Mécanique de Vaisseau-volant, anoniem, ca. 1781 – ca. 1784. Courtesy Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
“Seizing an Alternative Conference Guide for Scientists
Science has dominated modern thought. Indeed, to a large extent, it has been the achievements of science and of the new technologies that have distinguished modern Western thought and led to its acceptance throughout the world. We all now assume and benefit from what it has accomplished.
But like all human accomplishments it is limited and plays an ambiguous role. Its accomplishments have rendered the future of life on this planet precarious, and the world needs more help from scientists in dealing with the contemporary crisis.
We are greatly indebted to nuclear physicists who are helping us respond to the dangers of the accidents and wars that their science intensified. We are greatly indebted to ecologists who alerted us to the unsustainability of the current form of the human enterprise. We are greatly indebted to climatologists who have warned us about climate change and are working with others to find ways to contain it. But many scientists are among the majority of the population that pursues its work without regard for its contribution to society.
Further, the success of modern science has been bound up with assumptions that need to be reconsidered. Scientists are already engaged in this reconsideration, and our “Seizing an Alternative” conference focuses on this process. If the natural sciences adopt a more inclusive worldview — one that does not deny the role of values and meaning in the world and that can do justice to more of the scientific evidence — this will help to liberate the social sciences as well. Indeed, the whole body of modern thought, as it is expressed in our leading universities, will benefit, and we will be in a much better position to respond wisely to our crises.
What to Look For
Direct discussion of the sciences is limited to the Section titled “Reenvisioning Nature; Reenvisioning Science.” This section focuses on developments in science that break out of the limits that until recently most scientists accepted. Quantum theory at one end and neuroscience at the other indicate that the physical world is not limited to what received models allow. The conference wants to encourage those scientists who are exploring these frontiers and are seeking new paradigms for understanding the world.
The study of the broadening scientific thinking can be pursued in other sections as well. A scientist might be interested in seeing how investigation in many fields is advancing beyond the paradigm established in the seventeenth century. For example, the investigations of the body and sexuality in Section IX, “Reimagining and Reinventing Bodily-Spiritual Health,” with relevant Tracks titled “Eco-Feminism” and “Extraordinary Challenges to the Modern Paradigm,” take full account of scientific study, but go much deeper. This is partly because they take both objectivity and subjectivity fully into account. Much the same could be said about the teaching of compassion. Certainly, science has taught us many things, and those who study compassion learn from it. But the exclusion of the subjective from science leaves it impoverished, indeed, when we ask about its contribution to those who promote compassion.
The medical profession has acknowledged the efficacy of some forms of Eastern medicine that have a different view of the human body than the one created for and by modern science. This is an important breakthrough, a recognition that something real is excluded by modern scientific assumptions. The Section IX Track titled, “Extraordinary Challenges to the Modern Paradigm” can be an eye-opener for one who has been socialized into acceptance of the blinders imposed by the dominant modern worldview.
An even more direct challenge to that worldview can be found in transpersonal psychology and paranormal studies treated in the Section IX Track titled, “Entangled Difference: Gender, Sex, Race, Class, Etc!” The indications found in neuroscience that mental disciplines affect the physical brain barely prepared one for the exploration of the subjective world that has also proceeded outside the academy. Scientists may regard some of this with suspicion, but it would be good for them at least to know what it is they are dismissing out of hand and why other thoughtful people find it convincing.
A new paradigm is needed. It is being born. Scientists who are interested in understanding why it is needed, and what it can be, are most welcome at the conference. We need a lot of help to push change forward.