Paradigm

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The word paradigm (Greek:παράδειγμα (paradigma), composite from para- and the verb δείχνυμι "to show", as a whole -roughly- meaning "example") (ˈpærədaɪm) has been used in linguistics and science to describe distinct concepts.

To the 1960s, the word was specific to grammar: the 1900 Merriam-Webster dictionary defines its technical use only in the context of grammar or, in rhetoric, as a term for an illustrative parable or fable. In linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure used paradigm to refer to a class of elements with similarities.

From the 1960s, the word has referred to thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context. The Merriam-Webster Online dictionary defines this usage as "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; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind.paradigm

Scientific paradigm

Historian of science Thomas Kuhn gave this word paradigm its contemporary meaning when he adopted it to refer to the set of practices that define a scientific discipline during a particular period of time. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more exact philosophical meanings. However, in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn defines a scientific paradigm as:

  • what is to be observed and scrutinized
  • the kind of questions that are supposed to be asked and probed for answers in relation to this subject
  • how these questions are to be structured
  • how the results of scientific investigations should be interpreted

Alternatively, the Oxford English Dictionary defines paradigm as "a pattern or model, an exemplar." Thus an additional component of Kuhn's definition of paradigm is:

  • how is an experiment to be conducted, and what equipment is available to conduct the experiment.

Thus, within normal science, the paradigm is the set of exemplary experiments that are likely to be copied or emulated. The prevailing paradigm often represents a more specific way of viewing reality, or limitations on acceptable programs for future research, than the much more general scientific method.

An example of a currently accepted paradigm would be the standard model of physics. The scientific method would allow for orthodox scientific investigations of many phenomena which might contradict or disprove the standard model; however grant funding would be more difficult to obtain for such experiments, in proportion to the amount of departure from accepted standard model theory which the experiment would test for. For example, an experiment to test for the mass of the neutrino or decay of the proton (small departures from the model) would be more likely to receive money than experiments to look for the violation of the conservation of momentum, or ways to engineer reverse time travel.

One important aspect of Kuhn's paradigms is that the paradigms are incommensurable, which means that two paradigms cannot be reconciled with each other because they cannot be subjected to the same measure or common standard of comparison. That is, no meaningful comparison between them is possible without fundamental modifications in the concepts which are part of the paradigms being compared. This way of looking at the concept of "paradigm" creates a paradox of sorts, since competing paradigms are in fact constantly being compared with each other. Nonetheless, competing paradigms are not fully intelligible solely within the context of their own conceptual frameworks. For this reason, the concept of paradigm in the philosophy of science might more meaningfully be defined as an explanatory model or conceptual framework. This definition makes it clear that the real barrier to comparison is not necessarily the absence of common units of measure, but an absence of mutually compatible or mutually intelligible concepts. A new paradigm which replaces an old paradigm is not necessarily better, because the criteria of judgment depend on the paradigm--and on the conceptual framework which defines its and gives it its explanatory value.

A more disparaging term groupthink, and the term mindset, have somewhat similar meanings that apply to smaller and larger scale examples of disciplined thought. Michel Foucault used the terms episteme and discourse, mathesis and taxinomia, for aspects of a "paradigm" in Kuhn's original sense.

Simple common analogy: A simplified analogy for paradigm is a habit of reasoning or, the box in the commonly used phrase "thinking outside the box". Thinking inside the box is analogous with normal science. The box encompasses the thinking of normal science and thus the box is analogous with paradigm. "Thinking outside the box" would be what Kuhn calls revolutionary science. Revolutionary science is usually unsuccessful, and only rarely leads to new paradigms. When they are successful they lead to large scale changes in the scientific worldview.

Paradigm shifts

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 two hundred years. In this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case in the sense that Newtonian mechanics is still a good model for approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light.

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. Making it almost seem like a parallel universe.

Kuhn himself did not consider the concept of paradigm as appropriate for the social sciences. He explains in his preface to "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" that he concocted the concept of paradigm precisely in order to distinguish the social from the natural sciences (p.x). He wrote this book at the Palo Alto Center for Scholars, surrounded by social scientists, when he observed that they were never in agreement on theories or concepts. He explains that he wrote this book precisely to show that there are no, nor can be, any paradigms in the social sciences. Mattei Dogan, a French sociologist, in his article "Paradigms in the [Social Sciences]," develops Kuhn's original thesis that there are no paradigms at all in the social sciences since the concepts are polysemic, the deliberate mutual ignorance between scholars and the proliferation of schools in these disciplines. Dogan provides many examples of the inexistence of paradigms in the social sciences in his essay, particularly in sociology, political science and political anthropology.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn wrote that "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 recognize such a paradigm shift. Being in the social sciences, people can still use earlier ideas to discuss the history of science.

Paradigm Paralysis

Perhaps the greatest barrier to a paradigm shift , in some cases, is the reality of paradigm paralysis, the inability or refusal to see beyond the current models of thinking..[1]

Examples include Galileo's theory of a heliocentric universe, the discovery of electrostatic photography, xerography and the quartz clock.

Other uses

Handa, M.L. (1986) introduced the idea of "social paradigm" in the context of social sciences. He identified the basic components of a social paradigm. Like Kuhn, Handa addressed the issue of changing paradigm; the process popularly known as "paradigm shift". In this respect, he focused on social circumstances that precipitate such a shift and the effects of the shift on the social institutions, including the institution of education. This broad shift in the social arena, in turn, changes the way the individual perceives reality.

Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception. Social scientists have adopted the Kuhnian phrase "paradigm shift" to denote a change in how a given society goes about organizing and understanding reality. A “dominant paradigm” refers to the values, or system of thought, in a society that are most standard and widely held at a given time. Dominant paradigms are shaped both by the community’s cultural background and by the context of the historical moment. The following are conditions that facilitate a system of thought to become an accepted dominant paradigm:

  • Professional organizations that give legitimacy to the paradigm
  • Dynamic leaders who introduce and purport the paradigm
  • Journals and editors who write about the system of thought. They both disseminate the information essential to the paradigm and give the paradigm legitimacy
  • Government agencies who give credence to the paradigm
  • Educators who propagate the paradigm’s ideas by teaching it to students
  • Conferences conducted that are devoted to discussing ideas central to the paradigm
  • Media coverage
  • Lay groups, or groups based around the concerns of lay persons, that embrace the beliefs central to the paradigm
  • Sources of funding to further research on the paradigm

The word paradigm is also still used to indicate a pattern or model or an outstandingly clear or typical example or archetype. The term is frequently used in this sense in the design professions. Design Paradigms or archetypes, comprise functional precedents for design solutions. The best known references on design paradigms are Design Paradigms: A Sourcebook for Creative Visualization, by Wake, and Design Paradigms by Petroski.

This term is also used in cybernetics. Here it means (in a very wide sense) a (conceptual) protoprogramme for reducing the chaotic mass to some form of order. Note the similarities to the concept of entropy in chemistry and physics. A paradigm there would be a sort of prohibition to proceed with any action that would increase the total entropy of the system. In order to create a paradigm, a closed system which would accept any changes is required. Thus a paradigm can be only applied to a system that is not in its final stage.

References and Links

  • Clarke, Thomas and Clegg, Stewart (eds). Changing Paradigms. London: HarperCollins, 2000.ISBN 0-00-638731-4
  • Handa, M. L.(1986) "Peace Paradigm: Transcending Liberal and Marxian Paradigms" Paper presented in "International Symposium on Science, Technology and Development, New Delhi, India, March 20-25, 1987, Mimeographed at O.I.S.E., University of Toronto, Canada (1986)
  • Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd Ed. Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0-226-45808-3
  • Masterman, Margaret, "The Nature of a Paradigm," pp. 59-89 in Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970. ISBN 0-521-09623-5
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Univ. of Chicago, 2003, ISBN 0-85229-961-3
  • Dogan, Mattei., "Paradigms in the Social Sciences," in International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Volume 16, 2001)
  • Paradigm Presentation An interesting look at how a Paradigm is created
  • British Journal of Sociology of Education: Vol. 13, No. 1 (1992), pp. 131-143