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Keywords metaphysics; ontology; epistemology; research; observation
The first time I came across Gerard de Zeeuw's ideas about scientific research was in 1995 when I registered for a PhD in process and knowledge management at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Since then I have repeatedly benefited from experiencing first hand his conduct in scientific research, and his teachings in conferences, seminars and conversations as well as his stimulation and diligent guidance in my attempts to apply some of his `heuristics' (Tsagdis, 1996, 1998, 2000).
In this paper tribute is paid to the de Zeeuw (1995, 1998, 2000) conception of scientific research as an evolving organized activity (2) that aims to improve upon observation, the most common types of improvement being `seeing better', for example through new and more powerful telescopes, and achieving `closure over observations', for example through bounding the observational error in, for example, the earth's gravitational constant.
De Zeeuw's most important contributions for helping contemporary producers and users of scientific research and its outcomes (e.g. findings, knowledge, models, frameworks, theories, methods) -- especially the ones pertaining to the social realm -- to `step out' and resolve some of their major generic difficulties (3) will be summarized.
In this paper the help offered to contemporary producers and users of scientific research and its outcomes comes organized in three consecutive steps. In making the first step (Section 2) help is offered for stepping out of difficulties that lie beyond the physical; in Section 3 for stepping out of existential difficulties, and in Section 4 for stepping out of difficulties associated with knowing. (4) Obviously there are far more steps to make than the three proposed in this paper before users and producers of scientific research and its outcomes are able to step out of all the difficulties (major, generic, or otherwise) they would like to. To that effect some additional help is offered, using ethics as an example (in Section 5), of how the help offered in this paper may be (re)used so to help users and producers of scientific research and its outcomes in stepping out of such latter difficulties; that due to space constraints cannot have their names earmarked on the help offered in this paper.
2. STEPPING OUT OF DIFFICULTIES THAT LIE BEYOND THE PHYSICAL: A PERSONALIZED AGNOSTIC DIET COMBINED WITH SPECULATIVE EXERCISES
The notion of metaphysics has been used to refer to matters concerned with what lies beyond the physical, what distinguishes it and makes it possible. Metaphysics has received a number of interpretations and resulted in various theories, for example, concerning the ultimate nature of the building blocks of reality and the universe.
It is thus only natural for users and producers of scientific research and its outcomes to espouse and/or use differing metaphysics as well as to doubly alter what they espouse and/or use: (a) by adapting them to the difficulties they face at their particular localities (5) and/or (b) by substituting them with novel ones, in the hope that at least some of their difficulties will as a result be resolved. For example, a religious converter (6) is likely to substitute one metaphysics with another, or an individual following a hallucinogenic, mystical and/or near-death experience might espouse novel and/or substitute metaphysics.
Unavoidably therefore, metaphysics presents difficulties that (in their vast majority) cannot be resolved by recourse to the physical. It is also unlikely that a point will be reached in the near future where all individuals will adopt the same metaphysics and stick to it happily ever after.
The usual treatment metaphysics receives by users and/or producers of scientific research has been either to try to sidestep it (e.g. `God does not play dice with the Universe' --Pals, 1982), or try to impose whatever seems to be the appropriate metaphysics (e.g. `God plays dice with the Universe and the dice is loaded'--Hawking, 1988). Both approaches have achieved varied degrees of success although none was capable of doing away with the fact that different users and producers of scientific research and its outcomes do espouse or use differing metaphysics and are unable to step out of it. Bearing in mind the 2500 years of inconclusive metaphysics debates (e.g. as to why there is something as opposed to nothing--Heidegger, 1995) the proposed alternative for stepping out of such difficulties appears to be the adoption of a more helpful intellectual lifestyle. (7) This more helpful intellectual lifestyle consists of a personalized agnostic diet combined with speculative exercises.
For example, help for stepping out of differing metaphysics could be found in the use of a linguistic device such as: `I have no firm belief either way, whereas you are free to believe whatever. Together, however, we can try to develop some form of authority that is either fully independent or dependent on …