Saturday, October 2, 2004

A much delayed essay: "Emerging Paradigm", promised to a friend

This is something I promised a friend I would write for her. It's still, maybe, a first draft. I feel as if I keep repeating myself, but since I've started taking this class on orality, I understand that its common practice in this tradition, so no sea mi culpa. Also everytime I tell this story it always gets said in a different way.

A fundamental shift in perspective has been happening in the world of scientific theories. In 1687, Newton’s “Principia” laid the ground rules for scientific inquiry. These rules stated that “(1) we are to admit no more causes of natural things such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances, (2) the same natural effects must be assigned to the same causes, (3) qualities of bodies are to be esteemed as universal, and (4) propositions deduced from observation of phenomena should be viewed as accurate until other phenomena contradict them.” To understand how he came about these rules, one has to understand Newton’s time, environment, the evolution of philosophy and science before that.

Newton put firmly into place a “scientific method”. His three laws of motion: inertia, action and reaction, and acceleration proportional to force was a crystallization of a linear worldview that had begun to take shape since the Greek invention of the western phonetic alphabet. In the following four hundred years, this “scientific” methodology influenced the birth of some new scholarly line of thoughts, such as, evolutionary theory, economics, marxism, (just to name the few I am somwhat familiar with).

This linear worldview included concepts such as, independent agents, reductionism, individuality, privacy, and specialization. It sprouted numerous specialists and specialties. For 400 years, competition, survival of the fittest led us to a point of near total annihilation with the two World Wars, and the subsequent Cold War. The world became increasingly complex, chaotic, and interdependent.

Everything became linked through communications, supported by the new electric medium. A scholar who invented world famous clich├ęs such as “the global village”, “the media is the message”, Marshall McLuhan, saw how electricity produced a revolutionary effect in transforming our world, and tells us that with the acceleration of our print and media oriented culture, there comes a reversal into a new oral culture.

This reversal and signs of its shifted paradigm started to emerge in the public mind only after nearly one hundred years since its discovery by the quantum sciences in the 20s. These scientists discovered that in the world of the subatomic level, particles (aka, matter) were paradoxically behaving as waves (aka, energy). Since then, new multidisciplinary studies developed new theories of Chaos (50s), Complexity (late 80s), Nanotechnology (70s), Genomics (80s).... During the 80s, and 90s, an emerging group of writers made such scientific insights popular: Fritjof Capra, Steven Hawkings, James Gleick, etc. Research Institutions and some open-minded institutions were already applying the new discoveries into management, forum organization, structuring of information.

This new worldview, or as some choose to call it ‘paradigm”, informs us that life is basically non-linear, complex, interdependent, and ever changing. The implications of this new worldview clash against outdated strategies and policy attitude of an industrial linear world. How does one reorganize factories to take into account of small effects causing big influences, if they want to reorganize at all? Or how does one reconcile that 1+1 does not necessarily equal to 2? What happens to economic models when equations do no need to equalize in 0?

We are at last awakening from the sleep of linearity, that alphabets, literacy and Newton’s deterministic laws has given us.

The perspective that is demanded by this new worldview is frightening to many, mostly for those who have invested heavily in the old worldview, the status quo. It implies letting go the old ways of doing things. It requires that we try to understand laws of chaos and complexity. This is a world of seemingly endless possibilities, and every changing change, what can we use as guides?

The prophet of this effect, McLuhan, may have pointed to us the direction to find answers for these questions. Maybe collaboration, listening to each other, and orality, the reversal of literacy can help us find a way. Oral cultures taught us that redefining ourselves moment for moment, revisioning ourselves with each new perspective gained could be a good way to move with change. This does not necessarily mean that we must wipe the board clean. Values that have proven themselves may needed to be reworded, those that cannot apply may need to be discarded or put in secondary place, understanding the circumstances when we can use which values. Most important of all, maybe it can teach us to let go of dichotomy, of duality and allow us to be more comfortable with paradox. Strangely enough, the philosophies of the East seem to be quite familiar with these modalities of being.

During these coming years, it seems to me that what will be most crucial of all will be constant and intense conversations among many and all, to reword, to create new vocabularies, to speak in many different ways this new worldview until we are all well acquainted with it. Those cultures that adjust faster will gain an advantage, just as those that understand it deeply will be ones who bring it forward farther.

For Thailand:

I shudder in horror when I listen to news that Thailand’s leaders sometimes go all out in support of Western modernity, blindly applauding its technological advances, and overeager to buy into whatever lowly crumbs so-called high tech multinationals throw out at us. I am afraid that we will end up locking our future capacities by being dependant on rapidly going out of date technologies and science. The beauty of such this pioneer world of new sciences is that information is the key advantage. We do not need to follow the linear footsteps of Newtonian science in order to advance. We can jumpstart from things that have been tested and disproved as not working. Science is an undeniable future necessity, but let’s use discrimination. Our Buddhist philosophy proves familiar in this new paradigm. Its core values have always stressed the eternal nature change and the highest of learning by one’s own experience. We don’t need to drop all of the old ways to adopt new ones. We need to explore what old baggage might actually fit with new ideas and if they don’t, to see them clearly for what they are. What can be done to raise generations who will be able to quickly deconstruct the underlying assumptions of what used to be and reconstruct a successful vision for the moment that will eventually affect our future?

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