Thinking is hard work. As any student, post-grad or researcher will affirm, it bring with it many emotions – tension, anger, doubt, elation.
To be a researcher involves being able to live with the tension between not-understanding and understanding. Where we reach or sense we might reach conclusions that upset our taken-for-granted beliefs and values, it can involve conflicting emotions. It can upset our living. Even more it can be disruptive and threatening to our life-long commitments.
To reach even a basic understanding of something involves a long process of reading and listening, thinking, re-reading and more listening.
In the face of all this, it can take a long time to make any progress in coming to basic understanding of something let alone understand it adequately.
The demands of thinking
Thinking makes demands on us. Research demands that we be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible, be adventurous:
Be attentive to what is going on – our research is not about some imaginative fantasy land but about the social world we live in.
Be intelligent in making sense of what is going on – our research is not about making up worlds that don’t exist or about models that bear no relation to what is going on but about using fantasy and lateral thinking in making sense of our social world.
Be reasonable in affirming only our best view of what is happening – our research does not demand that we continually question everything, that we are sceptics and it does not demand absolute certainty but it does demand that we ask all the relevant questions, it does demand that we are rigorous, it does demand that we reasonably affirm with varying degrees of certainty our best view of what is happening.
Be responsible in how we go about our research – our research is not simply a matter of doing what we feel like, what gives us pleasure or what is in our interest. We live in a larger world, a cosmos with a very long history, a human history of development and achievement. What was acceptable scientific practice, now no longer is. We, therefore, have a responsibility to select the best methods available by which to answer the questions we have.
Be adventurous in our proposals for change – our research culture operates with certain pre-suppositions about the way research is undertaken but we don’t have to accept and appropriate this uncritically; we can envision something new; adopt a new direction; plan courses of action to implement this direction; and creatively implement this new direction. Our research is neither optimistic or based on an ignorance of what is happening nor, is it pessimistic, based on a wish that things were only different; basing our research on the ongoing discoveries of the capacities and possibilities of our humanity, we can be adventurous.
The internal demands of thinking
These are internal demands that come from the very structure of our being human. Unless we are attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible and adventurous, we cannot reach an adequate understanding of what we are researching nor propose courses of actions which are solutions to the problems we confront. Unless we are attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible and adventurous, we are not doing justice to ourselves or to what we are researching; our research culture is deficient and destructive.