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7/06/2006

What is a paradigm? What's a paradigm shift ?

What is a Paradigm?

par·a·digm -( pronounced Pair a dime )

Noun ~

One that serves as a pattern or model.A set or list of all the inflectional forms of a word or of one of its grammatical categories: the paradigm of an irregular verb.A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline

One that is worthy of imitation or duplication: beau ideal, example, exemplar, ideal, mirror, model, pattern, standard

Since the late 1960s, the word paradigm has referred to a thought pattern in any scientific discipline or other epistemological context.

Initially 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.

Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn gave this word 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's meaning was and is widely abused. Kuhn himself came to prefer the terms exemplar and normal science, which have more exact philosophical meaning.


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.

The more disparaging term groupthink, and the term mindset, have very 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.

Paradigm shifts tend to be most dramatic where they are least expected, as in Physics. At the end of the 19th century, 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 this case, the new paradigm reduces the old to a special case (Newtonian mechanics is an excellent approximation for speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light).

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."

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 caused or was itself part of a "paradigm shift" in the history and sociology of science.

The most common use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung.


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


Example of a paradigm shift:

Swiss watchmakers were world famous for excellence in hand-
crafted mechanical time pieces.
In 1968, they had 65% of the world’s market and more than 80% of its profits. Rumors held that they invented the quartz-movement watch, but didn't even bother to patent the invention, as it did not measure up to Swiss craftsmanship.

Quartz-movement: completely electronic, battery operated, and far more accurate than traditional mechanical watches.


The Seiko watch company of Japan adopted the quartz technology to fill the demand for inexpensive watches, and within 10 years, the Swiss watchmaker’s market share fell to below 10%. Reputedly, as many as 50,000 Swiss watch makers lost their jobs

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