In search of an adequate theory of human interaction – part 3

In search of an adequate theory of human interaction; an account of my thoughts on scientific research.

[1] Introduction (the context of this paper)
[2] Ontology and the definition of the object of research (What is?)
[3] Epistemology and the semantic theory of human interaction (Why do we study ‘What is’?)
[4] Methodology and the way to do research (How do we study ‘What is’?)
[5] Choosing a theoretical framework (A possible way to study nursing leadership)
[6] References
[7] Biography

A theory of human interaction (epistemology)

The human brain perceives the external world (outside him) and the internal world (inside him). The latter can be divided in perception of (bodily) feelings (examples: dizziness, hunger, love, etc.) and perception of the working (mechanism) of the brain self (examples: memory, logic).
Humans construct theories to master the (social) world they live in. Theories are nothing more than structured representations of the world that helps the human to perceive, predict and ameliorate his living conditions.

Theories are the result of the learning capacity of humans. Science can be seen as an organized form of mastering the world through their learning capability.
Scientific research (social or natural) permits to gain knowledge about the object under study. We call the product of this research, scientific knowledge. Knowledge (true, wrong or common sense) is saved as representation in the brain.

The way we do research is dependent of how our brain functions. The human brain has developed through an evolutionary process and the individual human develops its brain in more detail through experiences from his birth on. So the human brain has acquired through evolution his structure and dispositions and a specific individual develops his brain in more detail through his experiences (see Ginsburg & Opper (1969) for an introduction to Piaget’s view on the phylogenetic development (= development of our species) and the ontogenetic development (= individual development) of our brain structure and its relation to knowledge acquisition).

I see knowledge as a set of theories. And theories consist of an interrelated set of representations (explanations) about part of the internal and external world of the human being under study. Hempel (1965) describes what explanations are. Explanations are sets of deductions that can be made from confirmed laws (confirmed in the sense of not being falsified) and its (initial) conditions. Laws can be probabilistic in nature.

The human brain has a certain way of investigating his body and its surroundings. This scientific way is determined, as I already mentioned, by the evolution of its species and its individual experience. Therefore it is inevitable that the logic and structure of theories are the same for the natural and the social sciences. The brain after all, is as it is and an adult brain does not change every time it studies a different object (like attracting bodies, or leadership).

Epistemology, the study of what we can know, is important as it can give us insight in our possibilities and limitations in knowing the world. But we should not forget that knowledge is the result of an interaction between an embodied brain and the world (as he perceives and experiences it) and that it tries to gain knowledge of the world it is in, just to master it. So the production of knowledge has an objective.

In the natural sciences we try establish laws that permit us to predict the value of a variable (say distance) when the value of other variables that are related to it, are known (say velocity and time).
But what are the aims of social science?
In his 1988 book, Alex Rosenberg states: “The dispute about whether the goal of social science should be predictive improvement or increasing intelligibility is fundamentally a disagreement about the nature, extent, and justification of claims of knowledge” (Rosenberg, 1988, p197).
And on the same page he states: “If increasing our understanding of the meaning of human actions improves our predictive powers, then of course there is no conflict. But as we have seen, there are serious obstacles in the way of providing such predictive improvements in theories that take the search for meanings seriously. We have to decide whether these obstacles are surmountable”.
I think the obstacles are surmountable. I follow the same stream of pragmatic thinking as Nathan Harter does in his 2006 book on antecedents and consequences, p. 25: “Despite the undifferentiated manifold surrounding him, a pragmatist is interested in detecting patterns or trends within the flux of experience. What seems to happen again and again? One time events, never to be repeated, are incapable of being understood and certainly are incapable of verification. One does not need a reason to explain what happens only once. What we want to find are generalities or regularities (Peirce, 1940/1955, pp 265, 318)”.

Humans make appointments (“I’ll see you there tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock”), we close deals (“Your company will deliver me such and such”). Humans ask someone to do something (“Can you please give me the salt?”). The interactions we have with others are directed to a planned change of a part of our world. But of course humans can engage with an other person in an activity that does not effect the world in a significant matter (looking at television together, having sex, etc.). But still, we have to plan these activities and communicate before we can realise it. And of course humans can engage in an activity of their own, like running twice a week for a better physical condition.
These are all examples of deliberate behaviour and interactions. But as stated earlier humans also exhibit non-deliberate behaviour when busy achieving a goal, like playing with a pen when listening to a teacher’s discussion.

Organizations also have goals. To phrase it correctly: people in organizations work together to realise goals agreed upon (these goals however are not always made explicit to everybody in the organization).

In my view, the objective of all sciences is to produce knowledge that can be used to predict (future) behaviour of objects, organisms and humans. This knowledge should be in such a form that when applied to humans, results in an amelioration of their physical or social reality.
The production of knowledge is the result of the struggle of the brain to master the continuously developing and changing world it lives in.
In other words: the results of science (knowledge) can be used as a means to alter and better the world humans live in.


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