[Scientific Study of Literature 1:1] 2011
► pp. 173–181
How shall we guide ourselves to ensure that research on creation and reception are ecologically valid, representative of natural processes in everyday life? Rather than romanticizing science, we need to be critically aware of the hidden assumptions which lie behind the empirical narratives that appear in journals. Francis Bacon awakened us to the “false idols” and Goethe encouraged us to place the careful observation of phenomena of the natural world ahead of theories which should be derived from observation and help focus our understanding of them. Following Bacon and Goethe, I advise that researchers should work from actual instances or episodes in which the phenomena of interest are manifested. Our goal should be to ensure that the parallel world of experimentation is not divorced from everyday life. This can be achieved by developing a large sample space of materials (poems, literary texts, films, and so forth) from which at least two must be chosen to represent each kind of stimulus. Further, we need to specify the orienting task set according to which participants are to approach these materials. Finally, I advocate the use of quantitative and qualitative kinds of data in a complementary manner to elucidate the underlying processes. By engaging in an empirical dialogue with ourselves and others, we can advance our understanding and explanation of the phenomena which fascinate us.