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January 12, 2011

designing minds

Appropriations posting

I can free associate irt someone else’s work. I can free associate irt a sequencing of recent themes from my writing. Such exploratory work might be useful for design—terminological design, thematological design, literary design—psychological design?—conceptual design.

One thinks of psychology as basically descriptive—or normative (i.e., proffering what’s normal irt what’s found to be maladaptive). But psychology may also be suggestive. The more that explorations are based in leading trends, the more that suggestiveness might be developmental or progressive.

But what’s “leading,” in the sense of who decides? What are the good bases for discerning and proffering leading trends? How does one know that a trend is developmental or progressive?

I think that this kind of concern is implicit to “positive psychology” and is suggested by a just-published milestone in the field, where apparently all of the most prominent voices in the new field are assessing the last decade’s work and exploring the future of the field, titled Designing Positive Psychology: taking stock and moving forward, K.M. Sheldon et al., eds, Oxford 2011.

I’m quite enthused about the book, but also frustrated by having set reading/writing priorities recently that didn’t include the expected appearance of the book (which I knew about, but didn’t appreciate in its scope, as I do now, having received it and skimmed through its chapter section headings and subheadings).

Someone who integrates the dense array of research approaches, status reports, and surmises could not be doing exactly “scientific” work, but should we understand science to also include the conceptual integration of strictly scientific work? After all, the history of science is not wholly about empiricism; it’s about the lucid or astute or rigorous pursuit of understanding, which is especially justifiable as empirical knowledge (especially for technological interests), but whose evidence-based activity isn’t reducible to empiricism. Some degree of “very” evidence-based understanding that’s not strictly empirical may also qualify as scientific understanding.

Integrative work that’s kindred with strictly scientific understanding may be valid without being intimately scientific. Conceptual lucidity, etc., may be intimately attuned to its own activity—its prospective appeal (due to the tradition of its influences), its coherence, consistency, appropriateness, or fidelity to dispassionate inquiry. In such a region of activity—such a domain (or interdomainality, so to speak)—good reason cases are made, appealing to values of intelligent interestingness (being knowledge-based, circumspectively conscientious, etc.) and, again, coherence, etc.

Historically, this kind of region has been what philosophy pursued, preserved, and advanced (though the sense of philosophy was always historically relative, and now—after metaphysicalism—faces issues of its own character that weren’t as critically compelling as most times in the past).

Exploring a notion of designing ourselves (our lives, our characters, our environments, our societies—our nature?) is a sobering prospect, likely dangerous, if not thoroughly implausible. One goes lightly, with due care and humility.