Interdisciplinary Education Group: Language and the Pendulum Metaphor for the Scientific Method

 by Bernard Phillips, Andy Plotkin and Neil S. Weiss, Interdisciplinary Education Group (formerly the Academy for Individual Evolution)
In our initial column introducing the basic ideas of Invisible Crisis: Toward an Interdisciplinary Scientific Method (publication by Universal Publishing,, in November or December), we focused on our limited understanding of human behavior resulting from our lack of integrating the knowledge from our many specialties. We then presented in our next column, corresponding to Chapter 1 of the book’s 10 chapters, a key result of our unique interdisciplinary approach: a vision of every single human being as standing on top of 14 billion years of evolution and having infinite potential for continuing development intellectually, emotionally, and in problem-solving ability. Our column last month, corresponding to Chapter 2, focused on the failings of the scientific method presently used for learning the nature of human behavior and human problems, as well as the potential of an interdisciplinary scientific method as an alternative, where every single one of us learns to use that alternative in everyday life.

This column, centering on Chapter 3, focuses on language in general and the “pendulum metaphor” for the scientific method in particular. Here we use a swinging pendulum, such as exists in an old grandfather clock, and we use that visible pendulum to help us understand something invisible: the scientific method. This is what metaphors do: they help us to understand invisible ideas by tying them to what we can perceive with senses like sight. Metaphorical thought and speech is one of three elements of our complex languages, and it is emphasized in poetry and literature. A second is gradation, or matters of degree like the numbers that are emphasized within the physical and biological sciences. A third is dichotomy, or a black-and-white emphasis versus gradation’s focus on shades of gray, characteristic of the emphasis within the social sciences along with everyday speech (almost every word divides the world in two: what the word refers to, and everything else).

The importance of the pendulum metaphor for the scientific method is that it can help us learn to make use of all three of language’s potentials: dichotomy, metaphor and gradation. As a result, that metaphor can help us to learn to use an interdisciplinary scientific method as an incredibly powerful tool for solving personal and world problems throughout our everyday lives. Using the pendulum metaphor, we can learn to focus the key ideas within all ten chapters of Invisible Crisis to help us make progress on our day-to-day problems in everyday life. That use illustrates our learning to tap the full power of our incredible language by thinking dichotomously, metaphorically and gradationally. And we can apply this usage of language to every single one of our experiences in everyday life: our thoughts, speech and writing (metaphorically, “head”), our feelings or emotions (metaphorically, “heart”), and our actions (metaphorically, “hand”).

To illustrate the power of the pendulum metaphor for using the potentials of language and the scientific method to address our everyday problems, we focus on this problem: How can the reader learn to apply the ideas in this column to his or her personal experiences, such as taking a walk for exercise, by using the pendulum metaphor for the scientific method? Another way of putting this question is: How can one learn to use any personal experience, such as a walk for exercise, as an experience that will help one to develop intellectually, emotionally, and in one’s ability to solve problems? Yet a third way of posing this question is: How can one learn to harness the full potential of an interdisciplinary scientific method throughout one’s own day-to-day life? All three of these questions point toward the question of how one can learn to evolve as a human being from any given situation that we experience in our everyday lives.

When one takes a walk for exercise, brushes one’s teeth, goes to sleep, eats breakfast or any other activity whatsoever, one is a victim of a way of life where one sees oneself as relatively insignificant compared to the movers and shakers of the world. A first step in learning to use the pendulum metaphor is illustrated by seeing a swing of the pendulum to the left as a metaphor for the problem of seeing oneself as significant All ten chapters of Invisible Crisis document how our way of life teaches us how unimportant we are by influencing us to look outward at the doings of others rather than inward at our own lives, pointing us away from the significance of our own lives.. For example, as we walk we see other people, the ground, perhaps grass or a sidewalk or buildings or cars or animals, but not our own bodies. It is our own mental equipment coupled with our eyes that are responsible for all of these images, yet we fail to be aware of this fact that would make us aware of ourselves.

One direction for making progress on this problem of failing to see ourselves as significant by failing to even see ourselves is to consider the idea of seeing oneself, metaphorically, as bigger than all of the physical objects one sees, such as buildings, sidewalks and cars (without actually perceiving oneself in this way). For we human beings are nothing less than the product of 14 billion years of evolution, and we have progressed far beyond the physical structures from which we have evolved. That swing of the pendulum to the left also can be accompanied not just by this intellectual or “head” behavior but also by emotional commitment (“heart”) to the importance of learning to see oneself as so huge. This is not egotistical or selfish behavior, since one can learn to see all human beings in this way. One can then see the movement of the pendulum to the right as a metaphor for learning to actually see oneself as so large (“hand”). Yet as one continues on one’s walk one will not be able to retain this image of oneself, for our way of life continues to teach us our insignificance. Yet we can come to see our pendulum’s swinging back and forth in ever widening arcs as metaphors for helping us to learn to see ourselves as larger than physical objects ever more frequently. For our ability to actually see ourselves as large for even a moment can help us understand how we accomplished this, yielding increased understanding so that we can swing that pendulum further to the left, yielding greater emotional commitment and greater ability to swing further to the right and thus retain that image of ourselves longer. Further, we can learn to reward or reinforce ourselves for this achievement, thus developing “heart.”

Thus, the pendulum metaphor can help us to make use of the full power of an interdisciplinary scientific method in any experience we have in everyday life. For it includes elements of the full range of our behavior, namely, “head,” “heart” and “hand.” Also, there is the dichotomy between solving and failing to solve the problem at hand, the gradation of the pendulum continuing to swing in ever-widening arcs, and the metaphors of the pendulum and of “head,” “heart” and “hand.” Given that it is the scientific method that has been the most powerful tool for changing the world over the past five centuries, the pendulum metaphor helps us to take that powerful force in our own hands, and not just in the hands of professionals. Following George Kelly’s insight, as explained last month, “Every man is in his own particular way, a scientist…Would he not have his theories, test his hypotheses, and weigh his experimental evidence?” Granting the failure of social scientists to develop a powerful science of human behavior because of narrow specialization with limited integration of knowledge, the pendulum metaphor points toward success by invoking an interdisciplinary focus. Future columns will continue to explain the nature of that focus which can help us all to fulfill our infinite potentials.

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