A Pantheon of Paradigms

I’d like to re-introduce the excellent theorist and practitioner Lawrence LeShan since he helps make a point about multiplicity.

To recap, LeShan began in the ‘skeptic’ position that a) there is no evidence for psi, and b) look around: it’s impossible anyway. Puzzled by the fact that Gardner Murphy or William James nonetheless believed in it, he decided to look at parapsychological data. As soon as he did that, he realised a) was wrong and found himself a believer, especially after a few demos by talented people. But then what to do about b)? Although true, psi was still impossible.

He decided to sidestep ‘how?’ and go for ‘when?’. If the sensory world is limited by time and place, cause and effect, and separation of objects, you just can’t get info about events and people distant in space and time when perceiving it. Therefore we can say that mediums, when they perceive their information, must be perceiving some other world in some other way. Talking to mediums and reading their accounts, he confirmed that they operated in a ‘clairvoyant’ worldview where boundaries did not exist, all events were in harmony, and time could be seen as laid out complete both ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’, with events ‘just being’ rather than caused. Obviously this worldview was available to do particular things in, just as was the sensory worldview, and different rules applied because of the different perceptions. To do a psychic reading you’d like the clairvoyant worldview, but that would be less useful for crossing the street.

LeShan decided to test the idea using psychic healing. He found that healers will consider themselves one with their healees and energy may pass, and so forth. He tried this out and found he could now heal people. (His method is still taught as “LeShan Healing”.) This is quite a lot further than most former skeptics get! Later he discovered even more worldviews such as the ‘transpsychic’ in which intercessory prayer was possible, and the ‘mythical’, used, he said, by both artists and sorcerers.

All these worlds are available all the time. Some are harder to enter than others, but they’re there. They’re methods of interacting with reality that are a part of our options-set. It just depends on what you want to do.

Here I’ll bring in the idea of the paradigm shift, from Thomas Kuhn. The excellent Stephan Schwartz gives a good statement of what a shift might mean for psi in The Secret Vaults of Time, (1978) arguing ‘for the replacement of the materialist/physicalist view of the world, offering in its stead, a worldview in which all consciousness is inter-connected and interdependent’ (p. ix). The old worldview is LeShan’s sensory and the new is (or at least includes) LeShan’s clairvoyant, but:

1. LeShan’s worldviews are individual whereas Schwartz’s are society-wide; and

2. LeShan’s worldviews are always available all the time, whereas Schwartz is offering a definite sequence — an upcoming new societal worldview will challenge and hopefully replace the old one. This is the Kuhnian paradigm shift.

So what we’re talking about is ‘society officially changing’. After all its worldview is basically scientific and science should officially change to account for the data. A problem though may be that, as history tells us, big societal changes are fraught with difficulty. They never go to plan. In the three decades since Schwartz wrote, the paradigm hasn’t really shifted scientifically and some are beginning to think it never will — whereas others are desperately trying to prevent it shifting of course. Makes for a lot of desperation.

Has ‘paradigm shift’ got to be the way of looking at the arguments? It may describe the behaviour of some aspects of science but does it automatically predict the future?

The wonderful Rupert Sheldrake did a great series of talks recently about his new book which convincingly details the failure of materialist scientism as a paradigm. He makes the very telling remark, though, that scientific revolutions simply establish new tyrannies. They don’t usher in a world of pluralism.

We seem to be aiming always at a “one right answer”. The all-explaining power of a monolithic correctness made up of a huge amount of disparity. With multiple worldviews to explore you have to look for the right one to do the work. Does that one then have to be privileged with exclusive rectitude? The reverse seems true to me.

Where did we get the idea that ‘one right worldview’ is the best way?

I’ve been given a little stick for my attitude towards Christianity, because people want me to be either completely for or completely against. I think that desire comes from the same place. I can’t be ‘against’ charitable giving on a massive scale, or ‘against’ Meister Eckhart and Teresa of Avila. I can’t be ‘for’ the Inquisition — or indeed ‘for’ something like the following which appeared in the Amazon comments for John Michael Greer’s wonderful new book but was hastily deleted by the management:

Surprise ! nauseatingly self absorbed gay arrogant “ druid high priest ” denies Jesus Christ.
heard this author on coast2coast , absolutely pegged the gay meter , nauseating voice and dialect , gay as a mf. dumb as wood. worships rocks and has rocks in head. IDIOT FOOL . fags deny Christ so they can be “free” to indulge in their depraved lusts.

Now what has that got to do with Julian of Norwich? I can’t see a monolithic ‘Christianity’. I see bunches of people behaving and believing in certain ways. Fundamentalists will tell me it is that simple, you’re either with us or you’re damned, but I simply don’t believe them. Gandhi, Socrates, Ramalinga and Sima Chengzhen weren’t with them but mr ‘gay meter’ is. :)

The ‘one right answer’ oversimplification is coming from deep cultural sources. From the beginning of Christianity there were some strands that went with that line and they were absolutely prepared to persecute other lines to maintain it (see MacMullen). They have been active ever since and are more connected to now than we realise as Arthur Versluis makes clear in his stonking book The New Inquisitions (2006) which I am going to have to review properly later.

Versluis, an expert on Gnosticism and the esoteric, broke down a lot of preconceptions with his Western Sexual Mysticism (2008) — interview here. But the “Inquisitions” book is has a different scope. In the fevered experimentation of early Christianity there were always Church Fathers such as Tertullian ready to propagate dogmatically a ‘one right way’ which eventually achieved dominance over other Christian possibilities, led to the inquisition, mr gay meter, and modern totalitarian torture states. Versluis has done all the homework and actually shows the alteration of thinking and action link by link, thinker by thinker. There’s a real evidential chain. (Anyone who can put Theodor Adorno and Pat Robertson into the same bracket and make it stick is far more learned than I.)

This doesn’t mean Tertullian is responsible for Stalin. The main takeaway is simply that Christian societies were the first to produce large scale ideocracy — rule by ideas. The key to getting an ideocracy to turn Inquisitional is that the ideas be seen as making us superior, and as leading us towards a society we all want but haven’t quite reached yet. You are not allowed to think differently or you will ruin it. Don’t you dare take away our superiority you filthy evil scoundrel! (Of course that wanted society never quite materialises. In fact after early signs of doing so it always retreats further and further from view.) You set this up by having the ‘one right way’ to achieve it which you must defend against the false and evil, and I wonder if the ability to claim an ‘one right way’ hasn’t held an overweaning influence on us ever since. Subconsciously we want to tow that line still.

The psi-pseudoskeptics certainly aren’t the Inquisition let alone the Gestapo. I suppose if it ever became en vogue to teach your children games like pin the big nose on the psychic, as it did in 30s Germany to play boardgames like Out With the Jews, I’d start worrying, but I don’t think we’re there! Still, there is plenty of paranoia on both sides of the psi debate and often you get the sense each side fears the other could become dangerously irrational. Could it be that everyone is still thinking the only end of the debate is the definitely-proven “one right answer”? It’s a very ingrained habit after two thousand years.

After all it’s supposed to lead to greatness. For communism the workers’ paradise, for falun gong the world as saved by their leader Li Hongzhi (who incidentally has already saved the rest of the universe apparently.) For Christians, the second coming and the rapture. What they all have in common is that they’re going to be so good they’ll make all suffering worthwhile, so what’s a little extra torture on top? :) Still, Jesus of Nazareth was pretty clear that ‘the time allotted has run out and the kingdom of God has almost arrived!’, (Mark 1:14), and that ‘there are some standing here who will by no means taste death until they see the kingdom of God already arrived in power’ (Mark 9:1), etc., if we believe the bible. Time went on and the kingdom of God appearedeth not. The bible is wrong. With respect, so is everyone else who thinks a humanity-centred perfect world is just around the corner.

Our techno-scientific false paradise, which is always about to appear any day now, is like what you see on adverts: everyone is beautiful and happy all the time because of the products they’ve got, and science has taken care of all conceivable lack. Part of the reason we want a ‘theory of everything’ is to fool ourselves we can potentially understand and gain control of everything, and have everything we want forever. As that dream fades in the decline of western industrialism, we may not need to replace it. Instead we can just move forward with a conversation. All the worldviews are still available. There are probably hundreds. Why not have a whole pantheon of them officially? Why not become polyparadigmatic?

Unofficially we’ve always been that way. Early Christian heretical sects were legion, and so are modern ones. There’s also more than one non-heretical one. They have all always existed alongside paganism and esotericism, and then scientism. From the very beginning of scientism there were romantic poets who went in a totally different direction from the sensible rationalism enjoined on all, and spiritualists who said yes to science but no to materialism. There were and are plenty of trad religionists too. They all uneasily co-existed because with each worldview you could do something that people wanted done.

Subconsciously people may be aiming at a ‘perfect world in which we provably know everything without dissent’. Science as a whole is a very various package, a multifarious pantheon of quite different disciplines which certainly don’t all neatly agree. Maybe it’s time to look at it that way. Subconsciously I suspect we are trying to make science into a monotheistic omnipotent god that knows it all as one big item of knowledge. Science will never be that.

Proponent-opponent conversation can seem very dynamic, but in my time in the trenches I found it rather stable and static in lots of ways. People liked the basic binary ‘you’re wrong’. Those paradigms could actually take a multitude of forms which will continue to interplay in schools without a ‘winner’. The history of science is very short and no-one knows what happens when, as now, psi and other counter-material aspects of existence acquire real proofs. Is it just like trying to accept proofs of relativity and quantum mechanics, or Darwinian evolution? Or are there, as authors like Thomas Campbell or Patrick Harpur would say, factors at work in this case which will prevent a shift? Is there a veil hiding the truth to do with the psychology of humans encountering the non-physical? Might there not be a bifurcation? A trifurcation? A multifurcation?

Suppose all those scientists Dean Radin is always talking about, who are opponents publicly but proponents in private, were to get together in a decade’s time and realise they’d rather walk out of an AAAS (or wherever) that didn’t recognise the importance of non-physical reality? In numbers? (Maybe they don’t all want to study psi, but would rather be able to talk as if it’s true, since it is.) Suddenly you have two definite schools each of which is well capable of doing good science. Neither needs to “win”.

Although we can talk about “a paradigm”, perhaps our desire for a big answer is letting us down. Perhaps we’ve always had multiple paradigms but just edited most of them out, the way alternate realities have been edited out of the sensory world. If the debaters accepted what must surely be the truth, that there will never be a complete win for anyone, would the arguments become more productive? I think they might. For one thing, the fundamental right of the other side to exist in the first place would not be under such constant questioning. It is the need to erase dissent from existence that I don’t like, and there’s never been a better time to question that habit than right now.

If you’ve been reluctant to do missionary work, this book will scare you into it.

— Amazon reviewer of a Mormon conversion tract

To know when to stop is to be free of danger.

Tao Te Ching ch. 32, tr. R.L. Wing


Note: I’m working up to break of some sort over the holidays. I want to get that Versluis review in and also, concerned with how sensible and rational I’ve been recently, I’d like to end the year with a bit of wild speculation on ‘resurrection’.

However I was also going to do one more post on energy which I won’t now unless people are desperate for it. The general idea was that energy mediates between worldviews (in the LeShan sense) and I think anyone interested will get the idea right there, enough to play with, whilst the uninterested will be spared having to read about it. Thanks for reading!


9 responses to “A Pantheon of Paradigms

  • Matt Colborn

    Hi — fascinated to read your piece on polyparadigms, and the tyranny of assuming there’s One True Paradigm to which everyone must yield.

    I’ve had VERY similar thoughts — Cf. my latest blog entry, and my book, Pluralism and the Mind. In the conclusion, I argue against the idea that there can be One True Theory of consciousness;


  • Nemo85

    Note that you have soon blogged for a year – good job.(btw I am always amazed by how well-read you appear).There exist a number of controversies in psychology, but they are most often like temporary colds, the controversy regarding parapsychology on the other hand come across as some kind of permanent sickness. The reactions that the later topic provokes are also often more extreme. Regarding parapsychology I also believe that fear to some extent contribute now and then, and faciliates hostile comments, which in turn faciliate further hostile comments. In addition lack of “tolerance of ambiguity” is likely to contribute, of course we want a single right answer, it’s frustrating to not know. Furthermore, often when one a priori has assumed that one is right it is also easy to assume that those who do not agree are therefore wrong…I have noted this tendency in my own thinking. Radin’s expression “invisible college” is somewhat unfortunate due to that the expression is linked with the Rosicrucians etc, but his descriptions is accurate. When I think abaout paranormal phenomena I like to think about a lake, for most of us the lake is still, but beneath the surface much happens and now and then our boat lurch due to a wave (e.g., a precognitive dream) but we soon forget since the lake is soon still again… It feels like I am rambling thus I stop now.

    • Jason Wingate

      Note that you have soon blogged for a year – good job.(btw I am always amazed by how well-read you appear).

      Thanks and thanks. I actually think the blog won’t start properly until next year.

      Your description of the problems from the proponent angle has much in its favour and you know we agree on the question of fear.

      But in this post I’m saying that the “insoluble difficulties” are themselves the solution! (Because they are not in fact difficulties.)

      often when one a priori has assumed that one is right it is also easy to assume that those who do not agree are therefore wrong

      Sure but this doesn’t matter! To have a stable polyparadigmatic situation everyone does not need to agree. Each side can be absolutely sure the others are wrong, but the situation can still be stable and livable.

      For example in pre-Communist China, before they imported the idea of one official right answer from the West, they had three official doctrines — Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The three doctrines certainly did not agree with each other and often disagreed vehemently.

      It seems weird only because we are not used to it from long habit.

      What I’m saying is that, whether designedly or not, multiple paradigms could well be where we are heading on this argument. Unofficially it has always been the case so why not officially?

  • Nemo85

    “…but the situation can still be stable and livable” are you sure? :p Just look at the Skeptiko forum, they are at each other’s throats all the time, and parapsychology is not even discussed there often anymore, and “everyone knows everything” about how the self-styled sceptics function,

    Ernest Hartmann’s work on boudaries really begins to make sense to me, perhaps the participants “just” need thinner boundaries, to think in shades of grey rather than divide everything in black and white. Nevertheless I am not optimistic about the chance of getting peace between fighting parts who appear to be provoked by the counterparts’ very ideas but well, even in the “real world” wars eventually end.

    “I actually think the blog won’t start properly until next year.”

    I like it! Today the spiritual and the curious – next year the world. The latter would turn into a interesting place if more people took the time to at least think about the issues you have highlighted.

    • Jason Wingate

      There’s more to what I’m saying than you’re getting. I didn’t mention ‘peace between fighting parties’ — when did I say that? :) I said ‘stable and livable’, not ‘peaceful’. If you look at the situation even on Skeptiko (where everyone is still sure there is only one right answer), it is perfectly stable. It never really changes at all, you’ve said so yourself. I’ve traced the arguments back to Mesmer and they are pretty much identical.

      My question is why should that be a problem?

      A multiple-paradigm situation in which all sides had legitimacy would be even more stable and is certainly possible, indeed is already in place unofficially. In China it lasted for centuries. We had such a situation in the West lasting for centuries too, during Classical and Hellenistic Greece when the Platonists, Peripatetics, Stoics and Epicureans all argued continually, yet all had legitimacy. It’s just that since the advent of the Christian ideocracies we’ve forgotten it’s possible.

      The additional vehemence of the forum arguments (boosted by this internet medium itself) comes from thinking there’s no legitimacy for the other side — “one right answer”.

      I don’t mean all this as a simplistic plea for tolerance. It is a prediction of one way things might well go, whether anyone intends it or not, whether it is a good thing or not. That’s how history works! It wouldn’t take much to make it happen considering it has been in place unofficially since the 17th c. at least.

      It might be moderately more peaceful, but in the way of real human political peace — nuclear detente, not love thy neighbour. :) That is how humanity is. When people are ‘at each other’s throats all the time’ it can still be a perfectly stable and livable situation. See what I mean?

      I like it! Today the spiritual and the curious – next year the world.

      Nah, it’s simply that I only really feel I’ve hit my stride in the last few posts. I will do a big sum-up at the start of the new year and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Johnny Gorry

    Just a few thoughts here.

    Jason, you said:

    “Proponent-opponent conversation can seem very dynamic, but in my time in the trenches I found it rather stable and static in lots of ways. People liked the basic binary ‘you’re wrong’.”

    “(Maybe they don’t all want to study psi, but would rather be able to talk as if it’s true, since it is.)”

    Psi is true? Does this mean that those who feel differently are wrong?
    If yes, then doesn’t this continue the “binary” right/wrong argument in regards to the validity of such theories- a binary polemic which you seem to imply is anti-polyparigdigmatic?

    If no, then it follows that those that disagree with psi are not indeed wrong in their assumptions/conlcusions?

    It is true that no one is immune from the propensity in asserting “I’m right, you’re wrong” with certain issues. For you, it is apparent that psi phenomena is true. Thus, those that are not of that opinion must not know the truth, and are therefore wrong on this issue.

    Of course dissent is allowed in society, but always with a disclaimer. We’ve gone from, “You’re wrong so we’re going to have to torture and kill you unless you join our side” to “you’re entitled to your opinion, but frankly your wrong and blind to the facts.” The psi proponents say this to the skeptics and the skeptics repeat it back to the proponents.

    • Jason Wingate

      Psi is true? Does this mean that those who feel differently are wrong?


      If yes, then doesn’t this continue the “binary” right/wrong argument in regards to the validity of such theories- a binary polemic which you seem to imply is anti-polyparigdigmatic?

      The argument goes on, but does not have to cause a monoparadigm. Good science could be done from more than one paradigm-box. All worldviews are available.

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