In this week’s spotlight I would like to discuss the idea of paradigms. The American physicist and philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, proposed the notion of paradigm cycles that can eventually lead to paradigm shifts. A paradigm shift is a construct that describes a fundamental change in the basic concepts and experimental practices of a scientific discipline.
Paradigm Shift Cycle
The Kuhn Cycle, as it is known, has pre-science leading to science, followed by a model drift that leads to a model crisis and subsequently a model revolution and consequently a paradigm shift. By way of example, physics is a field that has experienced pressure by many in the direction of a paradigm shift in the quantum model. There are multiple reasons for this but an easy one to comprehend is the theory of special relativity that presumes that the speed of light in a vacuum, which is denoted by the letter “c,” is constant at around 300,000 km/sec. The constancy of the speed of light in a vacuum, and the fact that this is also the speed limit in the universe, are the cornerstones of the special theory of relativity. This theory is itself one of the fundamentals of modern Physics. If c was not constant or if it can be exceeded by any matter or energy, then a new physics would be needed. So, when a team of research scientists in Italy reported that they found particles known as neutrinos traveling faster than light in their experiment, they had effectively challenged the existing paradigm in such a fundamental way as to potentially create a model crisis. 1
Although the team, and their experiment known as OPERA, replicated their findings initially in 2011, they later discovered possible errors in their hardware and the crisis disappeared.2
Science is science precisely because it is able to challenge itself despite the difficulties that some pioneers can meet when they do go up against the establishment. That said, science moves on.
Shifting Preconceived Ideas
Now the point of this discussion: people often hold preconceived ideas about the world we live in and these beliefs can blind us from alternative perspectives. Just this week, as a case in point, I posted an article regarding consciousness, the title of which explains the thrust of the article: “Scientists Shed Light on the Biology of Consciousness.”
Right away a visitor commented on this post, remarking, “Absurdly ridiculous.” So I asked, “What do you mean—what’s ridiculous?”
Well it turned out that this person was convinced that consciousness could never be explained in biological terms or created by man. Now, during our exchanges I linked several scientific findings and theories including one from NIH and Max Tegmark’s mathematical theory of consciousness. My visitor then turned to the epiphenomena attached to consciousness as his final argument for the fact that consciousness could not be an emergent property of biology.
Now think about that for a moment? My concluding remark in our exchange sums it up for me, “Assume for a moment that AI researchers are able to assemble consciousness. Now assume that our AI begins to experience epiphenomena, just as you or I might. We don’t have an explanation for the epiphenomena, any more than we do today, but we still have consciousness, given this example. So the real question is not in the Red Herrings, but rather in the simple straightforward assertion, ‘Can we construct consciousness?’ When consciousness appears to exist in some AI system, then we can begin asking the questions, ‘How does it differ from human consciousness, if at all? What is it that we want to define as ‘special consciousness’ if we are uncomfortable with accepting man-made consciousness?'”
Marching On with Change and Possibilities
Now whether or not science is ever able to create consciousness is not what I’m getting at. No—rather the issue is one of our own personal paradigm shifts. I suspect there will be many in the coming years whether or not we wish this to be true. In my lifetime I have seen much of what I learned in university to be false to fact. Science will march on and we should all be open to marching with it—for closed minds will march nowhere. Indeed, they’ll simply circle on themselves.
My thoughts anyway, what are yours?
As always, thanks for the read.
1. Fathoohi, L. 2012. “The Speed of Light and a Paradigm Shift in Physics.” Louay Fathoohi’s Blog. April 9, 2012.