METHODOLOGY IN BIOGENETIC STRUCTURALISM
I have often heard people say, "Biogenetic structuralism sounds all well and good, but how do you DO the bloody stuff?" This is a question that is easier asked than answered, for, as we have seen in Day One and Two of this tutorial, biogenetic structuralism is a synthetic theory of human consciousness and culture, and is therefore really a set of theories -- or a system of interconnections among theories at different levels -- whatever. And because most of the theories making up the grand perspective are theories about the relationship between the cognizing brain and reality, the entire perspective is in the most abstract sense "methodological" -- what our sociological siblings would call Big-M methodology.
It used to be much more straightforward to address methodology in science. That is because people believed that the neopositivist account of things was an accurate picture of how science operates (see Suppe 1977; see references below). Science, according to the positivist account, was a process of confirming or disconfirming theories about reality. Theories were sets of propositions constructed in natural language or mathematical symbolism. At least part of the theory was about non-observables. Sets of propositions about the world containing entities and relations that were totally observable were called "empirical generalizations" or descriptions. Theories were about partially hidden causation. Because they were about hidden causes and hidden entities, and thus could not be confirmed by simply looking and seeing for yourself, it was necessary to deductively draw hypotheses from the theories that are in fact observable. If the hypotheses turn out to be the case, then observations add support to the theories. If the hypotheses turned out to be false, then the theories from which they were deduced were also disconfirmed.
As I say, the positivist picture of how science proceeds was all nice and neat and straightforward. And, of course, part of the neatness was in the fact that one's ontology (what one claims to know) didn't get all mixed up with one's epistemology (how one comes to know what one claims to know). Positivism took care of the epistemology -- which for quite a while was considered non-problematic -- so all you had to do was follow the recipe and, voila!, you produced good, sound scientific knowledge.
The trouble is, science does not, nor has it ever actually been carried out in the nice neat way that the positivist account would have us believe. Actually, the positivist view was more like a rationalization (or justification) of a much deeper, more mysterious and problematic process of discovery (Hanson 1958). Thomas Kuhn (see Suppe 1977) changed our view of science in a very radical way. Basically he showed that science is a social institution for the production of cultural knowledge with its attendant social organization, politics, economics, ego-centered decision making, and all the other aspects we as anthropologists have come to expect from human endeavour.
Most importantly for our purposes, Kuhn and others have demonstrated that our knowledge (ontology) and our methods (epistemology) are inextricably bound up as parts of the same process -- two sides of the coin, so to speak. What we claim to know about the world or ourselves entails how we come to know what we claim to know. An obvious example is that we cannot possibly know something that we are cognitively incapable of learning. (Mind you, the Kuhnian perspective has been carried too far by some to hold that there is no truth in scientific knowledge, only various cultural points of view. I will return to the problem of relativism in post-Kuhnian anti- realism in a later session.)
Indeed, as we have seen, to have a human nervous system implies that we are already conditioned to know certain things, to be able to learn some things and not others, to be able to experience some things and not others. To have a human brain implies that we know what we know from a distinctly human point of view (see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 12 on neuroepistemology). It doesn't matter what we claim to be studying, human neuroepistemology always conditions what and how we can know. So the methodological issues in any discipline inevitably come back to the same fundamental questions about how we as biological organisms grow or develop our knowledge within the constraints set by our genetic possibilities. This was Jean Piaget's lifelong quest, and his great contribution to epistemology (he called his perspective genetic epistemology ; see Piaget 1971. 1977, 1980, 1985).
Methodology in Biogenetic Structuralism
Within this broad neuroepistemological understanding, biogenetic structural thought has delved into a number of methodological issues over the years. Keep in mind that our work has taken a quarter of a century to develop, and methodological issues have been discussed as they have arisen and are to be found scattered in a variety of places in our writings. Because separating knowledge from how knowledge is constructed is considered a false dichotomy, we nowhere solely address methodology, and almost everywhere touch on methodology to some extent. However, there are places in our literature where certain methodological issues are addressed more completely.
We have reached the end of Day Three of the tutorial. A list of suggested readings of our own and related writings by topic will follow. These topics will allow you to read more specifically in methodological areas you may wish to understand and design research around. If you wish to continue on to Day Four of the tutorial which continues to address methodological issues, click here . Or you may wish to return to the index and note where you wish to begin next time.
Suggested Readings on Methodological Issues
If you are interested in neuroepistemology generally, then I would suggest you consult Laughlin and d'Aquili 1974, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990. But if you have more particular concerns, then I would suggest the following categories and references:
Biology, culture and consciousness: Integrating a biology of knowledge into cultural studies of symbolism and learning (also the mind-body problem), see Laughlin 1989a, 1991, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 1, Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984.
Biophysical and quantum dimensions: Integrating biophysical and quantum physical data and insights into biogenetic structural models, see Laughlin 1996c, n.d., Laughlin and McManus 1995.
Philosophy of science: For general philosophy of science issues relative to how science occurs and what science is relative to human cognition, see Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984.
Designing a biogenetic structural project: How a biogenetic structural research project is designed, especially related to ritual. How to operationalize concepts so that they do not in principle exclude relevant biological, ethological and comparative neurological data, see d'Aquili, Laughlin and McManus 1979:Chapter 1.
Bridging levels of systems in explanations: For the Rule of Minimal Inclusion, see Rubinstein and Laughlin 1977, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:17, Rubinstein, Laughlin and McManus 1984:93. The Rule states that any explanation of a behavior must take into account any and all levels of systemic organization efficiently present.
Contemplation: Contemplation (disciplined introspection, mature contemplation, phenomenological reduction) as a methodology, see Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990: Chapter 11, also see entire special issue of Zygon 28(2) in 1993.
Phenomenology: Phenomenology as an important tool in anthropology and science, see Laughlin 1996a.
Neurophenomenology: Neurophenomenology -- that is, methodology of wedding information about the brain and information gleaned from direct introspection -- see Laughlin 1996b, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990.
Transpersonal experience: Methodology of, or techniques leading to transpersonal experiences (transpersonal anthropological methodology), see Laughlin 1989b, 1989c, 1994a, Laughlin, McManus and Shearer 1983, Laughlin, McManus and d'Aquili 1990:18.
Thick participation: Specifically pertaining to "thick participation" (Brian Given's term; see Given 1993) as a methodology in transpersonal anthropology, see Laughlin . By thick participation is meant participation in the native system to the extent of attaining the essential and apodeictic insights upon which the native cosmology is grounded. See Laughlin 1994a, 1994c.
Evidence and belief: On the relationship between evidence or experience and beliefs about the world or self (also the relationship between meaning and truth), see Laughlin 1992.
Interpretation: For the Rule of Multiple Interpretation, see Laughlin 1994c:121. The Rule states that all experiences, including all intuitive insights and all transpersonal experiences, are amenable to multiple interpretations. Put negatively, the rule states: There is no such thing as an experience or an intuition that admits of only one interpretation.
Certainty: On the epistemological problem of absolute certainty of intuition, knowledge and interpretation in experience, especially transpersonal experience, see Laughlin 1994c.
Intuition: The problem of intuition, and how intuition relates to other kinds of knowing (ratiocination, reason, language), see Laughlin 1996a.
Fuzzy categories: Fuzziness of semantic boundaries in natural categories and knowledge; fuzzy set theory in ethnological methods, see Laughlin 1993.
Radical empiricism: The relationship between biogenetic structuralism and William James' radical empiricism, see Laughlin and McManus 1995.
Archetypes: Archetypal knowledge, experiencing the archetypes, Jungian methodology and biogenetic structuralism, see Laughlin 1996c.
Please Note: References to my writings with a `$' before them are available on the "Selected Articles" page of this homepage.
D'Aquili, E.G., C.D. Laughlin and J. McManus (1979) The Spectrum of Ritual. New York: Columbia University Press.
Given, Brian (1993) "Zen Handgun: Sports, Ritual and Experience." Journal of Ritual Studies 7(1):139-161.
Hanson, N.R. (1958) Patterns of Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laughlin, C.D. (1989a) "Brain, Culture and Evolution: Some Basic Issues in Neuroanthropology." in A Different Drummer (ed. by B. Cox et al.). Ottawa, Canada: Carleton University Press.
$ Laughlin, C.D. (1989b) "Transpersonal Anthropology: Some Methodological Issues." Western Canadian Anthropologist 5:29- 60.
Laughlin, C.D. (1989c) "Transpersonal Anthropology: What Is It, and What Are the Problems We Face in Doing It?" in A Different Drummer, (ed. by B. Cox, V. Blundell, J. Chevalier). Carleton University Press, pp. 17-26.
$ Laughlin, C.D. (1991) "Pre- and Perinatal Brain Development and Enculturation: A Biogenetic Structural Approach." Human Nature 2(3):171-213.
Laughlin, C.D. (1992) "The Relationship Between Evidence and Belief" in Anomalous Experiences & Trauma (ed. by R.E. Laibow et al.) Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: The Center for Treatment and Research of Experienced Anomalous Trauma.
$ Laughlin, C.D. (1993) "Fuzziness and Phenomenology in Ethnological Research: Insights from Fuzzy Set Theory." Journal of Anthropological Research 49(1):17-37.
Laughlin, C.D. (1994a) "Psychic Energy and Transpersonal Experience: A Biogenetic Structural Account of the Tibetan Dumo Practice." in Being Changed by Cross-Cultural Encounters (ed. by D.E. Young and J.-G. Goulet). Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
Laughlin, C.D. (1994b) "On the Relationship Between Science and the Life-World: A Biogenetic Structural Theory of Meaning and Causation," in The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. (Ed. by W. Harman and J. Clark). Institute of Noetic Sciences Books.
$ Laughlin, C.D. (1994c) "Apodicticity: The Problem of Absolute Certainty in Transpersonal Anthropology." Anthropology and Humanism 19(2):1-15.
Laughlin, C.D. (1996a) "The Nature of Intuition: A Neuropsychological Approach." in Intuition: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. (Ed. by Robbie Davis-Floyd and Sven Arvidson). Routledge (in press).
$ Laughlin, C.D. (1996b) "Phenomenological Anthropology." in Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 3 (ed. by D. Levinson and M. Ember). HRAF Press, pp. 924-926.
Laughlin, C.D. (1996c) "Archetypes, Neurognosis and the Quantum Sea." Journal of Scientific Exploration 10(3).
Laughlin, C.D. (n.d.) "The Trouble With Consciousness: A Neuro-Anthropological Perspective." in Consciousness (ed. by C.D. Laughlin) (typescript only).
Laughlin, C.D. and E.G. d'Aquili (1974) Biogenetic Structuralism. New York: Columbia University Press.
Laughlin, C.D. and J. McManus (1995) "The Relevance of William James' Radical Empiricism to the Anthropology of Consciousness." Anthropology of Consciousness 6(3) (in press).
Laughlin, C.D., J. McManus and E.G. d'Aquili (1990) Brain, Symbol and Experience: Toward a Neurophenomenology of Human Consciousness. New York: Columbia University Press.
Laughlin, C.D., J. McManus and J. Shearer (1983) "Dreams, Trance and Visions: What a Transpersonal Anthropology Might Look Like." Phoenix: The Journal of Transpersonal Anthropology 7 (1/2): 141-159.
Piaget, J. (1971) Biology and Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Piaget, J. (1977) The Development of Thought. New York: The Viking Press.
Piaget, J. (1980) Adaptation and Intelligence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Piaget, J. (1985) The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures: The Central Problem of Intellectual Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rubinstein, R.A. and C.D. Laughlin (1977) "Bridging Levels of Systemic Organization." Current Anthropology 18:459-481.
Rubinstein, R.A., C.D. Laughlin and J. McManus (1984) Science as Cognitive Process. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Suppe, F. (ed.) (1977) The Structure of Scientific Theories (2nd ed.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.