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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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