The 3 Strands of Science

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In this interesting extract Ken Wilber explains the 3 strands of science, and also dismantles some myths about the relationship between science and spirituality, explaining what is the real difference between scientific thinking & religious dogma.

Starting with defining more clearly what we mean when we talk about science, we can better understand what dogma is, and how it is not limited to religion 

In fact there is a lot of dogma in present-day science, as there are many dogmatic attitudes we have as individuals & entire cultures, & all of these slow down our evolution.


We can say that there are two types of science that Wilber calls Deep Science and Narrow Science.

Besides the scientific process has three 'wings', & each represents an important part in acquiring knowledge.

Science is a very very specific kind of interpretive process,

and it has 3 wings:

* Injuction: trying to determine the  right way or the "paradigm" to acquire knowledge about something. Eg if you want to know if it is raining go out to the balcony and watch, or if you want to know if the cell has core, get a microscope, learn how to observe through it and see a cell under a microscope. 

* Aprehension: Following a prescription you get experience or data. Eg. a view of a cell nucleus. 

* Confirmation: Once you have that experience you have to confirm it in some way and the more intelligent way to do this is trying to refute your aprehension. According to Karl Popper an hypothesis is not an scientific one unless you can think of a way to refute it.

These then are the three components to access to valid knowledge. ANY OTHER CLAIM NOT APPLYING THESE THREE COMPONENTS IS NOT SCIENCE.

Besides that, we can apply these components to any kind of knowledge (Deep Science), not only to what we can see and measure physically (Narrow Science).

So (in his example) we can apply these areas of knowledge to the mystical and contemplative sciences dealing with internal parts.   Zazen meditation or other kind of meditation techniques are actually injunctions: If you want to know the nature of the Buddha you have to start by sitting and count your breaths. Only once you do that enough times you get an experience that can later be confirmed (by others' experience).

Yet if we listen to some common ways that even the experiments of very big groups of people are dismissed out of hand as 'bigotry' or 'dogma', we can see that all they actually amount to is that they're from the set of people who have followed the injunction.  The 'bigots' are actually the people who refuse to do the experiment & keep judging the new paradigm using old models.

As we mention in the class, when we are being dogmatic instead of scientific in our thinking, we do the equivalent of the people who opposed Galileo's & Copernicus's new models  in 17C & 16C.   They weren't really interested in looking at the data (by following the injunction which brought forth the new data, e.g. look into the telescope, do the maths, etc.), but simply argued against the new models on the grounds that "they couldn't be true" because the conclusions contradicted the previous models thinking.  Which of course they would: that was precisely what was evolutionary & positive about these new models!

As Wilber says here, "If you don't look into the telescope (and know how to look) you're simply not qualified to vote about Jupiter's moons".

Because of this kind of non-thinking (& lack of understanding of the scientific model or application of simple logic) it took some 200+ years for the world to come to terms with a new paradigm: the earth our home is not the centre of the universe - & it could be argued that, emotionally, we've yet to climb out of that paradigm, even if we accept the evidence, intellectually.

It is because of this phenomenon that it is said that progress doesn't happen by people being persuaded by new facts, but by the people with the old paradigm simply dying out & the new generations growing up with the new models already in their culture.   

Now we do not have the time to evolve in such slow ways (especially as people are living longer ...) & we really need to become a lot more conscious about how our own thinking (& non-thinking) processes work, if we are to embrace more workable models & the new ways of thinking that we need to practice in order to halt the systemic destruction that is facing us, on a planetary scale. 

We think now that we're living in a 'scientific age', but in fact we humans are just as 'religious' (dogmatic) about our beliefs & models as we ever were, UNLESS we really understand (& especially APPLY) the scientific process correctly.    
And this can be learned.   
Because unconscious or emotionally-driven attachment to our old beliefs ('religious thinking') is in fact also what permeates all 'bad science' (what is called science but in fact doesn't really follow the scientific process), and is what stops us often trying new experiments, even where there are many people who are claiming to have discovered some important evolutionary new ground, by some kind of original type of experimentation & observation.

In a very similar way to many new brilliant paradigms which had an unnecessarily long & painful birth, the RC model of the mind is either ignored or opposed by people who keep applying the old paradigms as 'proof' that it can't possibly be right: anything but 'look down that telescope to see the data for themselves'.

US labor leader Nicholas Klein
(also attributed to Ghandi)

“first they ignore you, 
then they laugh at you, 
then they fight you, 
then you win.”

(seems to be a kind of 'natural succession' pattern 
for controversial or 'new paradigm' ideas)

But RC is based on a very particular injunction*, that, when followed, gives quite striking results in the direction of increasing human intelligence, of liberating the human spirit or helping us evolve, mature emotionally.    If you don't follow the injunction (do the experiment) you will not get the results. 

* RC's injunction is "intimacy" or "closeness".  
What many thousands of people who have come together since the early 50s (when the first formal RC communities started) observed was that when people formed trusting, close relationships & individuals were given a particular quality of attention to share whatever they were thinking & feeling, then emotional 'discharge' was often observed to happen & that this, if freely allowed, seemed to often be followed by new insights (re-evaluations), more things were understood & more rational, empowered behavior seemed to follow.   

This is easily observable in everyday relationships, where, however, the required combination of intimacy & enough dedicated time + good attention does not often happen as it's left to chance.  RC simply found a way of planning to ensure the right conditions are present for accelerating & deepening the process of intimacy between people.

So a radically new model of the mind was constructed that seemed to follow from these observations, and this model has been tested & perfected now for 6 decades, by the 'community of the qualified' (as Wilber refers to the action-learners or scientists engaged in doing the same experiments).

As with the Copernican model in the middle-ages, if what this model were applied on a wider scale, it would mean a very radical change in almost everything we currently do in the medical system, the mental health system & education, but especially the very powerful pharmaceutical industry, so it is not at all surprising, perhaps, that it is either ignored or violently opposed, still.   Here is a selection of the kinds of things the opposition writes about:

What is very interesting about all of these objections (apart from noticing it is very difficult to read them without being emotionally triggered, for most people) is that none of them actually argue in terms of the basic model (which they actually mis-represent on every count: quite understandable as it is almost impossible to understand it from within old frameworks of the mind, what oppression is, etc.), or make any mention of having tried the experiments (& the few who did try the process personally, openly say it was beneficial), in the same way as the objectors of Galileo's theories never argued in terms of the actual observations or the maths: there was no point doing the experiments, the objectors openly admitted, as the conclusions were damning enough.

Unlike the objectors of Galileo, however, the objectors of RC don't openly propose an alternative model (the Church at least openly opposed Galileo on grounds of christian heresy: we do have a model, thankyou, & it's in the bible) - even when this implies - by default - that the current system (increasingly based on drugging to keep people 'functioning') is fine - but limit themselves to claims of the (supposed) personal reputation of the founder*, early internal difficulties of the organization, appearances (superficial impressions of the practitioners from outsiders), and in general play on very emotional topics (mentioning 'cults', 'sexual abuse', hidden political agendas, etc.) whilst listing a great deal of mis-understanding of the basic theory, because it's argued with from a very different paradigm: the current 'mental health' paradigm which it is, in fact, radically departing from.  

* Lucky for physics that Einstein or Freud weren't accused of being  pedophiles or womanizers ... very emotionally-charged accusations that would stick to any leader, whether true or not, if gossiped enough about, & much more so now, in the era of Internet).  Ironically, it is precisely this kind of confusion caused by emotionally charged topics that RC is so effective at dealing with, & by this kind of propagandist-type inflection, it is perhaps even the people who could most benefit from the tools of RC who are most kept away from them.

In the same way that the Church would 'argue' that Galileo's findings were clearly absurd because God must have put the Earth in the centre of the Universe, two clashing models (with different axioms, available data & world-views: differing paradigms) cannot directly be argued with, nor should simply be 'believed in':  we would progress a lot faster if we learned from history & simply decided whether we wish to do the actual experiments, or not.  And admitted that if we aren't interested in doing the experiments, we're simply upholding a dogmatic position.

"knowledge is paradigm-dependent

if you don't follow the injunction, 

you won't have the experience"

There's a dialogue related to this page in the Integral Permaculture FB group (click icon to go there)

There's a dialogue in our FB group about this (click on icon to go there)

Wilber refers to the Integral Model in his talk, which is essential for understanding these points. 


in this e-book