During a recent conversation with an associate, in which I brought up a favorite topic of mine: winning the lottery, I did some quick phenomenological reflection and was able to come up with a very precise way to account for both the similarities and differences between our experiences. Some meta-reflection on what had just happened made me appreciate and understand phenomenology more, which I'll say more about later. The conversation went something like this:
I brought up how much I love fantasizing about winning the lottery. (Its true! I don't know exactly why, but I simply love thinking about what I would do with millions of dollars. Whether I would actually do any of these things is of course impossible to determine. But the fact remains that I derive great joy from simply thinking about such things, which I think is at least modest evidence for the fact that I would actually do them...anyway...). My associate told an amazing story about how a friend of his had bought him a modest amount of stock in a bio-tech company. After awhile he received a message from his friend telling him that the stock had gone up five-hundred percent. Mistakenly thinking that five-hundred percent meant 500X the initial investment instead of what it actually means--5X (still not bad at all!)--my associate spent an entire day unaware of his error. This is a fascinating set-up because it means that my associate spent about a day of his life as a millionaire. It is sufficient, but not necessary, to actually be a millionaire in order to spend a day as a millionaire. All that is is needed to spend a day as a millionaire, technically, is the assured belief that one is a millionaire. Thus, my associate spent that day literally mapping his empire, planning his various degrees of charity and largess, contemplating how to live with the inevitable joy that awaited him in his newly acquired wealth. Of course, all of this came to an abrupt end upon realizing the magnitude of his mathematical error. But nevertheless, all of this is enough to ground the truth of the statement that my associate knows what its like to be a millionaire in a way that I never have. While we have both entertained the same propositional content, namely "I am a millionaire" , we have entertained it in completely different ways. My associate believed that he was a millionaire, for however brief a time. I will never have such a belief, unless I actually win the lottery or fall prey to some similar drunken math. I have only hoped to be a millionaire, and imagined being a millionaire.
The phenomenological point is that the overall content of the experience is best articulated by taking into account both properties of the object of consciousness "I am a millionaire" and properties of the experience of the object of consciousness "believing", "wishing", "imagining"
As for my metareflections on phenomenology, the whole experience of sharing these stories and then thinking about them in this way made me realize that my phenomenological training may amount to something like: the ability to make very fine and precise distinctions between both the types and tokens of objects, properties, and other sorts of categories in a very consistent way that allows for a standardized form in which to compare experiences. A bit of a mouthful, but I'm working on it. I'm beginning to realize that doing phenomenology means constantly formulating an ever clearer and more concise definition of phenomenology.