Most of us reading this essay will be reading it from inside the paradigm of the modern Western world. That paradigm has often been seen as rooted in scientific materialism and sometimes been called the Cartesian/ Newtonian paradigm named after two of its most prominent originators Rene DesCartes and Sir Isaac Newton.
From inside this paradigm the universe is recognized to be an infinite expanse of empty three-dimensional space filled with things. And we see ourselves as a complex biological organism with a nervous system sophisticated enough to make us conscious. In other words, we see ourselves as thinking things.
Inside the current paradigm we are trained to relate to our experience as if it were an accurate representation of reality. We believe our senses are giving us information that reflects the truth of the way things are when in fact everything we experience is shaped by our things-in-space assumptions.
Paradigms don’t present themselves as ideas about reality. They present themselves as reality itself. Finding your way out of a paradigm feels like finding your way out of reality. It feels impossible because we believe that reality as we currently experience it is all there is.
As far as we can see there is the real and the unreal. The real exists and the unreal does not. So our deep assumption will be that there is nothing to find outside of the reality of the current paradigm.
So let’s go through this slowly. What we see as reality is not necessarily real. What we see as reality is a perception created by the assumptions of the current paradigm that feels like reality to us.
We experience sensations that get shaped into perceptions of the world. If I look outside the window all I actually see are shapes and colors, but if you ask me what I am looking at I will say a brick building with a tree in front of it.
None of us really sees buildings or trees. We see shapes and colors that our minds shape into the experience of buildings and trees, but we assume we see buildings and trees. A paradigm is the set of instructions that tell the mind how to shape all of our perceived sensations into an experience of reality.
It gets even trickier because the paradigm not only dictates how the mind shapes our experience of reality it insists that the mind only recognize things shaped that way as real. In effect the current paradigm tells you how to look at things and then tells you that only things that look that way are real.
A circular argument is one that uses its premise as evidence of its validity. Here’s an example of a circular argument.
1. That politician is a great communicator.
2. How do you know?
3. Because she communicates effectively.
That argument doesn’t prove anything. All you have said is that something is true because it is true. Similarly a paradigm shapes your experience into a particular form and then tells you that form is real because you experience that way.
Of course a paradigm is not a being giving instructions. So what is it?
A paradigm lives in the stories we tell ourselves about what is real.
We may indeed live in a universe of material things, but just as much we live in a universe made up of stories, inside of stories, inside of stories – a storybook universe.
The current paradigm is a story about an infinite expanse of three dimensional space filled with things. Inside that story there is a story about a planet called Earth and another story about a particular species on that planet called humans that think. Then there is a story about a particular individual member of that species called Jeff who sometimes writes essays.
Everything that exists is a story about something that exists. You might want to object and say that there are things that exist that are not just stories about things that exist. My bluejeans are not just a story about a garment of clothes. They are actual clothes made of undeniably real atoms and molecules.
First of all I would want to say that my bluejeans, like the building and tree earlier on, are just colors, shapes and textures that I amalgamate into the idea of bluejeans. As far as the atoms and molecules are concerned they are part of the story of the scientific materialist paradigm that says there are things called atoms and molecules that everything else is made of.
The storybook universe is made up of stories inside of stories inside of stories all the way through. Nothing but stories and anytime you look to find something beyond all the stories all you will find are stories about what lies beyond all stories.
This may start to feel infuriating because it is another example of a circular argument. I tell you that everything is a story and then no matter what you say in response I point out how that is also a story. And this is exactly how paradigms work. They start with an initial premise that gets projected outward until it is all you see. Then the fact that all you see is the original premise is used as proof that the original premise is true.
You might concede that I have made my point about the circular nature of paradigms, but the storybook version of reality just seems silly because to adopt it you have to leave so many things unexplained. I can’t tell you where the stories exist, or who is telling them, or who is hearing them – except of course to tell you more stories.
But the current scientific paradigm also leaves things unexplained. It is based on a belief that space is infinite in three dimensions, which can’t be explained. It insists that there are indivisible units of matter that the universe is built from without explaining where those units come from. It tells a story about the origin of the Big Bang without explaining what was there before that.
A paradigm can explain everything inside itself, but it cannot explain the assumptions it is built on.
The idea of a storybook universe is just as plausible as a things in space universe.
We live in a universe that is stories all the way through. Stories that are not just reports on real things, but are actually shaping what we experience as real. Each story shapes things in a particular way and the stories overlap until they influence the exact shape of this moment.
We live in a universe made of stories, but we’re stuck in story about living in a universe made of things in space. It is interesting to note that even our scientists know this story isn’t the whole story. More importantly, when we see that we live in a reality made of stories we find that moving out of our current reality into a new one is just a matter of shifting into a new story.