Tag Archives: inquiry

Joy of Science

I have followed my passion. From that almost forgotten day in my high school teen years when I thought I would dedicate my life to understanding the universe, I have lived inquiry. I have sought answers and meaning to life’s big questions—and have found some. Science is the way I have traveled.

If you have not studied science just for fun, you may not understand my meaning. From Latin, the word “science” means “to know”. It is both an assembly of what is known and a process of coming to know, a process of rigorous inquiry. No, there is not one “scientific method”, but there are some general principles that span the breadth of physical and life sciences, quantitative and qualitative research, and visible and invisible domains.

My Genetics Major Professor used to say, “If you look for something, you will find something.” One hard lesson of science is that what we find may not be at all what we think we are seeking. I find joy in that. Not everyone does.

The Agronomy Professor that hired me as a freshman kept a note tacked to his bookcase above his desk, “It is what we think we know that prevents us from learning.” I enjoy knowing that.

I have said since high school, “Nothing can be proved except that nothing can be proved.” I would enjoy your attempt to prove me right or wrong to a standard of science.

My Educational Psychology Minor Professor claimed, “Science is a form of rhetoric.”

I find that less than completely true. Certainly, coherent and valid argument is a requirement of this special epistemology we call science; however, more is demanded. Some form of empirical inquiry is necessary to move from question and/or hypothesis to conclusion. We have to look (or otherwise observe).

Life was my initial passion, and I chose Genetics because I loved its central relevance, its logical beauty, and the freedom of choice it gave me as a major. Chemistry and Physics were only necessary for me to understand life (I came to love them only as a teacher). Earth science grew on me later, also as a teacher, as I became more committed to understanding the ecological relationships of Earth’s biosphere.

Psychology turned me off. As some former students were quoted, “It’s either bull shit or no shit.” That is not what turned me away. The contrived attempt to make psychology appear scientific through abusive studies of Behaviorism (Stimulus-Response studies) left me cold. I still maintain B.F. Skinner set American education back a century. So, I studied it. I went back for my doctorate in education because I found no educational psychology I could believe. In gratitude and joy I claim to have found some.

I studied the hyphen. “Hyphen psychology” was actually a derogatory term for people trying to investigate what happens between the stimulus and the response. Thinking is what happens, what we call “cognition”. In my mind, interesting things happen between the stimulus and the response where perception, cognition, and volition live. I would enjoy reading your comment if you find any references to such a claim.

Even spirituality is not beyond my scope of science. Yes, I believe I know how to research it and have even done some of my own guided inquiry. Perhaps we will get to that much later (a year or two). I hope so because it is the great joy of this old man.

My focus for 2012 is on learning as a process of recovery from disease with the specific example being Combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During our little blog holiday, I made the personal commitment to focus on PTSD recovery for myself and to share my progress here. I will blog at least weekly (~Wednesdays) and perhaps more frequently when I cannot contain myself. I call the line of inquiry “Beyond DEROS”. The acronym stands for Date Eligible to Return from Overseas, the most important day in the life of any reluctant combat troop. Mine was 1 Nov 1970.

Here is the premise: Combat PTSD is a syndrome of behavior learned in response to traumatic stressors of combat through Classical (and, perhaps, Operant) Conditioning as studied by Skinner and the other Behaviorists. Recovery is also a learning process, but definitely not through conditioning. We learn our way to recovery through perception, cognition, and volition.

When asked how his Aborigine friend found his way in the dark, Crocodile Dundee replied, “He thinks his way,” and so do we.

You probably know a combat Veteran who is, this day, suffering from PTSD (although he or she may not believe it). We can help. Love can help. Experience of others who have been to the wilderness and back can help. Cognitive psychologists can help. Will you help me to help our brave troops who bear invisible wounds? That would bring us joy of science.

 

Why Write What We Do Not Know?

Say, what? How can I write what I don’t know? I always heard the advice, “Write what you know.”

Absolutely. Do write what you know, but if that is all you write, you aren’t going to learn much, and learning is one very important reason for writing.

I came to this conclusion with disarming lack of speed. I have written and graded more essays and term papers than the IRS could count. Okay, that’s hyperbole. The reason I wrote and assigned literary composition was that I believed it was a powerful learning process. I was right, it is.

Even though I believed in the value of writing as a learning tool at a cognitive level, I never grasped it emotionally until last week. My writing group, Write on the Edge (.org) asked me to speak and sign my books, Beyond the Blood Chit. My premise was that writing this novel became a part of my combat PTSD recovery process through learning.

The idea isn’t new. We can find quotes by famous authors referring to writing as an adventure in exploring uncertainty. No, I’m not going to give references, but I would love for you to provide some in comments on this blog.

We can only write what we know. If we try to write what we don’t know, we fail. Is this a paradox?

No.

We begin to write what we know in an effort to explore what we don’t know, and this may be conscious or subconscious. It is a valid inquiry process. We start with the known and use it to illuminate the unknown. Writing is the tool through which we view and learn, or at least flirt with the possibility of learning.

Somewhere during the experience of writing this novel, originally called, “LG”, I recognized that it was about combat PTSD recovery. I admit that this recognition was empowered through a VA recovery program including individual and group counseling. It was also potentiated and developed by personal friends willing to discuss their own experiences and views.  

Like other activities of life, learning is a dance. We learn, use what we learn to inquire, learn more, and continue to inquire, constantly changing our minds. Sometimes we add new knowledge to old. Other times we modify what we believe to accommodate new tenets. Occasionally we reject old, dear, beliefs to acquire new and conflicting ideas. Writing helps us to do all of these.

So, I started writing a story called “LG” about a Vietnam Veteran, like me, who was trapped in some kind of internal dilemma. Blood Chit emerged as an icon for part of that confusion, the perceived duty to serve, help, and even rescue others. My friend’s tattoo of a daggaboy (retired cape buffalo bull) became the symbol for the other part, the longing for escape from this duty to my private water hole of safety. None of this was in my mind when I began writing, and some only emerged well into the rewriting process.

Because of this writing, only because I finished the novel and tried to market it, did I find out what the real story is about. That’s a lot for this old man to learn.

Finally, by agreeing to discuss the writing process with my colleagues, I have come to understand another piece of the mystery. What we learn depends upon our willingness to doubt, wonder, and work the processes of inquiry. It depends upon a commitment to write what we do not know.

Inquiry is not for the feint of faith or those convinced of their own certainty, but for those who want to know more.

For all people with a longing need to know, I personally recommend writing. Enjoy the journey.