Monday, January 19, 2009

Week 2 Postings - Ontology

As I read through and tried to understand the articles (especially the ontology article – wow!), it seems that the question we are wrestling with this week is about truth and the nature of truth, and how we try to come to the closest approximation that we can come to the truth about something.

If we decide to do research, then the underlying assumptions about how we perceive truth (and the acquisition of knowledge)becomes very important. So let me try to unravel this for myself here first and please let me know if I am on the right track here…

DeCartes says that there are 2 realities: the “thing” in reality and our “thoughts” about the thing and these are 2 real entities (object and the subject – the thing to be known and the knower). As we observe and get data about the “thing” we get closer and closer to understanding the “truth” about the thing itself. But this duality exists (Cartesian dualism - Kivinen & Piiroinen pg. 234). If I understand this article, the critical realists live with this duality and feel that the generalizations that they make as they observe the “object” can get closer and closer to the truth about the object itself. That the “subject” can know the “object”. The Pragmatists and methodological relationists on the other hand, like Hume in the opening lecture (and his problem of induction) say that you can never really know the thing wholly. That the best we can do is to get to a close approximation of the thing. That the subject and object will never be “one”. I think this is where the other articles come into play – Martin speaks of the impact of language to hinder (or cloud) the truth about the object and Rosaldo and Peshkin both write about the different ways that our own experience, culture, and background can either cloud or facilitate our getting closer to the objective truth.

It seems to me that Hume’s “problem of induction” (lecture by Dennis pg. 2)when it comes to deciding scientific truth is correct. That generalizations can be made, but the leap to the notion that what is observed as true today will always hold true in every situation goes too far. Karl Popper then adds to this idea that “the best that can be said about scientific truth is that is has not yet been falsified” (pg 2 lecture). Meaning that scientific laws are only true insofar as they have not yet been proven untrue. Again, we can only come to a closer approximation of what the thing actually is… but never get to the totality.

This line of questioning made me then ask the question, “Who decides when a hypothesis becomes a theory and when a theory becomes a scientific law?”That is, when is enough data enough? I had to “go to the experts” for this one, and so posed the question to my husband (a practicing scientist). As soon as I asked the question, he thrust his hands into his pockets and immediately started pacing the room in an animated fashion and we were off to the races.

My husband said that the “scientific community” decides (through the process of research and debate). Yet in that process, many voices are left out of the discussion, in other words, it is not a democratic process and a definite power structure exists within each scientific realm. With this comes all kinds of problems from political to social – making it even more difficult to determine “truth”.

As people get higher up in the power chain, it gets harder to challenge them and what Popper calls the “normative commitment of researchers to the fallibility of their own knowledge claims” that healthy skepticism, can me muffled by egos and laissez faire attitudes that success can bring. So he says that Popper says that there is no real concrete “truth” rather only what we know at this moment in time, and every hypothesis, theory and law stands waiting only to be disproved. I would have to say that when one looks back through time at the history of scientific endeavor, what we know to be true mostly is that our understand grows and changes through time, so a healthy skepticism is a tool that I think serves us well in any kind of thoughtful inquiry.

So how does this connect to how we learned science in our classrooms in the 60’s and 70’s? I’m sure, we weren’t taught to question things, but to accept the theories and simply continue to observe things that continued to support them. I do not recall being asked to take a skeptical stance… even today with the debate on global warming, look at how political it has become right away. People choose sides politically rather than looking at the issue with a healthy skepticism that would allow us to perhaps make our way closer to the truth (as we know it in this moment) so as to act in meaningful ways.

I think taking a skeptical stance really connects to what we talk about in critical literacy – that we cannot blindly accept all that is written as truth (even from experts) and that we have to stay open to what all sides say about a topic – but I’ll save this for a second posting!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Martin: Male-Female Roles

Peshkin: Subjectivity

Definition: Subjectivity the quality of an investigator that affects the results of observational investigation - the intersection of the person (values, culture, class, experiences, etc) with the thing studied.

Researchers should be aware of how their subjectivity may be shaping their inquiry and its outcomes (pg 17)

Reminds me of Brookfield's assumptions and the role of critical reflection and dialogue

Researchers claim that subjectivity is inherent in their research, but they they may not be conscious of it.

Subjectivity can be good (you bring a unique perspective) or bad (lead to false analysis)

How to monitor awareness of when subjectivity is invoked?
  • keep a diary or journal - watch yourself when emotions kick in - when feelings would be aroused...
reminds me of the story from L502 with the teacher researchers and visiting student homes - from "Ah, poor students" to knowing them as whole people with rich lives....

Subjectivity audit notion - all the different labels of who the researcher was at different moments of emotional impact..and how that impacted (or would have) the analysis of what he was observing.

The "distorting hazard" I NOT seeing something I should or seeing something as it isn't

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Week 1/19: Kivinen & Piiroinen

Ontology = what exists (pg 231)... synonym = metaphysics

Asks "questions about reality that are above and beyond those capable of being tackled by methods of science" questions about what constitutes an "entity"

authors argue about what determines "real" existence?

This paper looks at 3 ideas of the role of ontology in social sciences:
  1. Roy Bhaskar - critical realism - equips reality with different levels of being w/ their won emergent entitites
  2. Harre & Putnam - pragmatic realism - middle ground - avoid unneeded reification (regarding something abstract as a material thing)
  3. Dewey & Rorty - methodological relationalism - aims at overcoming the subject-object dualism - get along w/out unnecessary ontological "accessories"
Critical realism - "reality can be unequivocally accorded to things" (pg 232)
  • Gives prioroty to ontology over epistemology
  • "What must the strucutre of the world be like for scienetific knowledge to be possible?" - knowledge must conform to the structures of the world
  • Wants to reverse the Kantian approach thru transcendental realism
  • Objects are the way they are independent of how anyone describes them - "intransitive dimension"
  • The "knower" discovers the true nature of things - does have a social dimension
"Only by means of presuming that there are intransitive objects, scientific knowledge can be seen as progressing towards ever more accurate descriptions of the human-independent world, as becoming closer to reality as it is" (pg 232) Search for truth?

Thought.... Physicists and string theory - need to be philosophers and scientists - is the "nature" of the world as we know it changing? Are there mutiple realities/dimensions/parallel realities?

Getting Started

Since this course (SP 09) is very dense in terms of the readings and discussions, I want to use this blog to help me process and keep track of pertinent points as I read and prepare for discussions.