“Paradigm Shifts” (SB 3.24.31)
A 1986 edition of Discovery Magazine listed consciousness as one of the ten great questions yet to receive a comprehensive treatment in modern science. In response, Thompson argues that mechanistic paradigms lack efficacy to exhaustively explore subtle phenomena such as consciousness. In contrast, he recommends a serious examination of non-quantitative natural analyses such as those afforded within Eastern philosophy. He proposes that nonmechanistic evaluations drawn from these traditions can offer helpful tools for exploring ambiguous phenomena.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 24, Text 30. “Paradigm Shifts.” San Diego - 1992 / (024)
Kardama Muni said, "You, my dear Lord, who are always increasing the honor of Your devotees, have descended in my home just to fulfill Your word and disseminate the process of real knowledge."
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
When the Lord appeared before Kardama Muni after his mature yoga practice, He promised he would become Kardama's son. He descended as the son of Kardama Muni in order to fulfill that promise. Another purpose of His appearance is cikirsur bhagavan jnanam, to distribute knowledge. Therefore He is called, bhaktanam mana-vardhanah, “He who increases the honor of His devotees.” By distributing Sankhya, He would increase the honor of the devotees; therefore Sankhya philosophy is not dry mental speculation. Sankhya philosophy means devotional service. How could the honor of the devotees be increased unless Sankhya were meant for devotional service? Devotees are not interested in speculative knowledge. Therefore the Sankhya enunciated by Kapila Muni is meant to establish one firmly in devotional service. Real knowledge and real liberation is to surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead and engage in devotional service.
So, here again Srila Prabhupada refers to the Sankhya philosophy; and he points out that by presenting this Sankhya philosophy, Kardama Muni will increase the honor of the devotees because this Sankhya philosophy is related to devotional service. So, the way in which Sankhya philosophy is related to devotional service is that it explains the relationship between the individual conscious beings, the material energy, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So it’s important to understand that relationship initially, so that we will be able to act in the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and understand our actual constitutional position. So, in this Sankhya philosophy there are various categories of energy that are described. It deals primarily with the material energy and it also describes the process of creation.
Sankhya philosophy describes how starting with pradhana, which has been set into motion by the glance of Maha Vishnu, different transformations are produced; and finally the gross and subtle material elements are generated. So in particular, the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and false ego are generated. And these elements of course are important. The situation of the conscious living being in the material world is that the living being, or spirit soul, is embedded or encased in a subtle body made of mind, intelligences and false ego. And that in turn, can reside within different gross bodies made of earth, air, fire, water and ether. So, this is of course of fundamental importance. (3:46)
One feature of this philosophy is that it provides the basis for understanding the transmigration of the soul. What happens is that the soul becomes linked up with the subtle body. The subtle body is in existence during the entire period in which the soul is conditioned. So the subtle body doesn't die until the soul actually becomes liberated but it undergoes different transformations. It’s like reprogramming a computer. You can have a computer and you can completely change the software in that computer. And when you do that the computer behaves in a completely different way. So similarly the subtle body continues to exist throughout the period of the soul's conditional existence. But it’s continually being reprogrammed based on the activities of the soul. And this programming determines the mental and physical situation of the spirit soul.
So one feature then is that there’s this element called mind. Now we find, though, that in modern society, the intellectual elite of modern society doesn't accept any of these things. But of course, we don't want things to remain that way. Lord Caitanya’s movement is supposed to spread everywhere and become extremely prominent in this particular portion of the Kali-yuga. I mentioned the other day that this devotee, Atma Tattava, came across a reference in sastra to this 10,000 year period of Lord Caitanya. You'll find it in the Brahmavaivarta Purana. So for a period of 10,000 years, devotional service to Krishna, following Lord Caitanya's sankirtan movement, will become very prominent. But it’s not prominent yet. So therefore, we're in the initial phase actually of a revolution of consciousness in which current ways of thinking are going to radically change. So the changes that are required will be quite radical. I brought some material here. Let's see, here is the latest Discover Magazine. This tells you what to believe about science. So this is significant.
Last time I gave class, I brought up the point that we have a great deal of faith in science. And certainly the scientists, I mean, the point was raised in that class, that the scientists are great experts in their field. They've devoted years of study to becoming expert, and ideas within the scientific community are rigorously scrutinized by scientists. Every idea is challenged and given a very severe examination, so that surely an idea can only be accepted if in fact it passes this rigorous scrutiny. What do scientists say about this mind business, anyway? Well, you'll find that there are scientists who agree that consciousness is quite mysterious. Here we've got 3 interviews. In fact this Discover Magazine has on the cover, "Ten Great Unanswered Questions of Science." So here the ten questions are listed and one of them is: What is consciousness?
So consciousness is the great unanswered question of science. However, does that mean that there is some kind of soul which might transmigrate? Can a scientist of today admit such a possibility in the scientific community? Well, no. It doesn't work that way. For example, in this discussion, there is a fellow named Koch, very prestigious scientist, who is talking about the mysteries of consciousness and talking about an observer in the brain that sees what's going on in there; because you have sense data transmitted into the brain by nerve impulses and then finally, there is consciousness of what is being sensed.
So that would suggest that there is an observer that senses what’s going on in the brain. So he says, "Of course there’s a problem. There's a you that is, there’s an observer, and there is no such observer in the brain. We don’t want to go back to the notion of a homunculus looking at this." And then the Discover interviewer says, "That would be going back to the idea of the little man in the brain." And Koch replies, "Exactly!” So we don't want to do that. Of course what is this little man in the brain, this homunculus? Well, that would have to be the soul – that’s what they're referring to – some non-physical observer, or even a physical thing, that could be an observer. It's more or less recognized, though, that a physical thing cannot be an observer because a physical thing is a machine made up of little parts. And as soon as you analyze it, you see the need for an observer of that machine. So they’re presented with a problem. However, they have a basic solution to this and that is to get down to the neurons in the brain. Because wherever consciousness may be, that's where it will be – the neurons of the brain.
And then here we have a fellow named Terry Winograd who’s famous in the field of artificial intelligence. So he's a fellow who in the early days created a little program that could talk and execute verbal commands. And that was quite an accomplishment – he became quite famous for that. However it couldn't talk the way we can, and he finally came to the conclusion that you'll never be able to program a computer that can really think the way a human being does – can’t do it. So the Discover interviewer asked him, "Well, do you think then, you know, that there could be something to consciousness that is nonphysical and beyond the brain?" And he emphasized that, "Well, no", he didn't think that at all. It's that computers won't be conscious but that doesn't mean that brains aren't. After all, brains are different from computers. They are not made of silicon chips, you know. And he says, "I’m ultimately a materialist. So I would say, of course, if you really could duplicate it, [that's the brain], piece by piece, it would all be the same pieces. There’s no ethereal soul that makes me have consciousness. It is in the physical properties of my brain and my nervous system." So in case there is any question about the possibility of any nonphysical mind or soul or ethereal soul, as he puts it, “No, that's not acceptable. Sorry.” Scientists do not accept such a thing, what to speak of all the other things we might like to bring to their attention.
So, I wanted to comment a little bit about the idea that these scientists really are so worthy of our respect and faith. Actually, they're not. Of course Srila Prabhupada continually blasted the scientists, this folio program is interesting to use. You can put in words and strings of words and find out everything Srila Prabhupada said using those words. And if you put in scientist or scientists, you'll get hundreds of references. More than you can possibly look up. So you can do interesting things like... one that I checked was "challenge scientists 10." When you put a 10 after it, it means that it'll give you all sections where Srila Prabhupada used the word ‘challenge’ and the word ‘scientist’ within ten words of each other. I just picked 10 as an arbitrary figure. So it came out, that was reasonably small, it came out to about 83 cases. If you increase it to within 20 words of one another, you'll get even more. And it was interesting; he was saying that we should challenge these rascal scientists. Another one you can do is look up rascal scientists. [laughing] You get even more cases there. Too many to print out. I mean you may as well print out a book or something.
So Srila Prabhupada had a rather radical view of these scientists. And actually it’s a fact, that if Krsna consciousness is to be regarded as at all true, or at all believable, then the scientists have to be wholesale mistaken, and that was a thing that Srila Prabhupada said. He said that to me in particular three times in a row on one occasion, so I sort of remembered it. They have to be wholesale mistaken. Now how is that possible, how could it be? Because after all they are so rational and so learned and they scrutinize one another's ideas and so on and so forth. So how is it possible?
Well, I thought I'd speak a little bit about paradigm shifts. This is an interesting thing. It seems that a paradigm shift has occurred in the use of the concept of paradigm shifts. And this was proven by the recent GBC meeting in Atlanta. Because there I believe a video was shown about paradigm shifts and this was being applied in the field of Business. And this is interesting because it started out in the field of philosophy of science. So about 30 years ago, I guess, this book came out, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. This is where paradigm shifts were first introduced. And it’s somewhat of a dense, academic book. He's talking about ways of seeing things in science. So a clever fellow had a new way of seeing things and he realized that the idea of paradigm shifts could be used to make money for him by going and giving speeches to corporate CEOs and people like that. And he's been going around doing that quite successfully as far as I can see.
So that's actually in itself an example of a paradigm shift, because I myself had always thought of paradigm shifts in terms of the scientific and academic study of theories and how they change. I never thought of using this as a way of getting money from businesses. But this fellow saw it, and that illustrates what a paradigm is. He points out in his video that a paradigm is a way of seeing things which limits what you can see. It enables you to see certain things very well. But by enabling you to see certain things well, it limits what you can see so that other things beyond the boundary of the paradigm, you cannot see at all. You're blind to them. So paradigms are very important but at the same time, they limit us.
Now he gave a nice example there of what happened to Swiss Watches. This was a pretty good one. It seems that a few years back in the 1960's, Switzerland was in the position of world dominance in the watch industry. They had some very large share of the market in wrist watches. So it seems that in Switzerland, somebody invented a new kind of watch, a fellow working for one of the main Swiss watch companies in fact, or a team of people. They invented the quartz crystal watch with the electronics and the liquid crystal display. Like this [speaker holds up his wrist to show audience his watch]. So this watch, they tried to promote this among the Swiss watch makers and it was totally rejected. The watchmaking experts said, you know, "Who needs this? This is useless. That's not how you make a watch. We know about watches, we're the experts." So they put it on display. Apparently this was regarded as so insignificant, that nobody even bothered to patent it. It was put on display at one trade show and some Japanese fellows walked by. [chuckles] And the rest, the rest is history. [audience laughing] Within a couple of years, the Japanese flooded the world with cheap watches built on this principle and the Swiss share of the market in watches went down to 10 percent of the market from something like 80 percent previously. Hundreds of thousands, at least eighty thousands or so, I think, of Swiss watch workers were laid off. So, anyway, it shows what can happen when a paradigm shifts.
This video made interesting points then about paradigm shifts. But the original area where this was applied was to scientific theories. Scientists also have paradigms. These are ways of seeing things, again, which limit what you can see, so that certain things just aren't visible to you. And it's recognized widely that scientists are very good at seeing if something fits the accepted paradigm and of recognizing things that do fit the accepted paradigm. And when they’re busy scrutinizing one another's ideas very intensely, that's what they're doing. They’re seeing whether or not the ideas that are being brought up fit the existing paradigm. And if they do, then they become acceptable; and if they don't, then the scientists reject those ideas.
But what about ideas outside the paradigm? Actually, this is related to the whole idea of pattern recognition. How are you able to see something like an apple? You know the moment we look at an apple, immediately we know what that is. That's an apple.The brain somehow, sticking to the standard accepted paradigm, is wired so that when an apple comes in front of your eye, immediately bells go off in there or something because some recognition mechanism is programmed to recognize apples. But there may be some other thing that it can't recognize at all. So if you put that in front of your eyes, nothing happens. You don't even notice it.
Well, the same thing occurs on a more abstract level with theories. So, what Kuhn was describing was the process whereby paradigms change. It's very interesting to see how that happens, because they do change. To give you an example, there's the theory of continental drift. The prevailing idea in geology today is that continents move around. Europe and the United States used to be right together and there was no Atlantic Ocean. Then this big crack appeared and they separated apart and gradually the Atlantic Ocean formed. This is now accepted. ell, this was proposed by a man named Wegener, back in about 1912, and the idea was totally rejected for years. Until finally, in about the mid-1960's, a revolution occurred in scientific thinking. And after that revolution, continental drift was the established accepted view. And that now, if you don't believe in continental drift, you're considered to be unscientific.
So this is what happens in science. You have a paradigm. The previous paradigm was of course, that continents don't drift. They’re rigidly, you know, part of the solid stone floor of the earth, the ocean floor, so how could they drift around? So that was the old paradigm. What happens when a paradigm shifts is that first of all anomalies have to accumulate. If everything fits the accepted paradigm, then people are never going to change it. So what happens is gradually anomalies accumulate and initially the anomalies are rejected. And typically if somebody wants to insist too much about the anomalies in the phase when they are being rejected, the person gets rejected along with the anomalies. In fact, the person becomes an anomaly. And this is done using the traditional method known as ridicule, which is a very effective scientific tool. By ridicule, you can scare people away from an idea because no one wants to be ridiculed. So if you create an aura of ridicule around something, people will stay away from it like anything. Very few people will have anything to do with it. So that’s what's going on in that quote that I had a moment ago about the little man in the brain. You notice that what's being said there, or what's being done there, is ridicule is being used. Sometimes it's even said, the little green man in the brain. Now why green? Well, you know why? You know about little green men. So why in talking about the mind/body question, would one refer to the idea of the soul as the concept of the little green man in the brain? Well, it’s to make people laugh, so that anyone who seriously talks about such an idea will be laughed at. And therefore people won't talk about that idea. This is actually how it works.
There's a great defender of scientific truths named Martin Gardner, who by the way is on the Board of Directors of CSICOP. CSICOP is the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. So these people police the scientific world to make sure that no paranormal claims are accepted. And one of his aphorisms is that a horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms – yeah, one horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms. A syllogism is a logical step. Like if A is true and A implies B, then B is true. So that's one step in logic. So he’s saying that if you have an argument that you make using one thousand syllogisms, a single horse laugh is worth all of that argumentation. In fact, it’s better, because it’s going to be hard to find somebody who’s going to appreciate an argument with a thousand steps. But anybody knows what a horse laugh means. It means stay away from this or you'll be laughed at, associating an idea with, you know, being weird, being disreputable, being zany, being kooky. Just like James Watson – he characterized his opponents as shits, kooks, and incompetents. This is the scientific world. [laughing] But this is how it actually works. It’s quite important.
So what happens in science is that initially the anomalies are scorned and rejected. Wegener was scorned and rejected throughout his lifetime. But finally if enough anomalies accumulate, there will be increasing discomfort among the scientists. Finally there will be a revolution. Suddenly the old fabric will just rip. It’s just like you're wearing the same dhoti day after day and it works. Then one day, you put it on and the thing rips down the middle and that's it. This is a homely example. So anyway, so finally there can be a revolution. And one point this fellow made on that video they showed the GBC is that when the revolution occurs, when the new paradigm comes in, everybody starts at zero. It’s a new ballgame at that point. he very way people see things changes. Kuhn points out that it’s difficult for people holding 2 different paradigms to even talk with one another, because they see the world differently; that can occur. Actually, even things like, the acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution is an example of a paradigm shift. Now one point that the fellow made was that paradigm shifts are initiated by outsiders. It’s very rare indeed, in fact, I hardly know of any examples in which a major paradigm shift is initiated or set off by somebody within an established field. The reason is that within an established field everything is regimented. Your colleagues immediately will jump on you if you begin to deviate. So in that setting it’s very difficult to start a new paradigm. So to introduce the new kind of watch in Switzerland was extremely difficult; in fact it was impossible there. An outsider had to do it, namely the Japanese. So the same thing happens in science. Paradigm shifts are brought about by outsiders.
Now Darwin, by the way, was an outsider. He in fact was a recluse practically. He was independently wealthy because his father was a very wealthy physician. He never had to work a day in his life. And he lived in a comfortable Victorian mansion out in the countryside in East Anglia somewhere. And he just worked on his researches.
So another aspect is that for a paradigm shift to occur, a lot of anomalous material has to accumulate. In fact, what Darwin did was he spent twenty years building up his case. He finally wrote the most successful unread book in history practically. Because whoever reads Darwin's Origin of Species? Just a few people have ever read the thing. It’s practically unreadable. It’s packed with lots of facts. A few people did read it and realized that, "Uh oh, it's time for the paradigm to shift." Basically the balance, the total mass of material, at that point shifted. There was a revolution in thought. And within, let’s say, thirty years, Darwinian evolution was the accepted way for educated people to think about the origin of life. Yeah?
Question: I was wondering if the accumulation of various factors about the soul will build up and cause a shift. I'm wondering if this accumulation of knowledge is enough. [unclear]... if you look back in history and the shifts in world view, how much is it facts or how much is social circumstances in world history?
Answer: Well, social circumstances refers to how people are seeing things. And that's related to the accumulation of new ideas, which are the anomalies. You see, a fact is an idea.
One may think that a fact is one thing, it’s hard solid evidence; and an idea is a sort of nebulous thing in the mind. Actually, a fact is an idea, because what is a fact anyway? It’s just an opinion that somebody expresses. I may say that it’s a fact that the bones of Lucy were dug up in Ethiopia. All I'm doing is giving you another idea. If you accept it, then it’s a fact. If you reject it then it’s some crazy idea. So a fact is just another kind of idea. But as ideas accumulate, people become aware of them, and at some point there’s a critical mass. So it does involve – it is social. The process of the paradigm shift is a social process, but it’s a process involving ideas--how people think about things. In the case of Darwin, so many different ideas. The idea that the world works mechanically, that had to seep into people's thinking. Initially that was very foreign to Western thinking. Newton triggered off a big paradigm shift in that area. And he was back in about 1650. Darwin's revolution occurred about 1850. So the mechanical idea of things began to seep in. Old ideas such as the existence of angels as something real gradually were fading away.
What's his name? Boyle, the inventor of Boyle's law literally believed in the reality of angels. And that was part of his traditional belief system. He wasn't a radical. But in his day, such things were still believable. So gradually those were going out and the mechanical concept was coming in. Fossils were being studied, dinosaurs were being excavated, and big public exhibitions of dinosaurs were being created. Just before Darwin's time, in the Crystal Palace near London, big Iguanodon sculptures were being created and the public was touring through. And the concept came that the world used to be different from what we think it is now – there were these monstrous creatures and so on.
So all these things begin to percolate into people's thinking, and finally it seems you get a critical mass, where there are enough anomalous ideas that didn't fit into the old way of thinking, that the old way finally breaks. And then, you still need though, somebody to work hard to introduce the new theory. It's not that it’s just going to happen automatically, but you have somebody like Darwin who did research for years and years, really working to make his case. And then you have people like Thomas Huxley. Thomas Huxley, instead of doing research for years and years, he was a very great debater. He took Darwin's material and he went out and lectured everywhere and beat people in debates. The famous one was when he beat Soapy Sam Wilberforce, a big Anglican Bishop, in a public debate and made a fool of the man. (32:28:4)
So at that point the balance shifted and the new paradigm became established. Even so there was great resistance. There was a period of controversy. Darwin didn't publish his work for twenty years because he was afraid of that controversy. He was afraid of what they would do to him – call him all kinds of bad names and just make life hell for him. So, he finally only published when Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the theory at the same time that he did. And he realized that if he was going to establish priority he had to publish right away. So he rushed into print at that point.
So that's another factor: There's a period of controversy; the pioneers are going to be called bad names. This is a thing that has to be recognized. If you want to be the pioneer in a paradigm shift, the point man on the leading edge, you're going to get a lot of flak.The people who follow afterwards will be in a much more comfortable position. Just like the Marines going into the enemy lines. The first guys really get shot at quite a lot. So this is the nature of the paradigm shifts.
So the same thing applies with us, which is of course why I brought up this whole thing, because we want to bring about a major, radical paradigm shift. So that means in every way, we are fundamentally challenging how people think. And Srila Prabhupada laid the groundwork for this by pointing out that the accepted scientists are wholesale mistaken – they’re really off. That means a lot of anomalies have to accumulate. And they have to be brought together and explained and broadcast into people's consciousness on a massive scale. So that's one of the things that we have to do. We have to recognize that a radical position is required, and we have to be prepared to defend a radical position. And that means also that we have to be prepared for all the ridicule and abuse that initially comes with that.