Monday, June 8, 2009

3. Putting Paradigm in its Place

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A paradigm is defined as a model or pattern. For our purposes consider it a way of thinking about any given subject. A paradigm is a way to understand something through associative groups of ideas. So to change your mind is to change your paradigm. It
’s not that simple of course, but it will be after your “Paradigm paradigm” is in place.

Paradigms are built out of networks of associations. You might think you’ve decided that your favourite colour is blue, but it’s been decided for you by the mess of associations you have for the concept of “blue.” An example of an association could be a memory, or just a simple thought. Imagine that inside your brain there is a complicated three dimensional web of tiny neural highways that connect to each other at millions upon millions of junctions. A junction could have many highways coming in and out of it, or it might be dangling by itself, a cul de sac, the end of the line. In our metaphor, inside each of the junctions is a single purpose, it could be an idea, concept, thought, or memory and its sole purpose is to fire or not fire. The complexity of the web develops as associations physically link junctions together. So, in a simple scenario, the child understands that cookies taste yummy because some sensory junctions have connected the concepts of “cookie” to the concepts of “yummy.” (Bypassing the obvious associations of “cookie” to “food”, “eat”, “grab” etc.) Or rather, Cookie > Yummy. The horseshoe symbol creates an “if... then” statement. So C > Y means “if it’s a cookie, then it’s yummy.” A complete statement with subject and predicate, following the rules of symbolic logic, very similarly to grade school grammar. (You can use => on your keyboard to type an acceptable, “arrow” substitute.) You can also say “if and only if” with = or > or on your keyboard = There are other logic symbols that express other ideas, they will be examined as we need them.8 To change the child’s “Cookie Paradigm,” bake cookies out of something less delicious, say sourdough/asparagus flavour. Now the child has difficulty accepting that this new “thing” is even a cookie at all. Perhaps, this new “thing” > Not Cookie, or Cookie > (?) The child’s cookie paradigm has shifted.

Thomas Kuhn opened minds to both ideas of ‘paradigm’ and ‘paradigm shift.’ I'm more interested in how he also commented on how paradigm could get in the way of communication. If two scientists had different ways of looking at a problem, different paradigms about the same subject, they might have trouble communicating. He called it scientific paradigm incommensurability. Kuhn, in my opinion, limited the idea of Paradigm by limiting his definitions. It was as if he wanted to keep Paradigm for the exclusive use of scientists. I can’t speak to his motives or otherwise, but by not realizing the social benefit a utilitarian appreciation of ‘paradigm’ provides, Kuhn lost any chance to define its boundaries. Also fascinating to assume is Kuhn’s apparent ignorance of the real power his little idea contained. He would later acknowledge its takeover, by further narrowing his view, to coin “exemplars:” paradigms generally accepted as rule. Kuhn's idea of paradigm is more outward looking, and while the constituents of paradigm were, at least in part, as was the typification, a concern to him he certainly never dissected it as we do now.

The differences of ‘paradigm’ are the differences of language, of lesson, of opinion, of desire, etc. They are the very stuff that makes us individual. My rules for paradigm have been borne of the failure of Kuhn to extrapolate the social potential of his idea. I’m not alone in having done this but I seem to be in my definition. The Anti-Social movement is strong. After the idea of paradigm was modernized by Kuhn, even it’s limited infancy, how could scientists, authors, corporations, et al not “borrow” its universal nature and hone it as they required?

Science goes through stages, much like all things do. A natural lengthy phase where the norm is established then a more exciting, revolutionary phase where Things Change. Then the change becomes the norm, thus the birth of the “shift.” Sometimes it happens without the overall acceptance of its power? We come to a shift, we accept the shift, we change our paradigm. If we are lucky we realize we just made the shift. If we are brave enough we examine what it means to have made ANY shift and how it might empower us to make pre-emptive shifts where necessary. (Thomas Kuhn rolls over in grave.)

Let’s look at another common paradigm, the idea of “Bed.” Be it an extravagant, luxurious set up at a five star hotel or a dirty horse blanket in the desert, bed is a concept that you began to understand before you can even remember. At first it was probably associated with sleep, comfort, warmth, perhaps even love as your parents may have read you stories, kissed you and tucked you in. Your associative group, your “bed” paradigm is made up of a “few” junctions. Within a few years, it is likely that ‘bed’ might run a fresh line to a new junction, ‘punishment.’ Maybe you are sent to bed without dinner, or you feel that your “bedtime” is unfair. Later still in life the idea of “bed” will most likely become linked to many other junctions; Romance, sex, power, misery, laundry, whatever... You can see how the list can be as lengthy as the newly forming associations in your mind. (Incidentally, my metaphor isn’t too far from the physical truth of your brain, this is the way it actually works!)

By the time you are in your mid twenties your mind is essentially “made up.” (A little bit earlier than that for females.) That is not to say that you can’t make new junctions, in fact, very recent studies have shown that neuro-plasticity, or your brains’ ability to physically change remains healthy throughout most of your life. However, you are not going to make as many new associative connections in the remaining seventy or so years of your life as you did in the first twenty because the ‘forming’ brain is the most pliable. Fret not, for you can take comfort in the fact that you are much more likely (in your wisdom) to recognize epiphaniacle experiences as new junctions are created or connected to create “A-ha!” moments. These moments of strong realization, something almost all humans can relate to, are associative networks of ideas that are connecting into super highways of thought, built of blood flow and tiny discharges of electricity.

Let’s argue that in whatever world I live, the concepts of “bed” and “sex” are connected but the idea of prostitution is a complete unknown. In such a paradigm there is no link between “bed” and “income.” Then, one day through no fault of my own, I become aware of prostitution. Suddenly, I am able to link “bed” to “sex” to “income.” Perhaps I’ll become involved in prostitution in such a way that I become unable to think of “bed” in my old paradigm. It’s possible that, after the paradigm shift, and suffering the lifestyle of a typical prostitute, I will forever look at “bed” with negative feelings, and not at all remember the comfort or warmth of my earlier associations. I say, “This life stinks and I’m trapped in it.” Such is the nature and the power of paradigm shift. (This was a long term case example, a very similar effect could be achieved in one horrible evening of abuse.)

Now let’s imagine I latch onto prostitution with a lively vigor that will eventually lead me to become the Madame of the largest whorehouse in the world. I’ve had my scrapes and “paid my dues” much as the first prostitute did, but I never let anyone change my spirit and now I look at beds and see them as puffy white clouds taking my clients to Heaven. I am successful, healthy and happy. I happen to love sex, I’m good at it, I’m good at running my business, therefore ‘Bed’ > ‘Success.’ The outlook of the first prostitute was exactly the same as the second ones’ at the beginning. They both just “became aware” that prostitution existed. They both decided it was for them. The first one had experiences that lead her to associate ‘bed’ with ‘pain.’ The second one had similar experiences that lead her to associate ‘bed’ with ‘success.’ The difference being that the second one had an understanding of paradigms. Sure, she didn’t call it that, she just never let anyone ‘change her mind.’ She was going to be successful and she was. It could have gone the other way despite her attitude, but it didn’t. The first prostitute has no idea of paradigms. She lives in a reality where things happen to her. She has no control over her life. She had (unconsciously) decided that things were going to be bad in this life, and (surprise!) they are.

I use prostitutes in my explanation because they are an ancient idea that is still commonplace today and they bring morals into the equation. Let’s call the first one, the unsuccessful, unhappy one, “Britney.” And let’s name the second, successful hooker, “Christina.” So far Britney has demonstrated Paradigm Ignorance, (or unconscious paradigms,) by not accepting responsibility for her positions, (she’s a person that things happen to.) She’s had small but relevant paradigm shifts and used Assignee’s Prerogative to her disadvantage by attaching negativity. (She considers her experiences to be sufferances.)

Christina has illustrated Paradigm Cognition by her decision to not allow her paradigm to be displaced and by not assigning negativity to unpleasant associations she used ‘Assignee’s Prerogative’ to her advantage. If you had to decide between them both, surely all would agree that by any standard Christina was a happier, more successful and more productive hooker.

Yeah, but, she’s still a whore!

Exactly! So what? What do you think of that? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why are you deciding on that? Do you have to? Is your life going to be altered in some way if you just let the idea of prostitution be and assign nothing to it’s paradigm? Do you know any hookers, is your sister a whore? No, then what bloody difference does it make? Let it go! This is not possible for the vast majority of humans because we must decide. How can we help but form an opinion? How can we truly know anything if we can’t have an opinion of it? Some of us might even go so far as to believe ourselves when we say we have no opinion of prostitutes, (we’re not judgemental.) Then we cross the street to avoid the “busy corner.”

In the preceding example of ‘bed,’ we were able to successfully join the concept to ‘income’ through ‘prostitution.’ This paradigm shift (the realization of the concept of prostitution,) is a side effect of maturing, or rather becoming knowledgeable, that I call Paradigm Tarnishing. It’s taken your positive connotations of “bed” and attached them to something you find uncomfortable. The effect is probably more recognizable in the common lessons of disappointing ilk, “Your parents lie. Your teacher is an idiot. Your cat ate its kittens.” The experiences happen without you knowing the how or why, once you are aware of these you’ll be able to do something to control your self, presuming you can’t already.

The connections of the junctions linking the simple concepts, (bed + sex + income) > prostitution are only the core of the association. On top of that are many other pathways to junctions varied by each individual and formed uniquely to build your own ‘prostitution’ paradigm. I can only guess at what weird or wonderful things are rattling around in your head when you think of “bed.” (Incidentally, there is no Paradigm “Polishing”, the opposite of “Tarnishing” because Paradigm Cognition polishes approaches by default and attaching positive associations to negative concepts is stupidly dangerous. It does, however, try to get presented to us constantly; “Friendly Fire....” “Near Miss...” “Acceptable Losses...”) And we do it to ourselves by, for example, enjoying a delicious cigarette.

One thing certainly experienced by modern humans is the urgent desire to form an opinion of any given subject, immediately and often in spite of not having any foreknowledge or understanding of it. If you wish to test the hypothesis just ask anyone what they think of anything, especially if they have no way of knowing it. (Here the language gives away the nature of the question. There is a marked difference between questions that start either: “Tell me what you think about...” and “Tell me what you know about...”) This enormous egocentric fault is demonstrated by our ability to work against our own best interests. It is also at the core of my argument.

So, I ask you now, think about your bed. Think back to all the beds you’ve had. Remember all the associations you have made with ‘bed.’ What do you think about when I suggest you think about ‘bed’ I bet it’s quite a bit different from what you would if I asked you to think about prostitution. If you were to jot it all down in two columns and then beside, make two more columns cataloguing everything you knew about ‘bed’ and ‘prostitution,’ the latter list would be much shorter. The difference between the two is opinion formed, and strongly held. Think of it this way, your paradigms are built up of what you have absorbed through either experience or lesson. They are not your opinions, they are what form your opinions, networks of associations. Those associations group together to create a Paradigm, which can be an opinion. Sometimes the opinion is deserving, sometimes not. You probably have a healthy, “normal” paradigm where you think very banal thoughts about ‘bed.’ It’s almost nothing, barely registers on the emotional radar. ‘Prostitution’ gets a stronger response because there are morals attached and therefore more junctions involved. The cascading avalanche of connectivity leads to a stronger mental reaction.

If the person contemplating “bed” holds powerful associations within their paradigm, they may be physically manifest in discolouration, outbursts, violence, etc. This again, is their Assignee's Prerogative. It’s as complicated as they need to make it. However for these people and for all the rest of us, once we have developed an appreciation for “what we are” and “how we got that way” we, feeling like we've been given the key to “the secret,” may indeed go nuts with power. I can remember when I came to understand what I’ve explained to you thus far. It was a moment of empowerment. Once I understood Paradigm, opinion, the physical work occurring in the brain much as I’ve described, I thought I was so much wiser than my friends. It turned out that wisdom runs faster than I can and my friends were happier than I was. We are going to find that it is impossible to know every paradigm fully. To this end we must still strive. It’s important that we understand the significance of the concept of Paradigms for five reasons: 1.) We can understand our thoughts are formed by associations. 2.) We can examine the constructive associations of our paradigms and evaluate their validity. 3.) We can assign or re-assign importance or value to our paradigms using Assignee’s Prerogative. 4.) We can reclaim identity through the formulation of our own, original opinions. (Authentic Self.) 5.) If the examination exposes previously unconscious paradigms, you have by definition, discovered at least some of your Authentic Self.

Or: ‘If exposing Paradigm creates Authentic Self and Evaluation is the key to exposing paradigm, then Evaluation is the key to Authentic Self.

E > P

P > AS <- line means “therefore.”

E > AS (If you’re with me so far, congratulations, you’re a philosopher.)

We must also consider the responsibility one accepts as a practitioner of the contemplative life. As Spalding Gray says in “Monster in a Box” “To name it is to claim it and to claim it is to take away it’s power.” One has taken a sort of “oath to reason” once reason has been established. To go back to being unreasonable would be unthinkable, yet this happens.

Let’s return to our original metaphor and discuss this final point to conclude. If, shortly after my discovery of prostitution, I am asked “What do you think of it?” The best answer, rarely heard, is “Well I just found out about it, didn’t I? Why don’t I get back to you after I’ve formed an opinion.” More likely I am to form an instantaneous decision based on other peoples’ ideas, what I’ve learned, what I’ve heard, what your facial expression tells me I should think, or whatever else I’ve got to work with inside my experience. So I shout out, “No! That’s disgusting and demeaning.” Yet, obviously we have prostitution. Some humans have looked at their bed/income association and found it appealing. It’s been around forever, so how can it be that I am so eager to denounce it? The point is, understanding something and forming an opinion of it are two separate functions of mind that aren’t always copacetic. As I have never known a prostitute, nor had any dealings with, nor even known anyone who’s had dealings with one, how can I possibly understand? I can’t, yet I form an opinion. It’s completely illogical and probably unjust. I have used other people’s opinions to set a paradigm for myself. (Granted, this paradigm will likely remain harmless, but can you see the danger?) Now I’m stuck with a paradigm I don’t even know I agree with, don’t know I can change and won’t know how it’s going to change me. Currently, almost everybody falls prey to this phenomenon, which is terrifying.

A paradigm should be a flexible entity, able to shift, grow, shrink, even disappear. If I was exercising my Assignee’s Prerogative I would say my “Prostitution Paradigm” is that they exist, I don’t have to bother with them, so I don’t. If I ever do, then I guess I will. This, in our current reality, is unacceptable. Our paradigms must be known. How are we to know who you are if we can’t know what you think? Furthermore, due to the long rampant influx of generated opinion, our paradigms are the facts. Our opinions become the object. We have become unable to separate our associations from our subjects. Our beds are this, our beds are that. Prostitution is this, prostitution is that. We must communicate every experience, if even to ourselves, because we have been indoctrinated to categorize everything. It is just how we relate sociologically. Language is partly to blame too, but let us get into the philosophical habit now of remembering that words are just symbols for the ideas they represent. Therefore, we don’t support the war but we support the troops. We abhor murder as executed by group A and tout group B heroes for doing the same thing. We drive home drunk and smash up our bumper sticker that reads “Support the war on drugs.” We are unable to even recognize the ‘double-think’9 of our everyday life.

Humans don’t bother to think. They just regurgitate what they’ve already decided and they're more than happy to bark out fabricated ideas without even contemplating the “why.” It doesn’t have to continue this way. That little word “why” is the key. Asking why leads to the places opinion is born. Asking why an opinion exists leads to measuring it’s value. Knowing the value will help you decide if it’s time to change your mind or attempt to change someone else's. Logic and reasoning can help us along the way to bypass the traps of language and work only with concepts.

8David Kelly, “The Art of Reason.”

9George Orwell, 1984

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