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No Need to be Defensive if your Work is not Evidenced Based.

AI generated image of a student and humanistic mentor

Don't get me wrong. I have a high respect for science and evidenced based contributions to our clinical work. On the other hand, too often have I run across clinicians who are cynical to those of us who work in the domaine of psychotherapy and related approaches to helping others that are difficult to pin down with scientific methods. Consider the framework of possible pushback should you run across an uber-scientist.

Get such a cynic to think about elite artists. Those in the domaine of classical music might best illustrate the point. These musicians often come from a pedagogical lineage of teachers that can go back centuries. Well known contemporary virtuosos will have cred because our ears don't deceive us. You can point out to the cynic that the teaching methods that nurtured such artists are far from evidence based.

All well and good but I needed to find an example of such an artist so I turned to AI for some help. Here's a little dialogue I had with ChatGpt:

me: can you help me find a well know artist with a pedagogical lineage that goes back centuries?

ChatGpt: to illustrate your point about the difference between evidence-based fields like science and the tradition-based mentorship in the arts, let's consider a well-documented pedagogical lineage from the classical music world: that of the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz. His lineage offers a clear example of how artistic knowledge and style are transmitted through generations of mentorship rather than empirical evidence.

  • Vladimir Horowitz (1903–1989) is one of the most acclaimed pianists of the 20th century, known for his virtuosic technique and expressive depth.

  • Horowitz was a student of Felix Blumenfeld (1863–1931), a Russian composer, conductor, and pianist. Blumenfeld was a key figure in the Russian Romantic period and significantly influenced Horowitz's technical and musical development.

  • Felix Blumenfeld was a student of Theodor Leschetizky (1830–1915). Leschetizky was a Polish pianist, composer, and teacher who had a major influence on the development of piano playing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His teaching methods and principles have been widely admired and adopted.

  • Theodor Leschetizky himself was a pupil of Carl Czerny (1791–1857). Czerny was an Austrian composer, teacher, and pianist who is best remembered today for his volumes of études for the piano. Czerny's significance as a teacher is immense, having been a bridge between Beethoven and Liszt in terms of piano technique and pedagogy.

  • Carl Czerny was a student of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), one of the most revered composers in Western music history. Beethoven's influence on the music world is immeasurable, and his teachings and compositions have shaped the course of Western classical music.

This lineage from Horowitz back to Beethoven illustrates how knowledge, technique, and artistic sensibility are passed down through generations in the arts. It contrasts with the scientific method, where knowledge is advanced through hypothesis, experimentation, and evidence. In the arts, the mentorship and direct transmission of personal insights and interpretive approaches play a crucial role in the education and development of artists. This tradition-based system emphasizes the importance of individual experience and subjective interpretation, showcasing a different way of understanding and advancing human knowledge and creativity.

So there it is. Horowitz, one of whose CDs from the 80s is in my collection, comes from a lineage of teachers that goes back to Beethoven. All of these teachers; going back more than two centuries were doing something substantial, yet not within the scientific method. I suspect that the next time I encounter an evidenced based cynic, he might think twice before dismissing humanistic approaches to healing as unsubstantiated.

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