Sunday, December 21, 2014

Paradigm Shifts

Back around about 1966 I stumbled on Thomas Kuhn’s famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, thus shortly after it appeared (Chicago University Press, 1962). It was on the shelf of Midwest Research Institute’s Economics Library. All work stopped as soon as I opened the book. For someone who had been brought up on the cyclic nature of culture, the book was confirmation, first of all. By “scientific revolutions” Kuhn meant “paradigm shifts,” defined as major changes not only in methods but also in the world-views of various domains of science. By then I had already absorbed the notion (by way of Carl Jung’s book, Psychology and Alchemy) that practical, physical sciences—however defective in their methods—could over time transform themselves into mystical practices, indeed also going back to the physical side centuries later. Here was a book that looked at this phenomenon in some searching detail.

The book surfaced again recently while I was re-reading Carl B. Becker’s Paranormal Experience and Survival of Death (State University of New York Press, 1993), one of the best surveys of this subject I’ve ever encountered. In Chapter 5 Becker discusses “A Model of Resistance and Change in the Sciences.” He notes what no doubt people of my bent have long noted with interest—namely that a paradigm shift in physics has produced a world-view that might be named, after Werner Heisenberg’s, Uncertainty. There is no there there—only waves of probability. We’re at least one Astronomical Unit beyond classical mechanics, Einstein having changed Newton’s certainties, and Quantum Mechanics having dissolved even Relativity. Quantum physics generated String Theory—in an effort to produce a theory to unify them all. But—judging by a paper Brigitte had come across titled “Is String Theory About to Unravel” by Brian Greene, in the Smithsonian (link)—string theory has produced so many endless (billions) of shapes Reality might actually have, with no hint at all which might be legitimate, that we seemed to have entered a genuine Cloud of Unknowing in physics. Thus Physics, as a science, is altogether compatible with Parapsychology.

But, as Becker points out, in Biology and Psychology, the old paradigm of materialism is still hanging in there fairly hard even if resistance is weakening, see for instance earlier posts this month of Wilder Penfield.

Now if a once practical chemistry—strictly this-worldly and trying to make gold out of silver, etc.—managed to transform itself in the Middle Ages into a occult mystical practice, I have the notion that Becker’s view, namely that the paranormal sciences will eventually establish their own legitimacy in due time, is probably correct. But the shift in paradigms, especially very big one, thus from material to psychic orientations—or back again—is rather slow, slow. It comes about one generation at a time. Therefore I won’t see the day arriving. But it’s moving at the rate of a large tectonic plate. And then we may know just a little more….

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