Do you want to get a PhD while you have been a professor for twenty years? Frank Hartman, an accounting professor, did just that. He sought answers in philosophy to his fundamental questions about the usefulness of the social sciences.
After twenty years as a professor, something began to bother Frank Hartmann (57 years old). The business economist – specialty: accounting – thought it was time for something new. something Anders Furthermore it. “I became a professor at a young age, I was only 32, and this plays a role. Such a scientific career is long and we have to work longer and longer, so I think it is funny that we are looking for a new challenge.
“Sometimes it's very difficult to do what you really want to do in science. It seems very free, but at a certain point you have experience in something and then you keep doing it for a long time. You have to be careful not to become a sham. And that Really dangerous.
In addition to his work as a professor of accounting, Hartman started a new doctoral program six years ago. In philosophy this time. Today he holds a doctorate degree. I've always had a bit of a philosophical bent, and that was really a hobby. At some point I realized I had to take this seriously before time ran out. Then I presented my research idea to Mark Slurs (Professor of Philosophy of Cognition red.) and he responded very positively.
Were you afraid you'd get stuck in another way?
“Well actually yes.” If you can play soccer well, you won't suddenly try volleyball, you'll keep playing soccer. I think this is very important to recharge and recalibrate.
“I am also very critical of what is currently happening in the social sciences. I had to do something with that. This thesis is a form of responding to this in a reasonably constructive and positive way.”
What are you criticizing?
'This is deep. This relates to fundamental issues that I felt did not receive sufficient attention in various scientific fields. For example, I was not satisfied with empirical research. Not only in my field, but also in general in the social sciences. I find much of this research to be somewhat pseudo-empirical.
“Some of the hypotheses and theories we test are very simple, mundane and trivial. We have investigated many figures and concluded that ‘our hypothesis is confirmed’. This is the case in management and the social sciences. Whereas it is already clear that this is the case. In fact, I have found Many administrative facts are very trivial.
Can you give an example of this?
“Do people work harder for the reward?” It can be said about such research: Of course, otherwise there will be no reward. If a reward makes people work less hard, it's not a reward. This makes her an instantly philosophical linguist, as there is almost theory hidden in the words she uses. That was one of my scientific frustrations.
This must have been a special situation for Mark Slurs, the professor as a PhD candidate?
'I think so too. Funny enough, we're about the same age. We were both born in 1966, and he is two months older than us. In retrospect, I think it was super brave of him to agree to that, because it's great. As a professor, you are naturally very stubborn and it is difficult to convince yourself of something. It almost always went well, but we had a discussion where he said: 'Frank, Frank, Frank…' The young PhD student is a little more flexible and easier to shape.'
“As a professor, you are very stubborn by nature.”
“At the same time, I think I was also very receptive to new material. I took a lot of new courses and just got back into the classroom.”
Your thesis is about the limits of social science in explaining human behavior. Why is it difficult to benefit from social scientific knowledge?
“First of all, it is important to know that by social sciences I mainly mean the so-called action sciences, such as economics, psychology, and social cognitive neuroscience. These are sciences that deal with action and behavior, but also aim to influence that action. By better understanding behavior , the sociologist hopes to encourage people to behave better.
At the same time, these sciences all use a different view of humanity. The psychologist sees people as complex and emotional beings, the economist sees people as rational, while the neuroscientist mainly understands human actions based on brain activity. The question is: Can all of this coexist or are they in conflict? I think the latter.
What does that mean concretely?
Suppose you read the results of such a study, what should people do with them? You could say he could take that into account, but how? For example, one economist says: Research shows that people who act rationally achieve a higher return on their investments. You read that and think: I also want a higher return, so I should act rationally. But how should this be done?
“Now we're all making statements about behavior based on what's happening in the brain, but the brain is also part of you. So, can you say, 'Did my brain cause this or did I do it?' And that's also an important topic in my thesis. If I were to I explain my behavior to others, can I use this brain?Today you have a lot of people who attribute all kinds of behavior to their brains.
Who for example?
“Twenty years ago there was a major case. Then the CFO of a major American company, Enron, ended up in prison on charges of fraud. Now he is free and giving lectures. At one point he says: 'My mind told me I was doing the right thing'.
“So the man blames his mind.” You are actually giving an explanation for your behavior as if it were no longer you. This happens often. Sometimes you hear people say, “Oh, sorry, my brain hasn't been there for a while.” Very innocent, but scientifically incorrect. This is also an important issue for accountants in practice.
Are you also talking about people who cite a psychiatric diagnosis as a reason for certain behavior? “I can't stop myself from acting rashly because I have an ADHD brain?”
“Yes, that's a very good example, because it doesn't say anywhere in your brain that you have ADHD, it's a description of the behavior. Or actually it's a standard explanation for 'deviant' behavior.” After all, you can imagine tribes in The forest where these people cannot be diagnosed as anything strange at all.
“This does not indicate anywhere in your brain that you have ADHD, it is a description of the behavior.”
“Or suppose I bump into you in the car and say, 'Sorry, I didn't see you because my mind needs some time to process something else.'” What do I actually say? Am I responsible or not?
“What would it mean if I explained my behavior to others and used scientific insights about myself?” How can all these explanations be reconciled? I find that very fascinating, even as an accountant.
Where do you see the benefit of social sciences?
I think it's much more limited than we think. This is not a popular message, but I really believe it.
In psychology, for example, researchers search for forms of therapy that can best help people. Is this useful?
“I think the success of many therapies lies in paying attention to someone's problems. Listening to someone's existential expressions and responding to them appropriately and humanely. But it's not clear that what experimental researchers say they've discovered today has much benefit. So I'm not saying it's useless, That would be an odd statement, but I think a lot of what we now sell as science is pretty trivial.
Your thesis is now complete. How do you look back on the past six years?
It was a great trip, and I can recommend it to anyone who has doubts about science. I think a long-term project like this where you explore something in-depth for a few years can be very beneficial. Even for people who don't realize it.
“We really have to get rid of our enormous desire to publish in small papers. I think the mind is under pressure. If you choose a university career, don't hide in little studies where you do this experiment and then that. Try to create some bigger narratives. I think we've lost something of that in social science.
“Travel enthusiast. Alcohol lover. Friendly entrepreneur. Coffeeaholic. Award-winning writer.”