#7 At what point does the anarchist show his hand?
Against Method by Paul Feyerabend, pages vii-23
In the first pages of Against Method, Feyerabend refers to his work as “AM,” hey, just like my initials! Coincidence? Hmm. Regardless, I identify with his famous principle of “anything goes” since science needs new tools, or to revisit old tools, to tackle never-before-attempted inquiries into psychedelics. At such an early stage of psychedelic science, we must try everything when researching these substances and see what works and what doesn’t. I initially wanted to start with a prompt in the form of a quote, so here it goes:
“The attempt to increase liberty, to lead a full and rewarding life, and the corresponding attempt to discover the secrets of nature and of man, entails, therefore, the rejection of all universal standards and of all rigid traditions. (Naturally, it also entails the rejection of a large part of contemporary science.)” (p. 12).
The word “liberty” caught my attention. Immediately, I thought of cognitive liberty in relation to psychedelic use and research. Cognitive liberty is the idea that I should be able to do what I please to my own mind, that is to say, to put whatever psychoactive chemical into my body, which in turn would affect my mind. The views expressed by Graham Hancock in his (once-banned) Ted Talk and Hamilton Morris in his interview on Joe Rogan’s podcast come to mind. (Check them out for yourself.) Feyerabend advocates an anarchistic approach to conducting science that, according to him, will increase one’s feeling of liberty toward discovering the secrets of nature and about one’s own person. I expect Feyerabend to give plenty of examples in his book (I’m only about 23 pages in at the moment), however, I like what I’ve read so far. It’s very inspiring to read someone so against what most of us in academia and the public education system have been taught.
In another brief passage at the end of Chapter 2, he says, “An anarchist is like an undercover agent who plays the game of Reason in order to undercut the authority of Reason (Truth, Honesty, Justice, and so on)” (p. 23). I interpret this to mean that scientists should learn the game before trying to change it. Jacques Derrida says something similar when it comes to grammatical rules in writing. The anarchist learns the jargon, the lingo, the methods, the exemplars and historical circumstances of their field that led to the current state of affairs and worldview. What I want to know is this: At what point does the anarchist show his hand? When does the anarchist strike out against his peers and make known what he had been planning all along? The epistemological anarchist is like a terrorist sleeper cell, waiting, planning, doing recon about their field, collecting information, and planning the right time to attack. Attack is important to consider here. The anarchist will wait until: (1) they are sufficiently prepared to do so, whether that means reading all the books they need, conducting any experiments they must do, gathering enough quantitative or qualitative data; and (2) the right time, so, they will wait when the current paradigm is weak, under attack from within and from without the field; even in times of paradigmatic strength in the form of normal-scientific puzzle-solving the anarchist might find the weakest point in scientists’ argumentative defenses, choosing the first volley fire upon that target, then another, and so on, at the same location, or, as that position starts to crumble under attack the anarchist may choose to fire on peripheral arguments related to the argument first under attack. In a way, Kuhn makes a similar argument, however, the difference I see between the two thinkers is that Kuhn’s scientists that investigate anomalies are engaged in open warfare, in other words, those under attack know who the enemy is and that they’re coming, whereas Feyerabend’s anarchistic undercover agent engages in surprise attack and espionage.
Another way to interpret Feyerabend’s anarchistic approach to epistemology and science is that the anarchist will learn the ways of the tradition, will master them, apply them, but all the while will consider other methods, making him more agile in manifold ways. For example, he will likely be interested in fringe topics and outdated theories, aspects and points from other related fields, that is, his interest and scope in discovering or creating knowledge is vastly broader than his narrow-minded colleagues. This gives the anarchist more ability to see the same problem in a different light. The anarchist will try anything, any method, any point of view, to understand the question he poses upon nature.
Back to the question above: I imagine the anarchist would show his hand when he has enough confidence in his position, such as: a bit of evidence (or better, incontestable proof) all the while using his non-ordinary methods, enough compatriots on his side, a peer-reviewed paper or book, etc. The gravitas of that which has been discovered likely determines the epistemological anarchist’s next moves in addition to carefully weighing the consequential backlash of its disclosure.
Feyerabend, P. (1993/1975). Against Method (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Verso.