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Paradigms and Barriers
Howard Margolis
How Habits of Mind Govern Scientific Beliefs
Published by University of Chicago Press/IL in 1993
A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2000


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The other day, shortly before I finished reading this book, my dad picked it up and said, "What's a paradigm?" stumbling a bit on the unfamiliar to him word, "paradigm." It occurs to me that the word, which is pronounced like "pair-a-dime," may be unfamiliar to a lot of people. I remember looking the word up some 23 years ago back in 1977 and I found the simple definition, "model." Indeed, before Thomas Kuhn wrote his classic work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, the word paradigm was little used and meant simply a "model" or "exemplary instance" of something. Almost like a metaphor. Kuhn carved out a detailed meaning in his book, and ever since the usage of the word "paradigm" has soared, and it is now universally used to mean a "way of viewing results according to some accepted body of knowledge." That usage has not hit the dictionaries yet, but my newest dictionary has "paradigm shift" which refers to a change in the current view, which is what Kuhn spent a lot of time talking about in his book.

If one doesn't know what a paradigm is, that is quite a barrier to understanding the contents of this book, which is about the barriers that exist to understand when a paradigm shift occurs. It may be argued that Kuhn initiated a huge paradigm shift in our understanding of the philosophy of science when he wrote his book, and for someone to understand that shift will require coming to terms with the very word "paradigm" and, indeed, Kuhn's book itself.

Margolis sees that our habits of mind are the barriers to our understanding a new paradigm. That's his claim, and the rest of the book consists of his detailed examination of several paradigm shifts that occurred in science over the past five hundred years. He shows us the barriers that made each shift occur so late in time, sometimes fifty, a hundred, or thousands of years after the initial and correct understanding of the problem was described. For example, the ancient Greek Aristarchus conjectured a plan for the heavens in which Earth revolved around the Sun (page 41 and 190) long before Ptolemy's orbits based on the Sun revolving around the Earth were made public. Ptolemy's view held sway a couple of thousand years before we reached our current heliocentric paradigm in which the Earth clearly circles the Sun once more.

Margolis is a good scientist and philosopher, but is stuck inside a paradigm that blinds him to the reason why the Ptolemaic view grew and thrived for so long. Let's call that paradigm: "evolution of consciousness blindness." There was a dramatic evolution of consciousness that took place in human thought from Ptolemy's time to the fifteenth century. Humans in Ptolemy's time were able to view the spiritual world directly. Fairies, elves, angels, archangels, and the spirits of the night sky were everyday experiences for humans and for scientists like Ptolemy. They were also still able to view the world that humans inhabit during sleep in which their spirits expand into the heavens. If one expands into the heavens, one performs necessarily a geocentric expansion, that is, one expands from the Earth outward. Thus the reality of spiritual world, as experienced by humans at their level of evolution of consciousness in Ptolemy's time, was that the Earth was the Center of the Heavens. It is still is, rightly understood, that is, understood from the perspective of the spiritual components of reality. Even though materialistic scientists insist that the Earth revolves around the Sun, humans when they go to sleep at night expand from the Earth outward into the Heavens. This is the same path our spirit takes between death and a new birth. [See ARJ: Life Between Death and Rebirth in which this is described in detail, compete with a diagram of the geocentric heavens.]

When spirits take this expansion path, they encounter the various spheres of the planets as follows: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. (Note that there is an inversion of Mercury and Venus, due to the switch from geo- to heliocentric paradigms. Mercury was always the closest to the center during the geocentric paradigm and remained so during the switch to the heliocentric paradigm, but this necessitated a switch of names of the planets. Thus, the Mercury sphere of spiritual expansion occurs today at the orbit of the physical planet now named Venus, and the Venus sphere at the orbit of Mercury. Rudolf Steiner hints in several places that this switch was a mistake, and I believe this is the proper explanation of how that "mistake" took place. See page 143.) At each sphere humans encounter experiences appropriate to that sphere, thus, in Ptolemy's time, it was necessary that he describe the orbits of the planets using the spiritual perspective of the people of his era, which was the only perspective that would have made sense to them. To have done otherwise would have led his work to be ridiculed and ignored, a luxury no scientist can afford. For Ptolemy to have talked about a heliocentric model in which the Earth revolves around the Sun would have been as foolish as for a modern father to tell his children that when the logs in the fireplace burn, a substance called phlogiston radiates away from it. To a naive child, this may make sense, but as soon as she enters her first science class she will learn that a substance, oxygen, is absorbed during combustion, and the weight of the material left behind from combustion increases instead of decreases. If phlogiston exists, it must therefore be negative-oxygen!

That was the other major paradigm with its intricate barriers to understanding that Margolis examines in his book - the phlogiston theory of combustion as first promulgated by Stahl. The intuitive habit of mind that led our ancestors to view combustion as something leaping away in the flames was so strong that it formed the bedrock of the phlogiston theory, and resisted experiment after experiment that was performed to show evidence that it was that oxygen was absorbed and not that phlogiston escaped during combustion. Every potent experiment that was performed that was explained simply and easily by the new oxygen theory, an intricate and abstruse explanation by the phlogiston theory was advanced. One reality - two theories! Finally simplicity won out over abstruseness. This was a major paradigm shift in the theory of combustion.

The next major shift was to occur in the area of pneumatic physics and involved Hobbes and Boyle. Boyle postulated an "ocean of air" that exists above us that has weight equal to what we know as atmospheric pressure today. Hobbes vehemently disagreed. Air was not compressible and it had no weight. It could move through infinitesimally small spaces to fill what we now know to be vacuums, such as the space at the top of a column of mercury in a barometric cylinder. The arguments went on, and finally Boyle's view prevailed.

The reason I acquired this book is two-fold: one, my overall interest in paradigms and shifts in them, and two, Margolis's idea that habits of mind are the very basis and reality of cognition. The first area will help me to create the paradigm shift necessary to get doyletics accepted as a science of human behavior, and the second area will help me to consider my intuition that a "stream of doyles" may be at the bottom of the habits of mind that form the very basis of cognition itself!

What would it mean if habits of mind were basis of cognition itself? It would mean, among other things, that if these habits of mind were disrupted by neurological damage, the very basis of cognition itself would be destroyed. Here's what Israel Rosenfield writes in The Strange, Familiar, and Forgotten that I'm reading currently:

[page 34 of Rosenfield's book] Patients with brain damage are confused when they fail to recognize and remember, and it is this confused, altered awareness, as much as any specific failures of memory, that is symptomatic of their illness.

What does all this mean? It means that any new way of understanding the world that violates our "habits of mind" threatens the very integrity of our cognitive thinking processes. The habit of mind we call cognition is threatened, and when that happens, every defense known to humankind will be called into service to preserve the status quo, because the alternative is unthinkable, in fact, the alternative is to be unable to think! Given such high stakes, it should not be surprising that in most cases of rival explanations, the rivals are normally tamed and forgotten, and only rarely do the rival explanations evolve into a new accepted paradigm.

How might a "stream of doyles" be a habit of mind? What are doyles? They are physical body states, stored experiences that humans have before they are five years old. These physical body states (doyles) provide each of us with a body image of who we are, how our body is arranged in space, and where every part of our body is in relation to other parts. Doyles allow us to sequence sounds with our speech apparatus into words and sentences smoothly and easily. That's why we always speak more fluently in our native tongue learned before five than a foreign tongue learned after five. What do I mean by referring to a doyle as a habit? Simply this: any event that occurs to someone before five is stored as a doyle, and from that one-time occurrence, a lifetime habit is formed. Speak a phoneme of a foreign language before five, like a Japanese girl speaking, "carrot", and she will be able to speak the "r" sound of English perfectly as an adult and say "fried rice" like a native speaker of English, something otherwise very challenging for an Oriental whose language has no "r" sound in it. Rightly understood, doyles are lifetime habits created before five and therefore habits of which we are not conscious, but whose effects are easily made conscious.

Suppose a father held his son in his hand, the frightened young boy teetering precariously in his father's one hand as he was raised up in the air, looking down on the whole world. The fear the boy felt as he teetered will be stored as a lifetime habit, so that every time he looks down on the world, he feels the teetering caused by the stored proprioceptive doyles stored as a child in his father's hand. As an adult he will come to learn that he is afflicted with acrophobia. From that one-time event came a lifetime habit.

[page 11] In Patterns I suggested that things we know how to do could be partitioned into instincts, habits, and judgment, where habits are built from instincts (and simpler habits), and judgment turns on the ability to sometimes explicitly consider more than one alternative (so that a choice is consciously made among alternative responses to a stimulus). All cognition, on this view, consists of linked sequences of pattern-recognition ("P-cognition"), most of which is inaccessible to introspection. Cases of explicit judgment are some tiny fraction of all the choices we make. Even the most self-aware cognitive processes (the special form of judgment we call calculation) consist substantially of unconscious steps. And even steps that could be interrupted and examined are very often difficult to treat in that way, like trying to stop yourself in the middle of a turn of phrase or the middle of a snatch of melody. That can sometimes be done, but a person has to be motivated to make a special effort to manage it.

In the above passage, doyles may be considered to be the basis of what he calls "simpler habits" and perhaps even of "instincts" or of judgment. If one has to select alternative responses to a stimulus, the choice will usually hinge on which choice feels better, and the "feeling" is a doyle stored before one is five. Yes, explicit judgments govern a tiny fraction of our choices, I'll agree, but how many of even our "explicit judgments" hinge on some doyles that are firing off out of our awareness that have come over time to form what Margolis calls a "habit of mind." And lastly, his reference to the difficulty of interrupting a pattern of speech or melody - clearly this refers to an attempt to interrupt a "stream of doyles" in midstream.

Given the unconscious pervasive nature of habits of mind, how can any novel discovery ever come into existence? Margolis gives a way of thinking about this paradoxical nature of discovery:

[page 18] Radical discovery in particular - discovery that at first easily prompts incredulity, confusion, or even revulsion - must turn on something interestingly atypical about the habits of mind of the individual discoverer, or something interestingly atypical about the experience of that individual, or commonly some mix of both.

Margolis never met Doyle Henderson, so far as I know, but this statement aptly applies to the discoverer of the basic principles of the science we call doyletics. Doyle was atypically fearful as a boy. Other boys would climb trees fearlessly to the very tops, and Doyle would climb to the top, but he was frightened and trembling the whole way. He nearly flunked his physical because his heart rate was off the charts, but after his earnest pleading the doctor wisely allowed him to run up and down some steps so that then his heart rate was in the normal range for someone who had been exercising. As for his atypical habits of mind, Doyle was a pioneer in digital electronic instrumentation. He built the first digital timer ever used at Bonneville Salt Flats to time car speeds. He obtained a degree in electronics and went to work for Berkeley Instruments where he continued to design instruments. Later he went to work on such state-of-the-art projects as the SNARK intercontinental missile, which was an unmanned airplane guided by celestial navigation capable of delivering a nuclear weapon payload over 6,000 miles away within a quarter of a mile accuracy, an incredible feat for the technology of the time. Doyle's knowledge of digital instrumentation certainly qualifies him as having something atypical about the habits of his mind.

From Doyle's atypical habits of mind and challenging life-experiences came a new way of considering how a human evolves and lives that has become embodied in the nascent science of doyletics. One can read the theory and its applications and not be swayed. The theory is a new paradigm; it may be another dead end. In the long history of science, there have been many dead-end theories, many of them obscure and forgotten, many of them held sway for a time and are now forgotten, like the phlogiston theory of Stahl. And every now and then, a new theory is promulgated that casts new light on so many features of current experience that it comes into everyday knowledge and changes the way we understand the world for the better. Even if doyletics falls in this latter category, especially if it falls in this category, its acceptance by the scientific community will encounter enormous barriers to its understanding and dissemination.

One of the big challenges facing me as the founder and disseminator of the science of doyletics is to overcome the incredulity, confusion, and revulsion that Doyle Henderson encountered during the first twenty-five years that he attempted to get people interested in his pioneering work. First, his claims were hard to believe. That fostered the incredulity and led to the exquisite confusion of people who, instead of studying his work and applying it in their lives, tried to understand it in light of the current paradigm. The barriers put up by their habits of mind were too formidable for them to have a chance of scaling over the top into understanding, so they remained stuck on the other side of understanding, what we call "confusion." What about the "revulsion" part? Why would anyone be repulsed by an idea? One of the claims Henderson made was that women who had orgasms before five could later as adults have orgasms by thought alone. Those women who did not have this experience not only disbelieved Henderson's claim, but were uniformly repulsed by the thought that there were women who could have orgasms by thought alone. For this very reason, I have omitted any mention of this claim of Henderson's - not because I disagree with it, but because of the revulsion that it causes in so many women.

[page 20] What looks like striking insight to one side looks like perverse illusion to the other. Often, the parties simply see the world differently, in some way that is not directly observable (since habits of mind are invisible and operate below the level of consciousness) and is tied to no reasonable definition of where their interest lies. It is convenient to have a special term for such conflicts. What I take to be essentially this phenomenon has been most clearly identified and articulated by Kuhn, and his term is the one I will use: incommensurability.

Margolis comes to my rescue and describes why some women are repulsed by Henderson's words on female sexuality: "habits of mind are invisible and operate below the level of consciousness." Women who have never had an orgasm by thought alone have a habit of mind that is drastically different from those that have had that experience, but these habits of mind operate below the level of consciousness. Ask one woman from each category and each will say, "All women are like me." And yet each one will make diametrically opposed claims. This gives us ample demonstration of the barrier that "habits of mind" impose on us.

The author makes the point that the mere existence of ample evidence and cogent argument for a new discovery will not suffice.

[page 28] If a discovery is made, and evidence and argument that eventually will look convincing are in hand, but the relevant specialist community - or at least some important segment of that community - somehow cannot see the sense of the argument, that again is primae facie evidence for a revolutionary episode . . .

How does any revolutionary discovery ever overcome the innate resistance that faces it at every turn?

[page 30] What looks wrong about rejecting the new idea must more than offset what looks wrong about accepting it.

And yet Kuhn's "incommensurability" is at work leading people to ridicule the proponents of the new theory or discovery. In the extreme there comes a time when experts make a complete flip-flop of opinion, and from then on the new discovery becomes the current paradigm and wide-spread investigation may proceed on all fronts.

[page 30] A more extreme situation is when the new idea is seen as incoherent, absurd, or perverse, yet some time later even people who were once making such judgments, or still later their students, are left puzzled about why such an obviously interesting idea was at first seen as making no sense. It is this last sort of situation - the cases that show strong symptoms of incommensurability - that we particularly want to study, starting with considerations of how such situations might arise.

Margolis claims in his book Patterns (which I have ordered, but not yet read) that "all cognition is reducible to sequences of pattern-recognition" and therefore a person is prevented from recognizing a new discovery by the very lack of a pattern-recognition repertoire to perceive the new pattern of the discovery. This is basically a bootstrap problem - how does the first program get into a computer? Programs are loaded by the loader program - which is a program. How does the loader program, the program required to be already in a computer to load other programs, get into the computer? The process by which this happens is called "bootstrapping" or "booting" or "rebooting" a computer. How do researchers lacking the requisite pattern-recognition repertoire perceive the sense of a discovery which requires a new pattern-recognition repertoire? The answer is they are unable to make sense of the discovery - they are likely to deem the very discovery itself to be an egregious mistake by the discoverer, one not worth their time to investigate further.

[page 125] The plausibility of an argument is always in part context-dependent. How plausible an idea is to a person will vary with what else is believed or what else might be hard to avoid if this belief was [accepted].

Obviously it is hard to accept the possibility of having an orgasm by thought-alone for women who have never had one. They are like a computer without a program loader, unable to load the very program needed to load the first program.

[page 149] What makes a belief feel comfortable relative to an alternative is that it prompts less sense of conflict with patterns of experience already in the repertoire.

If we apply Dennett's "law of effect" (page 148) which says that "ordinarily tendencies that get good results grow stronger; tendencies that get punishing results are inhibited," to beliefs, we can understand Margolis's next claim:

[page 149] We have a powerful tendency toward beliefs that are economical relative to equally comfortable alternatives, or comfortable relative to equally economical alternatives.

How is a new theory to be deemed both economical and comfortable? Margolis offers this answer as evolutionary, as something that evolves into being during the bootstrapping of the new theory where the requisite repertoire comes slowly into existence inside of the scientists affected by the theory:

[page 150] Economy evolves because of the chunking, or bundling up (with familiarity) of pieces of an argument into a larger pattern that can be apprehended in an all-at-once way, as discussed in Patterns. Comfort evolves as habits of mind relevant to the belief are reshaped, which occurs if there is favorable experience with the belief (law of effect), or with generational change as old habits atrophy.

We have looked at how a new theory, once discovered, evolves into becoming accepted, but given the absence of the requisite repertoire in the discoverer, how does a novel theory ever get discovered in the first place?

[page 153] On the account of Patterns, along the path to a discovery at every point the discoverer can be doing only what he already knows how to do.

Since one already knows how the items in an analogue of the system under consideration works, the discoverer asks if it might be possible that the system works similar to the analogue, and the discoverer may have found the seed that leads to understanding the unknown (the system under investigation) in terms of the known (analogue). Doyle Henderson did this in his pioneering work on doyletics by seeing the analogy of instrumentation and transducers to the nervous system and the bodily sensors.

Let's look at how Margolis summarizes his argument:

[page 159] We get on in the world (I have been arguing) by seeing as making sense what looks like - and only what looks like - a familiar pattern. That is constrained on one side by the patterns available in the individual repertoire, and on the other by the stubborn patterns of experience the world has to offer. In some long-run sense, the latter must in fact shape the former, but since human beings live in a short run, treating the two as independent (for the short run) will work.

In other words, Margolis is saying that "when the terrain and the map differ, believe the terrain" - words I took to heart when Per Holst spoke them to me as my supervisor in the Research Department of the Foxboro Company about 1975. He said he recalled them from his Norwegian Boy Scout handbook in the section on map reading. If he chooses to believe the map instead of the terrain, the Norwegian Boy Scout may take a step forward off a cliff into a freezing fjord and drown. If we choose to use our individual repertoire over the stubborn patterns of experience of the world, we expose ourselves to a risk equally great as that hypothetical Boy Scout. But it is not an easy task we face, as Margolis warns us:

[page 161] A habit of mind, like a physical habit, does not disappear once you have a good argument against it.

Why bother to overcome these habits of mind? New technology is one obvious answer. We would have no aeroplanes, no telephone, no movies, no sewing machines, etc, but for one person who overcame the habits of mind and created a new possibility where none existed before. Margolis says, "science-based technology routinely produces what in earlier times would have been taken to be miracles." (page 191) Doyletics as a new science has produced its share of miracles and personal application of those miracles are available to those willing to break through the barrier of "it's impossible" and add a new process to their individual repertoires - a speed trace. Got an allergy? Want to keep taking expensive medications that may have harmful side-effects? Or how about a 60-second speed trace to remove your allergy permanently? The choice is yours. The only obstacles you have to overcome are the ones that you have laid for yourself.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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