Sunday, 12 June 2011

The frightening ease with which I can become an extremist...

I'm preparing to defend my PhD thesis on Thursday, and reviewing my arguments. There's always some fundamental level of an argument which rests on values which are hard-wired into my identity, and defending those arguments (more than others) can lead me into a state of raised passion. At that point, there is always the risk that I become an extremist.

My fundamental argument rests on the nature of causality and effective methodology. I've got this from Bhaskar, and I still think it's broadly defensible. But defending it can sometimes lead to deep and impenetrable philosophical argument that ends up as existing for its own sake (or the sake of preserving my identity) than working towards any deeper understanding of the matters in hand. Critical Realists (and I consider myself one to a point) and Radical Constructivists (which I don't think I am) are notoriously bad on this, and I suspect it's because what they really have is not an argument but a religion which is embedded in their identity.

There's nothing wrong with having a religion. But I think it's important to recognise that that's what it is. This is why I think the remedy to avoid extremism is self-revealing through skilful teaching and positioning of others. The more open I am about what these ideas do for me, the more I can invite others to inspect my testimony as a way of their coming to an understanding themselves (and of themselves).

It is to turn my testimony into an invitation for a learning activity of engagement. It has a peculiar feeling for me. Giving up the need to defend identity and merely state it has a visceral effect - a relaxing of the stomach muscles, a greater sense of mental focus, awareness of the heart. Actually, I think the heart really is at the heart of it...

I'll always turn to what poets, musicians and novelists say about the world. The best of them speak from the heart, and speak what they know to be true. There is clearly a disconnect between what rational argument can represent and what artistic expression can reveal. The extent to which that disconnect is predicated on the methodological assumptions about the way the world is is what interests me - "causes are real, not constructs!" I will argue.. But whilst I might want to say "you've got it all wrong - the world isn't like that!", I know that I mustn't - that is the point at which we turn into extremists.

We may all have got it all wrong, but we wouldn't be the first! One of the fundamental aspects where social scientists and artists differ is that whilst social science might (now) talk about 'emergence', artists always reveal their understanding of 'eternal recurrence'. That I find particularly interesting.

Somehow, we haven't yet been able to look at the recurrent patterns in emergent phenomena and say "We have seen this before... maybe the world ticks like this!"

1 comment:

Astrid Johnson said...

Good luck on Thursday!!!!!!