What is a “paradigm shift” and why does it happen?

Paradigm from the Greek root paradeigma, generally means a pattern, a model or a framework.  According to Stephen Covey, our paradigms are mental representations of the way things are. “All of us think we see the world as it is.  In fact, we see the world as we are.” This site is designed to explore understandings, which seem to be at the foundation of our culture, the basis for our systems and the guide for our way of life.  What are the assumptions we make about the way that we operate and the way that the world operates?

“All significant breakthroughs were break-withs old ways of thinking.” -Thomas Kuhn

Right now, global ecosystems, economic systems and political systems are in opposition and facing potential collapse.  The United States is becoming fixed in economic inequality, ecosystem consumption, and political polarization, while at the same time being a center for higher-level education, innovation and discovery.  There is now a blossoming of new ideas, new understandings of our condition, and new models for integrating with the ecosystem.  While the rate of advancement is enormous, across fields, our ability to integrate our new found wisdom into our systems will likely determine our sustainability. 

Understanding the individual, society and integration with the ecosystem naturally leads toward creating well designed policy; at the same time understanding global circumstances will inspire individual behavior as consumers, citizens, and social beings.  While some are calling this the “age of context”,  this may represent a process, not only of striving to understand our conditions and then optimally govern, but also finding the current misunderstandings of our conditions, and examining systems which are distorting individual impulse.

“The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of present situations.”

- Harvard Business School Professor and American Economist, David Korten in ‘The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community’




Changing understanding and circumstances are also leading toward a change in the education framework…

For instance, in a recent lecture for the RSA Action and Research Centre, Sir Ken Robinson explained that our education system was built on an intellectual view of the mind born in the enlightenment, essentially that intelligence is based on deductive ability.

Coming to a better understanding of intelligence, learning and behavior, especially through the mind sciences, has changed the paradigm in education.

Today experts like Kenneth Wesson educate on the neuroscience of learning.  In his own words: “If it’s your job to develop the mind, shouldn’t you know how the brain works?”


Calling for a paradigm shift in economics…

Introducing the ecosystem:

Source: GDAE, Tufts University


“… ecological economics calls for a “paradigm shift” in the sense of philosopher Kuhn, or what we have been calling, following economist Josheph Schumpeter, a change in preanalytic vision.  We need to pause to consider more precisely just what these concepts mean.  Schumpeter observes that “analytic effort is of necessity preceded by a preanalytic cognitive act that supplies the raw material for the analytic effort”. Schumpeter calls this preanalytic cognitive act “Vision.” One might say that vision is the pattern or shape of the reality in question that the right hemisphere of the brain abstracts from experience and then sends to the left hemisphere for analysis.  Whatever is omitted from the pre-analytic vision cannot be recaptured by subsequent analysis.  Correcting the vision requires a new pre-analytic act, not further analysis of the old vision.  Schumpeter notes that changes in vision “may reenter the history of every established science each time somebody teaches us to see things in a light of which the source is not to be found in the facts, methods, and results of the preexisting states of the science. ”

-From ‘Ecological Economics by Herman E. Daly and Joshua Farley


The constant process of changing the paradigm inside the brain:

“There is, in summary, then, a force for individuation (left hemisphere) and a force for coherence (right hemisphere): but, wherever the whole is not the same as the sum of the parts, the force for individuation exists within and subject to the force for coherence.  In this sense the ‘givens’ of the left hemisphere need to be once again ‘given up’ to be reunified through the operations of the right hemisphere.  This sense that the rationality of the left hemisphere must be resubmitted to, and subject to, the broader contextualizing influence of the right hemisphere, with all its emotional complexity, must surely explain the eminently sane and reasonable philosopher David Hume’s assertion that ‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and so never can pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.”

-From “The Master and His Emissary”- Iain Mcgilchrist


Science is becoming increasingly interested in the subjective, in feelings, and in experience.

From ‘Ishmael’ by Daniel Quinn:

“First definition: story.  A story is a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods.”

“Second definition: to enact.  To enact a story is to live so as to make the story a reality.  In other words, to enact a story is to strive to make it come true.”

“Third Definition:  culture.  A culture is a people enacting a story.”


Author, economist and Harvard Business School Professor, David Korten explains, “Those who control the stories that define the culture of a society, control its politics and its economy.”