THE LANGUAGE OF EMPIRICISM

By Mickey Skidmore, ACSW

I couldn’t help but notice some interesting things after writing last months “Perspective” article (July 1998). All month long, in varying degrees, circumstances, and what not, I noticed an abundance of numbers, statistics, equations, formulas, columns, rows, research … data. Everywhere I looked I saw empirical information in one form or another. And so, it seems only appropriate that I use this month’s “Perspective” space to follow up on this issue a little more. But I’d like to explore this issue further from the perspective of hypnotic language.

I’m not sure really why I especially noticed this in July. After all, I have been working with my present employer for nearly a year and a half now. But it became very clear to me last month how much my boss depends on numbers. This is no doubt due to the fact that her boss is also a “numbers man”. Please do not misconstrue this to be necessarily negative. It is a reasonable and acceptable method for basing numerous (pardon the pun, I couldn’t resist) decisions in our predominantly capitalistic society.

There is something cold, clear, and unambiguous about empirical data. Something which western thinking (and perhaps significant aspects of the rest of the world as well) has accepted as a yardstick for credibility. Born out of the physical sciences, it soon began to influence other aspects of western thinking. For years, the social sciences were referred to as the “soft” sciences. In response to this, and in hopes of being more widely and readily accepted in the communities of increased credibility, they began to emphasize empirical methods to strengthen their knowledge base. In other words, this led to the Social Sciences attempt to replace common misconceptions with accurate information and explanations, rather than people clinging to myths and false beliefs in spite of more accurate information and explanations.

Having taught Sociology and Psychology at varying colleges during the past 10 years, I am as guilty as anyone for participating in the teachings of the empirical approach. And while I maintain the importance of such an approach, as I become older and more seasoned, I also find myself drawn to other forms of learning … ways which are more far removed from numbers and emericism. Rather, they take the form of intuition, metaphor, anecdotal testaments, and experiences I generally refer to as “aesthetic” in nature.

As one who provides workshops and trainings on somewhat regular basis, and one who aspires to provide workshops on a national level, I appreciate the importance of being generally familiar with the empirical literature of one’s field and/or specialty. My own experience however, is that most of the feedback and reactions people share with me about my workshops, training, or presentations, are predominantly visceral in nature. In other words, what they share in various ways is how they “experience” the empirical material at a personal level.

Shortly after my recent publishing difficulties, I received the new edition of the Social Work journal. As I thumbed through it I couldn’t help but notice that the pages were filled with page after page of charts and graphs and numbers with rows and columns of statistical analysis etc. And while I have no doubts at all that there was important, valid, and meaningful information in that journal, I also wondered, how many Social Workers simply breezed through it and shelved it, rather than wading through the technical language of empericism in hopes of acquiring some useful information.

My viewpoint is a simple one. I in no way disavow the credibility or importance of an empirical approach. Yet, I also believe “aesthetical” writings and learnings are important as well, and it may be disastrous for us to dismiss such approaches simply because they are not empirically based. In fact to do so, is consistent with a fundamentalist perspective which ultimately leads to conflict and violence. My solution (suggestion) is as simple as my viewpoint. Let’s make room for both. Imagine what would happen if as Social Scientist we held both views simultaneously and allowed a third option to emerge.

Many familiar with the Ericksonian tradition may already be aware that Kaye Thompson, DDS died recently, which was a significant loss to the hypnotic community world wide. I mention Kaye, because she is perhaps best known for her use of language in the applications of hypnosis. I mention this in closing as, it occurred to me that numbers, statistics, data, imformation, etc., are the nomenclature and language of empiricism. And while most hold this language in higher regard than aesthetics, there is a down side to this approach as well. How many of you have heard or thought “you can make statistics say anything you want them to say”.

If we make room for aesthetic learnings we will need to be keenly aware of our language – in regard to the claims and observations we make and the generalizations we may be tempted to conjecture. And if we insist on relying on empiricism from a fundamental perspective of superiority, perhaps we should consider the words of Albert Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.