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!

  • Mel

    And yet midwives like these wonder why they can’t get insurance plans to pay for their services……

    I personally like clean compartmentalization between authorities in my life. I have doctors for medical things. I also have spiritual directors for spiritual things.

    While it doesn’t float my boat, maybe someone is looking for a combination medical professional/spiritual guru – but the important thing is being very, very clear about informed consent. Don’t be dragging “other ways of knowing” into people’s lives by pretending its medicine. It’s a religion….and that’s going to make all sorts of people very, very angry.

    • demodocus

      I really enjoy fantasy novels where these “other ways of knowing” are not only plausible, but in use by practitioners. But in the real world? not so much. Souls are a topic for philosophers and religious people. Possibly useful in psychiatry as something for the depressed-and-religious. Me, not so much.

  • Alia

    Are we really certain it is a real article published in a real journal and not a Sokal someone pulled on them? Because if it is real… I have no words to describe its utter lack of sense.

    • mabelcruet

      It’s the ‘call the woman back to her body’ type nonsense, that woo-infested ‘collect your baby’s soul from the stars and bring her earthside’ mentality that they think makes up for not offering any decent pain relief and relying on ‘other ways of knowing’ instead of, you know, ACTUAL ways of knowing.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        One problem with the “call the woman back to her body” nonsense is how it is so damn insulting to those who, for example, have lost a baby.

        Apparently, my sister isn’t back to her body or something, and that is why her first child was stillborn at 41+ weeks? Here I always figured it was placental failure, and if she had just had a c-section at 41 weeks, he would still be alive….

        • mabelcruet

          Well, obviously positive affirmations and centering your chakras is the absolute best treatment for optimal placental function.

          My sympathies to your sister and family-stillbirths are heart breaking, no matter what gestation, but the term ones seem especially so because these wee ones would have been perfectly capable of survival had they been delivered a little earlier.

        • PeggySue

          Yes, so very sad. And think of the woman who never comes back to her body at all. How do her loved ones feel when the midwife says, well, we called her, but I guess she didn’t want to come?

      • rational thinker

        That term “bring baby earthside” makes me gag. It also strikes me as a little childish.

      • Christine O’Hare

        And how does “calling a woman back to her body” help with a hemorrhage? Her focusing and saying, “body, stop bleeding” isn’t going to do a darn thing.

    • Anna

      Its real! And it is academic of this ilk that are training young midwives in the universities. I have heard Lisa Barrett is praised in lectures at some unis and lecturers claim the case against her was fabricated – despite there being video and audio evidence.

  • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

    OT but not really, a 4 year old in Colorado dies of the flu, his mother sought advice from anti-vaxxers online after the doctor prescribed Tamiflu for every one in the house. https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/facebook-anti-vaxxers-pushed-mom-not-give-her-son-tamiflu-n1131936

    (I feel horrible for the parents but for the love of FSM, get your kids the flu shot and don’t take medical advice from idiots!!!)

    “The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.”

    • Russell Jones

      This is an outrage, and not really OT at all since it exemplifies “other ways of knowing” thinking quite well.

      You can almost hear the alt-med Dunning Kruger crowd now: “They seriously expect us to believe that breastmilk didn’t cure the kid? Bullshit! This is a Big Pharma false flag operation aimed at restricting parents’ God-given freedom!”

    • AnnaPDE

      Someone on the Facebook thread about this case quite accurately described the “treatments” proposed and tried for this poor child as “seasoning him like a damn chicken”. It kind of sums up the level of absurdity and negligence of the entire thing.

      • rational thinker

        You can bet this poor little boy will be buried twice.

        • mabelcruet

          Oh, of course. The facts will be twisted and tortured until it turns out that he died of something completely unconnected to his flu, and it was something that would have happened whether or not he was treated with conventional medicine, and they will say that they have been told by doctors that tamiflu wouldn’t have saved him anyway, so good on the mother for not polluting his body with that muck. Poor, innocent little boy. What did he ever do to deserve an utterly deranged fuckwit for a mother?

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            I’ve already seen claims that there was no sign he was sick until he collapsed and died (despite his 102 fever and seizure).

            So, yeah.

          • Heidi

            Despite the fact there are screenshots that prove otherwise, the mother is now claiming they followed all medical advice. Guess she wants to keep that Go Fund Me money coming.

          • rational thinker

            Of course she is! I tend to get suspicious of a lot of the go fund me stuff.

          • rational thinker

            Does anyone have a link to the go fund me page please?

          • Heidi
          • rational thinker

            Thanks for the link, what a shameless bitch I guess the breast milk, and all the other “seasonings” didn’t work. I hope a lot of people saved those screen shots so she cant bury him twice. These people disgust me.

          • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

            The responsibility is also on the father. He seems to fly under the radar in some of the news stories but he is also a parent and also responsible. I wonder how the other three kids a doing the youngest is only ten months.

          • rational thinker

            I really hope she learned her lesson with the 4 year old or CPS has stepped in because if not I would guess the 10 month old is next.

          • rational thinker

            A lot of fathers especially attachment parents or anti vax view the mother as main carer of children and this is the only instance where the woman has full authority over the man so even if dad is around he wont interfere with anything to do with care of the kids. If they are also christians this is probably the case.

            Having said that……..I agree the father is just as guilty as mom for not doing anything about this and if they dont learn from this and start getting REAL medical care for their remaining kids the children should be removed from the home for their own safety.

  • demodocus

    Oh, aye, by all means employ emotional support as best you can while you are fixing the problem before you. But you need to fix the problem or someone could die.

    But then, I don’t suppose a lot of the mothers who fall for this have had major health issues or other scares to shake the adolescent sense of immortality completely out of them.

    • Sarah

      I think we’ve discussed before, that possibly those of us who’d never really experienced anything of that nature are more vulnerable to that kind of attitude because we’ve not learned the hard way that bodies don’t always work. I never got on the woo train but I did pretty much fail to comprehend just how easy it is for things to go wrong. There are commenters here who learned that particular lesson much earlier in life and consequently approached pregnancy and birth without that naivety.

      • demodocus

        Yes. I’m one who learned it earlier. My overall health itself is okay, but I did get scarlet fever and lost half my hearing at 4. Mom lost half her babies and never hid that specific detail (though she did hide her emotions about it). And a classmate died from trying something unwise when we were in 7th grade. A taste for biographies and serious histories helps, too.

        Why yes, I was the weird kid.

      • PeggySue

        Yep. I grew up in the 50’s. Attended my first funeral age 8. The deceased was a friend, aged 6. Drowning. And in that era, classmates died, their parents died, etc.

    • carovee

      I’d like to see this standard applied to plumbing. “If water starts flooding your house, don’t restrict yourself to agreed upon fixes. Your plumber has other ways of knowing. Let her help you focus on your lover for your toilet.”

      • Ruth Mayfly

        Imposing a pre-agreed standard protocol for electrical work is irrational because
        protocols do not allow for optimal decision-making. Your electrician may instead focus on calling electricity back to the faulty socket.

  • Leading Zero

    The link to Parratt & Fahy’s paper did not work for me, but you can see the abstract (a small gem of special pleading) here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1871519207001217

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I fixed the link!