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Paradigm shift, sometimes known as extraordinary science or revolutionary science, is the term first used by Thomas Kuhn in his influential 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to describe a change in basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. It is in contrast to his idea of normal science.
It has since become widely applied to many other realms of human experience as well even though Kuhn himself restricted the use of the term to the hard sciences. According to Kuhn, "A paradigm is what members of a scientific community, and they alone, share.” (The Essential Tension, 1997). Unlike a normal scientist, Kuhn held, “a student in the humanities has constantly before him a number of competing and incommensurable solutions to these problems, solutions that he must ultimately examine for himself.” (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). A scientist, however, once a paradigm shift is complete, is not allowed the luxury, for example, of positing the possibility that miasma causes the flu or that ether carries light in the same way that a critic in the Humanities can choose to adopt a 19th century theory of poetics, for instance, or select Marxism as an explanation of economic behaviour. Thus, paradigms, in the sense that Kuhn used them, do not exist in Humanities or social sciences. Nonetheless, the term has been adopted since the 1960s and applied in non-scientific contexts.
Kuhnian paradigm shifts
A scientific revolution occurs, according to Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies which cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. The paradigm, in Kuhn's view, is not simply the current theory, but the entire worldview in which it exists, and all of the implications which come with it. There are anomalies for all paradigms, Kuhn maintained, that are brushed away as acceptable levels of error, or simply ignored and not dealt with (a principal argument Kuhn uses to reject Karl Popper's model of falsifiability as the key force involved in scientific change). Rather, according to Kuhn, anomalies have various levels of significance to the practitioners of science at the time. To put it in the context of early 20th century physics, some scientists found the problems with calculating Mercury's perihelion more troubling than the Michelson-Morley experiment results, and some the other way around. Kuhn's model of scientific change differs here, and in many places, from that of the logical positivists in that it puts an enhanced emphasis on the individual humans involved as scientists, rather than abstracting science into a purely logical or philosophical venture.
When enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis, according to Kuhn. During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual "battle" takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm. Again, for early 20th century physics, the transition between the Maxwellian electromagnetic worldview and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview was neither instantaneous nor calm, and instead involved a protracted set of "attacks," both with empirical data as well as rhetorical or philosophical arguments, by both sides, with the Einsteinian theory winning out in the long-run. Again, the weighing of evidence and importance of new data was fit through the human sieve: some scientists found the simplicity of Einstein's equations to be most compelling, while some found them more complicated than the notion of Maxwell's aether which they banished. Some found Eddington's photographs of light bending around the sun to be compelling, some questioned their accuracy and meaning. Sometimes the convincing force is just time itself and the human toll it takes, Kuhn said, using a quote from Max Planck: "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
After a given discipline has changed from one paradigm to another, this is called, in Kuhn's terminology, a scientific revolution or a paradigm shift. It is often this final conclusion, the result of the long process, that is meant when the term paradigm shift is used colloquially: simply the (often radical) change of worldview, without reference to the specificities of Kuhn's historical argument.
Science and paradigm shift
A common misinterpretation of paradigms is the belief that the discovery of paradigm shifts and the dynamic nature of science (with its many opportunities for subjective judgments by scientists) is a case for relativism: the view that all kinds of belief systems are equal, such that magic, religious concepts or pseudoscience would be of equal working value to true science. [How to reference and link to summary or text] 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 somewhat endorse: that the language and theories of different paradigms cannot be translated into one another or rationally evaluated against one another — that they are incommensurable. This gave rise to much talk of different peoples and cultures having radically different worldviews or conceptual schemes — so different 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 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. Furthermore, the hold of the Kuhnian analysis on social science has long been tenuous with the wide application of multi-paradigmatic approaches in order to understand complex human behaviour (see for example John Hassard, Sociology and Organisation Theory. Positivism, Paradigm and Postmodernity. Cambridge University Press. 1993.)
Paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic in sciences that appear to be stable and mature, as in physics at the end of the 19th century. At that time, physics seemed to be a discipline filling in the last few details of a largely worked-out system. In 1900, Lord Kelvin famously stated, "There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." Five years later, Albert Einstein published his paper on special relativity, which challenged the very simple set of rules laid down by Newtonian mechanics, which had been used to describe force and motion for over three hundred years.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn wrote, "Successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science." (p.12) Kuhn's idea was itself revolutionary in its time, as it caused a major change in the way that academics talk about science. Thus, it could be argued that it caused or was itself part of a "paradigm shift" in the history and sociology of science. However, Kuhn would not recognise such a paradigm shift. Being in the social sciences, people can still use earlier ideas to discuss the history of science.
Philosophers and historians of science, including Kuhn himself, ultimately accepted a modified version of Kuhn's model, which synthesizes his original view with the gradualist model that preceded it. Kuhn's original model is now generally seen as too limited.
Examples of paradigm shifts in science
Some of the "classical cases" of Kuhnian paradigm shifts in science are:
- The transition from a Ptolemaic cosmology to a Copernican one.
- The acceptance of the theory of biogenesis, that all life comes from life, as opposed to the theory of spontaneous generation, which began in the 17th century and was not complete until the 19th century with Pasteur.
- The shift in geometric outlook from particular structures to transformation group theory with Felix Klein's Erlangen Program.
- The transition between the Maxwellian Electromagnetic worldview and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview.
- The transition between the worldview of Newtonian physics and the Einsteinian Relativistic worldview.
- The development of Quantum mechanics, which redefined Classical mechanics.
- The acceptance of Plate tectonics as the explanation for large-scale geologic changes.
- The acceptance of Lavoisier's theory of chemical reactions and combustion in place of phlogiston theory, known as the Chemical Revolution.
- The acceptance of Lamarck's theory of evolution to replace creationism.
- The acceptance of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection replaced Lamarckism as the mechanism for evolution.
- The acceptance of Mendelian inheritance, as opposed to pangenesis in the early 20th century
- The movement, known as the Cognitive revolution, away from Behaviourist approaches to psychological study and the acceptance of cognition as central to studying human behaviour.
- The "Keynesian revolution" is typically viewed as a major shift in macroeconomics. Later, the acceptance of the monetarism which had been denied by John Maynard Keynes marked a second shift, a shift which was initially extremely divisive.
Examples of paradigm shifts in complex systems and organizations
- The English monarchy with the signing of Magna Carta.
- Society with the invention of any of several innovations (fire, the wheel, gunpowder, the microchip, etc.).
- Warfare with the development of the airplane.
- Communication after the invention of the World Wide Web.
As marketing speak
In the later part of the 1990s, 'paradigm shift' emerged as a buzzword, popularized as marketing speak and appearing more frequently in print and publication. In his book, Mind The Gaffe, author Larry Trask advises readers to refrain from using it, and to use caution when reading anything that contains the phrase. It is referred to in several articles and books as abused and overused to the point of becoming meaningless.
The term "paradigm shift" has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought-pattern — 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:
- Handa, M. L., a professor of sociology in education at O.I.S.E. University of Toronto, Canada, developed the concept of a paradigm within the context of social sciences. He defines what he means by "paradigm" and introduces the idea of a "social paradigm". In addition, he identifies the basic component of any social paradigm. Like Kuhn, he addresses the issue of changing paradigms, the process popularly known as "paradigm shift." In this respect, he focuses on the social circumstances which precipitate such a shift. Relatedly, he addresses how that shift affects social institutions, including the institution of education.
- The concept has been developed in economics (Giovanni Dosi) in the identification of new techno-economic paradigms as changes in technological systems that have a major influence on the behaviour of the entire economy. This concept is linked to Schumpeter's idea of "creative gales of destruction". Examples include the move to mass production, and the introduction of microelectronics.
- The mainstream availability in the U.S. of the female birth control pills in the 1960s, combined with effective new treatments for venereal diseases, led to the Sexual Revolution that accompanied many other shifts in attitudes and ideas during that period.
- A widely distributed picture of the Earth entitled "Earthrise" taken from the moon by astronauts is thought by some to have deeply affected the consciousness of humanity in helping to usher in the environmentalist movement which gained great prominence in the years immediately following distribution of that image.
- Development of new techniques in genetics impact long-standing assumptions in anthropology. [How to reference and link to summary or text]
- A Feminist Organization founded in New York City by Lisa A. Snyder and Meredith Villano in 2007 who's mission is to foster a thriving and active feminist community with the purpose of self-expression, creating a shift in social, political, and economic consciousness . Paradigm Shift has been known to have open mics across New York City, open artistic expressions, and famous feminist guest speakers, such as Marti Kheel and Amy Richards. The idea was sparked from the experiences of Snyder's span of Michigan Women's Music Festivals intertwined with her work at Syracuse University's School of Art and Design and Villano's studies of feminism at Rutgers University and being president of the NOW chapter (National Organization for Women).
- MIT 6.933J - The Structure of Engineering Revolutions. From MIT OpenCourseWare, course materials (graduate level) for a course on the history of technology through a Kuhnian lens.
-  From Puzzles with a Purpose, A Kuhnian illustration of a worrisome implication for technology.
- David Laidler. Fabricating the Keynesian Revolution.
- Bordo MD, Schwartz AJ. (2008). Monetary Economic Research at the St. Louis Fed During Ted Balbach’s Tenure as Research Director. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review.
- Robert Fulford, Globe and Mail (June 5, 1999). 'http://www.robertfulford.com/Paradigm.html' Retrieved on 2008-04-25.
- Cnet.com's Top 10 Buzzwords
- "The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Smart Vocabulary" p142-143, author: Paul McFedries publisher: Alpha; 1st edition (May 7, 2001), ISBN-13: 978-0028639970
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