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The Priceless Value of Embracing Multiple Paradigms

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I vividly remember the first session of an anthropology class I took in college. All the students were sitting quietly in the lecture theater, awaiting the tardy professor's arrival. Finally we all heard the echoing steps of heavy boots trodding down the corridor toward us. The double doors swung open and a long-haired professor with a bushy mustache strode in, his cape fluttering behind him. His first words were of his summer sabbatical, which he spent living with apes. Then he shocked and frightened the class by screeching out various monkey calls. He pointed out that humanity's next major step was overcoming its fear of the unfamiliar. It was a great lesson in paradigm identity.

We identify with what we are taught as the accepted common knowledge of our times, often based upon statistics and facts presented to support a given argument. However, statistics can be misleading. You can connect the dots in a number of different ways, from a number of different viewpoints or paradigms. Then you can use the dots to claim they are proof of the paradigm you just used to connect them.

Facts are the same way, easily molded to fit a chosen paradigm. We become so identified with our paradigm choice that any other comes to seem absurd. We even become hostile toward people who would dare identify with any other value system.

Historically, humanity has turned its back on one valid paradigm in the name of the next, never being able to integrate the two. We have identified with the currently popular paradigm, only to reject the earlier one as bogus or even blasphemous. From paradigm shifts in everything from orientation (emotionally versus intellectually based) to medicine (acupuncture versus allopathic), humanity's notion of truth has always been defined by its shift from one accepted paradigm to the next. Often fear greets the arrival of a new paradigm. Just think of how Copernicus and Galileo were persecuted by the church for their science-backed studies on the universe revolving around the sun as opposed to the earth.

As humans, we still tend to doubt and even attack those who hold paradigms other than our own to be true. The current popular paradigm is the one that comes along with the belief: "We've finally got it right." Fear is often experienced as aversion and then quickly shrouded by judgment, arrogance, or denial. The next major step in human evolution is overcoming this aversion. As evolved beings, we must be able to simultaneously embrace the truth within multiple paradigms. The world is multifaceted.

Perhaps Einstein expressed this idea best when he said, "It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure." Einstein realized that a scientific paradigm could not always best convey the complexities in the universe. Equations can give us substance, but not always the meaning that underlies a phenomenon. We must understand things through multiple perspectives.

The wise employ the paradigm that best addresses the moment. There are many valid paradigms that connect all the dots and facts that we have about life and existence. Each paradigm offers a new set of insights, a new perspective on the diamond we call existence.

Arguments and even wars often find their roots in the inability to entertain opposing paradigms. World peace will only come when human awareness attains the flexibility to concurrently embrace multiple paradigms. Why? Because that's the way the universe is structured.