Thursday, June 19, 2014


A paradigm is a way of organizing and condensing information.

A major paradigm might contain many smaller ones. In science we find paradigms at many different levels, paradigms within paradigms within paradigms. But paradigms are not just scientific, we each have many different paradigms for different contexts.

In understanding our world, we learn about it, but we also learn from it. Our brain uses paradigms to classify, sort, and process information received by the senses. Our paradigms affect the way we design, record, and interpret our experiments and observations, as scientists and as humans. Just as computers have different programs which interpret a data stream in a certain way, we have different paradigms which do the same thing.

A paradigm is generally a fixed conceptual framework that one can accept and work within, which then becomes a filter for seeing, interpreting, and correlating experience. It is a model of understanding mostly free of significant contradictions. Even when there are contradictions, we can shift in and out of various paradigms, although not always as well as we would like.

Our senses are affected by our state of mind as well as by our experiences. Because our senses are easily fooled, how do we know under what conditions we can trust them? What we see depends on what we expect to see, but that is controlled by our paradigms and influenced by our mood.

Our Personal Paradigms affect the types of questions we ask as individuals and as cultures, when we are trying to make sense of the world around us. They incorporate the knowledge and experiences we have acquired since birth as we become conditioned to our physical, social, and spiritual environment. These paradigms color our perception by filtering information. The filters are conditioned by our experiences throughout life as we learn about our surroundings.

Paradigms are not just ideas that are used by scientists, they are a part of the way our brains work and we all rely upon them. They are involved in all aspects of learning at many different levels, but they also help us get through our day. We develop habits and routines as we turn over certain activities to autopilot as we learn them.

Remember how hard it was to drive a car the first time you tried it. You had to pay attention to everything, accelerator, steering, brakes, shifting gears and being very aware what your hands and feet are doing. The feeling of the road and the forces and sounds inside the car required your complete attention. But eventually you've learned to ignore the unimportant sounds and vibrations. Eventually you probably become almost unaware of the experience of driving home and suddenly find yourself on your street and you don't remember getting there.

When things like that happen, it usually means that we have been ignoring those things which were not critical to driving. You can be sure that had a child run into the road, you would have noticed and remember. That reason we go on "autopilot" sometimes is not to overburden the brain with trivialities, thus freeing it for important things, like surviving.

We all build internal models of our world, which we rely upon to understand it and to assure our survival in it. Our personal paradigm not only helps us to sort, and classify information, but also guides our expectations. And it affects the way this information is processed by the brain and the types of questions we ask when trying to understand the world around us incorporating the knowledge and experiences we have acquired since birth.

Our sense of entitlements largely derives from our ancestry and their beliefs, social and financial status, their language, education, and cultural traditions and prejudices. In the past hard and fixed rules often imposed limitations and restrictions that were strictly observed. But now people move about more freely and may explore vicarious lifestyle possibilities through the media and more complex social interactions.

For some, this brave new world can be confusing and difficult. But for a more intrepid intellect it cam amount to a new and hopeful paradigm.

A Paradigm Shift is a change from one way of thinking to another. It's a sort of metamorphosis, a transformation, or even a revolutionOne of the most apparent paradigm changes was that of the pre and post industrial era. Apparently we are about to experience great and profound change having to do with sustainability and climate change. Paradigm change does not just happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change, such as: when hunter-gatherers learned agriculture, the development of the wheel and of Architecture, the use of currency, and the printing press, which enabled the Scientific Revolution
We have reached an extraordinary point in the history of science, for some physicists believe they are now on the verge of having a single theory that will unite all of their science under one mathematical umbrella. In particular this theory would unify the two great bastions of twentieth century physics - the general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Since general relativity describes the large scale, or cosmological, structure of the universe, and quantum theory describes the microscopic, or subatomic, structures, the unification of these theories would explain both the very big and the very small. This theory is often referred to as a "theory of everything," or TOE.
In particular this theory would unify our understanding of all the fundamental physical forces in our universe.... That goal has partly been realized... but is proving to be extremely difficult. Nonetheless, most TOE physicists are confident this goal will be realized in the next few decades. Now the entire physical universe would be encompassed by a set of equations - or perhaps just one equation. But the question would still remain, what would that equation mean?
Physicists are "used to looking at the world in a very mechanist way". We may not be the stars in any great cosmic drama, Steven Weinberg says, but "faced with an unloving and impersonal universe" we can nonetheless create for ourselves " a little island of warmth and love and science and art." It is a deeply humane statement from a man often associated with a cold, impersonal vision. What is most surprising, perhaps, is that here an avowedly atheistic scientist expresses a view not dissimilar to that of some religious believers. 
"...for all science's great achievements it is not necessarily the field which can show us the point of either our own lives or of the universe as a whole. That task is outside science" - Father Coyne. 
Scientific paradigms were ushered in by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, each progressively diminished our identity and at the same time increased it. We no longer perceive ourselves as being the center of the physical universe, and in fact there apparently is no center. 
The philosophical content of the media, literature or conventional higher education no longer pictures us as the chosen protagonists in a divine drama. For thousand of years, the central theme of that drama had been the nobility of the struggle of that protagonist. This most ancient perception seems to have been subverted by the complexity of contemporary times.
"... we are the gods that our ancestors told stories about. We fly from one part of the globe to another in a matter of hours; we instantly communicate over thousands of miles; we can commit mayhem in moments, move mountains in minutes, and every night we sit in front of our magic picture box and find out what all the other gods are up to.... We are magnified through space and time, our senses enlarged, our whims accelerated.... We are at a time in human history and planetary development when we are becoming aware of the stupendous unconscious knowledge and skillful orchestration that is going on in ourselves as well as in the outer cosmos all the time. We are at a crossing point in human history..."
"Everything around us (including our own bodies, which appear so substantial) is ultimately nothing but ephemeral networks of particle-waves whirling around at tremendous speeds, colliding, rebounding, disintegrating in almost total emptiness. What we call matter is mostly emptiness, proportionately as void as intergalactic space, void of anything except occasional dust spots and scattered electric charges. Any single one of the roughly 1027 atoms in the average human body has almost all its mass concentrated in a nucleus so small that if all the nuclei of all the atoms that make up the whole of humankind were packed together, their aggregate would be the size of a grain of rice." -from THE SEARCH FOR THE BELOVED by Jean Houston. p.20.
A paradigm gives way to another. Something is taken away and something new comes into being, both are vital parts of the human landscape, determining how we are identified--deeply affecting how we perceive who we are, and our sense of entitlement.
Science presumes to give absolute knowledge of the nature of the physical universe. Pragmatists wants us to believe they are dealing from a complete deck of cards. But Einstein himself admitted that what he did best was being good at guessing. He implied that what he chose to pay attention to was an aesthetic choice. Even still, as much as 80% of the mass of the universe is apparently unaccounted for, in spite of such elegant theories of the universe. Mankind has not only became aware of the complexity of the physical world but also of the limitations of the scientific method.
Apparently the most direct way to find new physics of a grand unification is to go to ever-higher energy and explore completely uncharted territory. There seems to be an intrinsically interwoven relationship between Modern Science and Mysticism, because both involve some of the deep and fundamental questions of our very existence. Man has two components: his essence and his social/cultural context. No matter the surroundings, the nature of his thoughts are always the same, and his substance remains unchanged.
 Fritjof Capra, in The Tao of Physics, sought an integration of the mathematical world view of modern physics and the mystical visions of Buddha and Krishna. Even though Schrodinger himself dismisses the attempts to 'prove' mysticism via physics, it is clear his mystical view of the world finds no contradiction in his view of physics. Indeed, many of the physicists who developed quantum mechanics and TOE had their own highly developed views on metaphysics. For example, the Nobel Prize winning Physicist John Wheeler coined the term "The Participatory Universe." This is the point where Physics meets Metaphysics, with the realization of startling parallels between the two. 
The religions of the east saw the Universe as a Whole. Modern Physics now talks of the "Systems world view," and other theories which are hauntingly similar to the expressions of the vision of reality experienced by the ancient Sages, describing the truth an indivisible whole. Indeed, an understanding of the human situation apparently comes not from a single spiritual or intellectual paradigm, but from a unification of the fruits of all human endeavors.
"The world is now too dangerous for anything less than Utopia." --R.Buckminster Fuller.
But the way we treat each other and even ourselves is too little changed from the darker, anthropomorphic, superstitious behavior of the Neolithic or Neanderthal. And we have in our hands the keys to complete destruction of our species and our world as we know it. What will we have now for metaphor. What totemic instrument will we use when we come up against the ineffable, the limits of human understanding?
"...the earth has grown through us a brain and nervous system, but now these systems need to grow a larger psyche to contain them and to learn how to use them. Thus the task of our time, evolutionary governance, is one of matching the increasing complexity of external reality with a corresponding increase in the depth and breadth of our psychic reality." -ibid. p.22. "True illumination, like all real and vital experience, consists rather in breathing of a certain atmosphere, the living at certain levels of consciousness, than in the acquirement of specific information."  - [Evelyn Underhill, from Mysticism, 1974, New American Library] -ibid.p.23.
Interplanetary space travel represents a very recent paradigm shift. But the fact is that "we" do not go to the moon, most of us, except in our imaginations, or perhaps even to the exotic realms we see on TV. Indeed, much of the population of the world is largely without even the basics of life to a very real and painful extent. We soar in our dreams and sometimes come down hard upon waking. Jack Gariss had a pioneering radio program "Bio-Cosmology," broadcast on KPFK FM for 17 years. He regularly reported on the frontiers of  macrophysics, microphysics and metaphysics. And for the last few years of his life he sought to bring them together, in a way that is paraphrased here:
This, a legendary time of giants. It is up to us. I think that the research …has put to rest the idea that aggression arose because of an aggressive gene that exists within us, that we are the Naked Apes who killed, as in some currently prevailing theories. Perhaps the biggest test of our intelligence and compassion; the most crucial watershed of human development since the inception of agriculture, even more important than the founding of cities, is the present issue of war and peace. Yes this is a tremendous burden and responsibility, but if we fail this may well become another dead planet like Mars and Venus, rather unimportant planets circling around a rather unimportant star, in an unimportant part of the galaxy. If we can find a solution, through understanding, co-operation, compassion, a new form of morality which takes into account the sacredness of every life form, then this will be a period remembered very far into the future. 
The Late Joseph Campbell spent a long, scholarly lifetime acquiring one of the greatest overviews of the cultures of humanity in all of literature. He said that the next paradigm would be one arising out of the experience not of one culture, but of all. He referred to the photo of the earth, taken on the first manned expedition to the moon, as a suitable icon of this new paradigm that would engage the consciousness of our entire species.
Of course, this evokes futuristic notions of interactions with extra-terrestrial species. But realistically the next paradigm may be concerned with issues that are quite terrestrial. The unknown is very likely far greater than our present knowledge.  It is interesting to imagine future decades and centuries. Futurology is an analytical, reasoned-out prediction of the future. Perhaps  we will learn to live harmoniously with nature and as we come to understand more about  the ultimate nature of reality,  we may find that we are the eyes of the universe looking at itself.