Saturday, May 21, 2016


Many people know to say “paradigm shift” and some of them know what it actually means as proposed by Thomas Kuhn.  In 1947 when new ideas were fermenting but not developed, he was asked to teach a class on science to humanities students.  In preparation he read — for the first time — in the then undefined field of “history of science.”  He read pieces back as far as Aristotle.  Plainly at different times, depending on what people knew already, they thought about science in quite different ways.  He saw that when new dissenting information was introduced, at first the difference was tolerated — just sort of pushed to the side — but as more evidence accumulated, the person and the culture began to see the big picture differently.  Usually it was so gradual that no one noticed.

So Galileo and others, now that they had lenses for telescopes and microscopes, could see things they had never seen before.  The poetic metaphor about the spheres around the earth on which the stars were attached, revolving to music like a carousel, now was obviously wrong.  So the paradigm shifted.  There are so many paradigm shifts today that we can hardly keep up.  Many are happening in medicine and many more are being demanded in government and economics because of malfunction.  Maybe it makes sense to say that realizing we need paradigm shifts IS a paradigm shift.  And that many people hate science because it welcomes paradigm shifts.

It appears that what you see depends on how you look at it.  And there is NO big final reality outside of human thought.  That’s HUGE.  Humans construct the world, each by each and culture by culture, according to the evidence they have.  If a shared version lasts long enough, it becomes institutionalized and institutions will then be invested in making it hold still — no more shifts.

WWII is still so painful that I found I couldn’t watch “Band of Brothers” and simply returned the discs after the first one, though it was my earliest childish world paradigm (b.1939).  I had wanted to look at it with adult eyes.  About the time I was in seminary, some individuals made it their business to DE-construct the world that had already been nearly destroyed across Europe.  The names are notorious:  Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, and my fav Deleuzeguattari, which is really two men.  Deleuze and Guattari were as interested in creating a new paradigm based on the pattern of rhizomes as they were in the take-downs many of this kind of philosopher apply to any institutional assumptions, including capitalism, colonialism, and other dominations.

In the opinion of some, this business of pulling out all the sticks in the structure has been a disaster, far more than the social hippy anarchy based on pleasure.  For others, it clears a way to the future, though the future they describe sounds familiar.

Since this is a post for Sunday, I’ll take on religion.  (That’s an assumption right there: seventh-day religion.  Friday, Saturday or Sunday?)  It has been announced that God is dead, there is no God.  This is obvious.  No mega-humanoid lives in the sky and throws thunderbolts on our heads.  But people refuse to give up the assumption.  The tribal need (probably biological) to have a Big Guy we can pin our hopes on is so deep that we simply redefine God and go right on as usual.  People who hang onto old-time religion this way are fewer and fewer.

We can talk about theodicy (the puzzle of how a “good” and all-powerful God can allow babies to suffer and die and other evil atrocities) or we can talk cosmology all we want.  Within ten minutes Western people will be speaking again as though there is a God.  They’ll say,  “God is love,” or “I really mean Fate.”  They will NOT accept the idea that things happen because one-thing-leads-to-another and we can control our response, but that's about all. We can control what we do as individuals and collectively.  Sometimes.  Sometimes not.  Most of the time we don’t really know what’s happening anyway.

Half a paradigm shift — not liking the present but not being able to construct a future — is about where we are as a culture now.  There are think tanks and individuals trying to imagine where to go — in terms of religion we seem to be moving towards something like mystical science — especially those who don’t reject felt meanings, gut level.  The rule-based commandment morality dimension is more of a problem.

It’s been fascinating to watch these patterns play out in terms of sex, which old-time religionists seemed to feel was by far the most crucial and defined part of religion, though times have changed sex more than anything else except the economy and violence which people are too scared to think about.  It’s as though sex were a proxy for money and violence.  They were always entwined.

The sexual “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” have changed — not just whether who can “know” whom, but also “whom” one is.  Did God make a few clay rough drafts and lay them aside, so that now they come to life?  If you met a Denisovian, should you hook up?  People in Europe evidently hooked up with Neanderthals.  But the Denisovians went to Australia as the original people of that continent.  Do white Aussie fellows have some Denisovian genes by now?  I’m pretty sure Genghis Khan didn’t get there.

So much law is dependent on genetic inheritance, but who has inheritance rights for a baby with implanted mitochondria, the genetic “three parent” child?  Far more painfully, what about the child who has no functioning or accepting parents when people are so hooked on the idea of genetics being the main connection?  These are not just surface ideas, like whether automobiles are wicked, but rather go to the core of being human.  

Morality was once enforced by the community, who shunned the wicked or possibly stoned them or chopped off their heads.  Here we are millennia later watching that on the internet.  What do we do about whole cultures who refuse to shift their paradigm?  Will they inherit the world?

A lot of paradigms are a big mess.  Instead of voluntary communities, organically developing over years, we’re being pressed Onto lists of dependency for insurance or banking, if not pressed into prison cells for disregarding financial obligation.  College graduates aren’t made prosperous for life — rather they are so encumbered with debt that they move off the continent to escape.  

The good side of this is that it’s so awful, so intolerable, and so obviously can’t be cured by going back to the past, that we MUST find new ways.  They may be very harsh, like the ascetic cut-backs in Europe now.  Some are suffering, some are dying, and some are blaming the victims.  They say that the girls that Boko Haram kidnapped to use as slaves and “wives” are being returned one-by-one, but are so stigmatized that their lives are worse than captivity.  It’s beyond any animal behavior — more like insects.

Those who have the answer to the future are those who will be able to survive long enough to see it and be it, or who will be able to protect children who can survive.  No need to be genetically connected.  Probably the forces that will draw them together will be caring for each other and forming groups with effective skills, like cooperation for enough emotional support to confront reality, no matter how unpleasant it may be.  Like global warming, for instance.  Or the state of the Ganges, destroyed by religious paradigms.

People will weep.  People will die.  This paradigm is likely to be tragic.  But not necessarily.  Today I read about a group of murderers released in a pardon program.  Outside they formed a community to help each other.  None has gone back to prison.  None has killed again.  If this story turns out to be invented or the group begins to fail, I don't care.  It's a useful story.  A paradigm.

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