A lot of what I talk about on this blog probably seems like “pseudoscience” – not double-blind-studied, experimentally proven and factually-based. For some of my readers (and I of course am particularly addressing this to my father, the engineer, because when it comes down to it we’re all always still deep-down trying to or wishing we could prove ourselves to our parents…), many of the experiences and strategies I talk about probably sound like examples of extreme subjectivity and personal anecdotal evidence, with nothing particularly solid to back them up.
There are a fair number of people in the online communities which I frequent who make valiant, noble, and very well-reasoned efforts at debunking the “pseudoscience” label – people with the Weston Price Foundation, Mark Sisson, the Jaminets, Denise Minger, to name a few. Their approach is firmly grounded in the scientific traditions of modern Western thinking, and they do an excellent (and woefully underrepresented in the wider media) job of debunking many of the nutritional fallacies that have gotten our societies into the health mess that we are currently in. And they do this using the same paradigm that was employed to support and propound the nutritional fallacies in the first place. They are highly intelligent, extremely knowledgeable, and frankly heroic people.
But their path is not my path.
If I had wanted to be a scientist, I would have had to make some very different decisions many years ago. And I didn’t (much perhaps to my father’s dismay! ), and still don’t, want to be a scientist.
But what I have become, over the course of eight+ years of graduate study, is an expert in understanding how human communication works at a very abstract level. My scholarly work is deeply involved in applying theoretical work of the past more or less half century to historical “texts”, with “texts” being widely construed as the evidences of human communication — writing, image-making, speaking, form- and sound-making … One might call the philosophers/theorists that I study deconstructionists, or post-structuralists, or simply post-modernists — they are not hard-and-fast exclusive categorizations.
Generally, I apply their theories to the study of art. But recently, some of what I understand from their work is starting to coalesce into some sort of frame around how I understand nutrition and health. I’m not saying this post is going to be pretty, or great. It’s the beginning of my articulating something. It may take some time to work it out. It could use some feedback. It’s going to be messy.
But that’s the essence of human communication, of dialogue and conversation – of knowledge itself. Humans are messy creatures, and this world is a messy world. No matter how much we might try to put it to order, or say something clean, neat, and exact, we never can, not fully. Because whatever we try to put in order always MUST be part of something bigger. It always has a context, something which allows it to seem true and orderly at a given point in time, in a given place. And context is always shifting, nothing ever stays exactly the same, and what may be true here, may not be true there.
What if the idea of double-blind-studied, experimentally-proven, and factually-based “truth” is inherently contextual? What if, despite all one’s attempts at making an objective observation, one cannot ever actually be objective, or make an observation that is not a part of oneself? What if the very act of working out something in our minds is irrevocably marked, or tainted, by those minds themselves?
Then science, the scientific method, and knowledge itself would be a product of human activity and cognition. It couldn’t exist outside of a set of rules and a cultural context which established it as normative.
And in a different set of circumstances, a different set of equally valid rules, and a different cultural context, the conclusions that we have come to via science and the scientific method, what we take as knowledge itself, could be completely wacko, bupkis. Or at least open for extreme skepticism, if not indignant disbelief.
I don’t think that means we shouldn’t say anything at all. In fact, I strongly believe that we need to speak, we need to discern truth, we need to acquire and evaluate and disseminate knowledge. But we also need to be aware that those utterances, that truth, and that knowledge are all a part of us – they can’t exist in any sort of place completely disconnected from us, from our context. They require us, and all our conditioned thinking processes, and all our cultural “baggage”–scientific method included– in order to exist at all.
And moreover, I believe that we needn’t be bound by normative cultural “baggage”, that there exist alternative ways of thinking about the world that can be equally truthful and useful for creating and disseminating knowledge, and that the scientific method is not the be-all and end-all for validating knowledge about how the human body works and what can make sick bodies work better. It can certainly be an incredibly useful method – but its results and conclusions can never be taken as truth with a capital T. To presume to do so would be hubris.
At least that’s what my mind, with all its culturally-engrained pathways, has worked out as my truth for the moment.
A few other interesting perspectives:
Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution on Flickr Commons. “Biochemist Gerty Theresa Radnitz Cori (1896-1957) and her husband Carl Ferdinand Cori (1896-1984) were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1947 for their work on how the human body metabolizes sugar.”
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