Paradigm shifts: towards a new way of thinking

Paradigm shifts, theorised by Kuhn in 1962, allow us to understand better the great change which we are facing in this particular historical epoch. The old way of thinking is making way for the new one and what we call crisis is nothing other than the effect of this large shift. However, the difficulty lies in being able to understand this and see the world with new eyes. Prices drop, as does consumption. We always complain about the high cost of living and excessive consumerism, therefore we should be happy that prices and consumption have finally fallen. Instead the media is crying in alarm about the spectre of deflation. Why? The answer is: because we still evaluate the current situation with the same criteria we have always used in the past. Since the 1980s the digital revolution has changed the way of producing, selling and communicating. Globalisation tends to create a single, giant market. Technology tends to eliminate human labour. Finance dominates everything, with logic that is often contrary to actual interests, and money is an abstract entity that no longer bears any relation to the goods it should refer to. The gulf between the rich and poor is increasing. The conflict between economy, which is fiercely based on continuous growth, and ecology, which is just as fiercely aware that there is no unlimited growth in a limited world, is becoming more and more harsh. Therefore, in order to deal with old problems that move more forcefully in a new world, and with new problems that are emerging from the cracks of an old world, we must change our behaviour. But we can’t behave differently if we don’t think differently. And we can’t think differently if we can’t see things in a different way. We must learn to do PARADIGM SHIFTS. What is a paradigm? It is a model we refer to that ranges from grammar – for declining nouns and conjugating verbs – to all other areas of thought. The traditional family of father, mother and two children is a paradigm, as is democracy, the growth of GDP, economic liberalism, and free will. Perceptions, judgement, interventions, all have a value if they refer to a paradigm, and change if we change the reference paradigm. For example, the concept of individual responsibility depends on free will: if we deny freedom of choice and we believe that everything is predetermined by a set of needs, the individual is no longer responsible for his actions. As long as a paradigm works, there’s no reason to change it. However, when things, scenarios, people, technology, knowledge, and environmental conditions change, holding on to old paradigms can be harmful, or even destructive. Nevertheless, there are various levels of sensitivity to signs of change: some people immediately notice the first weak signals, while the rest only react when the signals are much stronger, even catastrophic. These sensitive people are not understood or appreciated, because their voice is too weak to be heard above the uncomprehending hubbub of the majority or the stubborn silence of preserved privileges. Thomas Kuhn, the theorist of “paradigm shifts”, is an American epistemologist who wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962 (reprinted by Einaudi in 2009), in which he claimed that scientific progress isn’t a continuous evolution but rather a “series of pacific interludes interrupted by violent intellectual revolutions”, and in these revolutions “one conceptual vision of the world is substituted by another”. This is my representation of the process of paradigm shifts theorised by Kuhn. The process begins with a pre-paradigmatic phase, in which different schools and theories are compared. From this, those schools and theories that will constitute the new paradigm will emerge. This doesn’t mean that they are the most truthful or the most scientifically elegant ones they could be the strongest, economically and politically. Thus the new paradigm is born, the new model of viewing the world, in which the entire scientific community will unite by trying to explain phenomena, adapting them to the current paradigm. Anomalies are not considered contradictions of the paradigm, but as exceptions to be brought back to the current paradigm. However, at a certain point, anomalies and new discoveries bring into question the current paradigm and create new schools or even old schools, which previously were discarded, come back in vogue. Supporters of the current paradigm, who mainly occupy positions of power, do everything they can to defend it and to keep their privileges but, sooner or later, a new paradigm will emerge, and a new normality will begin. Everything that belongs with the blue paradigm seems wrong and inconceivable to those who remain with the red paradigm. This pattern can be applied not only to science but to all cases of resistance to change, from the introduction of a new software in an office to the merging of two companies. It is just as valid from micro to macro, such as the change in thinking necessary to stop smoking or the deep and total revolution relative to the transition from a geocentric system to a heliocentric one. Returning to the macro-economy, the single thought of economists, the media and politicians is anchored to the paradigm of GDP growth as an indicator of economic well being and therefore deplores any non-growth, even when it would benefit those who have less money to spend. Leaving this paradigm would enable them to study real non-growth strategies, or better still, the growth of things that are much better than GDP, such as serenity and conviviality among people. Umberto Santucci I speak about this, and other methods of using creative thinking, in the book “12 steps for…getting what you want”, FrancoAngeli-Skilla, 2014.

written by: Umberto Santucci , 25 September 2014

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