In defence of anecdotal evidence…

***disclaimer: this is a really complex idea that perhaps isn’t totally fleshed-out yet, so parts of this might be more like notes to myself than actual logical argument***

To take away the validity of anecdotal evidence is to undermine our basic belief in, and connection to, physical reality and personal experience. Yeah, okay, that’s quite a statement. Extreme, you might even say. But I think I have well thought-out arguments.

What’s the opposite of anecdotal evidence? Scientific evidence, product by rigorous application of The Scientific Method. Ooooh, the Great and Holy and Infallible Scientific Method, on which our great, modern civilization is based… it basically says, “your personal experience is invalid, the only thing that matters is what has been proven through this rigorous process of reductionist separating things out of their environment, controlling as many parameters as possible, and testing hypotheses until a firm conclusion emerges.”

This method of perusing knowledge is cumbersome, time consuming, and bureaucratic. It does not allow for nuanced observation of subtle things that are easily altered by the expectations of the observer; even though that may be exactly what the scientific method is trying to accomplish. This is because the scientific method assumes that it is possible to ‘control’ for the affect of the observer’s expectations. I would propose that it is, in fact, not possible at all to remove the affect of the observer on the
subject. Even if the observer is in no way physically affecting the subject, they are still filtering their observations through their own expectations, world views, internalized cultural prejudices, mood swings, romantic melodrama… pretty much every part of the observer’s existence affects what sort of observations they make about the subject.

Oh god, no you can’t invalidate the Scientific Method! If all of reality is relative to the observer, then there’s no way we can ever know anything, then why does SCIENCE WORK? The Scientific Method is valid because SCIENCE WORKS… yes, exactly. I’m not trying to invalidate the scientific method. I’m only trying to say that it’s not the only valid way of KNOWING.

My main issue with the Scientific Method is just that it wants to take everything apart all of the time… that it constantly insists on this exhausting minutia of data collection in order to believe anything is true.

What about just leaving things be…? What about understanding nature by just sitting in a meadow and watching how things work? What about just sitting by a river and listening to the ecosystem breath around you? And what about our own personal experiences of our own lives? Science, as it is today, would tell us that we are not competent to be the final authority of our own personal experiences. It disconnects us from our bodies, this Scientific Method. Its foundation is in a philosophical belief system that assumes that physical matter is without consciousness. That spirit/mind are completely separate. [Citation: GAIA & GOD: An ecofeminist theology of earth healing by Rosemary Radford Ruether – page 22 analysis of Plato’s creation story, the Timaeus, and observation that this Platonic creation myth has co-existed within official church doctrine, and forms the basis for the original separation of spirit and physical into the opposing paradigms of religion and science].

But I would propose [as Ruether does] that the spirit and the physical are completely intertwined. That it is not possible to separate the two. Quantum physics shows us that even the tiniest single atom knows whether or not it is being watched. And I would propose that in many ways, the more we take things apart, the less we know about how things work. Because life functions as interlocking, interwoven parts of a whole.

And so what is my goal? My goal is to encourage people, and to remind everyone, that no matter what, a singular individual is always the final authority on their own experience of reality. I don’t want to invalidate the Scientific Process, I just want to remind us that it is a tool, among many, and it has its limitations, as any tool will. My goal is to liberate humans to act upon the things they know.

Because in reality, we live in a society where people have been trained to be passive consumers. Don’t make… just buy. Don’t problem solve, just ask the internet. Don’t think, just do what you’re told. This is how we get here. This is how we get to the point of a society that can’t act on the scientific knowledge that we’re destroying ourselves, because that requires too many people think independently, requires too many people to disobey orders, requires too many people to take a leap based on anecdotal evidence that Things Are Not Actually Working.

In defence of anecdotal evidence, TRUST YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE. Make your own mistakes, participate in reality, feel your body and the world around you, don’t wait for some expert to explain to you what’s happening, FUCKING FEEL. Because here’s another metaphor: comparing scientific method and anecdotal evidence to having a conversation… the scientific process is like trying to understand what has been said to you by talking. It is based on taking things apart, it is invasive, it is destructive. It says that in order to understand how this thing works, I have to kill it, take it apart, and examine all of its parts. Except that, then the thing is dead… and i hope there are enough of them so that there are still living ones left over when I finally get to the point of feeling like I understand the thing…

VS anecdotal evidence, which could be loosely (i’m not marrying this metaphore, mind you) compared to understanding what has been said to you by LISTENING TO WHAT IS BEING SAID. It’s about understanding something by observing its totality. OK, maybe that’s not what anecdotal evidence is about… maybe the kind of evidence I’m really describing doesn’t have a name. Or maybe it’s called intuition. Or mabye I’m trying to create a whole new categorization for evidence, and that is Observation… I know, that’s already a thing… but I’m talking about something ephemeral, something subtle. Something that a native, indigenous hunter has that a investigative scientist is specifically trying to keep themselves sterile of, and that’s a relationship of mutual knowing and understanding with the subject. It’s acknowledging that we do have an impact on the subject, and the subject knows it, and we know it, and we are inseparable from the subject, and in fact, thatΒ enhances our knowing. And now I feel like I’ve circled back around to anecdotal evidence, because it is subjective, it is inconsistent, it defies data coalation, it defies neat and tidy rules of universal laws. It defies convenient distillation into data points.

But isn’t that awesome? Human experience is diverse! And something that could be absolutely true for some people over here, could be completely different from some people over there… and there might be some super complex data that explains those variations, but isn’t it easier and more fun just to validate individual people’s experience of their own reality, and if we really want to know about how it all weaves together into a unified whole with universal laws, well stop trying to take it apart all the time…

Just sit back, relax, and LISTEN. Keep listening. Listen some more. Maybe, eventually, we might start to Know something.


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