al-Hadid:1)

وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَبَصِيرٌ


“….and He is with you wherever you may be; and God sees all that you do.” (Sura Al-Hadid:1)

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