The effect of scientific theory on consciousness
All paradigms of knowledge, whether scientific, political or psychotherapeutic, effect how we see ourselves. As Bertrand Russell said: "Throughout history we have drawn our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe from the current physical theory of the day." This is not to say that all knowledge is derived from physical theory, nor that it is historicist, but rather that it is a specific framework within which we pursue our enquiry into existence.
Freud thought and created his theories within the scientific paradigm in writing his 'scientific psychology.' He went to great lengths to appear scientific in his arguments, that is to stay within the paradigm, although whether he was successful or not is debatable. He set out to discover in the human psyche laws and forces which would mirror those in the physics and chemistry of his day.
I suggest that the models which we use to explain to ourselves how things got to be the way they are, are fundamental to how we experience ourselves inwardly and outwardly. That is, that systems of knowledge shape how we think and how we structure our society. Religious faith, for example, is shaped by the dogma of the religion itself. We behave differently if we think the world is flat, than if we have a round earth theory, to use a naïve example.
In looking at eras in history it would appear that philosophy, religion and science have been linked, in fact prior to the 16th century they were much more closely associated than today. However, in recent times these separate disciplines show signs of converging.
The evidence is growing that chaos theory and analytical psychology are describing similar dynamics, albeit in different realms. These dynamics constitute chaos reintegrating at greater levels of complexity. Jung said that psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. And again: “There is no difference in principle between organic and psychic formations. As a plant produces its flowers, so the psyche creates its symbols.” Prigogene, the father of chaos theory, discusses the coming together of our own insights about the world around us and the worlds inside us as a satisfying feature of the recent evolution in science that we have tried to describe. “I came to see that the rules of the game were much the same, no matter what field you look at”, he said. Chaos theory can be seen as a metaphor for something that has preoccupied humankind from its beginning. For what was once attributed to supra-human elements - gods, giants and spirits can now be seen as a function of the relationship between energy and matter.
I proceed on the premise that everything that we regard as the knowledge of the world is organizationally closed. Whatever the theory says about reality is not in fact that reality, because any theory is an abstraction of the whole and therefore is, in a sense an illusion. Though scientific theories may be quite useful illusions, Bohm reminds us that the user of a theory should always be starkly aware of the theory's inherent limitations. This echoes the phenomenological critique against the positivism first proposed by Auguste Compte, which recognizes only positive facts and observable phenomenon, and rejects metaphysics, the unconscious, theism, and anything mysterious.
Nietzsche did not have to proclaim that God is dead, because science had already killed him. Classical, deterministic physics had already transmuted the living cosmos of Greek and Medieval times, a cosmos filled with purpose and intelligence and driven by the love of a God for the benefit of man, into a dead, clockwork machine. Nietzsche made many references to science, and the limitations which reason created. In "Thus spoke Zarathustra", he speaks of his own phenomenological approach; "I speak only of the things that I have experienced and do not only offer events in the head." In his proclamation "I teach you the Superman", he is making a plea for the leap which would take one out of the shackles of reason, out of the limitations of the paradigm, out of a 'foreclosed' system.
I propose to show that the ideas of quantum theory, specifically the developments of chaos theory and fractal geometry relate to the possibility of a new view of ourselves, collectively and individually, and that this view allows for radically different possibilities from the determinism of Freud's time. That the tendency towards wanting to create a theory which posits certainty is inherently very strong is illustrated by the fact that Quantum physics itself is divided into two branches: The "Deterministic", or the "universe of law and order" of Einstein, and the contrasting branch of Chaos Theory, "does God play dice." I will continue to link determinism with foreclosure as I develop my argument.
If we are not to be caught up in a deterministic, self-referent, narcissistic and entropic system, there is a great need for a re-visioning of our world. According to Benoit Mandelbrot, fractal geometry is not just a chapter of mathematics, but one that helps Everyman to see the same old world differently. The mathematics of fractal geometry were first proposed in the 1920's, but it was only with the advent of sophisticated computers in the 1980's that Mandelbrot displayed the beautiful iterative patterns of the Julia sets. The relationship between theory and form was clearly visible. Perhaps as Robert Stetson Shaw says, 'You don't see something until you have the right metaphor to let you perceive it, " regardless of whether this metaphor is applied in the field of science of psyche.
[Briefly, scientists find the laws of fractal geometry govern much of the natural world, producing patterns that repeat themselves on smaller and smaller scales. The structure of a fern is explained by fractals. Clouds, river deltas and mountain ridges are characterized by repeated shapes on an ever larger (or smaller) scale.]
Suares and others who interpret the language of the letter-numbers of the first five chapters of the book of Genesis present us with the idea that these literal biblical stories are an abstract formula or metaphor for the reality of cosmic energy, rather than the opposite and accepted view that these stories about Adam et al are the concrete story. The age of determinate physics was also the age when the Creation story was insisted upon as being literally correct. Foreclosure in its broadest sense is a way of forestalling the approach of these cosmic energies. As Suares comments, “The traditional reading of the Bible is the result of intellectual subjugation to psychological demands. The book of Genesis when read according to custom therefore appears in the form of a story relating the facts and gestures of such people as Adam, Eve, Cain, Able, and so forth, but whose names when read in the light of the cabalistic code reveal that they are abstract formulas of cosmic energy focused in the human psyche.”
The medieval Hermetics or alchemists mingled Gnosticism, Christianity, and theologies from Egypt, Babylon and Persia. They believed in creation from a pre-existing chaos. Yet the Greeks, beginning with Democritus, proposed that everything by its very nature is predetermined. Nothing is left to chance. The determinism that characterized the paradigm of classical physics influenced other disciplines as well. Chaos was the word most dreaded by the physicist of the past, because it represents that which exists not only beyond the known but beyond the knowable.
Examples of anomalies abound in science which, when examined by science itself, actually constitute the collapse of the prevailing paradigm, and the instatement of a new one. Discovery begins with the recognition of anomaly that makes it appear as if nature has somehow violated the paradigm that governs normal science. The scientist has moved away from the old paradigm and entered a liminal area, beyond which a new paradigm may be waiting to be born.
Newtons’ goal, at the end of the 17th century, was a “structuring of the world in so absolutist a manner that every event, the closest and the most remote, (fit) neatly into an imaginary system.” [It could be that the chief source of Newton’s desire to know was his anxiety before, and his fear of, the unknown.] Reflecting this is a statement, which is the epitome of classical certainty and determinism, by Pierre Simon de Laplace, one of the leading mathematicians of the 18th century. In his Philosophical Essays on Probabilities, Laplace submits an ideal where nothing could be uncertain; and the future just like the past would be present before ones eyes.
Within this kind of system the erratic was treated as a side issue, an unpredictable and therefore unimportant kind of marginalia. Now scientists are more willing to look directly at the irregularity. And they accept Mandelbrot’s challenge: to scrutinize, rather than dismiss, the apparently formless; to investigate the morphology of the amorphous.