“It’s all about the forest and the trees.”
The first time I heard the expression I was somewhat insulted because I understood that the teacher had just implied that I couldn’t see what was obvious because the obvious facts of the situation somehow blocked me from seeing the obvious relationship…
I wasn’t quite that articulate. I was just too young. That saying about “the forest and the trees” stuck with me for decades before I came to terms with it. There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement, but the people using it are not necessarily as wise as the statement itself.
It’s about inductive reasoning. It’s about inference. It’s about the capacity to see a generalization that is right there in front of you, if only you weren’t blinded by the specifics of the situation, otherwise known as “the trees”. It goes to the heart of the experience of being human, of being able to articulate the relationship between the abstract and the concrete.
On a personal level, I love this example. Albert Einstein had his personal little war going against the then-hypothesis of continental drift. The smartest guy in the world couldn’t see the forest for the trees. He actually did us a tremendous favor with this mistake. First of all, he took himself off the pedestal. Second of all, in terms of the phenomenon of great genius, his fall from grace, as it were, glossed over and rarely mentioned, demonstrates that there is no infallible “pope” of reason and science. Forget about it. If people are intellectually astute, or, better yet, are people of great genius, having promulgated a number of right things, then the tendency is to believe them when they make the next statement about the way things are. But, even a person of great genius cannot help but err over time.
The very perspective that permitted him that stroke of genius and creativity will eventually trip him up. It has its limitation. I don’t care who the person is or what his perspective is.
I remember standing at a world map next to my classmate Tom (sixth grade) and he made the comment to our English teacher, Mr. Osgood, that all the continents of the world seemed to fit together. I had already made that observation to myself some months before. Well, Mr. Osgood replied as all good teachers would have and said that it was a coincidence. Not his opinion, rather, but the opinion of the entire world of geology at the time.
In fact, a number of years ago I had a 90-year-old customer I used to drive to the airport who was a PhD in geology from UC Berkeley. He laughed and pointed out that when he got his PhD in geology nobody believed in continental drift. Without getting into too many of the details here, let’s just say the original proponent was persecuted, and I will cover that in a future blog.
My point is that we have some innate capacity to sense meaningful relationships. We intuit the relationship and then come to terms with it consciously, with mathematics, if it’s something we can verify in a laboratory setting. Perhaps, though, it’s the relationship between what you have just dreamt and your life. When you make the connection, even allowing it as hypothesis, that’s seeing the forest and the trees.
Paradigm shift is about breakthrough understanding that previously was unthinkable. It’s more than a new generalization, but, rather a shift in perspective that leads to a whole new understanding with applicability that is wide-ranging. Examples…what Pythagoras understood about the relationship of the hypotenuse of a right triangle and the other two sides. Pythagoras was so shocked and thankful that he sacrificed an ox to Zeus.
What happened next? The new paradigm permitted the measurement of the distance of the Earth to the Moon. That measurement boggled the best minds of the day.
Archimedes, while submersed in the bath, pondering what turned out to be the relationship of weight, mass and volume (specific gravity), solved the problem for the king regarding his crown and the possibility that the jeweler had substituted silver for the gold the king had supplied.
Archimedes got so excited by his breakthrough experience that he got up out of the bath and ran through the streets naked shouting, “Eureka!”.
Back to Einstein. So there’s a relationship between the continents. They obviously all fit together. That’s one hell of a coincidence, if you ask me. Frankly, nowadays, nobody can understand how they simply refused to see it. In fact, they saw it and they didn’t like it. Why? Because, having to explain that, their paradigm of scientific understanding got stretched beyond its then boundaries. Their own sense of relationship of science, reality, who they were as scientists, arbiters of interpretation, put them into a very uncomfortable area of wonder and even open-mouthed shock.
Eventually, younger geologists who were not so enamored of the older geologists’ establishment point of view, got involved and they looked for what was absolutely scientific. They looked for evidence that these mountain ranges and geological areas had been connected at one time. There never needed to be a war against continental drift. All they had to do was say, “Aha! That’s interesting. Let’s take a look at what that would mean.” Make some predictions and then see if the evidence is there. When they looked, the evidence was there.
The real problem for Einstein and the geologists of that era was that they lacked the theory of tectonic plates. Once that got established, that is, once the scientific community could explain how it was done, then it became acceptable.
Narcissism, pride, self-love. They create a rather surprising limitation even for scientists regarding their own science, it turns out. Oh! And, then comes the “rewrite”. Accomplished through omission.
You learn about continental drift. You don’t learn anything about its history.
The would-be “infallibility” of the (in this case) geology profession is maintained. (Geology emits a collective sigh of relief!)
The same argument, the same problem, comes into play when you’re looking at things on Mars. You look at a particular formation and you have to decide if it was made by nature or was made by some conscious force with a brain. The picture seen one way looks as if it’s an actual building or monument built by some intelligent entity and now in a state of degradation. Then they look at it another way and you think, well, it’s just an effect from shadow and light play.
If the structure on Mars was an artifice, that is, something made by an intelligence, the whole paradigm regarding life elsewhere changes radically. The most orthodox scientific people are so loathe to admit even to the possibility, that the artifact on Mars is dismissed out of hand.
That takes back us to the main point. You can’t see the forest for the trees whenever your attachment to your point of view makes it particularly emotionally difficult to allow a new observation and new inference and new generalization to get born because it interferes with too much previously held stuff that you hold very dear along with your good name, as it were.
It is obvious that antioxidants, some amino acids, and hormones can extend the life of experimental animals. So, the next step would be to start thinking about if these antioxidants and other medical foods or hormones could extend the life of human beings. Ah! But, then we enter into a frame of mind that many of the orthodox scientific community simply do not like. Their reasons are no better than the reasons for the war against continental drift.
We have just seen this same phenomenon in regard to possible cures and treatment of our present viral plague with H*C*Q or vitamin supplementation.
What do we see?
A disagreement handled with actual hostility as if those who disagree with the orthodox position are evil and subversive. Even criminal!
My friend, the naturopath, told me that as soon as the virus became a real problem, the FDA went after any clinic that offered vitamin C drips as a possible aid/cure for your infection with the plague-virus. People (FDA investigators?) started calling him up and asking if his vitamin C drips that they knew he offered would be of help against this virus. He knew to say no. The people who had clinics that said yes? They got shut down.
This is no different in essence than the war by Einstein and Co. against the people who hypothesized continental drift. Nobody lived or died based on the Continental drift theory. Careers, however, were affected. How many lives could have been saved, how much suffering minimized, with a vitamin C drip?
So, that wraps up this edition of the Contrary Warrior Health Blog. The lesson. Yes, the lesson! That paradigm shifts create civil wars of a not-so-civil nature. And it doesn’t matter how smart you are. Even Einstein got sucked in by the black hole of his own ego.
Next, a few more stories from science regarding the paradigm shift to really nail the whole thing down. Then, onto the medical shifts. The most telling? From the field of animal husbandry. Gee, if the addition of taurine or other vitamins and minerals aids in the extension of the life of your cat or dog or animals on the farm, why wouldn’t that help you, too? Okay. Okay. It hasn’t been “proven” with humans. I concede that immediately. However, it’s obviously very much a valid hypothesis.
2 thoughts on “Paradigm Shift I”
Great article Roy. I love paradigm shifts.
Wow. Thank you. I really appreciate that you have taken the time to comment.