We all use glasses to see the world

Concluding Paragraphs of Radical Paradigm Shifts, as edited and published in current RWER issue No. 85 — (reposted from RWER Blog)

The outcome of all this discussion can be summarized metaphorically by saying that we all use glasses to see the world. The direct world out there is a jumble of sensations – a matrix of points – which makes no sense by itself, and must be interpreted using our own frameworks, represented by the glasses. This means that ALL observations are tinged with subjectivity, and interpreted within the frameworks created by our past experiences, successes and failures, in viewing the world.

A paradigm shift occurs if we remove the glasses we use to view the world, and instead put on a different pair of glasses. A famous experiment  conducted by Professor Theodor Erismann, of the University of Innsbruck put reversing glasses on his student and assistant Ivo Kohler. It caused extreme disorientation and discomfort at first, but after about a week of stumbling around, he adapted to this new way of seeing the world. His subjective interpretative equipment learned to interpret the reversed image by performing an additional reversal within the brain to arrive at a correct image of the world. Now, when the glasses were removed, the world appeared to be upside down to Ivo.  On a much larger scale, this is what happened in Europe due to the Great Transformation[1] which transformed traditional society to a market society, where everything is viewed a commodity for sale.  Later, these ways of thinking were spread throughout the world by colonization and Western education. We learned to value everything according to its market price, and forgot that the most precious things cannot be purchased. Then it became easy to kill a million children, and destroy entire nations, for corporate profits. 

We can now understand the extreme difficulty of creating a paradigm shift. For those who have spent lifetimes learning to see the world with a specific pair of glasses, these glasses become melded into the flesh, and are impossible to remove. After failing to convince his contemporaries about his Quantum theory, Max Planck disappointedly realized that science progresses one funeral at a time. Thomas Kuhn also noted that paradigm shifts do not occur by converting those faithful to the old paradigm, but by inducting the young into the new worldview. Unlike the older generation, for younger and more flexible minds, it is possible to take off glasses manufactured in the Euclidean factory, and put on non-Euclidean glasses. Nonetheless, it is still a disconcerting and uncomfortable experience, which will not be undertaken unless there is some expectation of a great reward for this struggle and sacrifice. The costs of paradigm shift must be paid upfront – one loses the ability to talk to the mainstream when one describes the world using an alien framework. The rewards are in the future, and highly speculative and uncertain. Nonetheless, for reasons explained elsewhere,[2] it seems essential to make the effort – the survival of humanity is at stake.      read more 

[1] See my “Summary of The Great Transformation by Polanyi

[2] See Evaluating the Costs of Growth or Ecological Suicide.

IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS: Article ends as above, but there are some very important implications that follow from this analysis. The first is that there are no objective facts. This strikes at the core of Logical Positivism. LP takes the observations as concrete, objective reality out there, which is independent of the subjective viewer. While it is likely true that there is an objective reality, our only access to this reality is using our own subjective apparatus for sensing reality, and what we see is the product of THREE factors — Objective Reality, Sensing Apparatus, Interpretation  — two of these factors are subjective, and are inevitably jumbled. It is impossible to extricate an objective reality.

When this was posted earlier as Radical Paradigm Shifts”  on RWER, there were 117 comments. Many of the commentators thought that THEY had the objective facts, the right model, they were frustrated at the inability of others to see what was so obvious, and thought that my article explained why. The realization that NO ONE has access to objective reality leads to a dramatic shift in perspective. What appears as objective reality to me (due to my failure to distinguish between my glasses, and what is out there), is just a subjective recreation, a picture in my mind. No one else can see this picture. So all effort at “explaining” is an effort at persuading others to look at the world from MY point of view. This means that FIRST we must appeal to the hearts of the people, to persuade them to listen to us, and to make the effort to see the world from my point of view. . However when we are in possession of facts (when we mistake our subjecive interpretation for objective reality), then those who do not agree with us are blind to reality, and insane (unable to see plain facts or use simple logic). The idea that there are objective facts, and that I can access them leads to arrogance. Subjectivity, and the need to persuade others to think like us requires humility.


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