What Does Your Theory Look Like?

When I think about what I’m grappling with concerning science, Indian ways-of-knowing, and western ways-of-knowing, I imagine a picture.

The current metaphor allows me to picture ways-of-knowing as a constellation, like an image of the Milky Way.

I imagine a set of beliefs at the core with long tentacles spiraling outward, extending into different dimensions that inform what we know and build upon what we believe.

One of my mentors at the University of Wisconsin, Jack McLeod, asked us to draw a picture of a model we saw when thinking of mass media effects.

Some of Jack’s students developed intricate, multi-layered models that remind me of a rendering of the guts inside a motherboard: a diagram with myriad links running hither and yon, so complex it makes your brain spin.

The trickster in me wants to present a nonsensical model at a research conference based on a motherboard, full of boxes and arrows and r-squares: a visual joke because we take this stuff so seriously.

I borrowed Jack’s suggestion and often ask my students to draw a picture of the theories or models they’re mulling over. I provide blank paper and wax crayons and ask them to draw.

Some are terrified at the prospect of creating a picture but I think it’s a sound tactic to move outside your comfort zone and consider a different dimension of your thoughts.

What would your thoughts look like?

[Picture of the Milky Way from the website windows2universe.org]


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in Native Science, science, science communication and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Does Your Theory Look Like?

  1. las artes says:

    Another realm of answers lies in a society’s desires for economic development. Many earth scientists devote their work to finding more efficient or more effective ways to discover or recover natural resources like petroleum and ores. Plant scientists seeking strains or species of fruiting plants for crops are ultimately working to increase the agricultural output that nutritionally and literally enriches nations. Chemists developing new chemical substances with potential technological applications and physicists developing new phenomena like superconductivity are likewise developing knowledge that may spur economic development. In a world where nations increasingly view themselves as caught up in economic competition, support of such science is nothing less than an investment in the economic future.


    • Ivar Nielsen says:

      Hi Cynthia,
      It´s avery fine allegory indeed!
      – Funny enough, my website is called “native-science” too!
      And do you know what?
      It deals with the ancient knowledge of Mytho-Cosmology, especially with the Story of Creation which is vey closely connected to???
      The Milky Way!
      Cybthia, I´m following your blog here and I invite you to visit my site:
      looking very much forward to your response.

      All the Very Best from Ivar Nielsen, Denmark


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