Jack of all trades…self reflection on ideas and beliefs

After class discussion exploring ideas about the philosophy, ontology and epistemology in research and generally; I have been thinking about the philosophies that have predominantly influenced my own acquisition of knowledge and the context that that knowledge has in my academic, personal and social life.

It’s apparent to me that thus far I have subscribed generally to the idea that high-quality knowledge springs primarily from a rationalist, positivist view: the ability to justify an argument within accepted ‘rules’ and parameters agreed by the scientific community i.e. that we can say something is accurate or ‘true’ with only a 5% (or >0.05) probability that it is not: evidence reaching this threshhold can be held as applicable universally.

Looking forward after discussion, I think it will be interesting to explore the idea that even this rational truth is a social contract or agreed understanding between peers that is based on a probablity of truth (not a certainty) with a threshold that is agreed upon, not inherant in, the scientific method. Mathematics is a human-constructed system of logic and subjected to those parameters which are set out within it (as adaptable as it is) – So does Scientific and Mathematic thought contain inherantly subjective elements inspite being viewed as objective disciplines?

Interestingly, I have always held strong opinions and belief in the power and importance of intution and in the importance of attempting an uneducated emotional understanding of the world on one’s own terms. I have spent a lifetime being interested in the interactions of people with each other and the world, without pursuing this academically (I lose count of the times I have been told I should be a counsellor! Maybe that’ll be my next discipline…). I also believe that an emotional, intuitive understanding of the world is powerful and convincing and the quality of this perspective is one that is ‘self defining’ in as much as: the quality of the argument is defined by our understanding of what ‘quality’ means within the subject we are talking about.

It’s at this point that I should name-drop Robert M Pirsig whos book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ explains in a tremndously eloquent and thorough way his ideas about inherant quality in all things and the points at which different philosophical perspectives may converg. Read a rare interview here!: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/nov/19/fiction

Zen is a tremendously interesting philosophical subject – the art/ theory of understanding without discussion or explanation: can we understand something intuitively/ completely without discussing or explaining it? Are there unknowable or unexplainable things: things unexplainable with words but intuitable? (I did check – intuitable is a word!) Do these questions belong to particular cultural perspectives or disciplines or can we approach universal understanding of such things on a human or even animal level?

Whilst getting slightly off the subject, these questions throw a stark light on the importance of why I feel the need to question my own values in respect to knowledge acquisition and application: what kind of knowledge do I value? Will I change or adapt the threshold of that which I will accept as ‘true’, ‘valid’, accurate or even possible? What are the consequences of this to my approach to research?

I am sensing in myself a need to resolve how I might approach, include and utilise intuition and experiential knowledge in an academic context: redress and clarifying what I understand by words such as ‘academic’, ‘valid’, ‘truth’. It seems a waste to not use a lifetime of intuited knowledge because I couldn’t justify it rationally to a level of >0.05 probablity!

It’s good to be discovering the possibility of disciplines and perspectives that might actually contain an academic forum where these experiences can stand up and be counted (I am Spartacus!).  A personal clarification of my ideals and values may also make explaining my perspectives to others much more clear and accessible.

Other topics to follow – On the periphery of Communities of Practice: What does it mean to be a ‘Jack of All Trades (master of none)’?

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