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Friday, June 12, 2009

What is Research?

Ashwin Kumar from CSCS gave a lecture on research for the MA English students on 11 June 2009. Following is the class notes of Jijo K. (To MA Students) if you think some points need to be added please add them in the comment section. Or if you have a write up please email it to me.


The class was based on the perspectives of Karl Popper on research.

Karl Popper. He was psychologist and a physicist of considerable acclaim

9/10 researches in Humanities is farce and the other one is unintelligible (unundertatndable)

Karl Hopper says that research can only solve problems. Those researches which do not solve genuine problems are not researches.

E.g. What is a bike? This is not a problem actually. This becomes a problem only when you are not able to distinguish it from a car. But there is a problem when you ask, why a bike does not fall when it is on the move? Some problems are not real and can be reduced to word problems and poor narration.

Something becomes a problem because you already have a theory about it, sometimes unarticulated. There is a theory existing even as a child is born. The theory is an explanation for an expected behaviour.... or condition which is a challenge. The process of theorising is as follows.

Theory 1 (T1) is the basic concept. T1 predicts the expected behaviour. If the expected behaviour does not happen and .... an event occurs. An event is something that happens against or outside the horizon of expectations according to the previous theory.

Now this theory has to be changed, annulled or modified to accommodate the new event. This is called a Tentative Hypothesis. This will after testing and evaluation become a Theory 2 (T2)

Again an event might occur and the theorising will continue.

The point is if something that does not have a problem, does not call for a research.

How to find what is a genuine problem? Intuition is the key to know whether something is a problem. Sometimes we do not ask the right questions or find the right problem because some other theories are blocking us to see the right problem. E.g. people who accepted the theory of ether tried to find its composition until someone said ether is not a necessary component to explain anything. So this was discarded and all the theories around it.

We are always called upon to make decisions. When you make a decision there is a closure of other opportunities. When you make a decision it is not based on pure logic. What is totally logical is deduction and not decisions.How do you make decisions? E.g. You were going somewhere and not able to find the way in a cross roads. But out of your hunches you make decisions. So it is not fully logical, or no reason to choose one over the other.

Theories are not verifiable. There are no positions which could not be argued out. The task of theory is to help you to perform well in a given situation. Why can’t you prove theory?

Popper answers this way

Atheory has two parts

  1. The Logical Content> the set of logical materials that you present
  2. Informative content> It is everything else outside of the explanation of the logical content or theory. E.g. photosynthesis gives nutrition for the plants. The Informative content is the dog does not have food through photosynthesis.

Some informative contents are relevant to the research but some are irrelevant. The knowledge of the theory is not exactly what you are trying to prove but the encircling informative content that you have. True knowledge is when you know what the theory is unable to explain.

Falsification of a theory

The only way of engaging theory is critiquing a theory. If your relationship to theory is critical then you cannot say a theory is right but only wrong. If you proved yourself you have falsified the previous theory.

You falsify a theory

  1. Within the scheme of the theory itself.
  2. You have to gather more informative content to disprove a theory. Not something that is not related to the topic but around the topic.
  3. Only those theories are scientific which can be falsified.

Infinitive Regress: when you try to defend a theory and if the very defence is challenged as the sign of failure of the very theory you are trying to protest or defend.

All theories are infinitively regressive. Right? Falsification can be successful or otherwise.

Examples for some knowledge that you develop other than non critical ways.

Skills: E.g. Music, architectures etc...

One is theoretical knowledge?

One is a social knowledge. E.g. what kind of a government is best for a nation. This knowledge is not like that of the first one(skills), action knowledge, experiential knowledge, spiritual knowledge or theoretical. These types of knowledges that do not bend to the skill or theoretical knowledge.

Humanities and social sciences are moral sciences.

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