The ‘…isms’ of research

I’ve finally cracked Epistemology: Finding straightforward literature which resonated with me helped greatly. Epistemology is basically about what information you think is adequate and legitimate and I finally grasped that my own epistemological stance was blocking my way forward on this topic: I had been looking for an objective definition of each ‘…ism’ and I realised that this topic is actually quite subjective. Crotty says that there are numerous methods and methodologies and that terminology is inconsistently used and defined – what a light bulb moment. In essence the muddle is how it is and there is no one consistent definition for each “..ism” because it is being treated very subjectively – as long as you can state your case it seems to goes. For example, Constructionalism and Constructivism appear the same in some texts and different in others. Crotty’s Constructionalism overlaps Objectivism and Subjectivism, concluding things are a blend of fact and opinion.

Realising the muddle was ok and I didn’t have to look for a Holy Grail was a liberation: I just needed to pick the ones to underpin my research. So now instead of ending up confused and fraught (which you may be after having just read that section) I’m just going with Crotty’s Constructionalism, as having to choose between being totally Objective or Subjective hadn’t sat well with me so finding something that blends them was a relief. Also, if there’s one thing I understand about Neuroscience at the moment, it is that it’s full of interpretation and in many cases, it can only be constructed, although hopefully it’s doing that using objective research.

So, Epistemology worked on, now time for my Theoretical Perspective which drives your research methodology and is about how you look at the world and make sense of things. Again, it seemed that the main options were quite compartmentalised – now I know why interdisciplinary research is hard work. So, digging further I unearthed Critical Realism. One author has it at the ‘facts might be tainted by research bias’ end of Post-positivism and another author has it at the ‘some things are much more fact based’ end of Interpretivism – perfect. So, I am deciding it is where the two overlap as both definitions are similar: ‘Whilst science can attempt to describe the world factually, that within doing so the researcher brings their own biases and interpretations. Therefore, things can only be known within the bounds of probability.’ Worth keeping in mind when you are reading neuroscience articles.

Having started out by wondering ‘what is the value in doing all this epistemology stuff’, I have discovered that it has helped me become more realistic about the nature of the information I am gathering and creating. And being blocked by my own epistemological bias made me realise that even when you think you clock your own biases that all you actually do is uncover the next layer and there is another one below waiting for you to discover in the future. Tara Swart talking on ‘Neuroscience and Nationalism’ has hope that our ‘in/out group’ biases can be changed, although to date they have been useful for our survival so will changing that be useful or not to our future? Interestingly, I read in Cozolino’s latest book that oxytocin is positively corelated with in-group biases so I wonder how far you can stretch that ‘in-group’ definition.

I think a big part of a doctorate is about making you find your own solid ground and being congruent with your reasons for that. One of the outcomes from this is that I am finding I am much more comfortable with asking people what is behind the question they just asked before I answer it. That has been quite an eye opener as their answers are often different to what I had assumed. That has affected how I have answered the question and, in many cases, how congruent I have been in my answer.

As I have been writing this blog, it’s also made me ponder on some of the realities around coaching. One thought that came to mind was the comment about leaving our biases outside the coaching room. I think the reality is probably closer to, we can do that to some extent although we can only ever be biased. Given we have all had different experiences, and these affect our neural pathways, we can only see things through our own perspective. We can attempt to look at it through others’ eyes, but ultimately, we can never truly do that and being more honest about that could be in service of our coaching.

We also talk about helping clients ‘reach their full potential’ but I wonder who’s ‘full potential’ we are talking about or what we mean by that. I feel that many clients would be happy with just properly embedding the things they want to work on, to improve or deal with their situation. Maybe in many cases the role of coaching is about helping clients to navigate their life now, much of which they didn’t have to handle in their upbringing. Given that much of the brain development happens in our childhood, Cozolino suggests the role of a therapist is akin to that of a parent, in aiding the person to purposefully adapt their neural pathways and make changes. His is also the first book I have read where it seems that the neuroscience is going to be in service of the topic in a meaningful way.

In his video “Nothing magical about consciousness!” Stanislas Dehaene similarly talks about how non-conscious processing influences our actions. It is also a good demonstration of how the same words are used to mean different things: I wonder how many articles on consciousness are really on conscious access? I’m sure that’s nothing to do with gaining reading figures! He mentions how new technology has enhanced neuroscience research and this includes wearable brain scanners which could be a game changer.

The layer below the hype is worth getting to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.