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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who is your favourite research partner?

Whenever I discuss with friends or colleagues about my belief that intellectual enterprises should be collective ones, because collaboration enhances the quality of one's work, I tend to receive the following answer: "It is difficult to find people with whom it is worth working". I will not deal here with the truth or falsehood of the statement, since I would rather focus on the identity of the people with whom it is worth working.
In my experience,
  1. 1. they must share some background knowledge. It is too fatiguating to have to explain every piece of information you are using in your work.
  2. 2. they must share a similar goal. This does not need to be your final goal (e.g., making Indian philosophy part of the general enterprise of "Philosophy", and, hence, make it available to people looking for meaningness). But at least some part of the proximate goal must be common. I can aptly collaborate with someone whose proximate goal is to critically edit a text, if only we are both interested to understand a certain portion of that text.
  3. 3. paradoxically enough, I tend to think that they must NOT share many of my views. Differences in outlook make intellectual exchange intriguing and challenging.
  4. 4. they must be willing to engage in dialogue. I have been working with stubborn people (and I am one, too), but they were not so stubborn as not to end up admitting that they could not make sense of something (for instance, of a contradictory statement). People who are just too sure can be 'useful' but it is rarely the case that an authentic collaboration can take place.

What do readers think?


As for my praise of team-work, see here. The specific case of workshops is dealt with here, and that of conferences here.

3 comments:

ombhurbhuva said...

Elisa,
Let me engage with 4 as a mere general reader. There will and probably should be points at which the rational disappears into the non-rational ground particularly in philosophy that arises out of a wisdom tradition. Take for instance the discussion at Amod's blog 'love of all wisdom' where there is a feeling that there has to be a rational strategy around Santideva's apparent contradiction ie. altruism without an 'alter'. What is notable is that Santideva does not downplay this paradox but rather keeps it before our gaze. Why? I believe that it is because he knows that only wisdom (coincidentia oppositorum) gives the sadhaka the power, courage and steadfastness to do what is impossible for mortals. On the bhakti marga wisdom is seen as infused grace but the terminus is the same by whatever means of transport.

On the general aspect of your post, satsang,the spiritual analogue of the 'increment of association', is regarded as essential. But being mere mortals beware of priority disputes and the 'borrowing' of intellectual property that is never returned.

elisa freschi said...

Michael,
thanks for keeping on engaging in dialogues with me, notwithstanding my down-to-earth attitude (I must seem very stubborn to you!);-)
As for your first point, do you mean to say that there are contradictions which have a purpose? I have been discussing this topic within Buddhism (see here, here and especially here) and I tend to agree with you. But this kind of contradictions then make sense within some sort of "higher order" logic. Methodologically, I do not think we can avoid assuming that there is some sense –although difficult to understand. It is difficult to imagine that one can fruitfully work with people who are just dogmatic and are not afraid even of overt contradictions within their own arguments (say: "People should not be allowed to take advantage of our welfare system", said from one who does take advantage of it).

As for intellectual property, you might already know that I am quite sceptical about it. Ideas grow bigger and more interesting when they are shared. And if they don't "come back", I'll have more time to dedicate to other ones…;-) And a basic honesty seems to me the precondition of every authentic dialogue.

ombhurbhuva said...

It's hard not to avoid the idea that many of the esoteric practises of religion seem designed to break the grip of the discursive mind with its endless "on the one hand and on the other hand". Even in philosophy there are those that follow the crooked path of mysterianism such as Colin McGinn who hold to the principle of cognitive closure i.e. that there are ultimate situations which our conceptual schema is simply not able to grasp. Such would be the truth of the statement that a brain state is identical to a state of mind, if it is in fact a truth.

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