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The closer we look, the more indeterminate things will become.

I’m sitting at my computer, typing out this post. In front of me on the table is my laptop, a cup of tea, a pad of paper. Beyond that I see a wall, a window. Outside the window, trees, grass, clouds. Let’s imagine that this entire visual field — comprising all the objects I can see right now—is one big high-definition screen. How many tiny pixels would I currently be looking at? Millions? Perhaps billions?

Now, let’s imagine I zoom in to focus on one object in this scene. Let’s say I want to more closely inspect the cup of tea. I lean in so it occupies a greater portion of the visual field than it did before. At this level of zoom, I can now see previously unnoticed details—the glint on the surface of the liquid as it is hit by the afternoon sunlight, say. But beyond the cup, slightly out of focus, I still see the table, the rug, the wall. I have changed my orientation to the scene, but there is still just as much detail in my visual field, just as many pixels as before. …


(Part IV in the “Meta Approaches to Asian Medicine” series)

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So many lenses to choose from… which is the “right” one?

My last three posts have dealt with meta-level epistemic questions in the study of Asian medicine. It is now time to focus in on how these big-picture concerns play out in day-to-day decision making in the clinic. This post explores in more depth the concept of polyperspectivalism. I discussed previously how polyperspectivalism is a key to developing more productive collaborations with colleagues. Here, I argue that it also leads to greater conceptual flexibility, and therefore more clinical options, when treating patients.

Polyperspectivalism is the ability to allow multiple, mutually-incommensurable perspectives to coexist and inform your practice. It is like picking up multiple camera lenses to view an object using a variety of different perspectives, without feeling the need to stitch those perspectives into a single coherent image. It’s not about trying to square what you see through one lens with what you see through another; rather, it’s about using each lens in turn to discover what it reveals or conceals. …


(Part III in the “Meta Approaches to Asian Medicine” series)

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If you think you’ve “got it,” then here’s looking at you!

Imagine you are some kind of super-intelligent alien located on a planet way out in the furthest reaches of the galaxy. You are looking out through a high-powered telescope, and have found this little planet called Earth. Your civilization’s advanced technology allows you not only to see across the vast expanse of space, but also to look across time. Through your telescope, you witness the birth of the planet, and see its whole history play out in fast-forward.

As you watch, the approximately 4.5 billion years of the Earth’s history unfolds before your eyes. First, the planet is born in an explosive galactic collision. As the fiery, gaseous heap of stone gradually cools, microscopic prokaryotes emerge and develop into multicellular organisms. Gradually, more and more complex plant and animal life takes form and populates the planet, transforming its atmosphere. From way out in space, the details of these lifeforms can’t be made out too clearly. In a seeming blur, one species after another evolves, thrives for a time, and then recedes again. Life organizes and collapses and reorganizes over and over again in a fractal pattern of near-infinite complexity. You can see all of these countless living beings constantly killing and birthing each other, eating and defecating out one another, as one throbbing blob of biological matter and energy. …


(Part II in the “Meta Approaches to Asian Medicine” series)

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Hey, we’re different but we can still hang out together!

Interdisciplinarity has failed as a model for collaboration in the study of Asian medicine. Here, I propose the new model of “metadisciplinarity” as a means of bringing people together in more productive and more generative ways.

In my last post, “A Metamodern Approach to Asian Medicine,” I discussed a major communication problem within the study of traditional Asian medicine. I outlined the three major groups that dominate this field: the distinct and occasionally overlapping social groups of practitioners, scientists, and academic scholars. I introduced the epistemes or worldviews each group subscribes to, which I called “traditionalist,” “modernist,” and “postmodernist.” I described the stereotypes the proponents of each episteme have of one another, and the disciplinary rules and norms that are used to maintain and police the boundaries between them. …


(Part I in the “Meta Approaches to Asian Medicine” series)

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Are we all taking ourselves a little too seriously? (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Carnaval Madrid 2015.)

The traditional Asian medicine community has a communication problem. We know it all too well. Lawrence Cohen identified it decades ago when he wrote about the Third International Congress of Traditional Asian Medicine (ICTAM) in Bombay in 1990. He observed that conferencegoers who were practitioners were congregating in certain parts of the conference talking among themselves, while the scholars occupied their own separate spaces. This divide was not only physical but also intellectual: each community’s conversations inhabited radically different conceptual worlds. Cohen wryly summed up the scene as an “epistemological carnival.” [1]

I have been for the past 25 years or so a practitioner, teacher, and scholar of traditional Asian medicine (below abbreviated TAM, by which I intend to include acupuncture, Sowa Rigpa, hatha yoga, Thai massage, mindfulness meditation, qigong healing, and all the other contemporary Asian healing systems that claim to have premodern origins). Having attended numerous conferences and gatherings on both sides of that aisle (including several ICTAMs of my own); having edited an academic journal on TAM, a practitioner-oriented blog site, and a Facebook group for both communities, I can attest to the fact that there have been an increasing number of interdisciplinary collaborations in our field since Cohen wrote his piece (such as this one). However, I all too often have also seen practitioners and scholars speaking past one another. All too often, to quote Cohen again, the air has still been “thick with colliding assumptions and bad tempers.” …


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Demolishers seek to break down Systems. We turn our tools on all Ideologies, all Worldviews, and any other Big Ideas we are told we should conform to. We rip out the rugs of certainty, destabilize the comfortable, and reveal contingency everywhere. Demolishers don’t posit any concrete new Thing or System. Rather, we like to make things more complex, more messy, more contingent, more uncertain. By smashing things to pieces, we live to “complicate our understanding.”


And 8 Tips for Surviving Them

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Graduate school was for me, as I am sure it is for many, intellectually thrilling. It was a wonderful time of self-discovery and deep learning. I would do it all over again in a second. However, I also have to acknowledge that most of my cohort did not have the same experience. Of the students who were on campus attending classes at the same time as me, across two departments in a joint program, fully half of them did not complete the PhD.

In talking with colleagues who earned PhDs in the humanities from other similar institutions in the same era (ca. 2010), my program seems to have been somewhat more extreme than most, but not a complete outlier. On the whole, the consensus is that PhD programs seem to be intended to weed out rather than to support, to grind down rather than build up. …


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Here’s to juxtaposition, paradox, and jubilant incoherence (photo by the author ©1999)

Metamodernism seems to be cropping up everywhere these days. (If you haven’t run into the concept yet, there are a helpful introductory essays here, here, here, here, and here.) At its core, and expressed all too briefly, metamodernism is an answer to the question of what comes after postmodernity. Depending on who is doing the talking, it can be described as a philosophical system, an intellectual stance, an artistic sensibility, the current cultural zeitgeist, or the “structure of feeling” of the times in which we live.

Metamodernism typically involves an attempt to make sense of the apparently contradictory postmodern, modern, and premodern epistemes or cultural paradigms. There are at present two major approaches to this question, which can be loosely termed the developmental metamodernist school and the oscillatory metamodernist school. (I am purposefully glossing over other seemingly related groups who describe themselves as being focused on “sensemaking,” “emergence,” “memetic mediation,” and so forth, because they do not explicitly foreground the term “metamodernism.”) …


Humanists feel that there is more to a college education than merely instrumentalist aims. We argue that there is a larger purpose, a broader range of learning and development that takes place beyond simply acquiring job skills. But, do our students know what we mean by this?

In the interests of making the value of humanities courses, and the degree as a whole, explicit for students, I have created a “learning objectives master grid” [PDF]. This document outlines what I believe are the core academic and life skills that are acquired over the course of a college career in the humanities. I hand out this grid in all of my classes, adding check marks in the right hand column for the skills that are being targeted in each particular class. …


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Image by Pawel Kuczynski.

Academics live our lives searching out angles by which to critique and to challenge the status quo. So, perhaps it’s inevitable that instead of building communities of mutual care, we are constantly reenforcing habits of judgment, both of each other and of ourselves. Abusive relationships with mentors, toxic power dynamics in departments, and chronic anxiety such as imposter syndrome run rampant everywhere I look in our community. …

About

Human•ities

Seeking larger perspectives that balance being an academic with being human. By scholar of Asian medicine and Buddhism, Pierce Salguero (piercesalguero.com).

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