Thoughts have consequences

Thoughts have consequences.

Patterns of thought have consequences.

Paradigms, or world views, are patterns shared by many people. They have world changing consequences.

“Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structure, armouring, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic world. No less potentially, our world view—our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions—constellate our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.”
Richard Tarnas

Humanity is resistant to changing its dominant paradigms. Habits of thought are so strong. So crisis tends to be necessary before the paradigm changes.

Today sees several interconnected crises, including global warming, species extinction, global environmental pollution, inequality/poverty in and between states, inability to provide an environment for meaningful lives to many young people, population movements due to combinations of these, resulting international conflict.

All suggest major paradigm change is needed, but what? One of the most important is the materialism and reductionism evident in mainstream science, indeed the religion of scientism. Such has been the ‘success’ of this mindset in terms of technological advancement, that it has inspired many fields of human endeavour, notably economics and politics, to also aim to be similarly ‘scientific’.

The problem of course is that this denies the interiority of the human being, shared with the natural world, denies the importance of values in human affairs, enables the scientist/politician to ignore the need to examine themselves in the context of their work.

“I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very deficient. It gives us a lot of factual information, puts all of our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”
Erwin Schrödinger

The Scientific & Medical Network initiated the Galileo Commission to look at this question of a new paradigm for science, in the spirit of the original Galileo whose observations precipitated the change of paradigm of astronomy from earth-centred to sun-centred. [Not to be confused with the Galileo satellite navigation system!]

There is an excellent summary of the first stage of its deliberations in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, the SciMed magazine. The Commission’s summary report is available here, well worth a read. The introductory articles alone, by Peter Fenwick and David Lorimer, are both rich in insight.

Of course, the attitude to consciousness is a key to whatever new paradigm might emerge. This quote from the report gives an indicator:

“Therefore, we need to assume, as a minimal point of working consensus, that consciousness is an entity in its own right, perhaps co-arising with material phenomena or presenting the inner aspect of material organisation.”
Galileo Commission Report

 

Advertisements

The Web of Life Paradigm

My previous post on ecoliteracy brought to mind a review I did of two books, both published in 1996.

  • The Whispering Pond, Ervin Laszlo, Element
  • The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra, Harper Collins

The review appeared in Long Range Planning magazine in 1997, so is written from a business/ strategic planning perspective, but the messages are widely applicable. Any books by these two authors are well worth reading.

Some of the references to current trends now appear somewhat dated, a lot has happened in over 20 years! Sadly, a lot of the change since then has not been for the better.

Why should business people be interested in two recent books describing thinking from the forefront of popular science? The answer lies in the way all our thinking is dominated by the underlying paradigms that have crystallised in our consciousness since the scientific revolution. This structure is being shattered by the sort of developments described in these books. The world of the future is likely to be founded on this emerging underlying paradigm.

Read More »

No, not this way

homo deusWith my interest in ideas of a New Renaissance, I could not resist reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book that is clearly widely read judging by its prominence in the local Waterstones.

Harari is an entertaining and informative writer, and I enjoyed reading his description of the emergence of the anthropocene era, and particularly his story following Western culture from the Renaissance, and the subsequent emergence of three interrelated themes of humanism, liberalism and democracy, along with modern science/technology and capitalism.

Harari suggests that liberalism is running into the buffers, pointing at some of the current symptoms that suggest that all is not well with the world. Well we could all make our own lists of those – like increasing inequality, global warming, species extinction, pollution,… The current paradigm or ‘web of meaning’ is no longer effective in addressing the situation we’re in. I cannot but agree with him this far.

But then his analysis suddenly seems to go awry. He suggests that contemporary science contradicts free will and the possible existence of a soul or inner self, that the mind is essentially algorithmic and subject to external control. “… biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms.” Of course, if you set out with a ‘clockwork universe’ materialistic mentality, this is the sort of world view you might come up with.

Then we get to the suggestion that organisations are just algorithms, and you could eventually replace the whole structure of an organisation with algorithms, no jobs for humans. Of course, were all this the case it undermines humanism, liberalism and the whole human project. But, come on…

And then there is the suggestion that in the era of ‘big data’ being gathered by such a Facebook and Google, these algorithms will get to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’. The dangers of ‘big data’ are clear enough, in that they may have played a role in the Brexit and Trump phenomena, but what on earth can it mean to know us better than we know ourselves?

Inequality is a big phantom in this context, as an increasingly a rich elite will have no interest in providing for the mass of humanity, as they the elite will no longer be dependent on the labours of so many others – leading eventually to a new caste system. The elite become like gods (hence homo deus), and the rest, and liberal ideals, go hang.

And if you don’t like that scenario, Harari offers an even more disturbing possibility: the religion of Dataism. “The universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” This is a world where computers have taken over and the ‘world’ is run totally by algorithms. Insane.

So basically Harari is giving a couple of horror scenarios, nightmares outlining where we don’t want to go. The thing about human beings is that we have the capability to change direction, change the paradigm, change the ‘web of meaning’, change what is considered acceptable and what not.

What he doesn’t offer is any clue to a New Renaissance.

 

 

 

Science, Religion and the New Age

This article was first published in Conjunction, magazine of the Astrological Psychology Association, around the turn of the millenium. I believe it is still relevant today.

In the recent media attention given to attacks by scientific and religious personalities on aspects of ‘New Age’ thinking you can almost hear the sound of paradigms shifting. The frozen floes are beginning to crack. In his Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn did great service in clarifying the nature of the learning process of the scientific community, indeed of any human communities of common interest. He showed how the existing shared viewpoint (paradigm) is defended at great length by the current ‘establishment’ until finally it gives and is overwhelmed and superseded by a new and more encompassing paradigm.

We can see a parallel in the recent media discussions. Scientists attack the New Age as representing unscientific, woolly thinking, which threatens their rationalist paradigm; it is in some way even more threatening than religion, which is regarded as equally woolly – but which they have learned to live alongside and dominate. Religionists attack the New Age as primitive and dangerous mysticism which threatens the ‘true’ paradigm they have constructed over the nearly 2000 years AD.

Astrology, Astronomy and Paganism

It is interesting that astrology and paganism bear much of the brunt of these attacks. Both are more ancient than today’s science and religion. From the days of the ancient Greeks astrology and astronomy were a single field of study, until sundered by modern science. Many leading exponents in the early days of modern science were indeed astrologers, such as Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe.

Paganism as a loose and embracing term was there before Christianity. Many of its features were incorporated into Christian practice to ensure acceptability to the populace. Most celebratory events such as Christmas happen at the time of pagan festivals. Many churches are built on ancient sites of worship and incorporate pagan symbols such as the Green Man. They also include astrological symbols.

New Age interest in astrology and paganism is thus in part a return to our roots. It is understandable that science and religion should be suspicious of that which they thought they had superseded. Our concern should perhaps be that they have thrown out the baby with the bath water.

Science

The essence of science is its objectivity and insistence on proof by the experimental method. Its extreme proponents deny anything that is not amenable to this approach, and insist that the material world and its mechanistic operation according to scientific laws is all that there is. Modern physics has tended to retreat from this position as relativity and quantum theory have demonstrated that the objective separation of observer and observed is not possible.

We have perhaps put science on too much of a pedestal. It is after all only about the construction of models of reality, and not about reality itself. History tells us that today’s model which seems so natural will tomorrow become discredited by a better model. For example the ‘flat earth’ theory with the sun going round the earth was eventually superseded by the ‘round earth’ theory with the earth going round the sun.

It is difficult to see why scientists attack phenomena for which there is extensive subjective evidence, such as telepathy and spiritual development. Explanation of these phenomena is clearly beyond the capability of current scientific models, but their subjective reality is surely undeniable. A true scientific attitude should surely see this as the spur to developing new models, rather than reject the reality of the phenomena.

Mathematics has provided a salutary message in this context. Gödel’s theorem tells us that in any model that we construct there will be things that we can neither prove nor disprove – they are outside the scope of the model. A model of everything is impossible. Thus extremist science appears to be being unscientific, what about religion?

Church as Institution

If we look at the evolution of Western Christianity since the time of Christ we can see the construction of the Church as an institution. A theology of accepted belief has been developed – a paradigm. The history of the Catholic church contains a story of evolution of doctrine, with corresponding ideas outside the doctrine being regarded as heresies. Eventually the universal paradigm proved unsustainable and the Protestant movements in particular broke away.

The Catholic church provided the pathway to God, with the priests as mediators between the individual and the divine. The Gnostic traditions, which provided for the individual approach to God independent of the church as institution, were rigorously suppressed at the early stages of this process. Signs of resurgence were equally repressed, such as that shown by the Cathars in 13th century Languedoc. Thus was individual spirituality channelled through the church or suppressed.

Crisis of spirituality

In the modern world the church has lost much of its power and influence, contributing to a crisis of spirituality. If you doubt this look at our modern buildings and their lack of soul; stand in a field of modern agriculture with its loss of vitality; see world poverty and injustice with its lack of compassion; see the pollution of our earth and the loss of species,… You will only truly ‘see’ these if you open your heart and perceive as a whole human being, rather than just using your mind, and particularly your logical left brain.

Compare this modern evidence with the flowering of that which is highest and best in man during those special eras of the ancient Greeks, the early Gothic cathedrals and the Renaissance. It is surely the search to resolve this crisis of spirituality that much of the New Age is about.

New Age

Let us sum up. Science has led us too much into the limitations of an objective, left brain, mind-dominated world view, belittling the complementary parts of our nature which are subjective, right brain, and of the heart.

Religion is not providing for most the route to the spiritual that the testimony of the ages tells us is there. It is these chasms of malaise at the heart of today’s Western societies which the New Age is destined to resolve.

The paradigms of our science and religion must come up to date and become part of our solution. The strong reactions of those fundamentalists deeply embedded in the current paradigms are an encouraging sign that the change is beginning to take place. The ice is beginning to melt.

Featured image shows sunrise over tessellated pavement, courtesy of JJ Harrison and Wikimedia Commons