Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Fence: how to handle it

davidprior @ Flickr

You've done the research. Half of the literature says one thing, the other half says the opposite. It's so annoying, you could nut someone.

But that's what scientists do at the creative edge; pick away at the unknown, chuck it behind them, and then have a few (peer-reviewed) fights with each other about what's valuable. It just so happens you have got mixed up in this weird process.

So, how do you handle a mixed literature? Stay on the fence and say 'On the one hand this, on the other hand that'? No. Be bold! Jump off! Make the field you land in home and then chuck mud at the others.

In other words, settle on a position, acknowledge the criticisms but think of ways in which they could be wrong (is their methodology crap, are their assumptions poor?). Or can the other position be assimilated into your account. Does the fence even need to be there? Psychology students frequently get bogged down in false dichotomy. One way to be creative is to find compromise, a third way.

You could have a module nestled within a general purpose system (so in some tests it looks like a module, in others a domain-general system). You could have a innate mechanism that requires experience to be activated. You could have an account of consciousness that is still computation (functionalism) just in a different flavour from the digital one most people assume (like quantum).

Now, I am not saying to run polemically as far from the fence as you can. You may like to be cautious (cautious is good) and stay close to it whilst arguing one side. Just for the sake of your reader, for the sake of your ability to demonstrate that you can defend one side and be critical of the other and for the sake of coming up with a creative compromise get off the fence and muck in.

1 comment:

Will said...

Check out the post lower down on chewing gum. Clearly there is a mixed literature but I didnt stay on the fence because no wants to hear 'on the one hand this, on the other hand this, hey, it's complicated' kinda thing. Take a side and think about why the other is flawed. (Doing this will also mean you fall more often on the side of truth.)