This is what “other ways of knowing” look like

Superstition can make us blind - pictured as word Superstition on a blindfold to symbolize that it can cloud perception, 3d illustration

What do you do when you desperately want to believe in something and there is no scientific evidence to support it? You call it “other ways of knowing”!

What do other ways of knowing look like in practice?

They look like this:

Including the nonrational is sensible midwifery, by Jenny A. Parratt, and Kathleen M. Fahy, was published in the Australian midwifery journal Women and Birth. It has a simple premise and conclusion: many principles of radical midwifery theory are not supported by science. Rather than modify midwifery theory to reflect scientific knowledge, it is easier (and more lucrative) to rationalize ignorance and superstition by calling it other ways of knowing.

“Other ways of knowing” rationlize ignorance and superstition.

It is striking how the language of the paper resembles that used in justifications of religious belief, the most popular of all “other ways of knowing”:

Much of life cannot be apprehended or comprehended on a purely rational basis… Consider, for example, the sensations that may arise when watching a sunset, hugging a loved one, hearing a bird’s song or delighting in a sense of bodily capability… Similarly a midwife’s ordinary practice of being with the woman can be experienced by the midwife in quite extraordinary — nonrational — ways…

The centrality of emotion is similar; beliefs that are not supported by scientific evidence are nevertheless valid because they help people feel better about themselves; interestingly, the “people” in question are not necessarily patients; they can also be practitioners or purveyors.

Experiencing the nonrational may include sensations of inner power and/or inner knowing… These experientially grounded, nonrational aspects of life have been described variously as mysterious, sacred, spiritual and intuitive… Experiences that are nonrational are experiences of unity and wholeness; …

And, of course, no discussion of other ways of knowing is complete with reference to the “soul”.

Our soul is our own particular organic expression of the spiritual milieu of nonrational power. The soul moves in parallel with spirit: thus soul is nonrational, ethically neutral and idiosyncratic… Through our soul we may interpret and experience the power of spirit in diverse and contrasting ways: e.g. liberating, oppressive, joyous, peaceful or challenging…

The central claim of the paper is that the inclusion of the non-rational is midwifery “enhances safety”, although the authors’ explanation seems to show nothing of the kind.

When the concept of ‘safety’ is considered in childbearing it can illustrate how insensible rationality can be and how negative consequences can occur. Safety is an abstract concept because it is difficult to define and can only be considered in general terms. Rational dichotomous thought, however, provides ‘safety’ with the following defining boundaries:
– ‘safe’ has a precise opposite called ‘unsafe’,
– every situation/person/thing must be either be safe or unsafe,
– a situation/person/thing cannot be both safe and unsafe,and
– it is not possible for a situation/person/thing to be anything
other than safe or unsafe.

The authors complain:

…What is deemed as safe is aligned with what is rational and what is unsafe is aligned with what is irrational. As irrationality is not acceptable this essentially forces the definition of safety to be thought of as ‘true’ even though it may not fit with personal experience and all situations…

For example:

…[W]hen a woman and midwife have agreed to use expectant management of third stage, but bleeding begins unexpectedly, the expert midwife will respond with either or both rational and nonrational ways of thinking. Depending upon all the particularities of the situation the midwife may focus on supporting love between the woman and her baby; she may call the woman back to her body; and/or she may change to active management of third stage. It is sensible practice to respond to in-the-moment clinical situations in this way… Imposing a pre-agreed standard care protocol is irrational because protocols do not allow for optimal clinical decision-making which requires that we consider all relevant variables prior to making a decision. In our view all relevant variables include nonrational matters of soul and spirit.

Evidently, even if the woman bleeds to death for lack of pitocin, the decision to “support love between the woman and her baby” is still the correct one because her “soul” is “safe”.

The authors conclude:

Being open to the nonrational in midwifery practice makes room for midwives to self-reflexively acknowledge aspects of themselves, such as their fears, in a way that does not interfere with their practice. During birth, making room for the nonrational broadens both midwives’ and women’s knowledge about trust, courage and their own intuitive abilities including the changing capabilities of bodies….

At least these midwives are honest, even if completely inane. A fundamental (perhaps, the fundamental) goal of other ways of knowing is to make purchasers and purveyors feel good about themselves. Coming face to face with the fact their cherished beliefs in homeopathy, anti-vax or radical midwifery are nothing more than ignorance and superstition makes believers feel badly about themselves.

Fortunately, there is a way for purchasers and purveyors of ignorance and superstition to feel better. Just call the beliefs other ways of knowing!