A PARADIGM in our daily lives is a particular philosophy of life or a framework of ideas, beliefs and values through which our community or an individual interprets the world and interacts with it.
People within a culture share the same set of assumptions and similar expectations in how they perceive the world. That is their cultural paradigm.
The paradigm concept entered everyday language after the mid sixties, when Thomas Kuhn, one of the most influential philosophers of science of the last century, published his book ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’. He explained that ‘normal science’ works within the current paradigm, and ‘revolutionary science’ occurs when there is a paradigm shift to another paradigm. The previous paradigm may remain as a special case in the ‘new’ paradigm. An example is Newton's physics remained as a special case in Einstein's physics.
The meaning of the term paradigm is not an easy concept. Although a definition can be given, a more practical explanation of the paradigm concept was well illustrated by Donella Meadows writing in her weekly column, “The Global Citizen”:
Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.
The definition of a paradigm is a bit convoluted:
A philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated.
Or, a bit more down to earth:
The framework of ideas and beliefs by which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a paradigm as, “a world view underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.”
An example of a paradigm in a sentence is, “The Sun will set in an hour.” Another example is, “It will get warmer as we approach spring.” The first sentence is spoken from a geocentric, or Earth centred paradigm, while the second is from a heliocentric, or Sun centred paradigm, as season change as Earth orbits the Sun.
This might seem trivial to us, but the Sun centred paradigm was a revolutionary concept in Europe 500 years ago.
To understand the importance of being aware of how paradigm thinking can inhibit our reasoning, we can look at a few examples from influential people of the past. These may appear absurd to us, because we read them from our paradigm.
Thomas Aquinas, one of Catholicism’s greatest theologians, was stuck in an Aristotelian- Ptolemaic paradigm (a stationary earth was the centre of the universe) when he reasoned like this:
“If the motion of the earth were circular, it would be violent and contrary to nature, and could not be eternal, since nothing violent is eternal. It follows, therefore, that the earth is not moved with a circular motion.”
Scipio Chiaramonti, Professor of Philosophy and Mathematics at the University of Pisa, said in 1633:
“Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles; the earth has no limbs and muscles, hence it does not move.”
Dionysus Lardner, Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London said in 1838:
“Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.”
Marechal Ferdinand Foch, the World War I French General, credited with having the most original and subtle mind in the French Army, said:
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
To understand the limitations of our own paradigms helps us to comprehend other paradigms.
When we say, “The sun rises earlier in summer than in winter,” we have in one sentence made a paradigm shift. The sun rising is a geocentric (earth centred) world view, and we understand the different length of days in summer and winter, through a heliocentric (sun centred) world view.
Mutual paradigm shifts are vital in this globalised world we find ourselves in today. That is the communication key to overcome the worldview clash causing so much pain in the world today.
(This article continues in paradigms)
Nothing astonishes men so much as common sense and plain dealing.
If common sense was so common, why do we have so little of it?