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30.5.13

Buddy, Can You Spare A Paradigm?

Few people take time to realize it, but we - as a species - are on the verge of a Great Shift.  All the bitching and hollering about this problem or that change are myopically focused on symptoms, but missing the cause.

Western civilization, at least for the past 3,000 years, has been predicated on two competing weltanschauungs (literally: world views).  All of our philosophy, science and art can be summed up in two basic camps of thought: Aristotelian and Platonic.  The former is also called the materialist view, meaning that the entire Universe can be directly measured and sensed with the human body.  The latter understands that there are unseen and unsee-able forces at work that can not be measured, but only felt or implied.

These two competing lines of inquiry have battled it out, with science sitting in the materialist camp and religion staking bivouacking in the esoteric camp.  They have divided the Universe into mutually exclusive beliefs that have been heretofore irreconcilable.

The problems began in earnest around the time of Galileo.  The Church (Platonic) insisted that the Universe revolved around the Earth, while the materialists (Aristotelian) insisted that it did not.  Poor old Galileo looked and Jupiter one night and noticed that four bright objects were circling something other than Earth.

Well, we just couldn't have that, could we?  So the Church excommunicated Galileo, forced a public retraction out of him and kept him under house arrest until he died.

Along came Janssen, Leeuwenhoek and Pasteur who discovered an entire new Universe that was undetectable with the five senses, yet measurable with instruments and controllable with technology.  Suddenly, we were confronted with something that crossed the lines of Aristotelian and Platonic.  A shaky peace was negotiated and humanity (at least the Western half) managed to limp out of the battle intact.

However, the truce was short-lived and bombs soon began falling anew until the subatomic nukes began popping off all over the place.  The quantum world put our safe zones into a tail spin.  We could neither sense nor measure directly this strange new realm, yet we could engineer horrible devices of destruction, take pictures of bones inside the living body, cause horrible burns and diseases all with things that had no apparent substance.

We were now firmly straddled across two disparate belief systems, both of which were simultaneously true and false.  We learned how to measure these things (Aristotelian), yet they were invisible to our senses (Platonic).  The phenomena permeated the Universe and underpinned its functions, but in the case of quantum mechanics, the very act of measuring them changed their nature.  They could also act instantly across vast distances of time and space, making the physical world of the materialists just the skin and bones of the esotericists.

And so here we languish at the threshold of the 21st century.  Those two all-encompassing world views that had served us so well for 3,000 years, though they were as oil and water to each other, have blurred into something that is both a blend of the two, and neither of them.

Here lies our conundrum and our opportunity.  We are in a position to merge all of our previous learning of the past three millennia and add great new purviews to them, as well.  We are on the cusp of a Great Awakening in which we will have amazing new insights and thoughts based on our new ruling paradigm.

The problem is, as with all new things (especially those which completely undermine all that has come before), there are those who have their entire lives invested in the old way of doing things.  Whether it's as simple as making a living, or as complex as trying to rule the world, a great number of people are unprepared and unwilling to change.  They are and will continue to fight it with every fiber of their being.

We have seen these things on a micro-scale.  The automobile put a lot of people out of work who had invested in the horse paradigm.  TeeVee put the fear of God into the film establishment,  Digital scared the hell out of the analogue folks.  The internet is killing print and libraries.

All new things require the death of old things.  It is the nature of Universe.  As Genghis Khan once said, "Every man should kill at least one other man to make room for himself."

The Western world, and to great extent the Eastern, is faced with the death of two very old and dear friends: our weltanschauungs.  Because the Buddha straddled these two worlds 2,500 years ago, the East is less susceptible, but not immune.  There is still the nature of political force and control to be dealt with.

Billions of lives have been spent in building our current models of Universe.  Though they competed, they fed on each other giving impetus to many folks to carry on the fight.  It is very hard to simply release our grasp and let them go, especially since we are entirely unsure of what will replace them

And that is the crux of our challenge at this juncture in history.  We are witnessing the death of the very roots of our culture and civilization, and we can see the sprouts of the new, but until it bears fruit, no one is really sure what's growing.  For this reason, they cling tenatiously to what they know, even if they are fully cognizant that what they know is wrong, or at the very least incomplete.

Religion, science, governments and economics all have their reasons to stay put.  All have served their paradigmatic masters well, and they have prospered because of it.  But that world is dying and they want to stake out new territory to preserve their privileged ranks.  They are no more useful now than blacksmiths and wainwrights.  But where do we go without them?  This is uncharted territory.

The challenge before us is to craft an entirely new way of looking at the Universe.  It is inevitable and necessary and a task that will require introspection on a massive scale.  This is not choosing which shirt to wear in the morning.  This is choosing whether the shirt exists at all and what form it will take.  It is that profound.

We have to rethink every single aspect of our world, from toilets to towers, from floor tiles to flying things, from universities to Universe.  Things like the internet, 3-D printers and quantum computing are set to tear our world views asunder and leave us morally, ethically and cognitively dangling in the breeze.  The imperative nature of our task could not be more emphatic.  We literally must begin from scratch and create new institutions and philosophies.  It's taken 3,000 years to build the current world and we're only a couple of hundred years into the change-over.  There's a long way to go.

On the one hand, it is very exciting, like waiting for Mom and Dad to wake up on Christmas morning so we can run down and see what St. Nick left behind.  On the other hand, it is terrifying, like the thought that ol' Nick gave us a pass this year for our various misdemeanors.  That very self-related conflict is, on a mass scale, what we are faced with in the realm of civilization itself.

It is high time we threw off the gloves and started wrestling with our problems in a very personal way.  We must question all of our assumptions.  We must examine all of our institutions.  We must re-evaluate all the ways we do anything.

It's that big.

As Douglas Adams might say, it involves Life, the Universe and Everything.  There's precious little outside of that.