What is ‘real’ knowledge?  Empirical scientific thought tells us that only that which can be objectively observed and physically measured can be considered valid information.   This approach has clearly brought us great advances in many fields but it has also made us culturally blind to information which is not open to this kind of measurement.

Our daily experiences, the ways in which we perceive the world,  are complex, dynamic and invisible experiences and as such have largely been dismissed as irrelevant in science.  What is more, objectivist scientific thought has become so fully integrated into our culture that our subjective experiences have become marginalised, not just in science but across the board.  The very word “subjective” has come to mean something like “irrelevant to anyone but yourself”.

And yet, every moment of every day we live the experiences which make our lives real: we feel the sun on our faces, we are hurt by a cruel remark, we fall in love, we feel anger, we respond to a particular piece of music, we proceed through our menstrual cycle.  These are completely subjective experiences, each one absolutely unique to ourselves at a particular time and place.  And they are absolutely relevant to other people.

Without hearing the stories of others we have no way of making sense of our own.  By listening to another person’s experience and getting to vicariously experience it ourselves, we start to see where it intersects with our own experience and where it differs.  We gain a small glimpse of the infinitely complex web of interactions which have created this experience and thus bring another increment of understanding to our own life.

Contrast this with a conventional scientific approach.  When scientists examine human experience, the usual approach is to cut the complexity and reduce the experience to something that can be measured on a linear numerical scale.  We get questionnaires “On a scale of 1-5, please rate your muscle stiffness today”  or indirect measures such as how fast we walk after winning or losing a football match. Or sometimes it’s the concentration of particular biochemicals in our bloodstream.

All the other prolifically interacting variables that impinge on our experience: our memories and previous experience, our surroundings, the other people involved, the state of our bodies, the weather…all these are cut out as “noise”.  The very details which make an experience meaningful and a story interesting are ruthlessly stripped away.

And when conventional science presents its results and shows us that, for example, people tend to walk faster after winning a football match than after losing, have stiffer muscles at a particular time of the month, or have higher concentrations of oxytocin in the blood while breast feeding, the conclusions feel alien to us and do not seem to reflect our experience in the least.

Our stories describe our lives in complexity in a way that will never be open to objective science.  Our stories shared are our most powerful resource in learning how to live our lives.

So, without apology, I offer my story in these posts and invite you to share your own.   I believe that by sharing our experience, we can come to understand our bodies through the natural learning process with which we have evolved to date.  Objective science may chip in some useful information along the way but must never make us doubt our primary means of understanding our lives:  our own bodies and our own stories in communication with those around us.

Advertisements