Paradigm Shift

Historians of science like to point out that when a theory is in question, its demise is often signaled by the appearance of another theory that can make its case by resorting to fewer ad hoc reasons. In the world of Buddhist debate, the trump card of Madhyamika was its aesthetically pleasing refutation of both extremes. Dependent arising is called the "king of reasonings", because it allows the Madhyamikas to refute both extremes simultaneously, while the Yogacarins needed two separate reasons to abandon the two extremes as they saw them. (29) This is Ockham's Razor from another longitude. By postulating the existence of consciousness and adopting the theory of dependent arising, it is possible that many sciences may find a shared ground on which to relate to each other instead of being islands of knowledge separated by the seas of disparate theory and methodology.

Thomas Kuhn, the father of the history of science, has this to say about paradigm shifts:

"Philosophers of science have repeatedly demonstrated that more than one theoretical construction can always be placed upon a given collection of data. History of science indicates that, particularly in the early developmental stages of a new paradigm, it is not even very difficult to invent such alternates. But that invention of alternates is just what scientists seldom undertake except during the pre-paradigm stage of their science's development and at very special occasions during its subsequent evolution. So long as the tools a paradigm supplies continue to prove capable of solving the problems it defines, science moves fastest and penetrates most deeply through confident employment of those tools. The reason is clear. As in manufacture, so in science - retooling is an extravagance to be reserved for the occasion that demands it. The significance of crises is the indication they provide that an occasion for retooling has arrived."(30)

That the Tibetans have taken to teaching physics in their monasteries in exile is evidence that they see the need for a retooling, or at least a good upgrade, of their traditional system. It is evidence of an open attitude. Mainstream Western physics is likely to work long and hard to solve the problems it defines, using its current set of tools, before it resorts to Buddhist theory. But other branches of science and scholarship in the West might more readily find useful applications of Tibetan Buddhist ideas and methods.

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Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig