Practical spirituality 6 — Paradigm shifts
How does our reality transform? We tend to believe that we’ve always been living in the same reality, that it’s all just “there” waiting to be uncovered. But when we look back into the past, we tend to forget that the reality that our ancestors lived in and experienced was completely different from our own. Their vision of reality, their daily experience, the way they lived and died, all reflected a paradigm, a more or less stable and agreed upon belief of what “reality” was.
Here is a simple example to illustrate what I mean:
Lightning strikes: “Quick! Bring my youngest son, I shall sacrifice him to calm the wrath of the Gods!”
Lightning strikes: “Oh, it’s actually just a difference in electric potential. Install a lightening rod here, we should be fine.”
You might think that in the first instance, we are in a reality governed by superstition (which some hardcore scientific materialists would call stupidity), and in the second instance, we are in the “real” reality. And of course, you would be wrong. What is clear, however, is that the lightning strike, in and of itself, has no meaning. It only takes on a meaning from a certain vantage point. If you are a rock, do you care about a lightning strike? Not too much. If you’re an animal, you start caring a lot, as a lightning striking you can kill you. But there are potentially an infinite number of ways of attributing meaning to a lightning strike, depending on who the observer is. Even at the level of a human, a lightning strike takes on as many meanings as the number of “layers” or nested consciousnesses that a human is made up of (see Panpsychism). For instance, from the vantage point of individual cells, being struck by lightening means something entirely different. Even more so for individual atoms. From their perspective, they simply experience it as a change in their energetic state. Most probably, from their perspective, being a part of your body is the equivalent of going on holiday: it’s a nice experience, and then, eventually, it ends and another experience starts.
In other words, if you start to understand and view the Universe as nested arrangements of consciousnesses, embedded or nested one inside another (see Holon philosophy), then reality is simply the current “consensus” reality between all consciousnesses at any point in time. Reality evolves and changes just like our bodies. Another interesting observation is the evolution from ape to human. Where is the “objective” cut-off point where we can say, with absolute certainty, that we are no longer a “thinking ape”, but that we are human? There is none. It’s just like moving between colors on an infinitely detailed spectrum. Even if after a period of time you can tell for sure that you have moved from red to orange and then to yellow, the exact timing or point where you left red and entered orange is fuzzy to say the least.
At the human level, and mostly because of our current level of consciousness where most of humanity cannot imagine that there isn’t an “Ultimate” truth or reality, but a constant evolution of truth and reality, the shifts between different paradigms which structure and give meaning to a meaningless reality happen via a process of opposition between an old paradigm which first must be “destroyed” or proven “wrong” and a new paradigm which has to supersede the old one. Fighting over the “true” meaning of a lightning strike is therefore the same as fighting over whether the “homo erectus” stage of evolution is truer than the “homo habilis” stage. We have replicated in the “world of ideas” the same evolutionary process as we have experienced, and still are experiencing in the “world of biology”. Our vision of the world, of reality, evolves in much the same way as our own bodies have evolved: ideas and paradigms are subject to a form of “selection”, where via trial and error, certain paradigms survive while others become minority sub-paradigms (like our appendix, in our body, is a remnant “idea” which is a testament of who we used to be, but no longer representing who we are) or wither and become extinct.
The last paradigm shift we experienced, as humanity, took place during the middle ages, and started in Europe, only to be spread to the four corners of the world: the transition from monotheism to scientific materialism. Through colonialism, this shift has been forcefully implanted everywhere. At first, colonialism brought priests to spread monotheist beliefs upon the local “savages”, and then it replicated the tension between monotheism and scientific materialism in all of the “conquered” countries. Take the United States, which went from a variety of tribal Native American paradigms to a conflict between religion and “science”, creationism vs. evolution, religion vs. science. So let us take a closer look at the shift between monotheism and scientific materialism. Rupert Sheldrake, in his book “The Science Delusion”, admirably recounts the emergence of science, as a new paradigm. As he rightfully pointed out, a new paradigm often disguises itself as being a part of the old paradigm, only to grow separate and then “swallow” or integrate the old paradigm once it reached a certain development stage or strength. Every paradigm shift requires first a “crisis”. Since humans cannot admit that the “truth” and reality is an ever evolving phenomenon, they need to first experience a “crisis” of the old paradigm to acknowledge the need to move towards a new one.
Here is a table summarizing the previous paradigm shift, and looking at how it mirrors our current paradigm shift.
In essence, due to our current level of consciousness, we first have to experience the limits of the current paradigm, even suffer from it, whether from persecution by zealous priests or the police enforcing a curfew, we have to feel like we are in a straight jacket, with our backs to the wall, to break free and move on.
At present, our freedoms are being nibbled a tiny bit at a time. First, a set of “temporary” and “exceptional” measures in the face of an unpredictable event (the coronavirus breakout), and yet, after a year, those measures are still in effect, in many cases. And then a series of additional restrictions, one after the other: a curfew between 6pm and 6am in France for instance, the number of people you can see etc. There are even talks of creating “vaccine certificates” which will allow you to go to the movies or travel. At a “higher level” or a subconscious level, we have collectively asked for these measures simply because we are not at a level of consciousness where we can freely move from one paradigm to another without requiring to first destroy the previous one. We first need to “prove” that it is “fake”, wrong, evil and so forth, as a valid reason or excuse to move on to the next. We tend to do this in every aspect of our lives, be it macro or micro. For instance, we first have to suffer like a martyr at work, be exploited and abused by our boss, in order to muster up the courage of leaving the job. The same for leaving a partner, where first we have to make sure that they are a sociopath, so that we can explain to everyone we know that we “really didn’t have a choice” and that we “made the right decision” by leaving that partner. At a higher level of consciousness, we can simply recognize that we have grown and evolved to a point where either a job or a relationship no longer suits our needs or reflects who we are, and decide to change, and move on, not because the job or relationship is “evil”, “bad” etc, but simply because it no longer reflects who we are, who we have become. The same will apply, one day, to larger “macro” shifts where we won’t need to transform scientific materialism into a technocratic dictatorship to give us a “valid” reason to move beyond and past it.
Paradigm shifts are always an uncomfortable time to be alive, but a very exciting time as well. It can be very destabilizing for many people, especially if you let go of the old paradigm completely. You may suddenly feel completely lost in infinity. Imagine living as a most devout Christian in the Middle Ages, your daily activities were concerned about saving your soul and making sure you abide by God’s rules and commandments. Then suddenly, imagine if that belief in God is shattered as you espouse a new belief in a material cause/effect, mechanical Universe, with no God and no judgment other than from your fellow man. You may feel overwhelmed. “What should I do now? What is the meaning of my life? How should I behave towards others?” The same can be said about people losing faith in a solely material reality, and acknowledging that this reality may be just the tip of the iceberg in a larger reality, much more complex and profound.
Quantum physics is often instrumentalized to justify just about any quack pot theory about reality. It’s hard to tell what is true or not. One way to think about it, is to recognize that a paradigm shift is instrumental to the continuation of the experience. We see it at work all the time in children, when they easily adopt behaviours in their best interest, such as learning not to get too close to fire, or not run across the street without looking. Why do they not reject these attitudes? Because it is in the best interest for continuing the experience they are immersed in (their life). From the point of view of the global organism which is a host to your child’s consciousness, each cell has a vested interest that your kid doesn’t start dancing in the middle of a camp fire. In other words, paradigm shifts at the level of humanity follow the same logic: moving away from a paradigm which has become an evolutionary “dead end”. Sticking to tribal gods or monotheism as a paradigm or lens through which you view reality could only take humanity so far. Without a shift to materialist science, it would have never been possible for humanity to grow to its current proportions. No civilization that is so busy worshipping God would have had the impetus and drive to push the boundaries of technology and build mega-cities with cars, computers and all kinds of technological gadgets which make these things possible. And now, materialist science is clearly showing its limits. Just like the Priests were predicting the “end of days”, today most scientists agree that within 100 years or so, humanity will face insurmountable challenges in the form of climate change. That may be true, and may manifest, but only if we stick to the current paradigm. Certain problems or challenges cannot be solved while staying within the same paradigm. A civilization which is still under the beliefs of polytheism powerlessly watches an asteroid as it hurdles down upon them. A civilization which has moved towards the belief in materialist science may attempt at deflecting the asteroid.
So let me paint a quick summary of what I believe will be the next paradigm, allowing us to face challenges such as climate change, unfazed.
The new paradigm shift rests on two main axis: Holon philosophy, and a recognition of the profound relationship which exists between our inner world (inside our body, our mind), and our outer world.
Let’s first start with Arthur Koestler’s Holon philosophy:
“A holon is a system which is a whole in itself as well as a part of a larger system. It can be conceived as systems nested within each other. Every system can be considered a holon, from a subatomic particle to the Universe as a whole.”
This might seem quite theoretical and dry, but it is quite intuitive, and is at the root of our own make-up as humans. Electrons, protons and neutrons forming an atom, atoms bonding together to form molecules, molecules bonding together to form living cells, living cells bonding together to form creatures like us. The question is: why would it stop there? Couldn’t each human be also just one “part” in a whole which we may fail to recognize on an individual level?
While scientists are perfectly comfortable with the assumption that “dumb” pre-programmed parts like the cells of our body would together produce what most would consider an “intelligent” and conscious being, we still use terms like “ecosystem” or “biosphere” to call a system or structure of which we are a part of, but which is “stupid”, has no intelligence or conscious awareness of its own, even though it has humans, which are conscious beings, as its make-up.
So in short, 30 trillion “dumb” individual cells breathe life into a being that is intelligent, self-aware, conscious, and who considers him/herself as one indivisible being, and not a combined personality of 30 trillion individual sub-units, but a something made up of 7 billion talking, thinking, conscious individuals is “dumb”. You add up a lot of dumb stuff together, it creates an intelligent being, then you add up a bunch of intelligent beings and it creates something dumb again. It sounds counterintuitive to say the least. Some prominent intellectuals did propose other names besides “biosphere”. One of the most adequate, perhaps, is Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious”.
Now, before you start checking whether you have a cable plugged into your brain linking you to the Matrix, just remember that the assumption that things need to be physically connected to communicate is part of the old paradigm of the 20th and early 21st century. Your body may look “solid”, but in fact, it is made up of 99.9999% space. The relative distance between electrons orbiting their atom nucleus is comparable to the distance between our planets and our sun. We simply assume that at the micro scale, things are interconnected and form a single “unit”, but once they reach a bigger level, the interconnectedness disappears.
The second core principle is the relationship between our inner world and our outer world. The only “truth” to begin with, for any Holon structure, is what it is on the inside. When the first living cell appeared on Earth, it had absolutely no knowledge of an “outside” world. The only knowledge it had came from within. Any Holon structure tends to replicate at a higher level via trial and error, the harmony and stability it has reached on the inside, creating a similar structure with a higher level of complexity. A living cell carries within it a rudimentary digestive system, or energy input/output, navigational system, sensory system etc. Via trial and error, these living cells manage to replicate that same harmony at a larger scale, taking the form of complex multicellular organisms, going all the way to humans.
You might wonder how all of this is related the paradigm shift.
Quite simply that we have replicated at our level of reality, what each of us has experienced: our own birth. Everything biological in our reality starts as a seed, and then grows and expands. A whole tree sprouts into existence from just a single seed. A human being starts as a single cell. And the story of humanity is the same: Lucy, our common ancestor, from which humanity multiplied to reach a collective of over 7 billion souls.
At our level, throughout our development, we have unwittingly, unconsciously replicated on the outside, the truth that we all carry on the inside.
Each human is very much like one cell, one part, in a collective organism called humanity. You could say that the outside infrastructure reflects the development of our body, while the paradigm shifts we went through, moving from monotheism to scientific materialism, and reflects the development of our collective mind or psyche. Just like a fetus whose body and brain mature gradually together.
How can we then apply the wisdom of the example of the lightning strike to challenges such as the coronavirus and climate change? It’s quite simple: under scientific materialism, climate change is a man made disaster and mistake, while the coronavirus crisis is a “black swan”, an unforeseeable event that happened by chance.
Shifting to a paradigm which combines the wisdom from both Holon philosophy and the mirroring effect between our inner and outer experiences puts both of these challenges into a completely different perspective. As humanity, our growth and developmental stages on this Planet reflect the growth our own bodies went through, while still in our mothers’ wombs.
Our countries, cultures and continents reflect the different organs and sub-organs of our bodies. Our cities, from afar, look very much like interconnected bundles of cells, linked together via a series of cables and roads. The Internet is equivalent to our nervous system: allowing us to send/receive information on which to act. The financial system is akin to our circulatory system: in charge of distributing energy (oxygen/money) to each individual cell.
But most interestingly, climate change is a reflection of the crisis a baby faces towards the end of pregnancy. If a baby overstays its welcome inside its mothers’ womb, it puts itself and its mother in grave danger. Towards the end of pregnancy, the placenta, which is an organ acting as a centralized mediator between the mothers’ resources and the baby, starts to calcify and isn’t able to keep up with the baby’s growing needs. The placenta also can no longer recycle and renew the amniotic fluid inside the womb, which the baby drinks and transforms into pee. Finally, the baby can release his first feces, called meconium, while still in the womb, running the risk of dying by poisoning him/herself in his own excrements. This situation very poetically reflects the challenges humanity faces on this Planet: depleting the Planet’s resources faster than they can be renewed, and suffocating in our own excrements taking the form of pollution, overflowing landfills, oceans of plastic floating about, pesticides in our food, nuclear waste, CO2 and more.
In short, the scientific consensus on climate change and what will happen to humanity is highly accurate, just as accurate as the prediction by a number of exceptionally smart cells inside a baby which predict that it will suffocate and die within a few days after it has reached its term. And unfortunately, the solutions proposed within the current scientific materialist paradigm are equivalent to trying to survive in the womb by entering into a sort of “stasis”, where we impose strict controls over consumption, reproduction and so forth.
The new paradigm rests therefore on one very simple premise: put the final touch ups to ensure that humanity functions on the outside in the same fashion as our bodies function on the inside. This means in short:
Reforming our financial system to reflect the way our own bodies distribute energy. Implementing an Unconditional Universal Basic Income where each human receives a minimum amount of “energy” just like each cell receives a minimum amount of oxygen. Diversify away from a single centralized currency like the euro or the dollar and create an ecosystem of plenty of different currencies which reflect the varying needs of humans, in the same way as each cell, on top of oxygen, receives a myriad of vitamins, minerals, proteins etc. This has already been initiated with the advent of crypto-assets.
Reforming the Internet to reflect the decentralized distributed collective intelligence that we see at work in our own bodies. Indeed, while we may think that our brain is the seat of our intelligence, the brain doesn’t micro-manage the body. Many processes happen thanks to a localized intelligence embedded in each cell. The stomach doesn’t wait for the brain’s instructions on how to digest certain foods. A broken bone does not wait for instructions from the brain on how to mend itself. A decentralized Internet and a decentralized web are going to be the nervous backbone of our collective global organism.
Start behaving and acting like one global organism by putting an end to silly divisions, wars and conflicts between people. The pre-requisite for a baby to survive the birth process is making sure all its organs, all of its parts, identify as being part of one global organism and working together as opposed to against each other. Imagine what would happen if your heart was trying to keep all the blood to itself, or the stomach was digesting the lungs. How long would you survive?
These few points above are just a start. Much more will need to be done over the next few decades. But the priority, when understanding the implications of the current paradigm shift, is to achieve harmony between humans rather than try to police humanity, impose strict rules, or develop revolutionary technologies. Once you fully understand what it means to be a cell in a global organism, then you understand that most of the problems that we are facing are not due to a lack of technological development, but a lack of harmony in the way we behave towards one another. Compare the experience of 30 trillion unicellular organisms in a swamp and the 30 trillion cells in your body. What is the difference between them? On the one hand, the unicellular organisms in a swamp compete for resources, and will forever remain stuck in that swamp. From their perspective, what the 30 trillion cells in our body are capable of is nothing short of magic. To walk, run, crawl, jump, dance, twist, turn…
The priority is for each human to start acting like a cell in a collective global organism. The rest will solve itself. Does a baby have “control” over the world he/she is going to be born in? No. All it can do, is to resist the contractions or go along with them. The coronavirus crisis looks like a random meaningless event. But from the point of view of humanity forming a collective global organism about to be born, it very much approximates what a baby’s cells must feel during birth as the contractions start appearing more frequent and pressing. A feeling of suffocation, of not being able to breathe properly as the flow of oxygen from the placenta isn’t as smooth and continuous as it used to be, coupled with a feeling of being compressed, cooped up or “confined”. Our current governments and banks very much represent the placenta: a centralized organ which has a monopoly in the control and distribution of mother Earth’s resources. Do you feel like your governments are being more and more oppressive and controlling? Do you feel like the private banks and the global financial system is on the verge of a major systemic collapse and complete change? Visualize what it must feel, from the perspective of a baby’s cells as the umbilical cord is cut and the baby abruptly switches from one form of unsustainable non-renewable energy (its mothers’ blood via the placenta) to a form of sustainable and renewable energy (oxygen via its lungs, and its mothers’ milk via its digestive system).
All of these processes are perfect. We do not judge a fetus’ growth, we don’t blame a baby for putting its mother in danger by draining her resources, we see it as part of a normal and natural process, involving certain risks (still birth, health complications…) and uncertainties (timing of birth, length of the birth process which can be more or less painful).
The paradigm shift we are undergoing is a very rare event. It is a magical time when the Universe reaches a new threshold in its creation process of more and more complex structures, like the birth of the first star out of hydrogen and helium atomic clouds, or the birth of the first cell out of a soup of amino acids and proteins. The key is to focus on what is truly important: harmonize our relations and stop obsessing over what extra-terrestrial race we’ll meet on the other side, or what reality we will find ourselves in once we reach the required threshold for becoming a functioning global collective organism. These are things which are out of our control. But what we can choose is whether to come out as independent “dead” organs, only good for dissection for “research” purposes, like an autopsy, or like a lively and healthy baby.