Interdisciplinary Metaphilosophy and Method

The most compelling 'big questions' have a few things in common. They are tractable with data, not answerable just from an armchair; they have broad human interest; and their answers demand the development of research skills in multiple methods. But, as I see it, several hurdles still beset answering these interdisciplinary questions. 

First, many high-profile answers to interdisciplinary questions in practice remain mono-methodological. This describes scientific explanations of culturally divergent cognition that inexpertly appeal to cultural history. Likewise, this problem is common to humanist explanations of the effects of natural disasters on religious emotion absent knowledge from cognitive science of religion. Second, researchers do not avail themselves of information and data relevant to their interpretive hypotheses. Humanists in particular continue to focus on close readings of short passages even though they have access to large corpora of digitized texts encompassing entire schools and traditions. Third, even when these two obstacles are overcome, researchers lack a coherent model of interdisciplinary explanation that would facilitate proper understanding of the inferential potential of their results. On this point, philosophers of science appear to have let down interdisciplinary researchers since they continue to promulgate inapt accounts of mechanistic explanation developed for closed systems in the hard sciences.  

My metaphilosophical and methodological research is devoted to providing concrete demonstrations that overcome these three problems, or pioneering new methods that chart a way through them. The first problem can be addressed with long-term dedication to immersive interdisciplinarity. Time-consuming mid-career retraining might be necessary to make justified inferences about which others speculate. The second problem can be met by doing more with less, so long as humanists step out of their comfort zone. Historians of religion and philosophy draw sweeping generalizations about past cultural trends and their causes by reading parts of widely transmitted texts. But in the 'fourth age' of research, leveraging a network of collaborators and using big data can together overturn widespread scholarly opinion that has long been taken for fact. Text analytics is the most obvious and enticing way forward for humanists. 

Resolving the third problem will have less influence on the way interdisciplinary researchers go about their business and more influence on the ways that their results are used to answer big questions. Beginning with an erotetic logic consistent with the 'big questions' approach, Bryon Cunningham and I are developing a formal model of explanation for research in cultural evolution. This model digs under common explanatory styles unique to different disciplines by identifying psychological heuristics behind them. We use this to clear the way for a type of explanatory pluralism that builds concrete evidence-based bridges.