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Closed Systems of Thought
In all times people have sought for a source of inspiration or a source of certainty that can guide their lives. Many things, many people, can act as a source of inspiration. In quiet times such inspiration may be enough. But in hard times more than inspiration is needed ; inspiration is no longer adequate to meet life’s difficulties. Now a source of certainty is sought.
The desire for certainty is a bulwark against an inexplicable world, where misfortune, illness, poverty, social rejection can come at any time and any age, without any apparent cause.
|Sub - Headings|
|Faith and Science|
|Meanings and Values|
Certainty counter-balances the apparent lack of cause for each person’s existence. Certainty offsets the apparent lack of purpose to human existence. In effect, certainty stabilises a person’s sense of identity.
If the world is examined realistically and without prejudice then it is easily seen that some teachers, some thinkers, some moral systems can be right some of the time and inadequate at other times. Realistic thinking cannot uphold certainty all the time. Therefore, in his search for certainty the seeker subconsciously resorts to mythical and symbolic thinking. In such thinking the limitations of teachers, thinkers, moral systems become invisible. Once a seeker embraces mythical thinking wholeheartedly then his mind has entered a closed system of thought.
A closed system of thought occurs when any framework of knowledge tries to ask and answer all questions concerning values and standards within its own boundaries. Such a system does not lead to the acceptance of any knowledge that is outside those boundaries. So another name for a closed system is an ideology. Typical examples from the past are religious groups or churches that depend upon the voice of authority as being infallible. This authority can be a holy book, a past teacher, or an authoritarian hierarchy such as Catholicism. Modern examples include Marxism and science. If a psycho-therapist assumes that Freud’s ideas cannot be improved upon then psycho-analysis can degenerate into a closed system too.
The motivation for a closed system of thought has two sources, which orientate around either power or its absence. Certainty is achieved when faith arises in the seeker. Faith is the sublimation of a particular emotion, that of self-pity (in one of its three forms). [¹]. Where the believer does not desire power then the motivation is the faith that arises from the self-pity mode of guilt. Where power is evident, either in the believer or in a teacher or a church, then the motivation is the blind faith that is generated by the self-pity mode of jealousy.
These two types of faith can be contrasted to the faith in oneself that arises from self-pity alone. In this situation, closed thinking is anathema to the person. Only faith in oneself allows one to go beyond ideology.
produces a simultaneous contraction and expansion of mind in the
This effect can be considered to operate along two axes or orientations within consciousness. These orientations reflect internal and external criteria of worth, that is, whether worth is focused only on oneself (internal criteria) or beyond oneself to other aspects of reality, such as society or god (external criteria).
In the first two types of faith, there is a contraction of mind concerning ideas about oneself. There is a limitation put on one’s self-worth, together with an expansion of mind focused on external criteria. Certainty is achieved by narrowing the choice of beliefs about oneself that are acceptable – ideas of ‘ego-denial’ are embraced. The choice is reduced sufficiently in scope until what remains can be negated by adhering to a belief in a teacher or other figure of authority. The only positive beliefs about himself that the person now has are dependent on his positive beliefs about the teacher.
The third type of faith, faith in oneself, has the opposite outcome: internal criteria are emphasised and external criteria negated.
Having faith allows one to expand one’s mind in some directions at the expense of other directions. So the primary function of faith is the re-orientation of the person’s mind. Faith can bring the feeling of certainty. However, none of the kinds of faith have a necessary connection to truth.
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Faith can also pervade the scientific mentality. Science is fascinating within its own boundaries (my preferences are for physics and mathematics), but these boundaries are quite narrow. The advocacy for the primacy of science above other worldviews is usually a smokescreen for hiding the psychological difficulties that life confronts the scientist with (in exactly the same way that a religious person uses belief in a teacher or a church to hide his psychological difficulties). The scientist leans on science as his source of certainty. Hence when phenomena occur that are outside the boundaries of contemporary science, the scientist may subconsciously feel that his sense of identity is being threatened. Then he will become as irrational as a religious person can be in his passionate rejection of the phenomena. So on topics outside of conventional science it is not always possible to have a rational discussion with a scientist.
Nowadays science too has become a closed system (in the way that Christian orthodoxy used to be) ; it is used as a way of validating power, especially political and economic power. Its power base is demonstrated in the manner that it subjects all competing worldviews to ridicule or rejection (in the manner that Christianity once did). Science is no longer the neutral or realistic perspective on reality that it once was. In my view, this change to a closed system occurred at the end of World War II, when hegemony in matters of science transferred from western Europe to America.
Without a scientific training it is not easy for a person to appreciate the limitations of science, nor especially to understand the premisses that ground scientific achievement ( likewise, without a spiritual training it is difficult for a person to appreciate the limitations and premisses of religion). It is all too easy to believe that science can bring certainty to a world of confusion (as once upon a time Christianity did).
The popularisation of a closed system produces mythical or symbolic thinking in the crowd. The crowd becomes dependent on authority to do their thinking for them. Authority, especially that of science and medicine, becomes mythically omniscient – it cannot be questioned . Such a system provides ready-made answers to any questions about values. Power is invested in an external authority ; the authority of science is academia, the prestige of an academic reputation.
[when my mother was seriously ill I disputed her doctor's diagnosis and treatment ; she, the doctor, became very angry at me ! She was antagonised by the challenge to her authority. This was a time when doctors were not willing to tell patients about the harmful side-effects of medication].
However, science cannot lead to the understanding of the non-scientific, for example the creative spirit, the spiritual vision, the religious impulse (or even the scientific impulse, for that matter). Science has its limitations, and so does religion. How is this state of affairs to be resolved?
There are two factors involved in any understanding of life. The traditional dispute between religion and science arose because they each addressed a different factor.
to answer why
life occurs, by
reflecting on the
Science attempts to answer how life occurs, by discovering laws of nature.
Once a person understands the difference in approach then it is easy to see that neither approach is sufficient in itself. Both approaches need to be synthesised together into a higher perspective. [²]
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Because I understand history to be the history of ideas, I can see that mankind evolves through successive systems of closed thought and closed power systems. The determining factor in the change from one system to another one is a change in morality.
As morality changes, so value is displaced from one religious system to other ones, and from religion in general to science in general, and from earlier systems of science to later ones. The search for certainty is a search for eternal moral and spiritual values. Such values are associated with purpose. But purpose is absent from the scientific worldview. Therefore when moral value is displaced from religion to science so science can only become a surrogate for morality, a surrogate that goes nowhere. The distinction is that morality lies, or does not lie, within the scientist, and not within the scientific worldview. Perhaps the only non-contradictory value system is that of aesthetics.
scientific mentality functions along two axes of orientation.
An elementary consideration suggests that these orientations are, first, the direct observation of nature, and then, secondly, the interpretations of this observation : that is, the observation of facts, followed by the interpretation of facts.
A more sophisticated consideration appears on reflection. A.N. Whitehead, in his book ‘Adventures of Ideas ’, calls these orientations the Observational Order and the Conceptual Order. He was well aware that observation is not dictated by the facts, but that the relationship is the other way around. What are considered to be facts is dependent on the Conceptual Order. Hence the dominance of the Conceptual Order will automatically lead to a distortion of the facts. Whitehead wanted impartial facts to be separated from pre-conceived facts.
Whitehead’s dualistic structure of scientific practice is held by other thinkers, and is not difficult to accept. But what is missing from it is the understanding that experimentation is tacitly forbidden to some areas of experience, particularly areas that have a component of psychic influence.
For example, if a spiritual healer can demonstrate, under controlled laboratory conditions, that his power of mind can destroy pathological bacteria in test tubes (as claimed by the healer Matthew Manning), then the results of such experiments will be ridiculed or ignored by academia. In order to take this prejudice into account, a better formulation of the dualistic structure of scientific practice is needed.
Whitehead did not recognise the closed system of thinking of modern science.
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The scientific mentality in itself is ethically neutral. It is when science is imbued with ultimate value that it becomes a closed system. This contrast between ethical neutrality and value-based thinking can be used to describe the realistic basis of scientific practice. It can be formulated under two terms, those of ‘paradigm’ and ‘ ideology ’.
A paradigm is a self-contained or closed system of meanings within which every problem is explained (or ignored). The paradigm of science is a mechanistic and materialistic world of physical causality (a world of facts and the relationships between facts). One way to approach the meaning of anything is to investigate the causal relationships of which it is a part. [³]
Hand-in-hand with a paradigm goes an ideology, which is a self-contained system of values. In essentials, an ideology is a perspective for encapsulating power, and how that power is used. It defines what is, and what is not, real. Power can be exerted on what is real, but not on what is ‘unreal’. Only what is defined to be real has value.
The relationship between them is a one-way relationship.
ideology produces the paradigm.
The paradigm does not produce the ideology.
For example, within the paradigm of twentieth-century science, flying saucers do not exist. The reason for this is that within the ideology of science no valuation is placed upon the phenomenon of saucers. Hence there is no impetus to change the paradigm so as to incorporate them. Values always come first within any system, so ideology always determines what is admitted to the paradigm.
Scientists usually have little or no awareness of the difference between the paradigm and the ideology ; they make statements about the ideology when they think that they are making statements about the paradigm. When a scientist states that flying saucers do not exist, this is a statement about the ideology and not a statement of fact (the paradigm). The scientist is afraid that if he chooses to explore ‘fringe’ ideas then he will lose academic prestige and power and will find himself subject to public ridicule – hence his views reflect the constraints of the ideology.
For comparison, within an ideology of New Age values, saucers can exist, but whether they actually do is an open question. They probably do – it depends on how one understands the incident at Roswell in 1947, and the purpose of Area 51. Was the crash at Roswell that of a UFO, or was it that of an American prototype of a German nazi flying machine? 
opposite of a
is an open one.
The person is open-minded on the issue of values (open-mindedness helps to neutralise the desire for power). In an open system, there is no necessary ultimate authority given to traditional values ; as humanity evolves and faces new challenges, past and present problems are likely to require new solutions. Moral values need to evolve in tandem with the evolution of humanity.
In any age, past solutions may still retain some relevance, or they may not. The only way to decide is to follow an inquiry into all values, including those of morality and religion and science, and live by the results of that inquiry. This is the only way to step outside of closed thinking.
Only by putting into practice what the person believes, and then analysing the results of that practice, can he find the truth or error within his beliefs.
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The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. The addresses of my other websites are on the Links page.
[¹]. There are articles on sublimation and on faith on my website Discover your mind. The three forms of self-pity are self-pity just by itself, self-pity as a factor of guilt, and self-pity as a factor of jealousy. For a brief introduction to my ideas on emotions, see article Emotion and Abreaction. 
[²]. See also article Causality and Metaphysics. 
[³]. In my view, meanings are subjective and values are objective. I contrast the production of meanings with the production of values. The individual seeks subjective meaning to his life. His answers are translated into objective values which society can use. These values are incorporated into language. Or, to put it another way, language is the means of transforming subjectivity into objective values. See the article Meaning and Value. 
. For an account of nazi advanced aero-technology and its transfer to America after the end of World War II, see book by Nick Cook. 
Whitehead, A.N. Adventures of Ideas. Pelican Books, 1942.
Cook, Nick. The Hunt for Zero Point. Arrow 2002.
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@2003 Ian Heath
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