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Paradigm shift

A paradigm shift is an (often radical) change of paradigm. See paradigm.

Table of contents
1 A Simple Explanation
2 Classic examples of paradigm shifts
3 Kuhnian Paradigm Shifts
4 Other Uses
5 See Also

A Simple Explanation

A paradigm shift is the invention of an idea, (or perhaps it begins with the discovery of a fact that calls for a new idea to be invented) which seems to re-explain a whole set of facts so that they can be seen in a new way. A quotation comes to mind which gives a useful example context for this experience:

"The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Classic examples of paradigm shifts

Kuhnian Paradigm Shifts

A epistemological paradigm shift was called a scientific revolution by epistemologist Thomas Kuhn.

A scientific revolution occurs, according to Thomas Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies which cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress had thereto been made. Once new discoveries are made that cannot be reconciled with a current paradigm, and these results are repeatedly independently confirmed by other scientists, then the scientific community is forced to create a new paradigm in line with the evidence. This is a key difference between religion and science (and generally to science and other belief systems); adherents of the scientific method are generally willing to change their beliefs when new facts and compelling logic are presented.

A common misinterpretation of Kuhnian paradigms is the belief that the discovery of paradigm shifts and the dynamic nature of science is a case for relativism, i.e. "all kinds of belief systems are equal", so that say, magic, religious concepts or pseudoscience would be of equal value to true science. Kuhn vehemently denies this interpretation and states that when a scientific paradigm is replaced by a new one, albeit through a complex social process, the new one is always better, not just different.

These claims of relativism are, however, tied to another claim that Kuhn does at least sometimes endorse. This is the claim that the language and theories of different paradigms cannot be translated into one another or rationally evalauated against one another; he says they are in these cases incommensurable. This idea gave rise to a lot of talk of different peoples and cultures having radically different worldviews or conceptual schemes--so different, anyway, that whether or not one was better they could not be understood by one another. However, the philosopher Donald Davidson published a highly-regarded essay in 1974, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme", arguing that the very notion that any languages or theories could be incommensurable with one another was itself incoherent. If this is correct, Kuhn's claims must be taken in a weaker sense than they often are.

Other Uses

The word paradigm shift has escaped from the Kuhnian context and found other uses, where it merely represents the notion of a major change in a certain "thought-pattern":

Here, a paradigm shift is a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems, or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing. Examples of paradigm shifts in perception or ways of thinking:

Examples of paradigm shifts in complex systems and organizations:

See Also