The unofficial psychology blog from Paul Hutchings

When too much knowledge gathering is a dangerous thing

And so I have reached one of those blissful moments in the academic year – reading week! The opportunity to catch up on those paper revisions, plan new research, and try to put out of mind the mountain of marking that is shortly going to take over my life! But this year I have worked myself into a frenzy of inertia…

I started off the (academic) year with some wonderful plans in place – creating a website that matched up to my lectures throughout the year; do another module or two of my OU PPE degree; get some papers and grants written – the usual stuff. All whilst revalidating and re-accrediting our degree course and the usual stuff which goes with teaching and running a degree course.

Soon, the website fell by the wayside – I simply didn’t have the time for it so that has now been shelved for a summer project (but will be better for it in the long run). Everything else is pretty much going to plan – so why do I feel paralysed by the thought of writing in the coming week?

I sat and thought about this today, and I realised that I am trying to do too much with my writing – and I blame my PPE degree course! I started one of the philosophy modules in the summer and have just started an economics module as well, and it is really messing with my psychology-head. Before, I could have simply written articles from a psychology perspective and that was fine. Now I keep considering links to philosophy and economics – viewing everything I might want to write about from multiple perspectives.

Sounds wonderful, right? Having the knowledge to consider multiple perspectives, that surely has to be better than just the one perspective. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like it works in that way – I have expertise in my areas of psychology, but more of a fleeting knowledge of the others. So whilst I might feel confident in my assertions on the psychology side of things, I wouldn’t have that confidence in my knowledge of the other areas.

So why not just write from a psychology perspective and ignore the rest? Well, it can be difficult to ignore what you know (certainly for me!) and I still think that the other perspectives have a lot to contribute. One day I will know enough to contribute fully to the burgeoning field of Psychosophonomics (there has already been a psychosophy so I’ll have to go one better and add all three!). Until that point I will have to keep dealing with this issue in my own head, but it raised a number of questions for me –

when do you know ‘enough’ about something to feel confident in your knowledge, particularly when writing about it?

is it better to focus narrowly on some things and largely ignore others, even if you know that they probably have an influence on what you are looking at?

is it actually worth the time and effort taken to learn new things? Would I be happier if I didn’t have this extra knowledge which is causing me this dilemma at the moment? Does it actually matter to anyone (including me) whether I have that knowledge or not?

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Categorised in: Education, General Musings, Psychology

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