Werner Erhard

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Being Well

by Werner Erhard, Victor Gioscia, and Ken Anbender

Chapter 5 of the book, BEYOND HEALTH AND NORMALITY: Explorations of Exceptional Psychological Well-Being, edited by Roger Walsh, M.B., Ph.D. and Deane H. Shapiro, Jr. Ph.D., published 1983


Our intention in the following essay is to offer the reader an opportunity to reflect on an issue which is central in our time—the search for a new paradigm—a profound new definition of human well being.

Since we regard the reader's reflection as a sufficient resource to arrive at a satisfying conclusion, we shall not ourselves attempt to define—or redefine—human illness or wellness; nor shall we present a new paradigm from which an intelligent definition of well being might reasonably be deduced.

We will elucidate paradigms in general and paradigms of well being in particular. Also, since the issue of paradigms old and new, as well as the transitions between them, is currently receiving much careful attention, we shall focus on the issue of paradigm shifts and some of the problems that arise during times of paradigm shifts.

The reader is asked to suspend defining well being until after we have more completely examined the nature of paradigms, paradigm shifts, and their relation to the issue of human freedom.

We shall not add conceptual complexity to the issues at hand. In fact, our purpose will be to move the reader toward that dimension of knowing in which such complexities resolve themselves naturally and spontaneously, not by conceptual clarification or even by experiential exercise, but by a knowing of the most fundamental kind.

We shall present the thesis that each of us has access to a dimension of knowing that most of us have only accidentally used. It is present and unseen, powerful, seldom employed, ordinary, and rare.

We intend to provide access to this dimension of knowing so that the reader can select confidently from among the available options those (s)he finds most satisfying.

Our method will be to pass in review:

  1. aspects of the Western paradigm which until recently defined all wellness as not-illness;
  2. aspects of the Eastern paradigm of well being which are currently evoking interest;
  3. the nature of paradigm shifts in general. We shall thus raise the issue of paradigm mastery—the power to select paradigms freely, after careful consideration.

Finally, we shall present a paradigm of paradigms as the basis of paradigm mastery.


We live in interesting times. Each day brings us fresh news of breakthroughs, innovations, and discoveries, along with bold new models and paradigms for their comprehension. Humanity seems intent on articulating a new paradigm of human nature which will at long last render health and well being universally possible.

So earnest is this search for new paradigms of human well being that there are an abundance of them, whose very number have now become problematic. We seek not only new ways to be well, but new ways to seek new ways to be well.

Currently, for example, there is much interest in the paradigms of the East. These, it is hoped, when somehow combined with those of the West, will more deeply heal us. Many hope that a shift away from the Western paradigm, toward the Eastern paradigm, will at last put us on the road to lasting well-being.

There is, in addition, a growing enthusiasm that our current explorations will not merely combine new knowledge with old, but will occasion a paradigm shift in the definition of human health and well being.

The search is on for a profoundly new kind of inquiry, which will enable us this time to see not only where we have been, where we are, and where we are going, but more essentially, will empower us from now on to be who we are while we journey onward.

The authors gladly acknowledge their fraternity with those who seek to articulate a paradigm which no longer locates well being beyond our human reach. Precisely what is wanted is a paradigm which locates well being within our nature. Not only is a shift toward such a paradigm currently underway: what the shift reveals is clearly sound and fundamentally important.

Yet, paradigms have shifted before. In fact, it is their nature to shift, each eventually giving way to its successor as inevitably as the waves of the sea. So the issue in our time is not whether a paradigm shift is underway, but whether we can discover the principles underlying any paradigm shift which will enable us from now on to experience our full humanity during the shift not, as ever before, in the hope that true well being will come after the next shift has been accomplished.

What is wanted and needed during an era of multiple paradigm shifts is not yet another paradigm shift, but the ability to shift paradigms confidently, ably, powerfully, i.e., paradigm mastery. The purpose of this essay is precisely to articulate the principles by which such mastery is occasioned.

We will ourselves neither promote a new paradigm, nor defend those useful in the past, nor justify or rationalize current paradigm shifts. Our aim is to assist, enable, and empower all those participating in the shift of fundamental notions of human well being, so that their work may draw on a mastery of paradigm shifts.

Our purpose then is the articulation of the principles by which paradigms are generated—what might be called the "paradigm of paradigms": that set of principles, access to which serves as the source of the power and the ability to cause a shift from one paradigm to another.

Our search for the principles of paradigm mastery is occasioned by two central observations:

  1. There are now so many new paradigms, models, theories, philosophies and practices which address themselves to redefining the nature of human health and well being, that selection from among them has become increasingly problematic in the absence of independently established bases of selection.

  2. We have historically accumulated no principles or markers which might serve as guides during a time of paradigm shift. We don't know, really, what is required to shift from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican model of the cosmos, or from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian paradigm.

Currently the sheer number of old and new models offered as paradigms of health and well being makes it difficult for us to shift masterfully from one paradigm to another. It no longer suffices to shift unknowingly from one paradigm to the next. What is required now is the know-how, the ability to shift masterfully. What is needed is a paradigm of paradigms.

Happily, contemporary logicians are now aware that it is unworkable to construct endless ladders of knowing about knowing about knowing in an infinite regression. So, as we present the principal outlines of the paradigm of paradigms in the following pages, we shall at the same time demonstrate that the search for a paradigm of paradigm of paradigms is not only unnecessary, it is an absurdity—for the first qualifying characteristic of the paradigm of paradigms is that it may not locate mastery beyond our logical reach, in an endless infinity of logical steps. Minimally, to qualify, the paradigm of paradigms must reveal that paradigm mastery is possible.


Initially the problem of locating the paradigm of paradigms seems simple enough: first, describe the currently dominant paradigm by which we have sought, until very recently, to define health and well being. Next, describe the principal features of the paradigm we seek to develop. It then remains only to specify the bridging operations from one to the other—listing the essential steps we took from where we were to where we want to go.

This strategy presents two alternatives:

  1. Describe the new paradigm from within the old.
  2. Describe the new paradigm from within itself.

In the first alternative, one must fail, because the new paradigm cannot be held in the old paradigm. If it could, it would be within the old paradigm (or, at best, be an extension of it) and therefore not a new paradigm at all.

Using the second alternative, one must again fail because, when one is seeking a new paradigm (i.e., when one is shifting paradigms), one obviously does not yet have the new paradigm with which to describe the new paradigm.

Furthermore, in the second alternative, even when one attains the new paradigm, one must fail because in the current paradigm of description, self-referential statements, while true, lack content and thus have no "information". Such statements therefore provide no basis of description.

Even if both paradigms—the old and the new—were clearly described, the question would still remain: What is required to shift from the old to the new? What are the guidelines through the labyrinth of assumptions and postulates which currently obscure the path toward paradigm mastery?

The first step is to recognize that the path is labyrinthine.

The second step is then at least metaphorically clear—to see into the labyrinth, one must see from beyond it.

What is required, then, is not just another paradigm—another vision of health and well being—another point of view. It is not even sufficient to classify and search among kinds of paradigms. This approach only postpones the inevitable problem of the criterion of selection by adding to the already long list of selectable approaches we already have.

What is required is an investigation into the nature of paradigms—into the ontology which sustains them, the epistemology which reveals them, and the integrity which guides their right employment. What is wanted is nothing less than the discovery of those principles which can release us from our dependency on an endless sequence of models and paradigms, with no foreseeable end in view.

What is called for is mastery in the matter of paradigms, a transformed relationship with paradigms, which enables us to shift confidently and powerfully from paradigms which continue to locate health and well-being forever beyond us—always in the next paradigm—to a paradigm of paradigms, which enables and empowers us to:

  1. locate health and well being here and now, where we are, within our selves
  2. use any paradigm masterfully, to the full extent of its usefulness
  3. mix the principles and techniques of various paradigms precisely, potently, and usefully
  4. shift paradigms ably, confidently, masterfully

What is called for, therefore, is not simply another paradigm, but that set of principles which will enable us to use and shift paradigms confidently, so that we experience ourselves as masters of paradigms and of paradigm shifts.

This will transform us from considering ourselves a helpless species confined by its paradigms, to experiencing ourselves as a species able to celebrate its mastery of paradigms and paradigm shifts.

Only a paradigm of paradigms—or, more exactly, an awareness of the principles by which mastery in the matter of paradigms and paradigm shifts is had—can elevate us above the labyrinth of assumptions which presently confine us.

Clearly, even the emerging consensus that we should look carefully into the wisdom of the East, or that we should now see wholes where we saw only aggregates of parts, while obviously sensible, cannot suffice. Surely these views too will eventually be superseded, and we shall be asked to shift again through another labyrinth of assumptions left over from what today appears to be tomorrow's paradigm.

It has now become clear that an endless series of shifts from one paradigm to another no longer suffices. Not a few writers now announce that we must begin to abandon our current positions and examine in earnest really new paradigms, as revolutionary and different in kind from our contemporary visions as, let us say, the theory of evolution was from the theory of special creation.

However, before congratulating ourselves that the search for a paradigm of paradigms is already well under way, let us examine as a case in point, a current paradigm shift—the shift from a Western to an Eastern paradigm of well being—so that we can begin to assemble observations on the nature of paradigm shifts.


It is an old story. We cannot see our eyes—we see with them.
So it is with any point of view. In our search for a way of searching, we are able to avoid the more obvious pitfalls only when we are willing to hold up a mirror to our favorite strategies.

Let us inquire then into the major structural characteristics of the Western paradigm we have used until very recently to define health and well being for ourselves. Among its principal characteristics are the following:

  1. Positivism: Since its historical inception, contemporary science has clung steadfastly to a sense-amenable test of its hypotheses, wishing never again to return to the time when truth came by edict from those in power. This initial democracy of the sensorium is now increasingly regarded as a set of unwelcome blinders, limiting our knowledge to the narrow spectrum of the senses of "comparably trained" observers, augmented to be sure by technological instrumentation.

  2. Reductionism: Reductionism asks of anything that it examines, "What is it made of?" One answer holds that all things are made of "stuff"—essentially matter and/or energy, deployed in space and/or time. This view, currently known as materialism, is usually contrasted with another view which holds that some things are not material. One of the corollaries of reductionism holds that wholes are made of parts, and so, restoring broken parts (e.g., John's liver) restores health to the whole (John). Variations include healing John's feelings (parts) so that John (the whole) will feel "better."

  3. Change: The Western paradigm posits change as fundamental. Thus, members of the clinical professions routinely assume that some thing must be changed if the "ill patient" is to be restored to health. Things, it is said, need to be put back in order. This view generates a corollary that only action brings about reaction. The thought that nothing need be done frustrates advocates of the current Western paradigm.

  4. Dichotomy: The dichotomous nature of the contemporary Western paradigm is essential to it. One either is, or is not, sick. Healthy is not-sick. A corollary is: one hopes to change that which is not (sickness, or not-health) into that which is (health, or not-sickness) by doing some thing.

  5. Cause-Effect: In the West, causes generate effects, and effects result from causes. Hence, there is a curious blend of voluntarism and victimology in the dominant paradigm of health, which hold both that we can cause (i.e., "do something" about) an illness, and that most illness in life happens to us (i.e., is an effect) hence not our doing. Thus, we may cause our health to get better only after our health has been made worse. Thus, hope.

  6. Emergence: Perhaps the most fundamental postulate in the Western paradigm is what we shall term a "bottom-up" view. In its larger aspect, this postulate envisions evolution as having started with the big bang, gradually building up clouds of gas, then stars, then planets, eventually plants, animals, and finally, us. "Higher" life forms are said to have "emerged" from "lower" ones. Our own "lower" functions are said to be animal, and our "higher" functions, human.

Notice that the summary of the Western paradigm reads very like a naive restatement of Cartesian-Newtonian cosmology.

There is a material universe. It is composed of things and forces—e.g., atoms and gravity. It is a huge machine. Somehow—a long time ago—it got started, and now it includes biological, psychological, and sociological parts, which, though apparently very different, consist, like everything else in this universe, of constellations of things and forces.

Note also that mastery in this mechanical paradigm accrues to the mechanic, whose essential clinical task can only be putting things back where they normally belong, with the least possible force.

It is interesting to observe how the Western paradigm structures each of its subsidiary fields of inquiry. Just as "cause" is that which occasions an effect, and "effect" is that which results from a cause, so order is the absence of disorder and, correlatively, health is not-sick. We are biologically healthy if we have no disease. We are psychologically healthy if we have no anxiety. We are sociologically healthy if we have no alienation.

Note that each of these disciplines embodies each of the structural characteristics of the Western paradigm. Each in its turn is positivist, reductionist, change oriented, dichotomous, mechanical, and emergent. Note also that within this paradigm, disciplines may come and go, as they have in great variety in our own time, yet the central principles of the paradigm have remained unchanged for centuries.

By reason of their very generality, paradigms sustain the coming(s) and going(s) of literally hundreds of specifications, without themselves changing an iota. In this way, schools come and go, each no more satisfactory than its predecessor, each generating no more ability than before. Indeed, the apparency of constant change guarantees the unexamined persistence of the paradigm. The contents change—the contexts remain.


"Granted," says an advocate of the Eastern paradigm, "there is no true mastery in the old Western paradigm. But our current explorations take place well beyond these limitations. We no longer assume things are mechanical. Today we know that things are holographic  - each "part" containing the whole. Today we are holists, no longer trying to obtain health by attempting to put back together parts we took apart by our overspecializations. Today we regard materialism, reductionism, positivism, and all of their associated corollaries, as an obsolete paradigm precisely because that mechanical paradigm precludes the experience of true human mastery. This is in fact the driving energy behind our search for an Eastern paradigm, which cannot be said to suffer from the sort of naive materialism whose central features you have delineated in your foregoing paragraphs."

"We are fully aware," our Eastern protagonist continues, "that most of what we now know to be our true human potential was buried under the West's obsessions with exterior technology and material progress. We will not repeat these mistakes. We seek to release humankind from the grip of the Newtonian paradigm and restore to humanity the right and the ability to actualize its full potential. The Eastern paradigm encourages us to bring forward what the West counseled us to leave behind - the higher reaches of human nature, unitary consciousness, mysticism, the Experience of Being."

"Furthermore," our advocate continues, "we shall not again make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water. We will retain those findings of the Western paradigm which foster actualization, without subscribing to the limiting premises from which they were derived. We seek a true synthesis, the best of East and West, in a new leap forward. We want to be full humans, not emergent machines."

These remarks are unexceptionable. They witness a shift toward a paradigm which, in our opinion, has room for everything that our protagonist wants to put in it, including some Western hardware. The vision is noble. Clearly, the Western exclusive preoccupation with matter, energy, time, and place rules out interest in the inmost reaches of "inner space" and in the spectrum of neglected human abilities which will soon be discovered to reside there "in potentia."

The question remains, by what criterion shall we shift from one paradigm to another, without locating mastery in one or the other? Even granting that the Eastern paradigm looks wonderful from where our protagonist sits, has (s)he not already made the very same mistake (s)he sought to avoid? Has (s)he not looked with Western eyes enviously to the East—to find there what was lacking in the West? Let us put the question in its least flattering aspect: Is our Eastern advocate not simply attempting to repair the holes in the Western paradigm with Eastern patches? Or vice versa?

Furthermore, what response can be made to the advocate who combines pieces from both the Eastern and the Western paradigms, in what appears to be a useful meta-assembly? Is not at least some small measure of mastery gained thereby? Do not those who refuse to prefer either the right brain or the left, who insist on the whole, have something which advocates of either half lack?

Unfortunately, the attempt to gain mastery by resort to an additive strategy can confer no additional mastery, for precisely what is wanted is the power to know which elements to combine and the power to employ the resultant combination masterfully. Thus, the additive strategy only postpones the search for mastery. For it leaves unanswered the very question it sought to resolve: What is the source of paradigm mastery?

It may be useful at this point to begin to distinguish further between contents and contexts. We are neither for nor against the contents of the Eastern model, or the Western for that matter, for it may well be that the combination of Eastern and Western elements that our protagonist champions will turn out in the end to be useful. Indeed, this is very probably the case.

The point continues to be: Is this shift of paradigms—this way of changing—undertaken from or toward mastery? That is, must we wait again, and hope that we shall experience our true wellness after we shift to the new Eastern paradigm? Does it matter whether we hope Eastern or Western style? Can a paradigm tell us whether we are well or ill if we are its authors? Or must we stand paradoxically outside our paradigms for them to be expressions of our mastery?


To formulate the matter more rigorously, we might construct the following matrix, in which:

WP = Western Paradigm
EP = Eastern Paradigm
PS = Paradigm Shift
PP = Paradigm of Paradigms

WP 1 2 3 4
EP 5 6 7 8
PS 9 10 11 12
PP 13 14 15 16

We read the contents of these cells as follows:

  1. The Western paradigm argues for itself. (All paradigms do.)
  2. The Western paradigm is looking more and more fondly at the Eastern paradigm.
  3. The Western paradigm prefigures what a shift beyond itself would look like.
  4. According to the Western paradigm, there is no paradigm of paradigms, only a next paradigm.
  5. The Eastern paradigm regards the Western paradigm as reductive and insufficient.
  6. The Eastern paradigm argues for itself. (All paradigms do.)
  7. The Eastern paradigm prefigures what a shift beyond itself would look like.
  8. The Eastern paradigm regards itself as the paradigm of paradigms.
  9. There is a shift away from the Western paradigm under way.
  10. There is a shift toward the Eastern paradigm under way.
  11. The issue of shifting how we shift paradigms is a central concern of our time.
  12. Only paradigm shifts which are shifted from the paradigm of paradigms reflect mastery.
  13. The paradigm of paradigms must transcend the Western paradigm.
  14. The paradigm of paradigms must transcend the Eastern paradigm.
  15. The paradigm of paradigms supplies criteria by which to shift paradigms.
  16. The paradigm of paradigms cannot itself be simply another paradigm.

(We will develop cells 13-16 later in this essay.)

What is meant by statement 12: "Only paradigm shifts which are shifted from the paradigm of paradigms reflect mastery"?

This: We are wholly free only if we may accept or reject any paradigm.

The problem is, since every paradigm argues in its own favor, every paradigm defines what is outside itself as false. Each paradigm argues for itself by setting its own standards for the definition of paradigms. Another way to state this matter is as follows: In any set called "This set," there must be an element called "not this set." It is a symbol in this set of what is outside the set. Except "not in this set" is not really "not in this set"—it is an item in this set called "not in this set." It represents (symbolizes) what is outside this set as if it were inside this set.

Paradigms, similarly, contain representations or symbols of what lie beyond themselves—including all other paradigms. But the mere manipulation of the symbol of what lies outside a set can bring with it no true mastery, since what remains beyond the set remains beyond the set untouched, even though the symbol in the set of what is beyond the set may indeed have undergone all sorts of (only) symbolic manipulations. What is in-here is precisely not-out-there and vice versa.

This is the reason why Eastern masters sound "funny" to Westerners. Eastern masters often say something about what they say it is impossible to say something about. Zen masters say, "Not this ... not that ... not not . . . " until there remain no symbols of what is outside the novice's symbol system. Such masters are very clear that symbolic statements about what is beyond symbolization are worthless and, in fact, deceive, since they foster the illusion that one is outside one's symbol system if one is talking as if one were.

True mastery is not merely symbolic. So, in the matter of paradigms, we might paraphrase the Zen master who says, "You may not decide, and you may not not-decide," by saying, "You may not elect the Eastern paradigm from the Western paradigm, and you may not elect the Eastern paradigm from the Eastern paradigm. Nor may you elect a Western paradigm from an Eastern paradigm, nor a Western paradigm from a Western, or from any combination. Now, elect a paradigm."

Since mastery is, above all, the ability to cause, mastery cannot be caused by any paradigm. Only a "paradigm" which is not itself a paradigm can confer paradigm mastery, i.e., be a cause of paradigms.

Statements of this sort when approached from within a paradigm of causes and effects are tautological and hence without descriptive power. But what of a cause which does not cause effects? What of a cause which causes itself? What are the qualities of such a cause? Before moving to a discussion of this issue, it may be useful to summarize the main points we have made so far:

  1. There is a Western paradigm. It stamps its subsidiary models and theories of health and well being in its own image.

  2. There is an Eastern paradigm. It promises to empower processes of health and well being not currently available in the West.

  3. We define mastery as the ability to cause paradigm shifts.

  4. Mastery of paradigms cannot be conferred by any paradigm.

  5. The paradigm of paradigms cannot itself be just another paradigm. If it were, it wouldn't be the paradigm of paradigms.

  6. The principles by which we shift paradigms cannot be found within the paradigms being shifted.

We consider next that realm in which paradigm shifts take place—that context, the contents of which are paradigms. Interimly, we shall say that paradigm shifts prompted by the precepts of other paradigms are not wholly free, and we shall call those shifts of paradigms which are wholly free "Transformations."


It is time to widen the frame of our inquiry and to bring into focus the fact that the current shift in paradigms of health and well being participates in a much larger paradigmatic shift, encompassing not only Eastern and Western paradigms of health and well being, but a shift in our experience of the nature of human evolution.

Observation reveals that fundamental redefinitions are underway, not only in matters of health and well being, but far more widely. Cosmologists report that "singularities" and so-called black holes require entirely new kinds of theory. Nuclear physicists report that quarks and "gluons" simply do not fit into prior theories of subatomic "particles." Half the nations of Africa are not yet half a century old. We have walked on the moon and sent rockets to the stars.

Scientists and philosophers across the spectrum of inquiry are currently redefining the spectrum of inquiry. The philosophy of science thrives as does the theory of information. We have an ecology of ideas which prompts us to look deeply at learning, at learning to learn, and at learning to learn to learn. Human experience has been redefined. So has human nature. We require far more of ourselves than ever before. We now expect whole societies and cultures to engage in transformation—to generate whole domains in which to evolve, and thence to evolve responsibly, i.e., the evolution of evolution.

This is one of the reasons why the phrase "human potential" is not wholly satisfactory, since it tends to imply the fixed existence of predetermined potentialities and possibilities, which we ought thus to fulfull. It may be that we ourselves are now required to generate and manage our own evolutionary options and opportunities. The discovery that this in fact is the case was not entirely a welcome one, since it came with the recognition that we have now accumulated the wherewithal either to wreck our evolution (via nuclear holocaust) and/or to redesign it (via genetic "engineering").

We have entered into an era in which we are responsible for the evolution of our own further evolution. The opportunity exists. The criteria do not. Those are up to us. And there are no precedents.

In our prior discussion of the matrix of paradigms, we postponed detailed discussion of the "paradigm" of paradigms. The place for that discussion is here. For the paradigm of paradigms is the source of those criteria.

We may begin our discussion by recalling what we have said so far about the "paradigm" of paradigms. First, it must demonstrate unequivocally that it does not lead to a topless ladder of logical steps. Thus, it is required to be the dimension of paradigms—an abstract space in which paradigms are contents.

Within this abstract space, or dimension, the number of paradigms may be large or small. The dimension of paradigms—"paradigmness"—is itself not numbered. It is not a paradigm.

Further, it was required of the paradigm of paradigms that it provide opportunity for the experience of mastery—which is the ability to come to any paradigm, and hence the ability to shift from any one to any other, in freedom.

A master of paradigm shifts could as easily shift from an Eastern to a Western paradigm, or the reverse, or for that matter, from an Einsteinian to an Newtonian one.

It begins to be apparent that the paradigm of paradigms must itself be without content—or, to use another metaphor—it must be dimensionless. It is no one paradigm. It is neither Eastern nor Western, nor some of each, thus not even planetary. It is paradigmness itself—the abstract possibility or "space" in which paradigms themselves are contents.


Before spelling out the further characteristics of the paradigm of paradigms (to the extent that this is possible), it may be useful to formalize the principles we have been implying in our discussion so far. To do so, we shall construct a table in which three characteristics of the paradigm of paradigms are compared with, and contrasted to, the characteristics of the Western paradigm, the Eastern paradigm, and aspects of a paradigm shift. We shall then discuss some additional characteristics of the paradigm of paradigms itself, which we have said to be the source of paradigm mastery.

The three characteristics we shall discuss are:

  1. Context: the principles which generate paradigms—the abstraction, space, or idea out of which particular paradigms arise.

  2. Construct: the organizing principles which unite the concepts of a paradigm in a coherent, logical whole.

  3. Content: the concepts which constitute a paradigm—what the paradigm states.

Schematically, the table reads:


Western Paradigm
Eastern Paradigm
Full Nature
Paradigm Shift
Change of Change
Planetary Well Being
Paradigm of Paradigms

The cells may be summarized as follows:

  1. The Western paradigm of emergent evolution is based on the premise of survival.
  2. The Western paradigm calls for change, i.e., doing something.
  3. The Western paradigm defines the whole as well if the parts are in order, i.e., not sick.
  4. The Eastern paradigm is based on the transcendence of ego.
  5. The Eastern paradigm calls for enlightenment.
  6. The Eastern paradigm calls for attainment of one's Full Nature.
  7. The paradigm shift currently under way entails a shift from a Western-oriented becoming (trying to get there then) to an Eastern-oriented being (here now).
  8. The paradigm shift currently under way reflects an awareness of "second-order" change, or change of change.
  9. The paradigm shift currently under way embraces responsibility for the whole (i.e., planetary evolution.)
  10. The paradigm of paradigms is the dimension of paradigmness, that realm in which paradigms are contents.
  11. The paradigm of paradigms calls for transformation, i.e., a shift from paradigm-generated options to generating paradigms as options. (We will expand our discussion of this point below.)
  12. The paradigm of paradigms empowers the human species to know mastery in the matter of its own further evolution. That is, it states that humanity can responsibly generate the paradigms with which to guide its own further evolution. It is humanity's coming to paradigms, from beyond paradigms, as the source of paradigms, i.e., as the cause of paradigm mastery.



How shall we describe this space—this dimension of source—this ability to cause paradigms, and thus to experience mastery?

The traditional Eastern answer to the search for mastery has been, "Find an enlightened master, apprentice yourself, and, if you work diligently, you will one day transcend your ego and be enlightened. When you are enlightened you will know what source is. A source is one who enables others to transcend ego. In short, source is the distinguishing quality of a master."

This traditional answer was a useful beginning, which, like all beginnings, left much unsaid.

First, we confront here, in another of its ubiquitous forms, the problem that enlightenment / transformation—the ability to transcend paradigms—cannot be captured in conceptual terms, since enlightenment/transformation is by definition the transcendence of definition. Any attempt to describe it conceptually must by definition fail. Thus, enlightenment/transformation cannot be held by the conceptual mind. It does not fit into the faculty of symbols and concepts of experience. Nor can those aspects of ourselves constructed by the assembly of symbols and concepts of experience - our personalities; our egos, our identities - hold or contain enlightenment/transformation.

Many Westerners therefore conclude that those enlightened/transformed must eliminate their conceptual minds, their personalities, their identities, and/or their egos. And, since the Western paradigm defines this as impossible, many Westerners believe enlightenment/transformation to be impossible.

In fact, real enlightenment/transformation does not require eliminating one's identity. This is impossible. Enlightenment/transformation is transcendence of ego: having an ego, not being one. Trying to have no ego is ego.

Enlightenment/transformation—the ability to come to any paradigm with equal ease—is not describable within the Western paradigm precisely because enlightenment/transformation is not:

  1. positivist, i.e., sense-amenable
  2. reducible to configurations of matter-energy in space-time
  3. change-oriented
  4. dichotomous
  5. the effect of any cause
  6. an emergent property of matter

It is worth noting that Westerners and/or those who prefer the Western paradigm will hear descriptions of enlightenment as violations of intelligibil­ity itself—as making no sense—since it is the principal function of the Western paradigm to render the "material" universe intelligible. (It is also worth noting that Easterners also develop symbols of enlightenment.)

The problem of communicating enlightenment and/or transformation to adherents of the Western paradigm is even more difficult than noted above, since, it will be recalled, from within any paradigm, only a symbol of what is outside the paradigm exists or can exist. So Westerners who reject enlightenment or transformation, or regard it as impossible, are not in fact rejecting the reality of enlightenment but only its symbol. Eastern masters who have acquainted themselves with the Western paradigm have thus come to see why some Westerners refuse to take even the possibility of enlightenment seriously. Conversely, Westerners who have acquainted themselves with the Eastern paradigm have begun to appreciate Easterners' compassionate concern that Westerners unacquainted with the Eastern paradigm are allowing the possibility of enlightened mastery to escape through their paradigmatic fingers.


In truth, one must both give up (i.e., transcend) one's ego and retain it (have it as an ego) to experience transformation. To any enlightened be­ing—Eastern or Western—this is obvious.

Transformation/enlightenment is not, in itself, a content. Nor is it, in itself, another paradigm. It is, in a manner of speaking, a quality of being.

A further difficulty in describing transformation/enlightenment is what has been called the "Horseless carriage" problem. When automobiles were first invented, they were called horseless carriages. Similarly, radio was called "wireless." Just so, the domain specified by the paradigm of paradigms is often referred to as "mindlessness" or "egolessness." Such terms can communicate little if anything to minds or to egos, and must be particularly irritating to those who hold that the conceptual mind is par excellence the faculty of knowing, or to those who hold that what is not conceptually knowable is not knowable at all. Hence the principal barrier to humanity's ability to experience mastery in the matter of its own further evolution is the paradigm which defines mastery as impossible because mastery is not con­ceptually intelligible.

For it lies in the very nature of the conceptual mind to define what is by what has been, to compare and contrast the unfamiliar with the familiar, the unknown with the once known—in short, to define the present by what was once known in the past. It is precisely the function of paradigms to define what is knowable and what is not knowable by counseling the comparison of the unknown with the known, by suggesting this is like that.

In the West, mind makes metaphor; and in the West, "mind" has been par excellence the faculty on which we have relied to steer our historical course. In the East, transcendence of the ego has been attempted. Unfortunately, elimination of the ego has often been substituted—in both East and West—for its transcendence.

Most Westerners, therefore, until very recently, have ruled out even the possibility of transformation/enlightenment, and remained steadfastly within the confines of the Western rational paradigm, which defines transformation/enlightenment and any mastery that might be associated with it, either as impossible, and hence unattainable, or as attainable only by the mindless, and hence, the deluded. Correlatively, most Easterners, until recently, have actively avoided the transcendental inclusion of ego in their steadfast wish not to be trapped in conceptuality and mere symbolic mastery.

Clearly, no simple mixture of bits and pieces of Eastern and Western wisdom will add one whit to humanity's ability to stear its evolutionary course, for even if there were some valuable insights in both East and West—as there surely must be—there seem to be no independent criteria by which to select them.

Surely it is no longer sufficient merely to adapt to each successive paradigm as it appears. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of our age that we seek to transcend this endless sequence of the models and paradigms which pretend to tell us who we are and how at last to attain well-being.

What is required now is not just another shift in paradigms.

What is wanted is mastery in the matter of paradigms.

We examine next the relations of mastery and transcendence.



The crucial distinction is the difference between a genuine and a merely symbolic transcendence, between an ability and a conceptual explanation of ability, between mastery and mere symbols of mastery.

Ancient and modern masters are agreed that release from our symbolic prisons is possible, and comes from time to time to those whom we thereafter call enlightened or transformed beings.

Somehow, these human beings attain to a luminosity of experience and selfhood which escapes our daily power to explain it, and yet awakens within us a spark of recognition. These beings seem to have a freshness of experience unburdened by preconceptions and symbolic comparisons. They seem, in other words, to have a vitality unconfined, uncompared, and uncontrasted. Their ability to experience seems equally unbounded and incomparable. Each experience for them seems to be whole, entire, and complete unto itself—being exactly what it is and exactly what it is not—without reference to what it may have been and what it might become.

This quality of completeness, of wholeness, of entirety in each moment is the quality which lifts experience beyond dichotomy: not dichotomous, not not-dichotomous, and not both. It is "non-dual," as Zen masters say.

It is virtually impossible for most people to experience without comparison and without distinction. Most of us find it impossible to see this as just this, and not not-that. Actually, enlightened experience calls for, "This is. It is this. It is not that. And it is not-this. And it is not not-that."

This cumbersome language conceals a quality of enlightened "experience" which is brutally and unbearably simple. Enlightened Experience is—to make matters even more difficult—not actually an experience at all. It is the ability to come to experience freshly, unfreighted by memories of how one experienced before, by expectations of how one is going to experience now, or by hopes of how one will experience in the future.

Here is an example:

Pupil: I wish I didn't have this terrible headache. Master: What is terrible about it?
Pupil: It hurts.
Master: Yes. Now what is terrible about it?
Pupil: Well, it's in my way—I can't concentrate.
Master: Why not have a headache when you have a headache and concentrate when you concentrate?
Pupil: You know, it's not really so terrible.
Master: Good. Now, have your headache.
Pupil: But it's gone!
Master: Good. Now, concentrate.

Anecdotes of this sort abound in the literature of the East. It has a both-and/ neither-nor quality which infuriates uninitiated Westerners. Things are said to be simply what they are!

Note that "things," the defined contents of the Western paradigm, are dichotomized spatially (this is here—not there) and/or temporally (this is now—not then). Indeed, what "things" are, are designated halves of such dichotomies.

It is interesting to observe, parenthetically, that contemporary physical speculation is moving rapidly beyond these spatiotemporal dichotomies, even while psychological theorists are examining theories which go beyond locating awareness "in" time and space. Many now speak of particles without mass and experiences without content.

We observe the following:

At the center of human experience lies a quality of being simply what one is and not being what one is not. This quality is concealed from moment to moment by our insistence on comparing now to then and here to there.

Were we simply willing to be fully here, fully now, not not-there and not not-then (or not-yet-here and not-yet-now), we would uncover what is eternally and quietly now—the origin and source of all experience—the awareness-without-content, "I am."

Awareness is without content. It is the awakened context of conscious experience, which it precedes, not chronologically, but ontologically.

It is complete—whole—entire.
Neither divided nor undivided
Neither here nor not-here
Neither now nor not-now
And here now
And only here now
And not here now.

Lacking parts it is whole and indestructible.
Lacking location it cannot be lost.
Lacking time it is immortal.
Lacking form it is substance.
Lacking substance it is form.
Lacking form and substance it is nothing.
Lacking nothing it is everything.

Being everything it is complete.
Being complete it is satisfied.
Itself no thing it excludes no thing.
Itself no thing it enables everything.

It is the truth, "There is being!"
It is the awareness, "I am cause."
It is the awakening, "I experience."

Thus undefined by anything exterior or prior to itself, our deepest awareness is mastery. In our most fundamental being, we are well.

Each of us comes to experience whole, entire, and complete, well able to master experience.

Mastery is being well.

Nothing is more laughingly obvious than this truth while we are aware of it. Nothing is more elusive when we are not.

Awareness of this domain may take those who have it by delicious and untoward surprise—arising suddenly, often hilariously—often leaving just as quickly, without a trace. Eastern and Western mystical literature abound with these astonishing moments.

There is a kind of knowing characteristic of this realm which is epistemologically prior to ordinary experience, for it is itself without content. It is the awareness of experiencing what we experience.

It is experiencing experience—like waking again after waking from ordinary sleep.
It is the awareness of consciousness' constructs and contents as the source of that awareness.

As source of our consciousness, we create the laws of form, and, as their creators, know—in their creation—that we are that which is their source. We are—in this domain—cause of that which is caused—our conscious experience.

Indeed, in this domain (truly speaking it is not a domain at all), we do not actually experience. We generate and intend experience. In this domain, we are aware of generating and intending what we are consciously experiencing, and that we are consciously experiencing. We are aware that we are, and that we are experiencing. In "awareness," things are exactly what they are and exactly what they are not. In "experience," we either experience the things we experience or we do not.

Consciousness divides. Here from not here, and now from not now.
Either/or. Thus we are conscious of this content or that.
Awareness is beyond division. It is both/and.
Awareness is consciousness' context; consciousness, its content.
Awareness is the possibility of consciousness, its cause, its source, its genesis, its space, its origination, its creation.
Concepts are the contents of experience.
Consciousness is the construct of experience.
Awareness is the context, "I am."


Awareness of being well, experiencing well being, and a concept of health are thus not synonymous. They are in fact reflections in three entirely different domains of ourselves.

Awareness of being well is the fundamental knowing of who we are by who we are. Who we are comes to consciousness and to the realm of things from beyond consciousness and from beyond the realm of things. We are not our daily consciousness, we have it. When we are aware we come to consciousness. When we are aware that we come to consciousness from who we quintessentially are, then we are whole, entire, and complete, and we are conscious of things.

That we are, and that we are aware that we are, is context to consciousness' content.

Being well is the awareness of the miracle that we are, and that we are aware, and that we come to experience, wholly, entirely, and completely able to be.

Who we are—each of us—is being who we are able to be: being who we are. This awareness is simple, first, and fundamental.
Somehow, we have become unaware of it.
Yet it is available. And once gained, is known never not to have been. We are. And we are aware of being able to be who we are.

This aspect of ourselves—our fundamental being—examines the paradigms presented to us, to see whether we are there fully or only partly enabled.

It is this aspect of ourselves which responds with gladness when a paradigm truly reflects us and promises to add to our lives by expanding our opportunity to be and to express who we truly are.

Our ability to recognize in paradigms, images of our true selves by which we can expand our participation in life is the paradigm of paradigms—the freedom to participate in life masterfully.


Since we enact our intentions in time, it may be said that contexts generate constructs. Consciousness construes. It divides the universe into things that (apparently) serve us, and things that (apparently) do not. This tree of knowledge is simultaneously a garden of opportunity and the site of paradise lost, for we often confuse who we are with our ability to divide the world into things.

Who we are is who we are, and we are conscious of things.

One of the most blinding of all errors in our search for our true nature and for paradigms which enhance our participation in life is the confusion of who we are with our consciousness of things. We confuse being with being conscious.

We are not our consciousness.
We are, consciously.
And we live, consciously.
Consciousness is our constuct, our process, our way, our path, our manner of living.
It is not our self, our "essence," our source, but only a style of being in the world.
In consciousness, we divide this from that, now from then, here from there.

This same consciousness judges wellness or illness, employing criteria normally drawn from the world of things, not from the realm of who we most fundamentally are.
We often confuse criteria of well-being drawn from our consciousness with criteria drawn from our essential selfhood, and thus confuse being well—which we are—with consciousness of experience, in which we distinguish sickness or wellness. No error is more misleading than this confu­sion of selfhood with the constructs of consciousness.
This fundamental consideration - that we consider ourselves to be our consciousness - leads us to seek the source of our well being in consciousness, and in the predicaments of consciousness, rather than in the apartments of our fundamental selfhood.

In this way we define ourselves as being defined by what we are conscious of, rather than being aware that it is we who are, conscious of whatever we are conscious of, - whether it be illness or health. In this way we seek in paradigms of consciousness for paradigms of selfhood, and in this way selfhood is lost.


We are aware of being aware.
We are aware of being conscious.
We are aware of being conscious of things.
Each has its logic.
Each has its paradigm.
The logic of awareness does not apply to consciousness. The logic of consciousness does not apply to awareness. Neither logic applies to things.
Nor does the logic of things apply to awareness or consciousness.


Paradigms of awareness do not apply to consciousness. Paradigms of consciousness do not apply to awareness.

Neither paradigm—whether of awareness or of consciousness—applies to things.

It remains to demonstrate that the logics and paradigms of things do not apply to our awareness of being or to our awareness of being conscious.

We have seen that the Western paradigm regards things as the source of our being, thus confusing substance with form, reality with appearance, selfhood with manifestation. Small wonder that we no longer find true reflection of ourselves in a paradigm designed to define what is less than what we are.

This much has long been known.

What has only recently become clear is that many have been attempting to define the essential wellness of our being—which transcends the dichotomies of consciousness—by employing a logic derived from the dichotomous operations of consciousness.

That we are is neither well nor ill. We are.
That we are conscious is neither well nor ill. We are conscious. What then may we say of health and sickness?

In what paradigm shall we locate these?
To which aspects of ourselves do these notions pertain?

We have come now to the heart of the matter.

Note that it is we ourselves who mistakenly consider ourselves to be things and thus ruled by the laws of things.

From which it follows that healthy and sick are only adjectives which describe those aspects of ourselves which are things—our materiality, our here-not-thereness—in short, those aspects of our lives which are "governed" by the laws of things.

Note also that it is we ourselves who mistakenly consider ourselves to be defined by the constructs and processes of our own consciousness and thus ruled by the laws of consciousnesses.

It follows that healthy and sick are adjectives which describe our process—our being-in-time, our now-not-then-ness—in short, those aspects of ourselves which are ruled by the laws of construction: process, flow, and eventuation.

We may now pose our central question: What if we no longer consider these to be complete, sufficient, or satisfying paradigms by which to define ourselves and our essential well being? What then?

We have already implicitly answered this question. As contemporaries, many have examined carefully the precepts of the Western paradigm and found them insufficient for mastery. Many are no longer satisfied by a paradigm which reduces our essential natures to configurations of matter.

As contemporaries, many examined carefully the precepts of the Eastern paradigm and found them, too, insufficient for mastery—to the extent that it identifies our essential selfhood with configurations of consciousness.

We consider either, or both, of these paradigms to be insufficient—not simply to define our fundamental wellness, but to foster it, generate it, and enable it to be a ubiquitous human quality.

We have defined ourselves by paradigms inappropriate to our task, and thus have allowed ourselves to be defined inappropriately.

By confusing context with construct and construct with content, we have confused principles of generation with principles of construction with principles of content.

And in so doing, we have confused (1) being well with (2) consciousness of well being, with (3) the presence (or absence) of illness.


We are well.
Being well is the awareness of the miracle that we are able to be.
We are the ones who come to consciousness, able to be, ill or healthy.
We are the paradigm of paradigms—able to come to any paradigm—to discern whether we are there truthfully portrayed.

It is time to shift to a paradigm which accords us more of our full and entire dignity.

This time—as our species welcomes greater and greater responsibility for its own further evolution—let us not allow ourselves to be defined by the next paradigm, no matter how wondrously and magnificently it portrays us.

For true mastery lies not in things or in paradigms,
but in our ability to cause life to be
serenely, magnificently, completely,
what is.




One of the problems that we get into with the issue of paradigms is that each paradigm argues for itself.  The Eastern paradigm says that holism, altered states, and higher consciousness are the truth and the way.  The Western paradigm says that segmental precision and piecemeal approaches are the truth and the way.  In this article, Werner Erhard, Victor Gioscia, and Ken Anbender argue eloquently (a) that what is needed is not another paradigm, but an understanding of how paradigms shift, and (b) that we can be the ones who shift the paradigm. In so doing, they point out the limits of both the Eastern and Western paradigms.  They suggest the critical importance of taking responsibility for this, and also note that the individual, by the very nature of the ability to create nondichotomous awareness – the awareness “I am” and “I am able to cause” – is healthy at the most fundamental and core level.  By developing a paradigm of paradigms, the human species is empowered to experience mastery in the matter of its own further evolution.  This article discusses clearly and cogently the shift that is necessary in order for individuals to have the ability to choose among paradigms.

Werner Erhard has been researching the nature of individual and social transformation since 1963.  As a product of that research, he has developed specific technologies which enhance people’s ability to transform the quality of their own lives and to contribute to the lives of others.  In 1971, he created the est Training, a transformational experience in which over a third of a million people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and India have participated.  He is a principal founder of the Hunger Project, a multinational organization of over two million members who have undertaken to produce a grass-roots commitment to end death by starvation within two decades.  Werner Erhard has lectured widely in academic and professional institutions in Europe and America.

Victor Gioscia, Ph.D. (Philosophy, Fordham, 1963) was a research consultant at Werner Erhard and Associates, and one of the people who lead the est Standard Training and the Communication Workshop.  He is the former Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Social Change, Senior Sociologist in the Department of Psychiatry at Roosevelt Hospital in New York, and Director of Research at Jewish Family Services in New York.  Dr. Gioscia has pursued several disciplines at several universities including The City University of New York and is an experienced clinical theoretician.  He is currently working on transcendental sociology.

Kenneth Anbender, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology, Adelphi University, 1975) is the Director of Research for Werner Erhard and Associates, and is one of the people who lead the est Standard Training and the est Communication Workshop.  Dr. Anbender has taught classes in the areas of psychology, extreme health, and communication at the University of Michigan, Adelphi University Advanced Psychological Studies, and the California Institute of Asian Studies.  His studies in altered states of consciousness, mystical experience, creativity, and health have led to a deep commitment to a shift in the quality of life on the planet through individual and social transformation.  His participation with Werner Erhard and Associates, in the field of psychology, and in writing this chapter is an expression of that commitment.


by Werner Erhard, Victor Gioscia, and Ken Anbender; From: BEYOND HEALTH AND NORMALITY: Explorations of Exceptional Psychological Well-Being, 1983

Edited by Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., MRANZCP
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, California College of Medicine,
University of California at Irvine, Irvine, California;
and Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, California College of Medicine
University of California at Irvine Medical Center, Orange, California


© Copyright 2008 - 2020 Werner Erhard