All entries for Wednesday 09 March 2016

March 09, 2016

What Is Reality? A Middle Ground Philosophical View

In an attempt to understand the way in which a middle ground Philosophy views reality, think about a cake. A two dimensional cake is observable: you can view the top layer and you can deconstruct this top layer into components, or in an academic sense its variables, which would be the cream, the topping, the chocolate sprinkles, decorations, and anything else that belongs to the top level. Further understanding of this top layer would come about through identifying and exploring relationships between these variables. The three dimensional cake contains a series of layers with no variables and therefore no exploration of relationships between these variables. There are layers and within these layers are different structures, mechanisms, processes and configurations that provide a deeper understanding of the structure and complexity of that cake.

Research that explores only the top layer of reality (think about the top layer of the cake) perceives reality as two dimensional, independent of the activities of the mind, therefore nothing is constructed therefore everything about that reality is true. In order to understand this reality it is a case of deconstructing this reality into a series of variables and to identify and explore relationships between these variables. The Philosophies that guide this type of research are of the Absolutist, Objectivist variety. Research that explores the multiple layers of reality (think of the multiple layers on a cake) perceives reality as three dimensional and is dependent on the activities of the mind therefore nothing in reality is actually an objective truth but is a construction of the mind. Reality is therefore constructed based on our own experiences and perceptions of our own experiences therefore in order to better understand this reality the structures, mechanisms, and so on, need to be explored. The Philosophies that guide this type of exploration of reality are based on the Relativist, Subjectivist varieties.

In the middle of the continuum between Absolutism and Relativism perspectives are the Middle Ground perspectives, which recognises the importance of both the top layer of the cake and the multiple layers of the cake to gain a complete understanding of that particular cake. In other words, the middle ground Philosophies perceive reality as having a top layer that can be deconstructed to a set of variables and relationships between variables, but also perceive the behaviours of these variables and relationships to be influenced by the structures, mechanisms, processes and configurations of the underlying layers. Therefore when adopting a middle ground Philosophy you are effectively exploring what occurs on the top level (variables, relationships) and the way in which the top level is affected by the underlying layers (structures, mechanisms, etc), and therefore recognise the complexity of the phenomenon you are exploring.

I admit that these definitions and explanations might not be that sophisticated but in the meantime whilst my knowledge and understanding of these Philosophies continue to grow and mature, these definitions work. I have collected a huge amount of literature that shall enable me to take my understanding to the next level, which shall hopefully enable me to decide which of the main Philosophies or combination of these Philosophies shall work best with the context of my Mixed Methods research.

Ph.D. Progress Update: Philosophical Level and Ph.D. Documentation

The Philosophical Level

The key current activities are thinking about, critiquing, evaluating, explaining and exploring different middle ground Philosophies which are as mentioned before Complexity Theory, Post Positivism, Pragmatism and Critical Realism. These are identified as the most appropriate Philosophies for Mixed Methods research in the context of the phenomenon of exploration, but it is not known at this time which Philosophical perspective would be most appropriate or if the most appropriate approach would be to present a combination of some of them in some way.

I have collected and continue to collect a huge volume of existing debates and discussions about each Philosophical perspective in general, as a perspective of Social Science and Educational Research, and as a perspective of Mixed Methods research. The objectives here are to learn further what each of these perspectives bring to Educational and Mixed Methods research, select which perspective (or a combination of perspectives) are most suited to the context of my Mixed Methods research, then identify all problems with the selected perspective, identify all currently discussed and debated solutions to the selected perspective’s problems, and then present solutions to problems that have yet to be resolved. With the case of combining different perspectives, there have been, for example, attempts at combining complexity theory with critical realism with the aim of resolving some of the problems in both perspectives, but then you start thinking about what problems do they really resolve, what problems do they not resolve, what problems still exist with this combination, what new problems are introduced with the combination, and in what way could these new problems be resolved?

Once all this is thought deeply about, the Philosophical perspectives shall be briefly discussed in the Upgrade Paper, more in depth in the thesis, and it is also the aim to have a research paper published based on solutions discovered and developed that shall attempt to resolve existing problems. Getting that research paper published or be in the middle of publishing the paper before the Upgrade Presentation would be ideal as it would give more credibility to the research at this stage.

The Ph.D. documents

The Upgrade Paper, the research paper that is planned to be published along with the Thesis are all being considered. Work obviously begun on the Upgrade Paper a few weeks ago and have almost completed the literature review section, which is going to be a mini version of the thesis version given that the Upgrade Paper is only four thousand words. The rest of the paper has been structured, it’s just a matter of entering the content!

The research paper shall be based on identified problems of the Philosophical level of Mixed Methods research, and any discovered and developed solution to these problems relative to the context of Educational Research. Work has not begun on the paper yet, but the Philosophical perspectives are being explored. More on these perspectives and the research paper progress as time goes on.

Extensive notes have been written for the thesis, mostly the literature review but also the methodological chapter, but nothing in terms of formally writing the first drafts of any of the chapters of the thesis just yet as the way in which a thesis is written is determined by the overall research design. For example, a thesis written for a pure constructivist grounded theory design would be different compared to a thesis written referring a questionnaire research design. Therefore, a thesis written for a Mixed Methods research design would be different still to either a constructivist grounded theory or a questionnaire based research designs. I will consider the thesis further when I have fully decided upon the design, which includes deciding upon the Philosophical perspective that shall guide the Mixed Methods research, and also settle some debates at the method level such as whether or not to use a particular type of grounded theory coding. Therefore it was just as well that I had not begun the thesis several months ago when I was convinced that a Constructivist Grounded Theory design would be the central aspect as I would probably have had to rewrite everything given that I have selected a Mixed Methods research design!

What’s next?

With Easter coming up soon I shall be taking some time off, but in the meantime I shall be getting on with plenty of stuff. I have a trial to try to organise and carry out, I have the Upgrade paper to continue with, and I have the research paper and the Philosophical level of the Mixed Methods research to consider carefully.

Lots to do then!

March 2016

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