Transdisciplinary Research on Individuals 


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Philosophy-of-Science (TPS) Paradigm

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Transdisciplinary Philosophy-of-Science Paradigm for Research on Individuals (TPS Paradigm)






























 - Philosophical framework -

The paradigm's philosophical framework specifies the basic assumptions made about the nature and properties of individuals and the fundamental notions by which knowledge about individuals can be gained (Uher, 2015a, 2018a, 2018c).  

Individuals as complex living systems

To consider that individuals are living organisms, the TPS Paradigm builds on complexity theories rooted in thermodynamics (e.g., Prigogine), physics of life (e.g., Caprara), philosophy (e.g., Hartmann), theoretical biology (e.g., von Bertalanffy), medicine (e.g., Rothschuh), psychology (e.g., Köhler, Koffka, Vygotsky, Wundt) and the social sciences (e.g., Morin).

Complexity theories highlight that phenomena cannot be explored by dissecting their elements, assuming any composite could be sufficiently known simply by knowing its constituents. Instead, they conceive living organisms as open nested systems organised at different levels of complexity, from atoms and cells over single individuals up to societies. At each level, they function as organised wholes from which new properties emerge not predictable from their constituents (principle of emergence).

These new properties can feed back to the constituents from which they emerge, causing complex patterns of upward and downward causation. With increasing levels of organisation, ever more complex systems and phenomena emerge that are less rule-bound, highly adaptive and historically unique (Uher, 2018a, 2018c).

Epistemological complementary

In research on individuals, diverse phenomena with different properties are studied. For adequate explorations, the TPS Paradigm builds on the principle of epistemological complementarity, first introduced by Bohr to quantum physics as a resolution to the wave-particle dilemma in research on the nature of light. It highlights that different methods can reveal apparently incompatible information about the properties of the same object of research that are nevertheless all equally essential for an exhaustive account of it and may therefore be regarded as complementary to one another. 

In addition, as Heisenberg showed for physical phenomena, complementary properties of an object of research cannot be simultaneously determined with the same precision (Unschärferelation, literally 'relation of imprecision' but mostly translated as uncertainty principle). These concepts provide important foundations also for research on individuals, as elaborated in the methodological framework.

Epistemological complementarity is applied in the paradigm's frameworks in various ways, such as in concepts about the psyche-physicality (body-mind) problem as proposed by Bohr, Fahrenberg and others (Uher, 2015a, 2015c, 2015d), in concepts of appropriate phenomenon-method matching (Uher, 2018b) and to develop solutions for the long-lasting nomothetic-ideographic debate in research on individuals (Uher, 2015c). 

All research is done by humans

All scientific endeavours are inextricably entwined with and thus limited by human's perceptual and conceptual abilities (Wundt, Peirce). This does not imply radical constructivist assumptions that knowledge could be developed without reference to an existing reality. But it also rejects naïve realist assumptions that individuals' senses could enable direct and objective perceptions of the external reality.

Instead, the TPS Paradigm builds on the recognition that we can gain access to this reality only through our human abilities, which inevitably limits our possibilities to get to know about, explore and understand this reality. This epistemological position comes close to those of critical realism (Bhaskar) and pragmatism-realism (Guyon). They emphasise the reality of the objects of research and their knowability but also that our knowledge about this reality is created on the basis of our practical engagement with and collective appraisal of that reality.

Therefore, science is inseparable from its makers' particular perspectives on their objects of research given their own positions in the world - as humans, members of particular communities (e.g., culture, language, thought tradition) and as individuals.

TPS Paradigm - Types of biasThis entails particular risks for unintentionally introducing all kinds of anthropo-centric, ethno-centric, and ego-centric biases.

Such biases can occur in the phenomena that researchers seek out to explore and the questions they ask about these phenomena (metatheoretical level) as well as in the techniques and practices researchers use to explore them (methodological level; Uher, 2013, 2015a, 2018c).


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