Thesis: Towards a Participatory Way of Knowing

* MSc Dissertation: Encounters with otherness: Towards a participatory way of knowing. By Joana Formosinho. 2014 class of Holistic Science at Schumacher College,2014.

Excerpted from a review by “Simon”:

“Joana Formosinho is a zoologist with a background in animal behavioural research, but as she says in her introduction, she felt that her research and research methods had not brought her a profound level of insight:

– I found that the doing of the science took me away from my study subjects rather than bringing me closer to them. After months of science on a particular species, I would find I knew a lot about them that was factual, but did not understand more about their way of being in the world; sometimes, I found I understood less, as though being was drowned in a sea of facts.

This is a feeling deeply shared by many scientists, including myself, trained in cognitive psychology, which brings them to Schumacher College, and to the masters degree in Holistic Science which has as its focus the mission of developing a science of qualities to complement quantitative scientific practices.

Joana’s dissertation … in focusing on encounters with otherness, is her journey into acquiring knowledge of things in themselves. The dissertation is written from the first person perspective, as Joana points out for the following reasons:

Firstly, because one of the problems with modern science is the passive, impersonal way we talk about it. By virtue of the methodology—detached objectivity—the scientist is removed from the science, and from the sharing of the science with others. The intention behind this is a striving towards objectivity, to get ourselves out of the way of seeing. It has a fundamental problem, however: that we, us as subjects and seers, are the only way we have to access the world and that no matter how much we try to remove ourselves, we are still there, trying to remove ourselves.

Secondly, because experiential narrative is in keeping with the phenomenological tradition within which I am working, where the focus of investigation is on direct experience as lived.

Thirdly, because the direct experience of the practicing scientist matters. Science is a human narrative of the world and scientists are transformed as citizens in the doing of their science. The science we have is an expression of our society and, engaged with at the level of process as well as outcome, can reflect our society’s state of being back to us for reflection.

Reading Joana’s dissertation is an opportunity to experience a first-hand account of ‘exact sensorial imagination’ and the other stages of Goethe’s extremely fluid methodology. As she writes in her closing section, ‘Goethe saw the essential aspects of nature as unquantifiable and sought instead to participate in nature’s qualities, to open himself to the things of nature, to listen to what they say.’ When I speak to students, I tell them I am attempting to help them master just two things – seeing and being receptive. When we acknowledge otherness, we acknowledge that we need a degree of humility to achieve this degree of openness to otherness, but those who do achieve this humility, gain an expansion of vision and untold power. Not a power over others, but in recognising others, the ability to co-create untold new realities in authentic participation.

To be taught how to listen to nature is to be taught from nature about our own powers of perception. These are huge lessons to learn, and I hope you enjoy all of these dissertations, that you yourself may then wish to be inspired to explore further the participatory way of knowing.”

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