How does the strict phenomenologist deal with atypical forms of consciousness that an analytical philosopher need only point to brain function to explain? For instance, how does phenomenology deal with the problem of sleeping, because discontinuity of awareness seems problematic?

  • I get the feeling you are referring to a very specific text or concept, although you chose to omit it in your question. Without this context your question seems incomplete. – M. le Fou Nov 17 '19 at 10:28
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    Hello, AnduinWilde. I think I restated your question a little more clearly. Welcome to SE Philosophy, and thanks for contributing with a question/response! If you haven't done so, please take a quick moment to take the tour. philosophy.stackexchange.com/tour More specifics can be found in the help center. philosophy.stackexchange.com/help – J D Nov 17 '19 at 15:28
  • Reference on this topic: Dan Zahavi. Many articles and an excellent introduction to Husserl's Phenomenology ( with a chapter on the subject of time consciousness). – user39744 Nov 17 '19 at 16:51
  • Note: it could be questionned whether there is no cosciousness when we sleep. (1) when I dream I am somewhat aware, I have experiences (2) maybe, as Descartes says, what lacks during sleeping is reflection on our thoughts , not thoughts themselves, and it is this absence of reflection that prevents us from remembering our sleeping thoughts. – user39744 Nov 17 '19 at 16:56
  • See On Birth, Death, and Sleep in Husserl’s Late Manuscripts on Time by Geniusas and Levy's thesis Phenomenology and sleep for an approach more focused on Heidegger and Levinas. – Conifold Nov 18 '19 at 5:54


Phenomenologists redefine consciousness to include the past, present, and future as subject to its inspection. Therefore, sleep, which may lead to an interruption of perception doesn't lead to an interruption of consciousness per se.

Long Answer

A good introduction to phenomenology and time-consciousness can be found at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edmund Husserl is considered the founder of phenomenology, but there are many later philosophers in the tradition such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Derrida,

The question you have asked is an excellent question. Husserl who considered awareness an "intentional" activity had similar concerns:

[T]ime-consciousness underscores... other intentional acts because these other intentional acts presuppose or include the consciousness of internal time. For this and other reasons, Husserl, in his On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917) (1991), deemed time-consciousness the most “important and difficult of all phenomenological problems”

The short version is he rejected the idea of Newtonian time as fundamental, that is, to define consciousness in such a way that it needn't account for a sequence of discrete moments in the classical physicalist sense, but rather extend consciousness over the past, present, and future. Hence, for a phenomenologist, consciousness is broadened to include past in order to create a unity of temporal experience. From the article:

Husserl attempts to argue that consciousness extends to capture past moments of experience and temporal objects therein by “retaining” and “protending” the elapsed and yet to come phases of its experience and thereby the past words that do not presently exist.

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