Monday, March 14, 2011

A Shortfall In the Scientific Paradigm

It is high time that Western science (in a collective sense) examines its belief system. Of course, science is a belief system itself, a highly successful one - very arguably the most successful belief system mankind has ever constructed - but it is a belief system nonetheless.

With a host of man-made global crises facing us - everything from mass extinctions and global warming, to a coming phosphate shortage and the resulting threat of pending global hunger - it seems imperative that science takes a long hard look at its belief structures so that it may develop an ability to address all the dimensions of the myriad problems that scientific technologies have helped create.

In the intellectual struggle to come to a holistic understanding of the direction of physics, psychology and metaphysics, and whether perhaps all three point to a single Unity or Wholeness underlying our 'reality,' one of the most influential book explaining what modern science 'is,' how it 'works,' and 'where' it is likely headed, is Thomas Kuhn's by-now classic treatise, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions."

Kuhn starts out his survey of how scientific viewpoints jump from one static paradigm to the next by observing: "History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed." And, Kuhn's by-now classic treatise is largely an illustration of how science has historically and consistently jumped from one accepted scientific viewpoint to the next as the usefulness of the former erodes and the usefulness of the latter to solve unresolved problems is accepted within the scientific community.

"Science without religion is lame;
religion without science is blind."

Albert Einstein
In a grandeliquent statement of the role that history and historical accident plays (such as Dutch children playing with discarded lenses from one of the first lens grinders, which led to Galilleo's  invention of the telescope and modern cosmology), Kuhn writes:
"Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time."

Yet, quite arguably, science over-restricts the "range of admissible scientific belief," and while utilizing the occasional "historical accident" as a catalyst to change, the line it draws between itself and all other bodies of purposeful historical investigation may be too narrow. It draws its line in the sand at the border of material 'objectivity' and rigid 'empiricism'. It does so, I would argue, to the detriment of both itself (by overly restricting the scope of its enquiry, and thereby leaving various "hard" questions unresolvable) and ourselves, who are the ultimate manufacturers and consumers of scientific beliefs.

Kuhn says that science comes to accept a 'paradgm' that explains all the observations they make and experiments they run. (But it has to be 'objective,' 'empirical,' 'predictive' and 'experimentally repetitive.') That paradigm remains rigid until someone notices an "anomaly" or 'observation' that the paradigmatic theory doesn't and cannot explain. At that point, someone comes along with a new theory. All the people in lab coats resist it at first, but in time as its predictions are proved to be correct experimentally and scientists come to a consensus behind it, the new theory is accepted, it supercedes the old theory and becomes the 'new paradigm.'

An example is how Einstein's Special (and then General) Theory of Relativity surplanted Newton's "classical" theory of physics and motion. Newton's classic theory couldn't explain the strange orbit of Mercury, it was an 'anomaly'. Along came an unheralded Swiss patent clerk with a wholly new theory of how we might understand the physics of motion. Einstein didn't figure it out to explain Mercury's orbit, but it did. He did, however, predict that the great mass of the sun bends the light from stars, an event that should be observable during a solar eclipse. This was in 1905. An Englishman, Arthur Eddington, thought Einstein was correct and in 1919 set up an expedition to photograph an eclipse. (No small risk to be thought of as collaborating in anyway with the hated 'Huns' just as 'the Great War' was grinding to its bloody end!). Eddington's observations proved the predictions derived from Relativity Theory, and gradually it became a new paradigm for physics (together with the Quantum Theory, which Einstein also played a hand in developing.)

The problem is that 'science' will not accept anything that is not "objective" and "empirical" (i.e., backed by data and expressible in mathematical terms). All spiritual experience is inherently "subjective" and "non-empirical" in the current view of what science is about. And, until this overarching 'paradigm' is successfully challenged, by definition all the observations of thousands of years of Eastern psychological, physical and metaphysical experience cannot challenge science's existing paradigms.

Albert Einstein (1879 -1955)
Einstein on Religion: TIME 04/05/07
This is true, even where (as in quantum mechanics which cannot explain why an "observation" is needed to give 'reality' to and 'determine' quantum effects, or how seemingly 'separate' particles remain 'entangled' with each other even at monumental distances) scientific theorizing calls out for the explanations that Eastern "inner scientists" discovered millennia ago. As Einstein noted, "Science without religion [remains] lame, while  religion without science [remains] blind."

I think, however, that Alan Wallace has recently and effectively challenged the scientific rule that somehow 'subjective experience doesn't count,' and he is succeeding in his campaign to at last get some scientist to look at the invaluable findings of Eastern traditions. I believe that his lecture on why Western science must look to the results of Eastern wisdom traditions is a must-see video for all scientists as well as for all spiritual aspirants and sages.

I suspect that once Western tackles the 'deep problem' of what consciousness is, how it is formed, and how it shapes our 'reality,' there will be a paradigmatic shift that will enable science to clean up the "mess" that lurks in the periphery of scientific theory, as well as the mess that we have created with an 'unmindful' use of scientific technology.

Indeed, Kuhn notes that it usually takes a generation for a paradigmatic shift to be recognized by the broader scientific community. Perhaps, we are now undergoing such a shift, and Western science is beginning to tap the wisdom of Eastern psychologies and metaphysics. If so, a new framework for addressing global problems may emerge from such an East-West synthesis.

In Gary Zhukav's "The Dancing Wu Li Masters", a now-classic treatise on the convergence of modern physics, metaphysics and the world's oldest wisdom traditions, Zhukav makes the following observations regarding a paradigm shift that may well be underway already. He writes:.
"According to quantum mechanics there is no such thing as objectivity. We cannot eliminate ourselves from the picture. We are a part of nature, and when we study nature there is no way around the fact that nature is studying itself. Physics has become a branch of psychology, or perhaps the other way round.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, wrote:
The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside, as fate That is to say, when the individual remains undivided and does not become conscious of his inner contradictions, the world must perforce act out the conflict and be torn into opposite halves.
 Jung's friend, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, put it this way:
From an inner center the psyche seems to move outward, in the sense of an extraversion, into the physical world . . . 
"If these men are correct," Zhukav aptly noted, "then physics is the study of the structure of consciousness." [Emphasis added.]

If that is true, and a variety of research in differing scientific fields hints that it is, science may well be in the process of raising its own consciousness.

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