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I hear the term "paradigm shift" used in news articles, commentary, etc.

It appears to have been first defined by Thomas Khun in his book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".

Sometimes it is used in relation to the "zeitgeist", which appears to refer to the general idea/movement/ideology of the present day (sounds similar to Hegel's "geist").

So my question is: what is the meaning of this term "paradigm shift", and does it refer to a legitimate concept?

asked Aug 09 '12 at 07:34

Jonathan%20Conway's gravatar image

Jonathan Conway

edited Aug 09 '12 at 11:26

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


Sure it's a legitimate concept, though it may be a term that's used too loosely today (and Kuhn went way overboard himself when he implied that science has more to do with sociology than nature itself). There are many real examples of such a major shift in our thinking/understanding -- a good example is the shift from a Newtonian universe to a quantum mechanical universe.

(Aug 09 '12 at 09:25) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"Paradigm shift" is actually two concepts.

"Paradigm" means "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"

I'd say that a paradigm is a set of basic assumptions made and required by a set of theories.

A paradigm shift, or intellectual/scientific revolution, is when those basic ideas get challenged and rejected, and a new set of basic ideas take their place, requiring new theories to be created for understanding the same phenomena.

The Copernican revolution was a paradigm shift, a shift from one basic assumption to another.

That said, I prefer the term "revolution" to "paradigm shift". It's less of a buzz-phrase.

answered Aug 10 '12 at 12:21

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Aug 09 '12 at 07:34

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Last updated: Aug 10 '12 at 12:21