A New Superparadigm?

Substantial steps have been made in the science of consciousness over the last ten years, and there is much talk of a new paradigm emerging. But I believe we may stand on the threshold of an even more fundamental change -- a shift in superparadigm.

Thomas Kuhn coined the term "paradigm" to refer to the beliefs and assumptions underlying a particular science. But beneath all our scientific paradigms lies an even deeper and more pervasive assumption: the belief in the primacy of the material universe. When we fully understand the world of space-time-matter-energy , we will, it is believed, be able to account for everything in the cosmos. Being the paradigm behind nearly all our scientific paradigms, this worldview has the status of a "superparadigm".

Eminently successful as this model has been at explaining the world around us, it does not have much to say about the nonmaterial world of the mind. Indeed, nothing in the physical sciences says living systems should be conscious. Yet the reality of consciousness is apparent to each and every one of us. As far as the current superparadigm is concerned consciousness is a great anomaly.

Kuhn showed that when anomalies first arise they are usually overlooked or rejected. Or, if they cannot be so easily discarded, they are incorporated in some way, often clumsily, into the existing model. Witness the attempts of mediaeval astronomers, wedded to Plato's belief in the perfection of circular motion, trying to explain irregularities in planetary motion with theories of epicycles (circles rolling along circles, rolling along circles).

Western science has followed a similar pattern in its approach to consciousness. For the most part it has ignored consciousness completely. More recently, as developments across a range of disciplines have shown that consciousness cannot be so easily sidelined, science has made various attempts to account for it. Some have looked to quantum physics, some to information theory, others to neuropsychology. But the failure of these approaches to make any appreciable headway into the problem of consciousness suggests that they may be on the wrong track. We may need to challenge some of our most fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality.

As we begin to explore what Ken Wilber calls "the more tender end of the spectrum" we find systems that take a more spiritual stance. In trying to pin down consciousness, science may find it has embarked upon a course that will ultimately lead it to embrace spirit and -- dare we say it -- God. To the scientific establishment, rooted in the physicalist worldview, this is anathema (but so was the notion of the solar system four hundred years ago).

New paradigms emerge because they make sense of apparently conflicting observations. We might expect the same with a new superparadigm, though on a grander scale. The synthesis that emerges could turn out to be much more than an integration of diverse theories within the prevailing scientific model. We could see the synthesis of the seemingly incompatible worlds of science and spirit in a radically different worldview -- not so much a larger umbrella as a new umbrella.


For more on this theme see book:
From Science to God


Our inability to account for consciousness suggests we need a new superparadigm - the paradigm behind the paradigms.

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