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  Home  > Helping Professionals  > II. The Softening of the Hard Sciences

II. The Softening of the Hard Sciences

To "primitive" peoples, who experienced themselves as an integral part of a living universe, the changing path of the sun across the sky, phases of the moon, whirling of the stars, cycling of the seasons, rain, snow, lightning, volcanoes, and eclipses were mysteries to revere and in which to find guidance. These primitive peoples experienced themselves as an integral part of a living universe.

With the rise of science and man's exploitative powers, the earth came to be seen as an inert object, rather than a living organism, set apart from man and subject to his dominion.

The Cartesian Coordinate System and Newton's Laws of Motion

During the seventeenth century, Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton developed reductionist models* for breaking down the complex wholes of nature into simple component parts (the Cartesian Coordinate System and Newton's Laws of Motion). The proving ground of Newton and other early theoreticians was the motion of planets around the sun (which have very low friction and virtually regular surfaces within the vast scale of the solar system). The followers of Newton and Descartes continue to this day to refine the reductionist approach: breaking down everything that they study into the smallest units possible. According to these views, everything that happens in the world can be figured out mathematically--reinforcing the belief that the earth is inert and exists apart from humankind.

It was not long before men who understood mathematics and engineering gained a great deal of power--power to build machines to conquer and exploit the New World, Africa, and Australia, and power to spark the Industrial Revolution. Soon most of the earth was subject to the will of the educated few. The materialist, patriarchal/power-over paradigm had become firmly entrenched; the Cartesian and Newtonian views imbedded in our culture and our psyche.


*Reductionist models of reality often require equations to correlate the different components in the system. Assumptions such as objects having smooth and regular surfaces (which eliminate turbulence) and the imaginary condition of no friction allow one to ignore the very real non-linear realities of the physical plane. Eventually these over-simplifications break down.


Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity

The materialist world-view began to crumble in 1903 when Albert Einstein introduced his Special Theory of Relativity. He showed that matter, energy, and time--the fundamental building blocks of the Cartesian/Newtonian view--were not absolute and fixed, but relative. An object's mass is relative to its speed, getting heavier as its speed increases. As this object becomes heavier, time slows for it as well. Matter and energy were found to be interchangeable, a most upsetting idea to the materialists for whom the world was a solid, predictable place. Einstein's thinking, understood by few at the time, took many years to find practical applications.

Quantum Theory and the EPR Effect

Another major discovery occurred in the twenties that was to shake the power-over paradigm: Quantum Theory. Max Planck stated that the behavior of subatomic particles appears random in nature. Even Einstein could not accept Planck's disconcerting view of reality ("God does not play dice with the universe!" he exclaimed). Einstein then attempted to refute quantum mechanics with logic in a thought experiment, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Effect (EPR Effect), since the physical equipment to test his refutation did not exist. Einstein's thought experiment showed that if Planck were right, two spinning particles which split off from each other and traveled until billions of miles separated them would have to be instantaneously connected (as soon as the spin of one is determined, the spin of the other is known). Since this was "obviously" impossible, in that information (about spin) could travel no faster than the speed of light, Einstein "proved" Planck wrong.

God plays dice with the universe, only they are loaded dice. 

--Joseph Ford

Bell's Theorem

Decades passed until 1964 when J. S. Bell, a physicist, proposed a theorem based on the EPR challenge to quantum mechanics that negated Einstein's contention and validated quantum mechanics. It took another eight years to fully test Bell's Theorem, and by 1972 the far-reaching implication that everything in the universe is intimately connected without regard for the distance between any two objects was gaining acceptance. This scientific finding validates the premise of the Paradigm of Connection, that everything is connected in a much deeper way than meets the eye.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle

Around the time of Planck, there was the further unsettling news that it is impossible to objectively measure anything (Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle). No matter how small or insignificant the measuring instrument, be it a person hiding in the bushes, a microscope lens, or a single photon bouncing off another particle, the measuring device always interferes by forming a relationship with the subject that alters how the event in question would have turned out if no measurement had been taken. Further, it appears that in experiments with very small particles of matter, the thoughts and expectations, or consciousness, of the researchers influence the outcome. These findings put to rest forever the mechanists' dream of eliminating observer bias.

Mysticism and Physics

Frijof Capra, PhD (The Tao of Physics), was one of the first physicists to suggest publicly a connection between quantum physics and mysticism. While studying Zen Buddhism, he noticed and explored the commonalities between its principles and those of his work in high-energy physics. In a later book, The Turning Point, Capra proposes a worldview that supports the Paradigm of Connection.

Fred Wolfe, PhD (Taking the Quantum Leap), has an uncanny ability to translate the rather abstract ideas of physics to everyday (and often humorous) real-life examples. In The Body Quantum, he undertakes a detailed analysis of the functioning of the human body on a quantum level. This energetic viewpoint corroborates the Wellness Energy System of the Wellness Workbook. Fred was one of the featured scientists in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

For most people, whose senses seem to validate the Newtonian model, it is difficult to comprehend the relativistic and quantum models of the world. Yet the fact that science is discovering the interconnectedness of all creation supports the beliefs from pre-patriarchal times as well as the emerging Paradigm of Connection.


*"Tao" is pronounced "Dow," as in Jones.


Dissipative Structures

Ilya Prigogene, PhD (Order out of Chaos), won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1976 for his Theory of Dissipative Structures, which states that inherent in the nature of any system is its attempt to stabilize itself in the midst of stress from the outside. If the stress becomes too great, the system collapses, only to reorganize at a more complex level. Furthermore, the new system is totally unpredictable if all we look at is the structure of the old. We see such patterns occurring repeatedly in nature. If we didn't know about butterflies, studying all the caterpillars in the world would not reveal their potential.

The Theory of Dissipative Structures seems to defy the law of entropy, which implies that the universe is getting more random. Prigogene's theory is based on the behavior of systems at a molecular level, but he shows how it also applies to human society. The seemingly destructive/disintegrative stages that we typically fear and try to avoid actually clear the way for the new. The shift to the new Paradigm of Connection we are outlining here, will be born out of the apparent chaos that always precedes a jump to another level.

Chaos

Building on Prigogene's work, the mid-seventies saw the emergence of another major scientific revolution. The science of chaos theory arose when a handful of scientists in fields of ecology, meteorology, economics, physiology, mathematics, physics, and chemistry, unaware of each other's work, began to bump up against the messy non-linear realities of the physical universe that classical science had ignored for so long.

It's generally agreed to have begun when Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist at MIT, rediscovered Henri Poincar´┐Ż's "sensitivity to initial conditions." Lorenz called it the "Butterfly Effect," because it suggests that if a butterfly in China flapped its wings, a chain-reaction in weather patterns might lead to a tornado in Texas a few weeks later. Benoit B. Mandelbrot discovered the Mandelbrot set of fractal patterns that are widely associated with Chaos theory.

Fluctuating populations of moths, the complex behavior of cloud formations, unpredictable stock market prices, turbulent blood flow through artificial heart valves, and the galactic clumping of stars are examples of irregularities of nature that could no longer be ignored, but could be better understood with chaos theory findings.

The workhorse that made possible some understanding of this seemingly overwhelming mass of chaotic behavior was the computer. Classical science often models reality with a single--though complex--mathematical equation. To study chaos usually requires solving the same simple equations over and over again (using the values obtained from the one computation in the next computation), sometimes millions of times, before the sought trends begin to become visible. The computer is good at this task and made it possible to peer into realms previously inaccessible. Fractals, strange attractors, butterfly effects, Koch curves, Julia sets, bifurcations--these are some of the new jargon to explain the flapping, rolling, bouncing, dripping, and vibrating nature of real world events.

Big whorls have little whorls

Which feed on their velocity

And little whorls have lesser whorls

And so on to viscosity.

--Lewis S. Richardson

What appears to be the bottom line of chaos is that from seemingly chaotic behavior, regular although unpredictable patterns arise.* Slowly, out of chaos, information accumulates--in DNA, weather patterns, and history books.

The study of chaos is producing a fascinating clash of old and new ways of looking at the world. James Gleich (Chaos--Making a New Science) has described this multifaceted, multidisciplinary revolution as a fascinating example of what happens when human curiosity outgrows the constraints of an older system (classical sciences that are separated by disciplines).

In an area so complex that it defies classification, no longer can one person's name stand out as the principal discoverer. The understanding of chaos is an idea whose time has come; dozens of researchers are discovering the same truths from many angles simultaneously. Disciplines that recently were diverging and becoming more isolated from each other are now being brought together out of this common interest in chaos.


* E.g., while we don't know what the rainfall will be for any given season, we know that over a period of time it will fall in a certain range.


We Are All Connected

Meanwhile Karl Pribram, MD (Languages of The Brain: Experimental Paradoxes and Principles of Neuropsychology), a neurosurgeon, has hypothesized that our brain stores its memories not in one location, but throughout the entire cortex, much as a hologram is stored. David Bohm, PhD (Wholeness and the Implicate Order), an English physicist and protege of Einstein, suggests that each part of the universe, you, I, an apple, etc., contains all the information about the whole universe within it, just as it has long been accepted that every cell in our body contains all the genetic information to make any other part of the body.*

Bohm's theory of implicate order demonstrates that our usual way of studying the world, by looking at its separate parts, will not reveal its true nature. From an implicate order view of reality, the price of tea in China is subtly interconnected with Neptune and neither can be fully appreciated apart from each other. Bohm suggests that music and poetry are better vehicles than words for this kind of understanding. When Bohm and Pribram learned of each other's work, they were able to propose a new way of perceiving reality, a view in which ultimately we are connected with everything else. Each of us has within us all the knowledge of the universe.

Formative Causation

British plant physiologist, Rupert Sheldrake, PhD (A New Science of Life: The Hypothesis of Formative Causation), proposes that our physical structure and behavior are influenced by the thoughts and actions of other members of our species. This phenomenon is based on morphogenetic fields, which are like blueprints governing behavior and structure, connecting together every member of a species, living or dead. According to Sheldrake's hypothesis, we can choose to blindly follow old blueprints, or with conscious, focused attention, hasten the emergence of new ones. The implication is that the effects of our thoughts are not confined to our own little world, but impinge on the greater whole. Sheldrake's idea that all living things are connected to all others of their species via morphogenetic fields sent shock waves through the scientific community. His hypothesis is testable and preliminary studies appear to support it. It remains a center of controversy among those in the life sciences.


*The three dimensional hologram is a photograph recorded quite differently from the two-dimensional photograph. If you cut the negative of a two-dimensional picture of an apple in half and print it, half the apple is lost. If you cut a holographic plate of an apple in half, the image of the whole apple is still there, it's just a little fuzzier. The photographic information for each part of the apple is distributed throughout the whole plate as an interference pattern of different frequencies of energy. In other words, all of the image is present at any one location on the plate.


The Earth As a Living Organism--Gaia

James Lovelock, PhD (Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth), an independent British scientist, and Lynn Margulis, PhD (Microcosmos), have rekindled the ancient idea that the earth is a single living organism--Gaia, the ancient Greek earth-mother goddess--greater than the sum of its component parts. Together the rocks, sea, atmosphere, plants, animals, and humans make a larger whole that is capable of self-regulation.

Lovelock and Margulis give a hypothetical illustration of this type of buffering/feedback system that they call the Daisy World. On this imaginary planet, two kinds of daisies are the only inhabitants. An increase in the population of white daisies reflects more solar heat, cooling the world. An increase in the number of black daisies absorbs more heat, warming the climate. The white daisies grow better in warmer temperatures and the black ones grow best at cooler temperatures. If the temperature gets too warm, the white daisies will increase in numbers, cooling the world, and vice versa. Thus the two keep each other in check with these simple feedback loops, maintaining a fairly constant atmospheric temperature despite outside influences such as increased cloud cover or varying solar output.

Most animal's bloodstreams have a bicarbonate buffering system that allows them to maintain their blood pH within a narrow range in the face of the fluctuating acid/base levels produced by digestion and metabolism. Similarly, Lovelock has shown that the earth controls over twenty functions (surface temperature, atmospheric gas concentrations, ocean salinity, etc.) via complex buffering systems involving many different species. The carbon dioxide levels of the planet, for example, are controlled in part by sea organisms that tie up carbon dioxide with calcium-forming sedimentary rock deposits that are buried in the sea.

Lovelock and Margulis believe that Gaia is transforming herself in ways we do not fully comprehend. Although she is presently showing signs of consciousness similar to that of a sleeping person, an arousal pattern is in evidence. Different species are the analogs of different organ systems: green plants, her lungs; the oceans, her blood; humans, her nervous system (or maybe we are just here to move things from one place to another!).

Peter Russell (The Global Brain), points out that it takes about 10 billion atoms to make a cell. Similarly about 10 billion nerve cells are required in a brain before it has an awareness of itself. Since the population of humans is on the same order of magnitude, collectively we are at a stage where our individual consciousnesses could produce a matrix for Gaia to take an evolutionary leap involving the whole of our species.

Our chopping down of trees is causing massive droughts and famines. Our overuse of fossil fuels is heating up the planet through a greenhouse effect of excess CO2 and methane that the planet cannot keep in check. The resulting global warming is from an apparent overpowering of buffering system along with an overproduction of methane gas from the bowels of domesticated animals.

Our use of chlorofluorohydrocarbons like freon, have been destroying the ozone layer (a fact first discovered by James Lovelock in the seventies) for many years. We must develop a higher level of consciousness just to survive. Hopefully we will not only survive, but flourish in a new state of awareness.

Since this article was originally written, the issue of global warming has reached a critical state and it appears that the consciousness of a critical mass of planetary citizens is awakening to the need to do something about it.

As the "hard" sciences soften with theories that shake the very core of our basic beliefs about the world, we are finding evidence that the mystical teachings of the ages are true: consciousness has the power to affect matter; we are not independent entities that can be dissected, analyzed, understood, and treated as parts, but integral elements of a larger whole; we are not only affected by, but affect the reality we perceive around us.

Although the scientific arguments for the new theories may seem difficult to understand in their current states, thus appearing to support the old model of a few having the means to dominate the many, in actuality they support, for the scientifically-minded, the same ancient wisdom that has been accessed intuitively over the centuries. Aligned with the philosophy common to most spiritual teachings and intuited from deep meditation, this knowing is available to any who desire it and does not have to be understood logically.




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