by Denise Breton & Christopher Largent
NOTE OF INTRODUCTION. Denise Breton and Chris Largent, a husband-wife team, have been teaching and writing together for twenty years. They each have backgrounds in religion and philosophy (Chris from Dickinson College and the University of Delaware; Denise from Boston University, the University of Delaware, and Yale University.)
They have taught half-time in the University of Delaware's Philosophy Department for over twenty years, and have lectured widely, for example, at the Second Global Structures Convention, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics, the World Business Academy, and at the School for Practical Philosophy. Their international work includes seminars in Canada and England on how to interpret sacred texts.
They offer their own public-forum programs, which focus on overcoming the split between the spiritual and the practical, a focus they bring to their counseling work as well. Their programs have spanned work in mythology, near-death experiences, inner journeying, intuition, meditation, and the relationship between business and spirituality.
Their debut book, THE SOUL OF ECONOMICS: SPIRITUAL EVOLUTION GOES TO THE MARKETPLACE (1991), was highly praised by many international luminaries including Huston Smith, Hazel Henderson, Amital Etzioni, and the Dalai Lama, and was hailed by PUBLISHERS WEEKLY as "perhaps the clearest, best written book in that newest of genres, religion/business."
Their second book, THE PARADIGM CONSPIRACY: HOW OUR SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT, CHURCH, SCHOOL, AND CULTURE VIOLATE OUR HUMAN POTENTIALS (Hazelden, 1996), insightfully focuses on how worldviews can cause or end suffering.
This extremely important book examines many paradigms that run our social systems, what kinds of "worlds" they create, how they affect us personally, and how we can create new models to replace dysfunctional paradigms. In an extremely clear, non-antagonistic presentation, the book overall provides a workable model for individuals to claim their power to change social systems by changing the paradigms on which they are founded.
We are extremely grateful that Denise and Chris responded to our invitation to prepare a paper especially for this Web site. All rights are reserved to the authors. For further information, please be in touch with the authors at the addresses included in the paper. (Ingo Swann)
FILTERING CONSCIOUSNESS THROUGH PARADIGMS
by Denise Breton and Christopher Largent
2019 Delaware Avenue, Wilmington, Delaware 19806
Tel. (302) 571-9570 Fax. (302) 571-9615
TOPICAL AREA: Paradigms, culture, philosophy
KEY WORDS: Consciousness, choice, awareness, human potential, liberation
A brief but comprehensive overview of the structure of
paradigms is presented regarding how control systems work within consciousness
levels, and why there is a need to change governing paradigms to move beyond
victim-blaming and toward system transformations. The concept of filtering
consciousness through paradigms is presented, followed by: discussions
regarding choice of paradigms; what is normal or possible for consciousness;
seeking paradigms that fit us; saving paradigms but modifying them for more
efficient performance. The cultural non-commitment to human potentials
is discussed, and the importance of learning that new worldviews bring new
We're delighted to be invited on to Ingo Swann's Web site to discuss some of the ideas in our most recent book. We've admired his work for years and recommended his 1993 Your Nostradamus Factor to many people interested in cultivating their innate powers of perception.
So many things about his approach resonate with us: his clear, thought-provoking, nondogmatic analysis of the future-seeing process, his courage to describe the current era of materialism as "the dark Modern Age," his nondeterministic view of the future, his positive exploration of alternative "change-routes," his intellectual honesty in taking seriously otherwise taboo subjects such as astrology and off-planet civilizations, and his no-nonsense practicality about whatever he's discussing.
Not to mention that we owe this man. While reading his book, one of us had a dream about our house being on fire, while the other put that information together with an odd smell in the dryer. Reeling from unexpected bills, we normally wouldn't have sought more expenses. But this time, based on warnings in Mr. Swann's work, we couldn't do otherwise. So we did the unusual-which is what Your Nostradamus Factor recommends-and stopped using the dryer until it could be checked. When a repair man came, he said the lint build-up around the heating element was a severe fire hazard, and he couldn't quite figure out why it hadn't caught fire already-especially scary considering we had often left the house or gone to bed with the dryer running, a practice we no longer have.
FILTERING CONSCIOUSNESS THROUGH PARADIGMS
Most of all, though, we resonate with Mr. Swann's emphasis on mindsets, worldviews, and paradigms as the key to it all. That's no surprise, since we're philosophers. It just makes sense to us that philosophical models provide the channels through which our consciousness and hence our lives flow.
Filtering aspatial, atemporal, superconnected consciousness through paradigms is like pushing cookie dough through a cookie press with different gadgets to put on the end: whatever gadget we choose gives the cookies their shape. So too with consciousness: whatever mindsets or paradigms we choose determine the form of our perceptions, which in turn shape our decisions, actions, experiences, social systems, worlds, and futures.
Paradigms function like the software of human life-of personal life as well as of families, schools, businesses, churches, governments, and culture. When the software does its job well, everything works, and problems are solvable. But when the software is full of bugs or not equal to the job, systems freeze and fail, and nothing works as it should.
A colleague of ours, Sue Rolfe at Hazelden, uses the 5-day work week to illustrate the power of a paradigm to shape the rhythm and flow of our lives. She writes, "Our 5-day work week is a paradigm....Who decided we must work 5 days a week? Perhaps on Mars they work on the weekend and have 5 days off. In any event, this 'working paradigm' which rules us is of our making. We decided that, for the economic health of our planet, 5 is the magic number. If you work more than 5 days a week you are a hard worker or maybe even a workaholic, less than this and you might be considered lazy and unmotivated." (It's actually Venus where they work only on weekends; on Mars they work all 7 days.)
CHOICE OF PARADIGMS
Choice, as Sue points out, is precisely what's at stake. But we first have to be aware of paradigms and how they're affecting us in order to exercise our power of choice.
If we're not aware of the role that paradigms have in shaping experience, then we believe we're stuck with the world as it is and ourselves as we are. "What paradigm? My belief-structure has nothing to do with it. This is the way I am, that's the way human beings are, and that's the way the world will always be." The sort of universe that the paradigm creates becomes absolute. Scientists of the old school, for instance, claimed to have no worldview intruding on their "objective observation of reality": they were simply "seeing things as they are."
No more. Scientists up to speed with "new physics" (a century old by now) know that their models or paradigms determine how they think, what kind of experiments they construct, therefore what they observe and how they interpret their observations. Reality isn't "out there" the way we once thought it was. It's an interactive process that's continually coming into being relative to the paradigms we choose-the cookie press gadgets we use to filter reality.
That's good news. Insofar as we recognize the power of paradigms and our power to change them, we have options-paradigm options. We're not stuck with the world as it is, because we can shift paradigms, and as we do, everything shifts with us. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn-who died in June 1996 and to whom we are indebted for naming paradigms and their power in his 1962 book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions-explained that when scientists shift paradigms, they live in new worlds. The old rules don't hold in the same way, and what before was considered impossible can become not only possible but even normal.
This means that whenever we shift paradigms, not only do new possibilities emerge for how we can structure our worlds together but also we discover potentials within ourselves that the old paradigm declared either nonexistent or off-limits. (If we shift away from the indentured-servants-to-money-systems paradigm, we'll have time to explore these potentials.)
WHAT'S NORMAL OR POSSIBLE FOR CONSCIOUSNESS?
Awareness of paradigms and the possibilities that emerge with changing them carry enormous implications for how we understand consciousness. Are the limits we experience in perception, learning, and knowing absolute, or are they imposed by a paradigm-one that we can choose to have or not?
Psychic and paranormal experiences suggest that the limits imposed by materialist philosophy are not absolute. Even one case of powers that defy physical limits proves what's possible, whether these possibilities are commonplace in the current paradigm or not. By challenging paradigms that put our mental powers in straitjackets, we free ourselves to tap powers we've barely begun to imagine.
Examples of mental powers defying so-called laws of matter abound. In addition to the volumes of literature on the subject, we've encountered many cases that we find fascinating, and several come to mind:
One young woman from Laos, a student of ours, endured several years of harrowing escapes to reach America with her family. She experienced this journey between the ages of 7 and 9. Along the way, she and her family spent many months in concentration camps for refugees, where women and children were abused by soldiers. During this period of constant fear and trauma, she developed the ability to leave her body at will to guard herself and her family, especially when she was asleep. Years later as a college student, she was able to report everything that was said or done in her room or anywhere in the building while she was sleeping. Hers is an interesting case of what is now widely known as out-of-body experiences.
During the late seventies, a Swiss colleague of ours told of a little girl in Zurich who was having trouble in school because her vision did not stop with walls. She couldn't see the blackboard because she was seeing through it into the next room, where apparently things were more interesting. Her grades improved only when she was taught to make her vision stop with walls. The story was carried in the Zurich newspapers. Perhaps Mr. Swann or someone else reading this knows more about this case.
Then of course there's research begun by Georgi Lozanov in Bulgaria and reported by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder in their books Superlearning and SuperMemory. According to learning studies going on all over the globe, our minds are capable of vastly more than we ever imagined. If we have human brains, we're geniuses, and the only reason we're not experiencing our minds' powers is that they've been shut down by stress, negative programming, trauma, or mind-numbing boredom.
Clearly, there's more going on with consciousness and our human potential than the official paradigm acknowledges. Again, the fact that extraordinary powers occur at all proves the possibility of powers that may be latent in all of us.
SEEKING PARADIGMS THAT FIT US
Imagine, for instance, a paradigm that describes us as free beings, moving in time, space, and matter through the powers of consciousness, unconstrained by demands for money and unconcerned by the quest for power or control. Imagine further a paradigm that honors us for who we are, that treats human beings-as well as all beings-as treasures of the universe, and that therefore places a priority on nurturing and developing our potential. In the current world where humans are ownable, exploitable, controllable commodities-useful only insofar as they can either command or generate capital-such models seem utter fantasy.
According to spiritual teachings the world over, though, such models more closely fit what they call "True Human Beings." Hindu philosophy, for instance, takes our potential seriously enough to categorize liberation as the fourth basic desire of human beings, the one that naturally arises in us after we've grown weary of pursuing the desires for 1) pleasure, 2) success, and 3) duty.
Liberation is the liberation to be who we are in the big picture, not to be narrowed by models that aren't worthy of us. It's the freedom to live from the inside out, to be guided by who we are in our essence, rather than to spend our lives juggling family, social, financial, religious, or other cultural expectations.
SAVING THE PARADIGM
If we don't experience ourselves or each other as free and great beings, it's not because we lack this potential but rather because the paradigm/cookie gadgets our cultures pour us through aren't equal to our essence. We come out twisted, grasping, angry, and insatiable because we know we're more, yet the cultural paradigm has no room for us. The paradigm can't both acknowledge our innate worth and treat us as objects to be subjugated-objects that must be coerced into systems that violate our dignity and potential by their very structures.
Born into the culture, what choice do we have but to be subjugated? Babies and children don't have options but to submit. So we adapt ourselves accordingly. We conform to social systems by adopting the roles that go with them, narrowing ourselves to fit the cultural agenda. We become the competitive, insecure, obedient, brain dead, soul-disconnected creature that our social systems require. If we didn't comply, there'd be no place for social systems to hook into us and control our behavior, which the paradigm says they must do in order to achieve social order.
But instead of social order, the paradigm generates violence and suffering-images of which we see everyday on the news and feelings of which we experience as stress, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or even self-hate. These images and feelings say nothing about which alternative paradigms might better serve human beings or who we might be if we used less narrowing models. They simply give us feedback about our cultural paradigm.
But paradigm oblivious, we don't interpret culture-wide pain as paradigm related. We don't trace personal and social suffering back to the cultural paradigm and so set the stage for changing it. Instead, we save the paradigm by believing that humans must be fatally flawed and we ourselves more than most. Accepting the cultural paradigm that excludes what's most valuable about us, we view ourselves in the mirror that social systems give us: a mirror of externals. Our paradigm options go unexplored.
CONTROLLED BY EXTERNAL REWARDS
In a paradigm of externals, externals call the shots. Instead of allowing us to be guided from the inside out (a formula for anarchy, the control paradigm claims), the paradigm controls our behavior through rewards and punishments. We come to think and act like Pavlov's dog, salivating over the next bonus, a bigger kennel to call home, a fancier collar to sport, or a top dog position. The paradigm isn't about developing our talents, abilities, or potential; it's about making us controllable by giving or withholding external rewards.
To achieve this control, the paradigm grades each "thing" in a hierarchy of externals. The inner life means nothing compared to the outward characteristics indicated by our species, race, gender, age, status, group affiliation, and income. If dogs possessed the wealth of Bill Gates, for instance, they wouldn't suffer in medical experiments, just as people who have money don't work in sweatshops or sell their children into slavery.
That's the problem with externals: they're fine until they become the means for enslavement, which unfortunately they do almost immediately. When a paradigm puts external values first, consciousness dimensions are dismissed out of hand.
Small wonder that the potentials of our minds and hearts-and all the values that go with them, e.g., meaning, compassion, justice, or wisdom-go undeveloped. A control paradigm has neither use nor place for them.
NOT EXACTLY WELCOME
Naming paradigms and their power for good or ill isn't a new insight; it's as old as philosophy. It is, however, an overlooked insight in an age that can't seem to shake a materialistic, control-obsessed paradigm-and for good reason. Reflecting on paradigms is the stuff of change, and changing paradigms is the most fundamental and powerful change we can make.
To a paradigm of control, that's not welcome. The sum total of our experience contingent on something as invisible and changeable as a philosophy? Change by paradigm shifts, which anyone can make? Powers of perception and creativity that defy rigid material boundaries? Humans as beings of immense powers and abilities? Once you let these cats out of the bag, there's no telling what mindsets and institutions might be made obsolete.
Obsolete is precisely what established institutions of power and control don't want to be. They learned from the fate of carriage and buggy whip manufacturers when cars came along. Established interests now make sure that questioning the neanderthal paradigm of burning things for energy triggers "War-of-the-Worlds" panic about destabilizing the world economy. Even the call for improved public transit systems borders on subversive.
"MORE TO US" IS THREATENING TO POWER-OVER INSTITUTIONS
Stiff challenges face a paradigm shift on the simple level of out-there technology, frozen at a stage that Captain Picard sometimes finds among the more primitive human civilizations he encounters. What challenges might we face if we embark on a far deeper level of questioning-on redrawing the paradigms that sort out who we are and why we're here?
Plenty. If the cultural paradigm's purpose is not to honor human potential but rather to make it an obedient servant to existing social structures, then nothing could be more threatening to the established order than a paradigm shift regarding our self-conceptions. We fit into society as it is now only as long as we don't remember that we're more and here for more.
The agenda for traditional psychoanalytic therapy, for instance, isn't to develop human potential; it's to keep people functional in established social structures, however miserable their lives may be and however abusive or wrong-headed the social structures. "Well-adjusted" becomes a synonym for mental health.
But if someone is well-adjusted to being an SS officer in Nazi concentration camps, is that person mentally healthy? In Fire In The Soul, psychoneuroimmunologist Joan Borysenko writes of this narrow aim of therapy: "Sigmund Freud...believed that when a person was cured of neurosis the best outcome that could be expected was return 'to an ordinary state of unhappiness.'" (New York: Warner, 1993, p. 54)
Psychotherapy's official job is mopping up the mess that social systems make of our lives by convincing us that the mess is our fault, our failing, our screwiness. If we don't conform, adjust, fit in, and measure up, something must be wrong with us. And psychotherapy has its truth: we may well be frozen in grief or shock and not functioning at our best, but don't the social systems that shape us deserve equal scrutiny, equal critical analysis?
Thankfully many therapists reject this paradigm and venture forth with their clients on the forbidden territory of meaning and human potential as well as of critiquing social structures, but it's no easy task persuading insurance companies to come along. Control institutions pay insurance companies to pay health professionals to keep people in their place, serving the established order.
THE AGENDA FOR SCHOOL SYSTEMS
Nor are school systems committed to developing the more that we are. Schools are an arm of social structures, whether religious, governmental, or economic. According to the paradigm-defined needs of those structures, tapping human potential doesn't create enough Dilberts to ensure the "efficient" running of corporate, governmental, religious, and educational hierarchies.
In this century, business interests have dictated the structure of schools. Henry Ford quickly noticed that creative genius and intuitive knowing aren't useful on factory lines. So he pioneered the "modern" school system that inculcates values and skills appropriate for 20th century work life: being punctual, obeying orders, enduring hours, weeks, and years of boring, repetitive tasks, not talking while working, not resting, keeping to the schedule at all costs. Our minds become casualties of industrialization.
Our souls end up casualties as well. Trusting our own judgment, thinking for ourselves, adhering to our values, and having confidence in our innate worth don't make us good foot soldiers for my-way-or-the-highway bosses. Only people with low self-esteem are sufficiently insecure to tolerate abusive work environments. Insofar as we believe we don't deserve better, we adjust, becoming the kind of person that's required to "do the job."
Obligingly, school systems produce people with precisely the low self-esteem that's needed for worker "flexibility." Fears of being wrong, of not making the grade are fears confirmed for 90 percent of the population. That's the percentage who are required not to get A's by the bell curve system, guaranteeing that 90 percent of everyone coming out of school believe that they're incapable of excellence. Schools mirror back to students the mass message that "you're just not good enough, but if you do what you're told without question, you may get better and be rewarded." That's a handy message to have installed in the psyches of 90 percent of the population-handy for perpetuating corporate, religious, governmental, and professional tyrannies, that is.
All this modern schooling goes against what we know about the human mind and how we learn-and have known for decades. Studies in learning show that we learn best when we're most relaxed, yet schools maximize stress through fear of failure. Studies show that children learn most easily through cooperative learning, yet schools impose a competitive model. Studies also indicate that students' beliefs about their own learning abilities affect their performance-if they believe they're good learners, they learn easily; if not, learning the simplest things becomes difficult-yet schools systematically undermine students' confidence.
In these and many other ways, school systems perform virtual lobotomies on our psyches, producing graduates who've long since lost their joy in learning, who believe they must be right all the time and "know it all" or be condemned to outer darkness, and who experience post-traumatic stress symptoms at the thought of having to learn new things on the job.
CULTURAL NONCOMMITMENT TO HUMAN POTENTIAL
Alice Miller, a champion of the potential we all possess from birth, pulls no punches in her books-For Your Own Good in particular analyzes the social, cultural agenda of shutting down our potential. As she explains, the traditional rules of child-rearing passed down from generation to generation have nothing to do with developing our potential, either emotionally, intuitively, psychologically, or intellectually. Their one agenda is control: control the child as soon as possible by any means, whether it's by punishment, humiliation, intimidation, beatings, grading, whatever it takes to break the child's will and autonomy.
The justification for this agenda is that children raised any other way won't fit into society when they grow up. According to this cultural paradigm-expressed in the rules of child-rearing-learning to forget who we are and to become what others want and expect us to be is the most important survival skill. Our potential as human beings is irrelevant, a side issue, compared to our ability to conform.
Of course we're supposed to believe that social systems have our best interests at heart and that obeying them is indeed "for our own good." If we conform properly, our potential will develop accordingly. But is this so? As we've seen, schools and therapy-two systems that you'd think would be committed to developing human potential-have no such commitment. In what system or area of the culture might such a commitment exist?
Governments are fully occupied with who has power over whom, who has the biggest budget, where money can be found, who wins which election or vote, etc. Developing the human potential of its citizenry is not a priority. If anything, it's not on the agenda at all. The insider's view that "the masses are asses" is music to ambitious politicians' ears, who then believe it's their manifest destiny to expand their personal power and become benevolent dictators. Dumb masses are easy to manipulate with slogans and half-truths. For their purposes, the less human potential the better.
As much as we value spiritual teachings, we can't say that religious organizations have much commitment to developing human potential either, though granted there are exceptions. Adhering to fixed doctrines, building congregations, raising money, meddling in the personal affairs of members, running down sectarian competitors, and using fear and guilt to exact obedience and tithing keep them busy enough.
Businesses and corporations certainly don't concern themselves with human potential, even though they sometimes pay lip service to it in the hopes of making employees more "productive." The bottom line is the bottom line, and if human potential comes up at all, it's considered a frill or luxury-"warm fuzzy stuff" that doesn't count in the "real world" of business except to mollify disgruntled workers or help them adjust to higher levels of stress.
Scanning the culture, we frankly can't find any system that's consistently committed to exploring human potential. If anything, our social systems regard human potential as an impediment, an annoying feature of human beings that gums up the systems' otherwise efficient workings. If people would just learn their roles and stick to them, everything would work so much better.
If we didn't know the paradigm behind these systems, we may find this lack of interest in human potential odd. Developing human potential seems crucial to keeping human civilizations vital and evolving, up to speed with the challenges that continually arise. Technology per se can't save us, since we're not using the alternative technology we already have to remedy social and environmental ills. What we lack is the the wisdom and foresight, the honesty, the sense of meaning, justice, integrity, and the good to manage human affairs well. These aren't technology issues but paradigm ones. Wisdom and foresight are precisely the potentials that a paradigm geared to domination and control factors out of us.
But no paradigm, even one that's used to having the last word, is the last word. The human spirit, being what it is, doesn't take kindly to soul-lobotomies and develops all sorts of responses. One is to join the lobotomizing dominators: do it to others before any more can be done to you. Another is to adopt roles and play along, to accept one's lobotomized lot in life.
Addictions make both responses easier. We can lay off 5,000 employees and numb the pain with a 15 million dollar bonus. Or we can take drugs to make it through the day in our Dilbertesque cubicles. Either way, numbing ourselves with addictions of process (money and power) or of substance (drugs and alcohol) makes us forget the pain of living in a control paradigm culture.
By numbing us, addictions serve the established paradigm well: insofar as we forget pain, we don't confront its causes. Lobotomizing systems go unchallenged, as long as we find ways to cope with being lobotomized.
That's why recovery from addictions begins with recognizing pain. Acknowledging what we feel in social systems is the first subversive step toward a cultural paradigm shift. A paradigm of control through externals unravels when we affirm the importance of what's going on within. When pain counts with us-when we refuse to ignore it, "to put up and shut up"-the days are numbered for the paradigm that's causing us pain.
NEW WORLDVIEWS BRING NEW WORLDS
From this springboard begins the journey of transformation by paradigm shift. It took us 360 pages to explore this process in The Paradigm Conspiracy, so that's a pitch both for whoever is reading this to get a copy and for us to close this electronic essay.
We'll just say that when we're too tired to explain the book to someone, we call it our revenge on the control paradigm, both for us and on behalf of our readers. But when we're feeling more peppy, we say that the book has a happy ending, or at least holds the promise of one. Refusing to be trapped by dominating institutions on one hand and on the other claiming our essence, who we are in the big picture-what's called the "soul" until a better term comes along-we foment revolution of the most constructive, effective, and powerful sort. Each of us in our own ways participates in creating new worldviews, which in turn create new worlds within and without.
We thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts and reflections on this subject, and should you read our book, we hope you enjoy it. We don't pretend to have the answers or to give the "correct" paradigm. Our best hope is that the book gets the philosophical, paradigm-shifting juices going. That's quite enough for us. The rest we leave to the human potential emerging in all of us.