A Commission for Extended Science
Notes to the SMN Commission by Hardin Tibbs, 31 October 2016
In Which Direction Should Science Extend?
One way to describe “extended science” would be to identify it as an extension from physical to non-physical.
This seems to me problematic in various ways.
One minor concern is that the concept “non-physical” works in opposition to “physical” and therefore tends to maintain “physical” as a dominant category.
A more serious concern goes as follows:
- As a concept derived from basic human experience, physicality essentially implies sensory force-feedback from the environment. This has historically been interpreted as depending on or demonstrating the existence of an independent physical reality – but as virtual reality technology has now demonstrated, sensory force-feedback can be entirely simulated.
- Physicality therefore fundamentally refers to the engagement of sensory phenomena by a discernible self-image (i.e. body). The familiar classical example is the biological body experiencing the physical world.
Let us suppose the persistence of the individual self beyond biological death. It might be expected, and in fact is reported from NDEs, that the self would still operate through a self-image of some kind. This would facilitate self-expression, self-presentation to others and hence communication and interaction, and would also provide the context for subjective experience.
In other words, as long as there is individual subjective experience the self is likely to operate through a self-image. Thus at the biological level of existence the biological body forms from its biochemical environment as a kind of holographic image of the deeper self. And at successively refined levels of existence (short of complete reabsorption into cosmic unity), the individual self would continue to experience itself as having a “body” or self-image of some kind.
This “body”, however refined and mutable, would presumably experience itself as interacting palpably with its sensed environment, even if the senses in question were analogous “inner” senses rather than biological senses. Its sensed environment would therefore have a property that would be best described as “physicality” even though it would be a physicality as correspondingly rarified as the self-image.
Thus something corresponding to “physicality” probably exists at all levels of existence, but not all forms of physicality would be directly perceptible from all levels of existence.
For these reasons, it seems to me that “physical” versus “non-physical” is not the best distinction to use for describing an extended science.
What alternative distinctions other than “physical” versus “non-physical” are available?
One alternative would be to identify “extended science” as extending from acknowledged phenomena associated with currently known physicality, to unacknowledged phenomena associated with currently hidden or unseen levels of physicality.
The rationale for this distinction is that there are many phenomena that are not acknowledged by mainstream science, which prevents their inclusion. In fact it is precisely the existence of these neglected phenomena which gives plausibility to the idea of an extended science.
Another approach might be the concept of a new “metaframe” for science.
A New Metaframe For Science
It is now widely accepted that science, despite being a remarkably successful source of understanding and useful technology, only describes a part of reality. As long as science is regarded as a means of developing codified knowledge, rather than as being a body of established knowledge, it could in principle expand to include aspects of reality that seem at odds with current scientific assumptions.
Such an expansion is actually necessary now because science has come to dominate cultural thought, and its current orthodoxy is likely to impede future human progress unless it is extended – otherwise it may be sidelined altogether. This can be seen in the many small signs that the prestige of science is slipping and it is at risk of being rejected, though this is hardly a desirable outcome since anti-science is not a constructive way forward.
For the range of science to be extended its underlying assumptions about the nature of reality would have to expand. Such an expansion goes beyond a paradigm shift in the Kuhnian sense, which usually arises within a particular area of science, and would be better described as the emergence of a new metaframe for science as a whole. Many scientists, such as Rupert Sheldrake, have in effect pointed to the need for a new metaframe, and some such as Fritjof Capra have identified its emergence as being part of a wider cultural transition.
Certain aspects of reality cannot immediately be brought into science as we think of it, but many phenomena on the penumbra of the current metaframe are already being treated in a science-like way (for example acupuncture) effectively demonstrating the plausibility of extension. The essential method of science (cf. Steiner) would still apply, but the background assumptions about reality would need to change in a way that allows new knowledge to be integrated with the existing content of science.
The source of resistance to this from within the scientific community is that a variety of borderline phenomena (such as orgone energy) cannot be brought into science without breaking the current metaframe. Einstein is the scientist best known for articulating this type of conflict, in his commentary on the difficulties of quantum theory. He wanted to resolve his concerns by extending quantum theory in a way that would bring it back into the classical metaframe. But when the thought experiments he devised to conserve the classical metaframe, such as the EPR Paradox, eventually became actual experiments they showed a violation of the classical metaframe. Quantum theory is in fact a paradigmatic case of the need for a new metaframe, and the many efforts of interpretation occurring around quantum theory are evidence of this (e.g. most recently quantum information theory).
A new metaframe on its own will not be enough to extend science. Scientists themselves would also need to expand their mindsets to include or adapt to the new metaframe. Furthermore, the science emerging from the new metaframe would confer new insights and powers likely to overwhelm the existing ethical and political frame of society. So scientists or others, conceivably artists, would also need to undertake some form of social research to discover how the new insights and powers could be handled responsibly. In this sense the new metaframe of science would also be a new cultural metaframe. Its full development would require a kind of anticipatory exploration of the kind science fiction has typically offered – except that science fiction has for many years also been languishing inside the existing metaframe.
Many other possible alternatives for identifying the direction or dimensions of “extended science” can be listed, in the spirit of brainstorming, in no particular order:
(this list shows either “from…to…” or “both…and…”)
– outer-sensory (objective) to inner-sensory (subjective) – theoretic to “native” (unfiltered) perception – nothing-but epiphenomena to real in themselves subjective phenomena – acknowledged to unacknowledged phenomena – “gross” physical reality and “fine” physical reality (traditional description) – invalidation to revalidation of subjective experience – reason and intuition – empirical and revealed – cognitive and felt knowing – ideological (materialistic) to non-ideological – ideological falsification to empirical falsification – laws of science to nomological machines (cf. Nancy Cartwright) – closed to open belief systems – impersonal to intersubjective – quantitative and qualitative (a science of qualities) – logical and archetypal mentation – serial to parallel perception – diachronic and synchronistic – prior-causal and retro-causal – entropic and syntropic – random occurrence to intelligent supervention – horizontal and vertical causation (cf. Wolfgang Smith) – isolated parts to connected wholes (this extension has already happened) – biology as machine to biology as hologram – mechanistic-inert to living conscious systems – non-purposive to purposive systems – biological to supra-biological beings – interacting with lower intelligences and higher intelligences – single-mode to multi-mode reality (e.g. quantum theory) – fixed to flexible reality – closed holons to open holons