Home » Catherine Malabou » What’s the story of your PhD?

What’s the story of your PhD?

In writing up my PhD, the question my brain seems to ask the most is not “where do I go from here?” but “how do I get to where I want to go?” It seems to want to create the narrative or story first, before I have done the reading or research. Having come up with what it thinks is the story of my thesis does it then ask “well, is there research to make this story believable or viable?”

Of course, if there wasn’t, then the story would be rewritten accordingly. Nevertheless, my biggest worry was that I was being self-selective in the data collection. But I think the anxiety made me more vigilant and thus more willing to explore alternate storylines. Indeed, I often find myself becoming surprised at the direction that the research took me. When I transferred from PhD candidate to student status, me assessor noted that my surprise was evident in my writing, which I hope indicates that I have been prepared to change the narrative when the data changed. I guess that if my brain was expecting one answer, and the data pointed somewhere else, surprise is a natural response.

According to neuroscience research, the brain is designed to look for the most plausible story based on the subjectively known evidence. it is apparently the most conducive to survival if one considers something that looks like a lion and sounds like a lion to actually be a lion, unless proven otherwise. This of course emphasises the importance of doing research, because red berries appear to the caveman to be nice to eat unless they know that the neanderthal next door has died as a result. Nevertheless, there is clearly an inherent conservatism in the brain that is about the conservation of the body and progression or radicalism is a consequence of necessity rather than a default setting. This tension between conservation and progression is highlighted in the philosophy of Hegel, particularly in the reading by Catherine Malabou, that is characterised by plasticity, a capacity to be formed and to resist deformation. When I write, it is like a moment of le voirvenir, to see what is coming, that exists between what went before and what comes after.

I wonder whether the need for a story is why I have always resorted to the narratives of other stories – Oedipus, Thelma and Louise, star trek, Hamlet – and to a phenomological method. After all, narratives are a way of simplifying and ordering a mass complexity. After all, the creativity of the brain is limited only by the information stored. There is nothing in a story that is extraneous and my superviser and anyone who has reviewed my work have always asked “why is this sentence/paragraph here?”.

I also believe that my PhD is a way of ordering experiences that went before.

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