the irrational empiricist
July 17, 2012
So I read Day 11 and I just start laughing. How much of your writing time is pure research?
All of it? None of it? What is “research”? Is that the search for knowledge, information, the asking of questions in the service of discovery? Is it to re-search, that is you already know but you go searching again? Or is it to look for sources, to have other people tell you what to believe and how to think? Is it to use other sources as proof of fact? Or is it really just that… everything is a hypothesis?
Look at me asking questions. I’m not a scientist. But I do remember fourth grade, where I was told the entire model of science is based on the asking of a question. Then, as I remember from my oaktag triptych where I set off to do a research experiment, I was to establish my materials and my methods, then watch to see what happened. Lastly, I would draw my conclusion, based on this “evidence.” I was forevermore turned off to science. But I never knew why and now I do.
A question is an opinion revised by syntax. It presupposes that the answer is to be discovered, when the answer exists in the question itself. I can’t explain that but I know it. This is why I refrain from asking question when I can. It creates bias by the nature of its very existence. The best I can ever ask is the old standard, Who What Where When Why and How? Mostly I want to know Why. My forte is intention. Motive is me. I need to know what set things in motion. If I know the starting place it’s easy enough to figure out the trajectory between two points.
(This reminds me that I also do well with What. I asked Afrika Bambaataa “What” twice and Joe Conzo told me it was the best interview that he had ever read, and did me the greatest honor by publishing it in his monograph, Born in the Bronx. And I have reflected on How that worked. Or rather, Why it went that way. And it was because I had no agenda. I just wanted Bam to tell me his story within the most simple of frames).
So yes, I take issue with the premise of a hypothesis. I think we’d all be better served by removing the illusion that a question in and of itself is a neutral proposition. But, of course you already know that’s not my only issue with the scientific method. It’s that the paradigm presupposes the possibility of objectivity. It takes as its starting point that the creator of the experiment is able to create a controlled environment like, umm, God, maybe. Except last I checked God doesn’t need a lab. Nor does He create a sterile environment, being that the first organisms were single-celled creatures. How’s that for irony. We are obsessed with killing off the first form of life in the name of being “healthy.” Only, could it possibly be that those creatures of one cell, possessing the capacity to not only damage but kill, have some power greater than we? One Cell vs. Man. That’s some shit right there.
Ahh progress. The illusions of the mind. But that’s another essay for another time. Back to the Method of Madness. It presupposes that the materials are pure and the methods are of the highest caliber. It presupposes that the observations are all-seeing, and that the conclusions are all-knowing. I could break each of these items down but it seems obvious that the method itself is in the service of the ego, and while its results seem to benefit us, there is always a price to pay. Hell, I am telling you, I would have been dead without science and there are many times I was willing to give my life back. I’m not being ungrateful here. I am telling you, life and death isn’t what you think it is.
This is why I see that my greatest gift is the ability to change my mind. A couple of hours ago, maybe four something in the morning where thoughts ran through my head like a locomotive (and see now, I realize, I have upgraded because they were not a rollercoaster. I wasn’t swept away. I was perfectly on track). Right then, four something in the morning I came to the ability to say something I could never say before. I came to say thank you to my parents for giving me life. I never was able to accept this life until, mmm, three hours ago.
There is no greater gift than change. To hold to something for as long as it serves us, then to let it go with grace. Well, it’s not always grace, I do stumble and trip and fall and bust my ass all the time. But I get up again and again. I also see that the ability to change my mind is based in the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in my head at the same time. To not ask questions but just follow along. To invert questions into statement and statements into questions. To find meaning, to use it, discard it, and keep moving along. To let go when I must let go is the hardest skill, and I am slow but I do learn.
Now, to research, I dig the scientific method is not the only form. After fourth grade I went to fifth. And it was then that I was taught how to use other people’s work to prove someone else’s ideas. This is how we as a society control minds. We teach children that the ability to understand and repeat other people’s ideas is knowledge. And that knowledge is education. And that if we retain and release information as directed, we will be… I don’t know, valid or something. But me, I need my own answers because most people’s don’t make sense to me. They feel like propaganda, and I’m not saying I’m not a propagandist. I’m saying I very well could very well be.
But my propaganda serves me well, just as it serves me poorly. But the one thing I’ve always appreciated about my propaganda is when I come to my own idea and then I read it in the words of another, like Freud or Jung or Mark Twain. This is my idea of education: read critically, experience life as art, and think for yourself.
But that wasn’t taught to me. School isn’t for intellect. It is for social control and social control operates by convincing people that the dominant ideology is actually their own. How does that work, you ask? It is as I learned in fifth grade. We would be given an assignment and asked to reads books and articles and cite them as sources to present a position.
Why books and articles? Because the word is seen as some kind of objective fact. I dig that in our hearts we all know it is not, but that’s not how it affects the brain when a skilled rhetorician or diligent “fact” collector gets hold of the tools. I learned from my father that the greatest power is to present a persuasive argument. Because, you see, logic, while rational, is not Truth. Truth, ha ha ha, I have to laugh. Truth is not rational. Ain’t that some shit. Because Truth operates outside the mind. And Truth operates without proof.
But back to our sources, yes, books, my deepest passion. Books, I have learned, by way of reading them and writing them and publishing them and selling them, are a construction. Just like anything else. There’s nothing objective about them. And the ones I love most acknowledge this. George Orwell titles his book of criticism, “All Art is Propaganda.” And me, I’m waiting for the other disciplines to have the cojones to acknowledge their complicity in this game.
Perhaps the only form of research that appeals to me is empirical. I can’t remember what that means and I am sure it would be easier to Google it, but that’s not my style. I am an empiricist. I bend words to suit my needs. As I understand it, empiricism is the understanding of subjectivity, and the way in which we allow our brains to create meaning based on what we experience through our senses. This has to be the most irrational form of research. Small wonder it is for me.
Sometimes, I think of animals. Just by way of measuring human progress. Animals have it right, so long as they never ever meet us. And in their societies and cultures and languages and, dig, just because we lack the capacity to understand them doesn’t correlate to the conclusion that this makes us smarter or more evolved; in fact I think by holding such an opinion one is asserting the vestiges of a Neanderthal mentality (but more on that at another time). Right then I look to animals as my guide for how to do my research. Because animals, in my heart, have it right.
They live exactly as designed. Even with the genetic aberrations. Their purpose is established and they fulfill it every single day of their lives (again, so long as they successfully avoid humans). People, well, it’s hard to say. I believe that what is is exactly what is meant to be but at the same time, how very strange. Nature designed a creature programmed to self-destruct, not only as an individual, but as a society. The more we “progress” the closer we come to the brink. If not with nuclear proliferation then with population explosion, fossil fuel consumption, and the proliferation of waste. And what’s more, Nature designed a creature that, when it self destructs, will try to take everyone and everything with them. There’s something to Armageddon. Not, for me, as it was written, but as an understanding that in our beginning is our end. But of course, not of the Universe. Just of life, as we are capable (or maybe the more accurate word is incapable) of understanding it.
So yea. Research. How much of my writing time is dedicated to it? This question confounds me, if only because of its structure of this sentence. It presupposes that the time when I write is actually the research that I am doing. So okay yes, all the time I write is research. It’s the shovel I always dreamed. See when I was in fifth grade I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to dig up ruins of the past. And so it turns out I am doing this. Every time I set word to paper.