Macro-Events Interpreted by Micro-Structures - The Philosophical Approach
by Mats Molén (Dec 1990, York University, Toronto)
Table of Contents
Foreword and basic definitions ................................ 1
1. Paradigms - essential to scientific work ................... 3
1.1. Macro-paradigms ....................................... 4
1.1.1. Western world paradigm (Judaeo-Christian)
1.1.2. Eastern paradigms (Hindu, Buddhist and Gaia/New Age)
1.2. Micro-paradigms ....................................... 6
1.3. Paradigms used in this research ....................... 7
2. Review and criticism of philosophies relevant to this work . 9
2.1. Inductivism, phenomenology, empiricism, deductivism ... 9
2.2. Logical positivism and falsificationism ............... 10
2.3. Holism and reductionism ............................... 11
2.4. Philosophies used in my research ...................... 11
3. Philosophical "working methods" for the research proposed .. 12
3.1. Observation - induction - phenomenology ............... 12
3.1.2. Microtextures and microfabrics
3.2. Interpretation - deduction and logical positivism ..... 15
3.2.2. Microtextures and microfabrics
3.3. Experiments, observation and falsification ............ 16
3.4. Conclusion ............................................ 17
4. Essentials for a successful research project (summary) ..... 18
5. References ................................................. 18
Foreword and basic definitions
My research for the M. Sc. thesis in Physical Geography is mainly based on today´s knowledge about different sedimentary deposits and their origin, applied to recent and ancient deposits that have an unknown origin but look similar to a till. One part of my work is literature studies, the other part is practical field and laboratory work. One part of my work will concern geological macrostructures (structures that you can see with the unaided eye), but most of my original work will be on microstructures (structures that you need a microscope or a scanning electron microscope - a SEM - to see).
In this essay I describe the philosophical methods that will be used in my M. Sc. project. The essay is a part of my graduate course "Seminar in the Theory of Geography" (Geography 5010.03, York University, fall 1991, under the supervision of Dr. Nigel Roulet). One could, of course, write complete books on the general subject of philosophy and therefore also how it connects with my research, but this paper is just the prescribed "10-20" page essay.
Only those words that I found necessary to explain are defined, in different parts of my essay. As a few philosophical terms are used many times throughout the text I will define them here, right from the beginning, so that the text will not be interrupted too often. Since most terms seem to be defined a little differently by different researchers (some few instances are mentioned in the text) I will state which definition I need and will use for my research (that is often my own definition). Actually, it seems that our language (or we as human beings by our nature) is unable to define abstract (philosophical) words. One important reason for this might be that we have incorporated different presuppositions during our life-span and especially during childhood.
A hypothesis can be defined as: "... an idea or proposition that is not the outcome of experience, but is formulated and used, as an untested assertion, to explain certain facts, or the relationship between two or more concepts" (Clark, A. N. "Dictionary of Geography", Longman 1985, as quoted by Anonymous 1991).
A theory I define here as on a higher level than a hypothesis, and therefore you need more data/facts to be able to put forth a theory. One definition of theory is that it is like a working project, where you have left the hypothesis stadium, or a more complex and well established hypothesis, but have not yet found a way to express your findings as a natural law. Another definition of theory is when you connect many laws into a framework, similar to a paradigm. Both these definitions, but preferable the second, will be used throughout the essay. From the context it is possible to see which definition is used. (See also Hempel 1966, Hay 1985 and below for other definitions.)
Theoretical research is research based on thoughts and calculations that have not been observed in the real world.
On the next higher level of explanation, after theory, are paradigms (more complex than the above defined "framework theory") and natural laws (better gone trough and more thorough tested than the above defined "working project theory"). A natural law is a general universal expression (Marshall 1985) of some relationships in the world that can be described by an abstract language, for example by mathematics, chemical equations or bonding diagrams (Hay 1985).
A fact is something that really is, for example that I have a real and normal bookcase in front of me or that one can find fossils in sedimentary rocks, but this is only with the assumption that a Western philosophy is used. According to Eastern philosophy the bookcase might just be an illusion or some spiritual "thing" which is evolving towards god. Also, one can say that it is a fact that most people believe that the earth is spherical. This is a psychological fact, but it is based on what we now know is a physical fact.
When I write that I have checked up something, I mean that I have read articles about it, I have asked my professor and/or I have done a few (or many) observations, to check up if there are any simple logical inconsistencies or erroneous observations in the data. I have not, though, done any intense original scientific research by my own on the topic of the subject I have checked up.
In this essay, when the word God is written by upper cases I mean a personal God more like the Judaeo-Christian God, when god is written by lower cases I mean something more indefinite like a power or an unpersonal god more similar to Nirvana.
References and acknowledgements
I have referred to some of the papers we have read in our graduate course, where I think a reference could be of use. I could, of course, have put in scores of extra references to all papers we have read, and especially to Chalmers (1982), but I see no need to do that when there is not anything special I refer to.
I want to thank Dr. Nigel Roulet, who has been my tutor for this course, Prof. Bryn Greer-Wotten for explaining phenomenology to me in person, Dr. John P. Radford and Alf Bång who gave criticism to this essay in an earlier version, and my wife Gunnel Molén who encouraged me all the time and suggested corrections in the language. Any mistakes that can still be found are, of course, my own.
1. Paradigms - essential to scientific work
The two definitions of paradigm that I use below - micro- and macro-paradigms - are my own, ordered in a hierarchial way. As there is no authoritative definition of paradigm (Stainton & Owusu 1991) I use my own definition for this essay. However, my definition of micro-paradigm closely follows those used in the literature. For example, Kuhn (1970, p. 226) defines a paradigm as "... some accepted examples of actual scientific practice - examples which include law, theory, application and instrumentation together - provide models from which spring particular coherent traditions of scientific research".
Another way of defining something similar to a micro-paradigm is the "hard core" of Lakatos (Chalmers 1982, p. 80-81). I do not however, as Lakatos, believe that one shall work with something that one assumes can not be falsified, when working with science (definition of falsification follows below).
Macro-paradigms are maybe not recognized as paradigms by most researchers (it is more common to speak about a world-view), but because there is an absolute necessity for this overall way of explaining the universe I think it is important to discuss this most fundamental question.
During childhood and education every person adopt a certain set of assumptions concerning our world and how it functions. Scientific research is conducted with one´s basic assumptions as a base. The same methods and results can therefore be interpreted in different ways, as a result of one´s different basic assumptions or presuppositions. Some might say that any results are just meaningless illusions; others could say that it is nature finding its way back to god (all is mind or spirit, an organism); others might say that it is a predestinated event with or without a goal (this includes both atheistic and non-atheistic philosophies/paradigms, i. e. determinism); others might say that it is some kind of interaction between real matter and real mind/spirit.
A macro-paradigm, then, is defined as the total view of the world -a basic philosophy or religion. Such a basic belief system can not be investigated with science. Actually, science is defined by using some basic philosophy. Your basic philosophy, which might be an outcome of your religion, can therefore not be analyzed to see if it properly defines science - at least not by using science! Hence, questions about ultimate origins or descriptions of immaterial spirit/mind (including religion/basic philosophy) can not be tested scientifically (for example, the origin of natural laws or if there is a God or not). From this also follows that macro-paradigms can not be falsified or verified by using scientific methods (this include the Gaia-hypothesis; see for example Kirchner 1989, 1990), as they actually are the base for defining science. However, from this does not follow that one can not test the logic of philosophies and religions by an independent method (which by itself is based on a macro-paradigm).
To try to describe everything by using science, or to exclude things that cannot be described by science, is called scientism (Hay 132-133). Scientism diminish the world we have around us to just matter and energy and is therefore by itself a kind of macro-paradigm or religion that can not be falsified or verified.
1.1.1. Western world paradigm (Judaeo-Christian)
The Western world view is that matter/energy is real and not something bad, evil or illusory (see below in the paragraph on Eastern paradigms). Therefore, with this in mind, it is a real and interesting/relevant enterprise to find out how matter behaves, whether in the physical, the biological or the psychological world (matter itself is not bad/evil/illusory, and therefore it is of interest to find out how it works, even though one can argue that much of psychology is spirit/mind). People who believe in God say that God upholds everything, or that he started everything up, but that everything is working according to what we call natural laws (except for occasional miracles when God intervenes in his creation). Those who do not believe in God believe that everything is working according to natural laws inherent in matter/energy and that no God is necessary. Because scientific work only deals with matter and energy, it does not matter for the scientific understanding whether one believes in a God or not.
By definition natural laws actually must be inherent in an universe. No laws - no universe. The universe does not, however, act according to the rules of the natural laws - it is the other way around. In science we have defined natural laws as a generalisation of how the world behave, as a way of trying to classify and organize the universe.
The world is real, as stated above, therefore actualism but not necessarily uniformitarianism can be used as the base of research in natural science. Actualism is the notion that natural laws do not change over time or space, or, uniformity of process (Gould 1987, p. 120). Uniformitarianism (classical) is the notion that the rates and intensities of all processes in the world have always been the same as today, or, the same as during non-catastrophic conditions (Gould 1987, p. 90). Actually, you cannot conduct or will have great problems in conducting scientific research in a world that is not governed by actualistic principles. This is also to say that matter/energy behaves deterministicly, as it follows the natural laws of physics and chemistry.
Modern science actually rose and maybe only could have risen in the world of the Judaeo-Christian philosophy (Hooykaas 1973, Tudge 1991). However, old Greek philosophies concerning logic and discussion (the critical method) was an other important ingredient (Popper 1963, pp. 50-51). Also, the only real ethical base for taking care of the environment (and many other things too), is in a Western philosophy society, as opposed to an Eastern philosophy (Tudge 1991).
1.1.2. Eastern paradigms (Hindu, Buddhist and Gaia/New Age)
In our world there are all kinds of variations and different combinations of Eastern thoughts. The main interest of this essay is just to find out some of the basic logical and philosophical foundations for my research, and therefore I will not go into depth criticizing Eastern thoughts. This part of my essay just gives a few reasons why Eastern thoughts can not be used in science (even though many scientist have tried; Molén 1991).
In Eastern thought the world is believed to be governed more or less by spiritual principles, as for example some mystical "Gaia"-power (see for example Lovelock 1990, Buttimer 1990, Molén 1991) that govern the co-evolution of living and dead matter. The ultimate "structure" is god (an organism or Nirvana), which everything is striving towards. Matter is oftenly assumed to be something bad or evil (and at the same time illusory) that one needs to get away from.
The reason why you can find so much scientific research in the countries with Eastern philosophies today, for example in India, is that they have started to use the Western paradigm as a base for their research.
Except for the illusory view on matter found in Eastern thinking, there is one more basic logic inconsistency in the Eastern reasoning that makes scientific rational thinking impossible. This is the reasoning that "both A and B are true at the same time, you can have both" in opposition to the Western logic "either A or B is true, you have to choose". The illogical way of this reasoning can be exemplified by the following:
Philosophy/religion (P-R) 1 states that all philosophies/religions are true, but different ways of finding the correct answer. P-R 2 states that only it and nothing else is true. Hence, if P-R 1 is true, then P-R 2 must be true; but P-R 2 states that only P-R 2 can be true and that P-R 1 is false. From this follows that if P-R 1 is true, then P-R 2 can not be true; but if P-R 2 is not true, then P-R 1 can not be true either. P-R 2 can be true or false independent of other philosophies/religions. Therefore, only a Western "either or" concept can be true for the most basic questions, and must be used in science, but not the Eastern "both" philosophy. From this it does not follow that isolated unqualified (not specified or too narrow) questions cannot be answered both by a "yes" and a "no", for example the classical hindu example of the description of an elephant.
After setting the main philosophical ("religious") ground for what kind of basic paradigm has to be used in scientific work, one can deal with paradigms within this main world view, for example continental drift, the Big Bang, evolution, quantum physics, the glacial theory etc. These smaller paradigms within a larger paradigm can be called micro-paradigms. Some people might want to call this class of thought systems for theories (or "theory-in-action"; Feyerabend 1978, p. 67). I mean that a theory is something that can be and ought to be openly discussed in the literature, but this is not always the case for the above mentioned areas of research (see for example Bertola, F. et al 1988). Openmindedness to discuss a theory also ought to follow from the following dictionary definition of the term: "a certain formulation of apparent relationships or underlying principles of certain observed phenomena which has been verified to some degree" (Webster´s New World Dictionary, 1986, as quoted by Anonymous 1991). A micro-paradigm is universally used as a base for research, not only in the area of its own predictions, but also in other disciplines. For example, the theory of evolution is used both in biology and psychology (in psychology, for example, one is often referred to the idea that we have a fish brain, a reptile brain and a mammal brain governing our behaviour in different ways).
In scientific research the questions that are asked are based on micro-paradigms. One example, from the theory of evolution, is that scientists ask how birds evolved, not if birds have evolved from some reptile or other animal. Another example, more relevant to my research area, is that glacial geologists try to interpret the landforms in a special area in the light of glacial theory. Older theories, for example that the till ("drift") was deposited during catastrophic flooding, are not acknowledged in the discussions (for the example of the ice-age it is quite understandable, but not in other cases; see for example Bertola, F. et al 1988).
I must also repeat here, that as for macro-paradigms, so for micro-paradigms, the same methods and results can ... be interpreted in different ways, as a result of one´s different basic assumptions or presuppositions. (Actually, this holds for almost everything in life, so I will not repeat it any more in this essay.)
1.3. Paradigms used in this research
In my research I will use the following basic paradigm: The world is real, matter/energy is real, matter/energy follows general rules (natural laws) that can not be separated from matter/energy or change because of matter/energy itself. This is the so-called Western, Judaeo-Christian paradigm. The only kind of events my research will try to organize is those governed by the natural laws of matter/energy.
Another basic presupposition or macro-paradigm, which was inherent in me from somewhere in my early beginning as a living being, as a part of the human nature, or which I learned during my childhood, is that it must be possible to classify/to order phenomena in separate categories (see discussion in Popper 1963, pp. 42-50). Actually, if it would not be possible to order the world in some way, then it would not be possible to conduct science or even to live independently or self-consciously. Even a description or a conception needs order.
1.3.2. Micro-paradigms and basic assumptions
As a base for my research I need many micro-paradigms (or "theories-in-action"). I will here mention only those micro-paradigms that I believe comes closest to what I need for my research project. Also, some of the basic assumptions, which I refrain from calling paradigms but still have to start up with, are briefly mentioned.
The most important micro-paradigm relevant to my research is that there really has been an ice-age (and quite recently). I have learned this in school and I have also tried to check it up by myself, based on comparisons with recent glaciers. There is much evidence that large glaciers have covered extensive parts of the northern hemisphere. I take this for granted, and if nothing new and very spectacular shows up, and I want to go on with my research, I need to start up from this paradigm.
In my literature studies I have to assume that the reported observations and descriptions are for the most part correct (even though they may be incomplete). The applicable micro-paradigm is defined as follows: "Scientists report what they see and do not usually try to cheat people". I will not assume that all interpretations are correct, as many scientists have their "ice-age-glasses" on when they interpret ancient till-like deposits (this, of course, also largely controls which observations and descriptions that are reported in the scientific literature).
Also, when I do not have an opinion by my own on any scientific question or practice, I believe in what my professor says until I have checked him up. This is also a kind of micro-paradigm, to believe in authority. One has to assume that those that have more practise in scientific work also have more knowledge, even though I do not think that one shall follow an authority blindfolded.
I also have the micro-paradigm that the different tools of measurement that I will use in my experimental work are correctly calibrated so that they follow the standard of all similar tools that are used by other scientist (within the limits of accuracy that are inherent in every tool that will be used). Of course, if my results starts to differ too much from what other scientists have reported, I will check up if there is anything wrong with my equipment and methods. (The same follows, of course, for the language and the different technical terms that are used by scientists.)
One special way of dealing with the problem I am working with is to look at surface microtextures on sand grains to try to interpret macro-events (those that you can observe by the unaided eye). My basic assumption is that quartz grains are most relevant for my research, because of their lack of definitive planes of cleavage, their hardness and their relative abundance. Other minerals are too soft, too sparse or have too definitive cleavage planes so that they will cleave in the same way all the time. (Of course, I have also checked this up - with the help of literature studies and observations of tills with a microscope). I do not know yet if microtextures are useful in reconstructing past glacial environments other than maybe in a very limited way, but I will actually try to see if they can be helpful. The often used micro-paradigm "macroscopic phenomena can be described by referring to microscopic events" is therefore not, till this day, a part of my thinking, when dealing with micro-textures. (When one talks about such a restricted area as grain surface textures on quartz grains, without referring to macroscopic phenomena, I do not know if one should use the word paradigm at all, and I have not done that here. The grain textures have namely not much direct bearing on other areas of research, except maybe for some areas of crystallography. The importance of the research is in the possible correlation between surface textures and glaciation. If this correlation will be established, then it will be of great help to scientists who work with interpretations of till-like deposits and their origin, but it will not be possible to use the results as a base for research from other areas, for example biology, as far as I can see.)
A recent development in the field of physical geography is the measurement of microfabrics on small blocks of till and comparison with macrofabrics. The micro-paradigm relevant here is that the stones in a till have a fabric that is dependent on former direction of transportation - "macroscopic phenomena can be described by referring to microscopic events" - and I will try to see what the similarities and differences are between macro- and microfabrics.
(I have earlier checked up that this micro-paradigm is relevant for the question in case.)
2. Review and criticism of philosophies relevant to this work
2.1. Inductivism, phenomenology, empiricism, deductivism
The definition of inductivism is that one observe something without having any presuppositions and then constructs a theory or hypothesis from the observations. It is, however, impossible to observe without presuppositions, at least if one want to conduct scientific research based on the observations (could it be possible for a child in any stage of its development, from a fertilized egg to some time after it has been born, to be an inductivist?). It is though ridiculous to see the way Chalmers (1982) spends many pages to criticize his "straw man" of a naive inductivist. I see no need to define a term that no one believes in and which cannot even be described by any logic (it would be the same to define a term for "those hordes of people" that believe that the moon is a cheese that hangs in a string). A different definition of an inductive observation is: Something unknown that is observed before you have a theory or hypothesis to explain the phenomenon, so that you will not yet know exactly what too look for (not for example a new star, but for example something new and by recent knowledge unexplainable like a new star which have a chessboard coloured pattern on it´s surface). I would like to call the way that this observation is assimilated sophisticated induction, because then there is at least a use for the word (the philosophical term "sophisticated induction" was defined the 20th of September, in the philosophy course, as "start with the specific observation and make a general explanation"). Marshall (1985) defines inductivism in a slightly different way, namely a belief in what has happened before will happen again.
Phenomenology implies that you observe a phenomenon, and try to do that in an objective way (without presuppositions) being aware of your subjective burden of earlier experiences (with presuppositions). Phenomenologists try to experience the observed phenomena, by being a part of it, to see it in the "pre-scientific" way, as it really is. Phenomenology is most used in the social sciences, because you will have difficulty to take "experience" in an experiment or measurement done in physical geography. (Pers. comm. Bryn Greer-Wotten.)
To be empirical is to "ask questions to nature", with the help of experiments and observations; not to find out a system of belief (a hypothesis or a theory) and then try to push nature into your belief system (Liu & Drummond 1991 and Nyamwange & Michalsky 1991). To be empirical is therefore to refer to experience about what happens in the real world (Stora engelsk-svenska ordboken 1980).
To deduce something is to predict what will happen from some presuppositions/knowledge that you have (Marshall 1985). This is what we can call hypothesizing or theory-making.
2.2. Logical positivism and falsificationism
Logical positivists are trying to prove that something is empirically true (Alf Bång, pers. comm.). However, it is not possible to show that there are no exceptions from a hypothesis or theory, and therefore it can never be shown that something is logically true. (Marshall 1985.)
Another way of solving scientific problems is the falsificationist approach. Falsificationists believe that a theory never can be proven to be true, but only that some theories are better than others. A theory can be proven to be false, but never to be true. The best theories are those that have withstood the most attempts to falsify it, without having to refer to peculiar "ad hoc" explanations (Chalmers 1982 p. 85, Popper 1963 p. 36-37). If a theory is unfalsifiable then it is not scientific (Popper 1959, 1963).
2.3. Holism and reductionism
Holism is defined by Webster´s New World Dictionary (1980) as: "the view that an organic or integrated whole has a reality independent and greater than the sum of its parts" (from Kingsbury 1991). This definition of the word is most easily observed in language. A language is more than just the sum of (for example) some dashes and dots on a piece of paper. To give language meaning you need intelligence, for example that of a human being. This holds for all kinds of languages and is actually now one of the great questions when discussing the origin of life - how did the code in DNA (or RNA) arise (Gitt 1989)?
Another way to define holism is to say that one must have a complete picture of a phenomenon, based on many different micro-paradigms. This can be the same as a macro-paradigm, but not necessarily, because a macro-paradigm can contain inconsistencies but not a holistic view. (This is my own definition of holism, but it is commonly referred to in discussions.)
The only possible way to conduct scientific research is to start with reductionism, that is - to observe parts of a larger system ("...concepts or statements redefined in terms which are more elementary or basic" = reductionism as defined by Simmons & Cox 1985). It is only possible to perform experiments, make observations and construct theories in "quanta", and therefore one can not use holism as a basic research method. Holism can only be put together when you know something about the parts. (Kingsbury 1991.)
2.4. Philosophies used in my research
The way I define different philosophical working methods is maybe not according to what is assumed to be the best definition of each term by many scholars. This is partly because there is no universal agreement on the meaning of most terms and because some definitions are so obscure that you must actually throw away the terms as useless for science, for the real world (for example naive induction). However, if you want to describe something you need words, and even if there is not a clear definition of a word it is often possible to understand what it is all about. Those definitions I have arrived at myself is followed to the extent that I have defined.
The order in which I will use different philosophies for my M. Sc. thesis is the following:
1. Make empirical observations and literature studies (some kind of inductivism and maybe also a variation of phenomenology, not without presuppositions).
2. See if there is anything in the observations that can be explained/classified/show up a pattern, so that one can predict the outcome of further observations. Compare with the literature studies. (Reductionism.)
3. Deduce a hypothesis. (Deduction, and some variation of logical positivism so that a hypothesis can be constructed - but not because you believe that you can prove the hypothesis to be true.)
4. Make more empirical observations (a designed experiment, field work and/or literature studies) in the light of the hypothesis and see if the outcome can be predicted. (Falsification.) Be critical and aware of any new observations that were not taken into account when the hypothesis were deduced, which might change or refine the hypothesis without really falsifying it. (Induction and a variation of phenomenology.)
5. Make changes in the observation procedure to see if the outcome changes. (Falsification.)
6. If the hypothesis do not give the expected outcomes, start again from 3 (or sometimes 1 or 2).
7. Try to put the results into a bigger picture. (Holism.)
All the different philosophical methods are theoretically based and can not be used in the extreme in the real world. One needs to use different kinds of philosophical methods at different times during the scientific process. In the real world a scientist must actually use all methods nearly at the same time, as the thoughts very quickly go back and forth trying to discover patterns, trying different kinds of explanations, trying to find the shortcomings/mistakes, trying to add or sort out any observations, etc. (Feyerabend 1978, Chalmers 1982). The way I am conducting science would suffer badly, and no progress (= classification of new data into a system, that can be used for further predictions, or have any practical use for other researchers, or, "advancement toward completion, improvement, or maturity"; Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1986, as quoted by Anonymous 1991) would be made if I could not freely "brain-storm" my way through the data/observations/literature (= the totality of incoming sensations).
3. Philosophical "working methods" for the research proposed
3.1. Observation - induction - phenomenology
All research has to start up in some way. I am not a naive inductivist, but even though I have basic presuppositions I make some observations that you can call inductive or phenomenological observations. I observe many things for the first time (that is induction, by the definition I gave). I often try to observe any geological structures at the same time as I try to forget everything that I have ever heard about it before (as opposed to when I use deductive or logical positivist observations, that is: when I try to find special structures that I believe are relevant for my research; see below). I try to see if there is something else about the phenomenon than what is described in the literature (this way of working can be called phenomenology, because I try to be a part of the object I am observing, and I try to observe it in a "pre-scientific" way).
Having the micro-paradigm that there has been an ice-age as a base, I learned about Pre-Pleistocene ice-ages through induction by reading different books. Then I saw articles which criticized many of the interpretations that Pre-Pleistocene till-like deposits (that is: diamictites) really were glacial deposits, but that they could instead have originated, for example, by different kinds of gravity flows. From this discussion in the literature I saw a research problem: - Are diamictites really ice-age deposits? After further studies I saw the same problem with recent till-like deposits. This is my basic research question.
I have not had time to do much field research in the area of macro-structures, and it is not some basic new question I will try to solve but to a great extent a reorganization and reinterpretation of published data. Therefore I would say that there is not any phenomenology included in the research on macrostructures. My research approach on macrostructures is both empirical and theoretical.
3.1.2. Microtextures and microfabrics
After starting up the research on diamictites my professor introduced me to the area of microtextures, and therefore I also started to read articles about microtextures, to try to accumulate by induction so many observations as possible. During all the time when I have read articles on this subject my view has changed as to whether microtextures provide any solution to the problem of interpreting till-like deposits or not, from seeing a solution to despair. The problem is nicely illustrated by Krister Lindé when he in the abstract to his doctoral dissertation on microtextures on experimentally crushed grains wrote the following: "Sometimes, one gets the feeling that the interpretation of the surface textures are marked by optimism, not to say guess-work" (Lindé 1984). Another similar view was given by I. J. Smalley and S. Glenndinning (1991) when they wrote about the progress of research on grain microtextures: "Progress has been slow and early targets have, by and large, not been reached." Without giving any further examples from the literature, I can only say that one often finds that special surface textures, that most scientists in the area have taken as an argument for a special environment for maybe 20 years, suddenly is not found at all by other scientist when they try to look for them. I do not know if this results from psychology (scientists´ use of different methods of research, or their different abilities to observe) or if the surface textures has much less to say about their environment of origin than most scientists believe.
The problem is: - What do a glacially crushed grain really look like? This will be the problem that most of my field and laboratory research will be concerned with, even though a large part also will be literature studies on macrostructures.
The problems of interpreting grain textures and their bearing on different environments seem to be almost insurmountable. During my studies of grain surface textures I will therefore try extraordinary methods, for example try to work like a phenomenologist - feel the grains, experience the grains, treat the grains and so on, until something gets stuck in my brain or on a sheet of paper. This is, of course, not what one often think phenomenology is about, as stated by Nigel Roulet: "Phenomenology is a license for fuzzy thinking." (Nigel Roulet, as he stated in our class, Nov. 22, 3:22 p. m.) Every result and every way of interpreting the grain textures will namely be rigorously tested so that the "fuzzy thinking" (if there is any) will be eliminated (see below).
My research approach on microtextures is mostly empirical and to a smaller part theoretical.
Microfabrics from tills will be observed on small blocks and compared with macrofabrics from the same tills, as my professor suggested that this might be a fruitful project. The question is if this really is a good method to use, because no one (or very few) have used it before. I will measure grain directions using methods that normally are used for fabric studies (except that I will use a microscope). This I would call data-gathering, even though I might get some result that differs from earlier work based on thin sections of tills. My research approach here is clearly empirical and only to a smaller part theoretical.
3.2. Interpretation - deduction and logical positivism
After getting a problem one needs to decide how to solve the problem. This is where the deductive part of my work comes in. Also, to be able to construct a hypothesis, I first need some relevant positive preliminary results. The way of reasoning here is similar to using logical positivism - I try to verify some idea (even though I do not believe that I can prove anything to be scientifically true - except that I can prove that it is true that something is false, but that has to come after I have proposed a hypothesis).
To solve the problem of in which environments different kinds of macrostructures originate, one needs to sort out what kind of structures originate in a glacial environment, what kind of structures originate in other environments that mimic glacial environments, and one also needs to know the appearance of sedimentary and erosional structures that are typical for environments other than glacial-like environments.
As soon as one has recognized the appearance of different structures in different environments, one can start to see, by literature and field studies, what kind of structures that are found in a deposit with unknown origin and compare that with structures that have been glacially formed or deposited by gravity flows (or have some other origin).
My hypothesis, which originates from my preliminary research, is that most of the Pre-Pleistocene deposits, that are believed to be ice-age-deposits, actually have originated in different kinds of gravity flows combined with other events that often accompany gravity flows (for example tectonism). Therefore I do not have the same micro-paradigm as most researchers in this area have. Instead of believing in uniformity of climatic changes (uniformitarianism), I put stronger confidence in uniformity of sedimentary processes (actualism). There is no natural law which states that the climate must have been cold and humid over large areas (as is required to get large glaciers) at many different occasions during earth history, just because there has been an ice-age quite recently. I would, however, argue that if the sedimentary processes have changed during the ages, then also the natural laws must have changed - and it is not my opinion that natural laws have changed!
3.2.2. Microtextures and microfabrics
One has to make a classification of different surface textures on quartz grains, to be able to find out how a typical glacially crushed grain looks like in comparison to grains that have been transported by other media. This will be done partly by using already published schemes, where one has (or has not) found different criteria for a few environments, but mostly by looking at glacially crushed grains from the Pleistocene and the Neoglacial period.
My hypothesis is that it will be possible to find relevant criteria, so that one can find out what a typical glacially crushed grain will look like. This is also the main view within the scientific society that works with microtextures, even though no one knows exactly what the criteria are.
Microfabrics will be compared with macrofabrics. My hypothesis is that they will most of the time have the same direction, and therefore it will be possible to find out the direction of the flow of the ice by using microfabrics. Microfabrics from different environments shall also be compared, to find out if there are any differences between different means of transportation (this will only be done by the help of literature studies, because otherwise I have to produce two M. Sc.!).
The research on microfabrics I will carry out in a more logical positivist spirit, because I will not have time to find a theory and then find all kinds of ways to falsify it, but I will have time to put up a hypothesis. Also, I have the same micro-paradigm as other workers in this area, so there is no chance that I will come up with something new because of my micro-paradigm.
3.3. Experiments, observation and falsification
I will map where I have taken samples from, so that anyone else can take samples from the same place and eventually falsify my work (if I have done some sloppy work).
I will measure many variables, make calculations, present diagrams, take scores of photographs to document what I have seen, etc., and I will describe how I did all this documentation so that someone else can repeat it. I will, for example, use a SEM, and follow the normal instructions how to use that, and document what my photographs show, what scale they are etc., etc., etc. (standard procedures).
Most of the observations on macrostructures I will do through literature studies. I will do some field work on a deposit in northern Norway and a little on one in Ontario. I will just inductively (look for all kinds of structures and combinations of them) and deductively (look for special structures that I believe are typical for different environments) collect as much data as I can from the deposits (by deduction I already have decided that the birds that are flying around, the weather etc., do not have any measurable impact on the deposits and therefore also not on the interpretation of them), both from readings and from field observations, and use the above described deduced methods of comparison to try to solve the problem of how the deposits originated. My research hypothesis is falsifiable as it is based on empirically testable propositions.
For microtextures I hope to find out something completely new, not only a reinterpretation of older work. Whatever got stuck in my brain from the study of grain surface textures, I will try to classify and reclassify, until I find the best way to order the grains (if any). That is, I will try to falsify my first interpretations of the grain surface textures.
For microfabrics I hope to show that the kind of research I have carried out may be a fruitful road to continue with, because the preliminary results will hopefully show some order. I will not do much in the way of trying to falsify my research, except that I will discuss advantages, disadvantages and what kind of future research has to be undertaken with the method.
I will provide researchers with a working scheme on macrostructures that can be used worldwide to find out how a special deposit has originated. Also, from this scheme one should be able to predict how deposits that are laid down today will look like. This is actually a "big question" (Stoddart 1987, p. 334) in the area of interpretation of the earth´s history, and I might get a different answer compared to most other researchers in the area. The outcome of my research may be controversial, which may result in cut funds, delay of articles that I want to publish etc. (compare with Bertola et al 1988), but I hope that it will work out alright! If my hypothesis turns out to be the best possible (Occam´s razor; no ad hoc assumptions and the explanation that easiest can take all of the relevant data into account) we will get a new theory, or maybe a micro-paradigm, to build our research on, so this part of my research is a little more holistic than the rest of it. Of course, my hypothesis may also be falsified!
If my hypothesis for the microstructures turns out to be wrong, I will report that to others, so that no more research has to be spent in this area (at least not the way I did it). If my hypothesis turn out to be correct (at least not falsified) I will report the results as a subscheme to the above mentioned scheme on macrostructures. The outcome of this research might be a new theory, but nothing that could be called a natural law or a micro-paradigm. The results can not be transformed into physics or mathematics (except for statistics) and the use of my research is too specialized to give it any other status than a theory (both definitions of theory used, from the "Foreword and basic definitions" at the beginning of this essay).
If my hypothesis for microfabrics is not falsified, further work must be done in this area to try to quantify and see differences between different environments etc. There is no chance that more definitive results (statistically significant, and many different explanations tried) can be reported, but only a few preliminary results (data-gathering) that one can use to build a hypothesis.
4. Essentials for a successful research project (summary)
To even start up with science you need a paradigm that allows you and give you the interest to work with scientific methods. You need to find a problem, which is some kind of hindrance to the development of our society or single humans, and find out ways to solve it with scientific methods while you all the time still are being critical against all that you are doing.
In many research projects you need also to show other people why it is of interest with the kind of research you are conducting (Feyerabend 1978, 30-31, 207, Crouch 1991). Some kinds of research are also more like basic research, where you cannot see the immediate use of it at once but where you suppose that it can be of use in the future.
My research will hopefully make it easier to interpret how deposits that look like till but have an unknown origin have originated. This in turn, might change the interpretation of some parts of "the dominant view" of the earth´s history. If so, it might turn out easier to write "our history", and it may also be much easier to accomplish practical geological work that has importance for our daily life.
Anonymous (1991) (unnamed debate abstract from Geography 5010.03, debate 2 by either Titchener, G., Robinson, M., MacDonald, J. or Barras, N.).
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Chalmers, A. F. (1982) "What is this Thing Called Science?", University of Queensland Press, New York.
Crouch, M. (1991) "Confessions of a Botanist", New Internationalist, March, 21.
Feyerabend, P. (1978) "Science in a Free Society", NLB, second edition 1982, fourth impression 1987.
Gitt, W. (1989) "Information: The Third Fundamental Quantity", Siemens Review, Vol. 56, Nov./Dec.
Gould, S. J. (1987) "Time´s Arrow, Time´s Cycle", Harvard University Press, Cambridge.
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(debate abstract from Geography 5010.03).
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Stainton, C. & Owusu, M. (1991) "Geographic Paradigms and Research Programmes Exist" (debate abstract from Geography 5010.03).
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