Paradigm shifts for saving the world

Gideon Polya, “Paradigm shifts for saving the world”, MWC News, 5 June 2006.

 

Paradigm shifts for saving the world

 

NEW MWC News Editor in Chief, Professor Walter A. “Mac” Davis, in accepting this rôle, wrote a splendid “Statement of Purpose” essay that really amounted to a call for fundamental paradigm changes in order to improve the lot of Man. A core proposition was that “ The biggest problem about our ideological blindness is our blindness to it” and  he called for constructive dialogue: “Inevitably my contribution to that endeavor will be shaped by the limits of the theoretical framework I bring to it. 

That limitation informs the appeal I want to make here to all readers of MWC News to join me in an effort to flesh out what will, I hope, become our shared purpose: to cast off old paradigms, to expand our thought by creating dialogues that will be based on our willingness to challenge any and all received dogmas of the left as together we teach one another what we’ve failed to think and know.”

Specifically he addressed the need for fundamental re-thinking in the areas of politics (how humans do things collectively), psychoanalysis (how and why we think and behave the way we do) and theatre (or, more generally, culture -  poetical interpretation of collective and personal realities) (my crude simplifications in parentheses).          

Re-thinking fundamental paradigms of politics, psychoanalysis and culture is consonant with my evolving position as a humanist scientist who is endlessly shocked by the AVOIDABLE awfulness of the world. Indeed the fundamental process of Science according to Karl Popper is the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses. This fundamental point is seriously misunderstood by many in a world increasingly held in thrall by anti-scientific “spin” involving the converse – the selective use of asserted “facts” to support partisan positions. There should be ZERO TOLERANCE for lying and “spin” in exactly the same way there is zero tolerance  for crimes against children (in Metropolitan USA if not in the Occupied Iraqi and Afghan Territories, where one infant dies every minute due to Bush Administration violation of the Geneva Conventions). The problem is that politics heavily involves lying and spin;  personal perceptions often involve self-deception and indeed it is possible, by the simple device of prior exposure to a photograph, for a person to be made absolutely convinced that so-and-so was the culprit in a crime; and as for theatre and culture, there is a major problem about the “objectivity” of “right side of the brain”-determined poetry and shadow interpretation that, respectively,  enabled our ancestors to survive psychologically or to detect indirect manifestations of predator presence.

I have a pragmatic position derived from English Literature Oxford Don Peter Conrad (a former Tasmanian like myself), specifically that man needs FOOD, SHELTER and FICTION. Fiction can mean art, religion, music, literature and even science - but in the latter case in a very specific sense of "ACKNOWLEDGED fiction".  Science involves truth, reason, dialectical "worrying" and, fundamentally, the critical testing of potentially falsifiable hypotheses (ŕ la Karl Popper). However the actual PROCESS of discovery in "great science" can involve "right side of the brain" intuitions and insights more akin to those of art, literature and music - as powerfully described by T.S. Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1970)  and Arthur Koestler in “The Sleepwalkers” (Penguin, London). Thus Kepler’s discovery of elliptical planetary orbits owed some inspiration to the imputed magical properties of various solid geometry forms, and Kekulé’s discovery of the resonance forms of the benzene ring derived from his dreamy inspection of the flickering, dancing flames of a log fire. Importantly, for operational convenience and general utility, scientists routinely use "acknowledged fictions" (good examples being the particle/wave duality in Physics and "electronic distribution tautomers" in Organic Chemistry).

We all want to IMPROVE the world and a fundamental, bottom line measure of progress is the minimizing of "avoidable mortality" (there are of course other variously linked measures of varying degrees of importance and, for example,  relating to literacy, artistic sensibility, or love of humanity). HOW we do this sensibly can be seen as Rational Risk Management, something that is applied very successfully in high risk areas such as aviation, nuclear power and defence – and indeed explaining why aviation and nuclear power stations are so safe but ALSO why Coalition military deaths in the Occupied Iraqi and Afghan Territories total about 3,000 whereas the "enemy" avoidable mortality and under-5 infant mortality now (mid-2006) total 2.3 million and 1.8 million, respectively) (and constitute horrendous evidence of gross Coalition violation of the 1950 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War).

The Rational Risk Management protocol used so successfully in high risk areas has been described by Professor James Reason (what a wonderful name!), a psychologist  from the University of Manchester, and successively involves (a) good information, (b) scientific analysis of the data and (c) sensible systemic change to minimize risk (see: J. Reason, Human error: models and management, British Medical Journal, vol. 320, 768-770, 2000). Unfortunately, in society in general this protocol is perverted (from suburban associations to corporate and national governments) and typically involves (a) untruth, intimidation, censorship, lying by omission and commission, (b) anti-scientific, "spin"-based selective use of asserted facts for partisan positions and (c) blame and shame of suitable victims (especially whistle blowers) with unchanged or increased consequent risk. Indeed the whole post-9/11 travesty illustrates utter perversion of Rational Risk Management through (a) lies, “slies” (spin-based untruths) and censorship, (b) substitution of “spin” and Goebellsian propaganda for scientific analysis and (c) horrendously mis-directed violence - nobody has been arraigned (as yet) for the likely explosive demolition of the WTC buildings but (so far) there have been 2.3 million mostly utterly innocent deceased victims of the Bush “War on Terror” (in actuality a war on Women and Children) (see MWC News: herehere , and here ). 

.... We are obliged to respond rationally, humanely and articulately to the avoidable horrors of the world. However, while Science can provide a better model of reality, Theatre (Art, Culture) can provide a better way of getting the message across. Walter Davis is quite correct in advocating the fundamental need to earnestly and collectively re-think our paradigms of politics, psychoanalysis and theatre – and to inform others.

Walter Davis’ “saving the world” prescription of dialectically re-assessing our fundamental paradigms of politics, psychoanalysis and culture certainly fits the Rational Risk Management protocol outlined above. Like scientists in their endless search for “better but potentially falsifiable models”, we all need “better paradigms” in order to improve the system for everyone.  Even “useful workable fictions” can ease the burden of humanity - such as Christianity for an African dying from HIV/AIDS as a result of  primitive Papal injunctions against condoms (Karl Marx’s “religion is the opiate of the masses” can be seen to be both literally and metaphorically correct). Further, regardless of the “objective validity” of commonly accepted paradigms in key areas of human sensibility, we need to approach the “objective truth” of their “degree of acceptance” in order to improve the world. Crucially, however, we must recognize (a) the potential impermanence of “currently perceived truth” and (b) in accepting the human necessity of “fiction”, we must be scrupulously honest in ACKNOWLEDGING  “fiction” when it occurs.

While ideas, paradigms and models are useful in science, society and Rational Risk Management, the NUMBERS also matter evidentially in both our scientific and moral assessments. The great British physicist Lord Kelvin famously stated: "When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind: it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the state of science" (William Thompson, Lord Kelvin, Popular Lectures and Addresses [1891-1894], in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Fourteenth Edition, 1968, p. 723a;.

The “English-French” expression “chacun ŕ son goűt” (each to his own) applies here - I am merely a prosaic humanist scientist driven by obligate opposition to the steadfast, racist, holocaust-ignoring refusal of global, corporate Mainstream Media to report the horrendous First World-complicit global avoidable mortality (16 million annually) and the horrendous avoidable mortality caused by US "democratic imperialism" (a term popularized by one Stanley Kurtz in “politically correct” contemporary America, in contradistinction to Joseph Conrad's "Exterminate all the brutes" Kurtz in his novel "Heart of Darkness"). The avoidable deaths in Belgian King Leopold’s Congo (the setting for “Heart of Darkness”) totalled about 10 million; those so far in post-1950 US Asian wars total 18 million (seehere and here ; a MUST read is Sven Lindqvist’s “Exterminate All the Brutes” (Granta Books, London, 2003), a brilliant,, multilayered and succinct analysis of violent European racism). 

Walter Davis’ “saving the world” prescription of dialectically re-assessing our fundamental paradigms of politics, psychoanalysis and culture certainly fits the Rational Risk Management protocol outlined above.

 Scientists and humanities scholars are two sides of the same coin as truth-seeking intellectuals. We surely identify with Jake Blount's position in his argument with similarly humane Dr Copeland in Carson McCullers’ “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” - that we must primarily explain and educate in order to change the world. Silence kills and silence is complicity. We are obliged to respond rationally, humanely and articulately to the avoidable horrors of the world. However, while Science can provide a better model of reality, Theatre (Art, Culture) can provide a better way of getting the message across. Walter Davis is quite correct in advocating the fundamental need to earnestly and collectively re-think our paradigms of politics, psychoanalysis and theatre – and to inform others.

I have advanced a simple acronym RRRR (4Rs) for the “enemy”, the Racist Religious Right Republicans that bestride the dumbfounded world like a Colossus (the spoken acronyms revealing the primitive drives of fleshly satisfaction, like “Aaaah!” after another beer “sunk” on a hot day). I have also advanced CAAAA (C4A) (also the mournful cry of the crow, the near-universal scavenger of the dead) as an acronym for an obligate post-holocaust protocol (e.g. post-Korea, post-Vietnam, Post-Central America, post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, post-Iran?): Cessation, Acknowledgement, Apology, Amends, and Assertion of non-repetition, of “Never Again”. The Germans substantially applied CAAAA after 1945 as did the Japanese (albeit only “sort of”, with major deficiencies in their school history books) - the Germans are in Afghanistan with NATO; the Japanese are helping the US and the UK to occupy Iraq. 

In 2005 (after getting lots of legal advice, because racist, Islamophobic, terror-hysterical and resolutely dishonest White Australia has set in place horrendous, potentially Human Rights-violating Sedition Laws), I sent a formal complaint about the horrendous war crimes of the US-led Coalition to the International Criminal Court (ICC)  (for the 2005 and updated 2010 Formal Complaints  to the ICC see: http://sites.google.com/site/afghanistangenocideessays/19-december-2005-formal-complaint and http://sites.google.com/site/aboriginalgenocide/9-january-2010-formal-complaint ). In that complaint I quoted the wonderful "the pen is mightier than the sword" declaration (echoed in Walter Davis’ great essay) by the 1957 Nobel Laureate for Literature, Albert Camus, in a 1946 essay entitled “Neither Victims nor Executioners”:

“Over the expanse of five continents throughout the coming years an endless struggle is going to be pursued between violence and friendly persuasion, a struggle in which, granted, the former has a thousand times the chances of success than that of the latter. But I have always held that, if he who bases his hopes on human nature is a fool, he who gives up in the face of circumstances is a coward. And henceforth, the only honourable course will be to stake everything on a formidable gamble: that words are more powerful than munitions.”

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