How Close Are We to a New Paradigm in Science and Philosophy?
“We and the cosmos are one. The cosmos is a vast living body, of which we are still parts… Now all this is literally true, as men knew in the great past, and as they will know again”. (D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse)
Fellow Medium writer Anders Bolling kindly invited me to be a guest on his podcast Mind the Shift this week. I had over a week’s notice, so I had a chance to prepare lots of material, since I had only an approximate idea of what he might ask me. I wanted, as far as possible, to be ready for anything. We got through a lot of material: quantum physics, the reunification of science and religion (which some people prefer to call spirituality), spiritual awakening, reincarnation, Jungian psychology, the relationship between spirituality and politics, and astrology — I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Anders is a firm believer. There were, however, a few topics that I’d prepared which we didn’t get round to. So in a brief series of articles, I’m going to discuss some of the other things we might have talked about, if we had had more time.
Later I’ll discuss:
- some important new paradigm books
- the new paradigm scientist par excellence Rupert Sheldrake
- the philosopher Bernardo Kastrup
- James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, and this independent scientist’s struggles to have it taken seriously.
Here I’ll begin with a topic we touched on briefly towards the end of our conversation. I was expecting Anders to ask me how well new paradigm thinking is doing, how close we are to achieving the new worldview, and therefore moving beyond materialism, rationalism, ‘Enlightenment’ thinking.
I imagine that some like-minded people might think that this shift is inevitable, that it’s only a matter of time, that perhaps it’s all part of ‘God’s plan’ in some sense. I wanted to suggest therefore that we shouldn’t be complacent, that this shift is not inevitable — even if I think that it will happen at some point. That is because we have been here before.
I am referring to the period known as Romanticism, the peak period of which were the years 1780–1820. (All the following information comes from a wonderful book Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature by M. H. Abrams¹. I am very grateful to Jack Preston King on Medium for drawing my attention to it.)
As well as being a precursor to current new paradigm thinking, this movement can also be seen as a counterbalance to the dominant movement at that time known as the Enlightenment, an opposite but unfortunately not equal tendency. Abrams says that in the four decades, beginning with the 1780s, there was a remarkable period of creativity, when “a number of the keenest and most sensitive minds found radically inadequate, both to immediate human experience and to basic human needs, the intellectual ambiance of the Enlightenment, with its mechanistic worldview, its analytic divisiveness (thus reductionism), and its conception of the human mind as totally diverse and alien from its non-mental environment” (p170).
Previously, “Renaissance vitalism had envisioned an integral universe without absolute divisions, in which everything is interrelated by a system of correspondences, and the living is continuous with the inanimate, nature with man, and matter with mind; a universe, moreover, which is activated throughout by a dynamism of opposing forces which… sustains its present existence…” (p171). (Does that sound like quantum physics to anyone?)
In England the movement consisted of poets: Wordsworth, Shelley, Carlyle, Coleridge, Blake, Keats, and others. They were, however, “equally metaphysicians and bards”; they saw themselves as philosopher-seers, poet-prophets, and were very spiritual people:
- Wordsworth had a religious training
- Coleridge was a lay preacher, almost a Unitarian minister
- Shelley idolised Milton, and constantly studied the Bible
- “Keats envisaged his own destiny as a poet… to develop ‘a system of Salvation which does not affront our reason and humanity’ ” (p33).
In their writings we find ideas from Plato, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, ancient mystery traditions, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and their own interpretation of Christianity.
In Germany, however, the trend was more towards philosophy, and the movement is now known as German Idealism. Some of the prominent figures were: Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Novalis, Hölderlin, and Schiller. They were, however, all steeped in literature and theology, and four of them were actually students of theology, “and explicitly undertook to translate religious doctrine into their conceptual philosophy” (p33).
The culmination of that period was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was a poet, novelist, dramatist, scientist, statesman, and arguably a philosopher. His play Faust is possibly the greatest ever piece of literature about the human predicament, when trapped in the prison of rationalism, and the ensuing spiritual journey. The final line is: “The Divine Feminine leads us above”. (This paragraph was me, not Abrams.)
Two of the key ideas from all these writings were:
1. the tendency to replace a personal God with an impersonal first principle, more along the lines of the Brahman of Hinduism or the Tao, “…greatly to diminish, and at the extreme to eliminate, the role of god, leaving as the prime agencies man and the world, mind and nature, the ego and the non-ego, the self and the not-self, spirit and the other, or subject and object. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, for example, begin with an undifferentiated principle which at one manifests itself in the dual mode of subject and object, whose interactions (in and through individual human selves) bring into being the phenomenal world and constitute all individual experience, as well as all the history of mankind”. “It is the subject, mind, or spirit which is primary and takes over the initiative and the functions which had once been the prerogative of deity; that is why we can justifiably call Romantic philosophy, in its diverse forms, by the generic term ‘Idealism’ ” (p91).
2. to see the evolution of consciousness as a spiral. Here Abrams is describing the ideas of Hegel: “The self-moving circle, in other words, rotates along a third, a vertical dimension, to close where it had begun, but on a higher plane of value. It thus fuses the idea of a circular return with the idea of linear progress, to describe a distinctive figure of Romantic thought and imagination — the ascending circle, or spiral”. The same idea is expressed in simpler language by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal: “Every development moves in a spiral line… reverts to the same point on a higher turning” (p184).
Let’s apply the second point to our current situation. We reached a certain point on the circle with the Italian Renaissance. The journey continued through the (let’s say necessary) phase of the Enlightenment, with all the benefits it brought us. However, we have now returned to the same place in the circle, albeit one rotation higher, so that Enlightenment thinking has passed its sell-by date, and we are in need of a new Renaissance, a further revival of ancient ideas, although assimilating the advances brought by the Enlightenment, thus a reunification of science and religion.
Here are a few other random quotes from these writers:
Carlyle: “The individual man was in himself a whole, or complete union; and could combine with his fellows as the living member of a greater whole”. (He was therefore anticipating Arthur Koestler’s concept of the holon, and the possibility of the coming together of humanity as one family.)
In Fichte we find the idea of a world-plan, the goal of the life of men (and women of course) on earth, which is to achieve a ‘final state’.
For Schelling, nature is “the self-revelation of the Absolute, or ‘God’; is a living identity of unity and multeity of the infinite and the finite, and to know it as such ‘is the sole thing that can be called waking’; any other way of perceiving it ‘is dream, picture, or the utter sleep of death’ ”.
Schelling again: “History is an epic composed in the mind of God. Its two main parts are, first, that which represents the departure of humanity from its centre out to its furthest alienation from this centre, and second, that which represents the return”.
Hegel said : “To become true knowledge, spirit has to work its way through a long journey”, and “the I is We, and the We is I”. Abrams comments that the spirit appears in a multitude of altering disguises, “so that the one actor plays all the roles in the drama…, the one spirit is all there is in the story. It constitutes not only all the agents, but also the shifting setting in the phenomenal world of nature and society which it sets up as object against itself as conscious subject or subjects, and since the spirit’s being involves all of its own ceaseless development, it constitutes the totality of the plot as well”. The idea that there is one Spirit (or ground of being), which is everything that exists, connects with the Ancient Wisdom traditions, quantum physics, and cutting edge philosophy.
Another interesting German, born just after this intense period, was Gotthold Lessing who wrote The Education of the Human Race. Echoing Hegel, he said that we can “consider the entire sequence of human beings, during the entire course of the ages, as a single man who lives perpetually on and learns something all the time”. Another very interesting thought of his was that “the very path upon which the race reaches its perfection, every individual man… must first have travelled over”. He is implying that the spiritual journey that each of us undertakes contributes, even if only in a small way, to the overall evolution of consciousness of the race. That is an extraordinary thought, in line with the esoteric idea of a human being as a microcosm of the planet, and perhaps ultimately the universe.
These were obviously exciting times: there was “a breathtaking speed and explosive character” in the development of post-Kantian Idealism, “which was without parallel in the history of philosophy” (p348). It was no surprise therefore that Shelley seemed to think that a new paradigm was emerging, and that he and his fellow poets and philosophers were the figureheads. He said: “We live among such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond comparison any who have appeared since the last national struggle for civil and religious liberty”, and these men have in common “the spirit of the age”.
He was wrong, however, because exactly 200 years later we are still going through the same battle. I don’t know if history moves in precise time frames like these, but it is an interesting coincidence that the period Abrams discusses was 1780–1820, and the period we are currently discussing is 1980–2020.
Just before 1980 the relationship between quantum physics and spirituality was brought to the public’s attention primarily by Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics. Then in 1980 Marilyn Ferguson published The Aquarian Conspiracy. The word ‘Aquarian’ obviously refers to the Age of Aquarius, thus New Age thinking, a new paradigm. The word ‘conspiracy’ has acquired some new connotations since then, but she means it in its original sense of ‘breathing together’. Her title therefore refers to an emerging new paradigm movement.
Both she and Capra were very optimistic that the changes they envisaged were about to take place. In the afterword to the later 1992 edition of his book, Capra said that the impact of the book had been beyond his expectations, that it had been “part of a much larger movement of a fundamental change of worldviews, or paradigms, in science and society… a profound cultural transformation”. He talked about “an outdated worldview”, and workers for the new paradigm. He said that “the new physics is an integral part of a new worldview that is now emerging in all the sciences and in society”, which is being “confirmed by recent developments in other sciences, notably in biology and psychology”.
Thirty years later, however, has anything really moved on? Admittedly lots more new paradigm science books have been published, and perhaps more scientists are being converted to the new way of thinking. We seem to be at the point, as Thomas Kuhn would say, that the old and new paradigms co-exist alongside each other.
So, what is going to make the difference this time round; what is going to take us to the point of no return, to push us over the edge? In my opinion, as I was suggesting to Anders in the podcast, the solution might have to be political. I said that “God is still trying”; here I’ll add, but might need some help from us. Spiritually minded people need to form parties, argue their case, and be voted into office. Then it might be possible to make the necessary changes, especially to the education system. (I’ll discuss this in more detail in a later article.)
My personal impression from all this is that, despite the disparaging and dismissive comments from some scientists, on the whole poets, philosophers, and novelists sometimes have a much deeper understanding of reality than they do. So much for the Enlightenment!
Here’s a link to the next article in the series:
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. W. W. Norton & Company, 1973