Kuhn, Consciousness, and Paradigms
Stephan Schwartz, 2018
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The Schwartzreport tracks emerging trends that will affect the world, particularly the United States. For EXPLORE it focuses on matters of health in the broadest sense of that term, including medical issues, changes in the biosphere, technology, and policy considerations, all of which will shape our culture and our lives.
Something very profound is happening in science, something not seen in more than a century is occurring: the paradigm of science is changing. Consciousness, particularly nonlocal non-physiological consciousness, is becoming mainstream. The world view of materialism is increasingly inconsistent with the reported experimental data in a spectrum of disciplines, as any search of PubMed, Aca-demia.edu, or Researchgate will quickly reveal. I think it is time to retire the limitation and go where the data goes.
I believe materialism did not arise from scientific findings but was the result of a science culture that formed as a result of the pronouncements of the Council of Trent (1545–1563), the principal one being a prohibition against science studying “spirit,” which is to say consciousness, on pain of death. It is a taboo that lasted for centuries, and for more than three centuries it tortured and killed. An unknown but large number of doctors, scientists, herbalists, particularly village herbal women, philosophers, alchemists and others were tortured and killed, often by being burnt alive. I have described this elsewhere in these pages.1 Materialism is a self-imposed limitation not a scientific absolute. There is nothing in science that precludes consciousness being studied like anything else, and there is much to urge that it should be studied. In non-Christian countries like China, consciousness has always been and remains a part of science. In China religion has been stripped of any power in government, and so the study of consciousness is not burdened by its beliefs, although it is incorporated anthropologically as Shamanism has been in the West.
I have been involved with this transition for almost half a century, smiling and leaning toward a world view that incorporates consciousness. As the process has gone along what I have found most interesting, yet least noted in much of the academic discussion is that the transition, is as much a cultural movement as a scientific one.
No one understands this better than the late Thomas Kuhn, M.Taylor Pyne Professor of Philosophy and History of Science of the Princeton University and, later, Laurence S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy at MIT. His 1962 exegesis, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is arguably the most important book about the history and philosophy of science ever written.
Today there is hardly a college offering a course in the history and philosophy of science that does not cover his book. In it he lays out the nature of the interactive relationship between science and culture very clearly, and the role this interaction has in the development of scientific understanding.
Kuhn begins by saying, “The developmental process [of science] has been an evolution from primitive beginnings—a process whose successive stages are characterized by an increasingly detailed and refined understanding of nature. But nothing… makes it a process of evolution toward anything. Does it really help to imagine that there is some one full, objective, true account of nature and that the proper measure of scientific achievement is the extent to which it brings us closer to that ultimate goal?… The entire process may have occurred as we now suppose biological evolution did without benefit of a set goal, a permanent fixed scientific truth of which each stage in the development of scientific knowledge is [an improved] exemplar”.2
He then goes on to describe, accurately, I think, the culture of science saying that those who are drawn to science and who become scientists are a special community dedicated to solving certain very restricted and self-defined problems whose relevance is defined by a world view or paradigm.
Paradigms are, as Kuhn argues, absolutely essential to science, although ultimately they become self-limiting. Without the set boundaries provided by the paradigm, no observation has any greater importance or weight than any other. Without this differentiation western science is impossible. The benefit it confers is that with boundaries comes depth, and with depth comes detail.
The narrowness of this definition increases as a science matures and manifests itself in increased subspecialization; one is not simply a chemist but an organic chemist. It should be obvious then, to quote Kuhn again, that “one of the reasons why normal science seems to progress so rapidly is that its practitioners concentrate on problems that only their own lack of ingenuity should keep them from solving… intrinsic value is no criterion for a puzzle, the assured existence of a solution is”.4
This efficiency in puzzle solving collectively is “normal science.” Obviously, this normal science is accumulative, but does it also seek the Copernican leaps, the insights that will change the course of history? No, it specifically does not. Normal science, in fact, is specifically not interested in the very thing it is popularly supposed to be obsessed with doing.
The reality is that the efficient solution of problems requires an agreed-upon limit to what is attempted. To reach such an agreement—the paradigm—demands a special kind of education, one that does not so much teach the student about “truth” as condition the aspirant, through the academic degree stages of initiation, into a commonly shared body of experience. Anthropologically, socially, it is not much different from initiation through man or woman-hood shamanic ceremonies into an Amazonian healing cult. Like their non-technological Amazonian cousins, fledgling scientists conclude such an education only after demonstrating their competence, in this case through exam-inations and papers, showing that they have learned what enterprise, and only what enterprise, is supported by their group’s world view.