Paradigm Concept

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 as 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.

Table of Contents

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.

Paradigm Definition

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.”

Paradigm Examples

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.

Paradigm Shifts

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

To understand how our senses trick us, please visit our Paradigm Test page to check the reliability of our senses

PARADIGMS are integral to how we understand and interpret the world around us. All our ideas and beliefs must be anchored in some paradigm to have meaning, and that has its source or beginning in an axiom.

An axiom is a statement, which we take so much for granted that we never consider it. In other words, which is regarded as being established, accepted, or self-evidently true.

We feel comfortable believing in our paradigm, like Linus’s blanket in Charles Schultz’s ‘Peanuts.’

Unfortunately reality is not always so simple:

  • If first principles are necessary for thinking then the axioms cannot be proven.
  • If first principles can be proven i.e. if axioms are conclusions of prior arguments, then they are not first principles.
  • In other words, not everything can be proved.
  • Some things we call axioms cannot be proved.

An example is the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. It does not need to be proved as it is an accepted fact. 2000 years ago, it was self-evident that the sun orbited around the earth. Today we believe the earth orbits the sun. However in India they believed the Earth orbits the Sun about 3000 years ago.

The axiom in Europe 2000 years ago was an earth centered universe, and questioning such an obvious fact was considered daft. Often the axiom itself is derived from an unsubstantiated presuppositional assumption.

Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher put it this way:

“The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.”

We start with one or more first principles, or axioms. Every philosophy and every thinker must begin somewhere, and that beginning is with one or more assumptions, called first principles or axioms. Unless there is a first principle, there cannot be a second or a third principle. Unless there has been a logically first thought there cannot be a second or a third thought.

One can’t evaluate beliefs especially others’ unless one considers the paradigms, which are the context from which those beliefs developed. Spiritual believers and Atheists have vastly different philosophies on values, behaviour, experience, knowledge and the very nature of reality. And yes, Atheists have belief and faith. The Humanists and Atheists believe in man and man’s reason, and faith in the material world, and that this is all there is, and that everything can eventually be known through our senses.

Please visit our Paradigm Test page to check the reliability of your senses.

Faith does not stand above or against reason, but reasoning itself rests on the presuppositions of faith, and collapses as arbitrary without faith.

What this means is that everybody, whether believer in God or an atheist, is a believer in something. It is impossible not to believe in something.

All scientific laws are based on the principle of induction. Induction is the process of generalising from observed cases to all cases of the same kind. The basic guide is that future cases will be like past cases. All learning is based on observing similarities and projecting them into the future.

Modern science operates through the principle of induction, but the interpretation of what is observed is based on the observer’s paradigm. And that is the problem of the principle of induction. A classic example is swans. All swans were white, until the first Europeans arrived in Australia and saw black swans. The Aboriginals living in Australia thought all swans were black.

What we call the advancement of science is really developing paradigms through a series of paradigm shifts. Unfortunately, paradigm shifts cannot be planned. Over time research shows one paradox after the other. Making sense of these paradoxes is the driving force towards a new paradigm shift. Implementing a paradigm shift is a process, which can only take place once an acceptance of a new concept has developed from different areas, and a “critical mass” of new ideas comes together.

For an individual, implementing a paradigm shift is well nigh impossible. It is necessary that the ground is prepared by a number of independent scientists or philosophers. The history of science has many cases of scientists and great innovative thinkers, who died unknown and frustrated, as their peers were unable to grasp the new ideas.

An example is Galileo. He grasped the concept of relativity, but the world wasn’t ready for it until Einstein published his Relativity Theory. Galileo’s inspiration came when he was on a ship leaving port. Einstein’s were trains and elevators.

The Greek philosophers, who influenced Western thinking so profoundly, were only a few generations of thinkers within a hundred years, 2400 years ago. The understanding of the universe underwent a paradigm shift following Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler.

Copernicus’ book, “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres,” was published when he was on his deathbed. Copernicus was fearful of the controversy his theory on the Sun centred universe (heliocentric) would cause.

After Galileo and Kepler, Europe was ready to accept the new paradigm. However in India, in the Vedic Period, the heliocentric paradigm was described 500 years before the Greek philosophers, with the Sun as the centre of the universe. India had made their paradigm shift 2100 years before Copernicus and Europe.

Apart from science, paradigm thinking influences our daily lives, as there are also social paradigms. If we are to have harmony in this world of ours there is a need for mutual cultural paradigm shifts.

Faith in a Secular World

The ISLAMIC WORLD and the West appear to be on a collision course. These two worldviews arise from conflicting paradigms. The West itself is divided in two paradigms, those who believe in a Faith and those who are secular.

Judging others from our own frames of reference is the crux of mankind’s cultural misunderstandings; our inability to communicate over cultural barriers.

A paradigm in our daily lives is a particular philosophy of life or a framework of ideas, beliefs and values through which a community or an individual interprets the world and interacts with it. Within a community we share the same set of assumptions and similar expectations, which have to do with how we perceive the world. Paradigm shifts change the way a community perceives other communities and can lead to mutual respect.

Conflict are either caused by politicians, who let millions suffer for some abstract reason, or are generated by an inability to comprehend another culture.

As Donella Meadows wrote:

“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.”

A social paradigm shift occurs when the community or individual experiences a fundamental change in underlying assumptions. This can under favorable conditions lead to reconciliations.

What often happens when we are confronted with the unfamiliar is that we interpret it from the comfort of our paradigm. The result of this is that we run the risk of misunderstanding innocuous communication signals and feel threatened by the unfamiliar. What might be polite behaviour on the one side is perceived as inappropriate by the other side. We abhor not being sure of our reality. After all, that the definition of insanity?

When there is a mutual misunderstanding, a conflict is waiting to happen.

Often the inability of seeing the other paradigm results in ‘us’ and our paradigm being the only ‘right’ one. This is a lack of respect, which is interpreted by the other side as arrogance.

General George Custer said, “The Army is the Indian’s best friend.” He probably believed it too.

The current standoff between the United States and Iran is a classic case of two conflicting social paradigms on the national level.

During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, his spin manager came up with the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” This was a great success in the United States, and the spin manager brought the slogan with him when worked for a campaign in Mexico. However in Mexico people asked why the candidate was calling them “stupid.” Not a very successful campaign slogan South of the border.

The Muslim world today feels threatened by the West mainly because the Muslims perceive an arrogant lack of respect from the West towards their values.

Europeans have looked upon other cultures as lower than their own, even officially until at least a few decades ago. Christians who are evangelising Muslims, do not lack respect for Muslims. They both share a common belief in the Creator God.

From secular Atheist/Humanist quarters there is a lack of respect that is far from neutral, but really aggressive attacks on Muslim values. The Muhammad dog statues in Sweden, the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark and the films from Holland against Islam, are all counter productive. If the purpose was to further entrench the divide between secular Europe and the Muslims, then these childish efforts were outstandingly successful.

If we want to convince another culture that our ways are better, then we must speak to them in a way that opens them up to dialogue, not getting them to burn our embassies.

PARADIGMS are the framework of ideas and beliefs by which we interpret the world around us and interact with it. When we are unable to see things from the other side’s perspective we suffer from paradigm blindness. It is not necessary to agree with the other view, but we should be able to but ourselves into their shoes to be able to discuss sensibly

All religions, even Atheism, operate from religious paradigms.

Science, the atheist’s religion, is not about faith and religious beliefs. The sphere of science does not go beyond this material world. Beyond that is philosophy, theology and spirituality. No scientist is competent to make an authoritative statement in the name of science in these subjects. So the atheist believing that science has all the answers has a blind irrational belief.

An interesting example of an atheist showing himself to be a hypocrite by saying science has all the answers is Richard Dawkins, the atheists’ high priest, in this interview with Ben Stein. He publicly mocks people who believe in God or Intelligent Design, as being primitive and superstitious, yet he believes life began on Earth by another life form, but more evolved than we are today, somehow seeded Earth with life. No proof is needed as this is what some scientists apparently believe.

Personally I will believe in God and not in little green men as the creator of life.

All our ideas and beliefs must be anchored in some paradigm to have meaning. The source, from which the paradigm is subsequently built, is the first principle. The first principle is a basic, foundational assumption that cannot be deduced from any other statement. It is totally taken for granted.

If first principles are necessary for thinking then the axioms cannot be proven.

If first principles can be proven i.e. if axioms are conclusions of prior arguments, then they are not first principles.

In other words, not everything can be proved.

First principles are the basis for all proof. They are not themselves proven. Therefore the demand that everything must be proven is an irrational demand.

The demand that the Jew, Christian, or Muslim (in chronological order) has to prove all he or she asserts is an irrational demand.

The atheist, or someone who states that science has proven that we do not ‘need’ God, has a belief grounded in the axiom that all that exists and all truth can be perceived through our senses, and reasoning.  Life, the mind, and consciousness are all by-products of molecular processes.

Yet these people, intelligent like Richard Dawkins, are as blind to the errors of their own reasoning, and that ‘reasoning’ is their god.

It is called paradigm blindness.

The person with Faith ought to know what he or she ought to prove, what this proof is and what statement or statements he or she is not required to prove. The Believer should also be aware of what the antagonist is required to prove and what the antagonist cannot be asked to prove.

The assumption that the material world is all there is that exists cannot be proved. It is impossible to go back beyond the Big Bang. Even if physicists get to the first milliseconds after the Big Bang, the reality at that point is outside of space and time. The explanations for how it happened are so mind bogglingly far fetched, that the God centred people can only shake their heads in disbelief.

Atheists, saying that a belief in God is irrational, push the boundaries of incredulity. Claiming to be rational, they come with various explanations to avoid God. For example, there are millions of other dimensions, of which we are only one; the Big Bang happened when two ‘branes’ (a term used in Physics and string theory, it is a dimensional hyper surface embedded in a higher dimensional bulk) touched, and other weird and wonderful stories.

For anything to appear out of nothing, not even time or space requires a very strong belief in nothing. This belief is irrational and goes against the basic laws of thermodynamics, yet the atheist appears oblivious of this fact.

Compared to these exotic hypotheses, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim concept of our Creator God is very rational. Atheism is really a religion with man’s reason as ‘god’.

What distinguish philosophies are their presuppositions. These have always blended in with belief.

Thomas Aquinas, who was one of the most influential theologians, reasoned out of a decidedly Aristotelian paradigm. Aristotle featured more in Aquinas’s work than the Bible. Aquinas said, ‘All our knowledge originates from our senses’.

Since all science operates out of paradigms, the research method and the resulting data is unconsciously selectively chosen from the basis of the researchers’ paradigms. The data is then unconsciously interpreted in a way that reinforces their paradigms.

Science cannot be the only arbitrator of truth:

The choices of methods in laboratory procedures are determined by our paradigms.

Our senses are not consistent.

We are susceptible to the fallacy of induction (inference of a generalized conclusion from particular instances)

Paradigms are intrinsic to how we perceive and interpret the world around us. All belief is ultimately based on an axiom of faith. Even Atheism is a belief, only it is based on blind faith

* * * *

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?

featured Image by Jean Paul LORHO

Scroll to Top