Paradigm Shift

Copyright 1997 by Paul Niquette.  All rights reserved.

A codger strolled into a hardware store and examined common items on a shelf marked "$1.00 each."

"I'll take 57," said the codger.

The storekeeper smiled. "That will be $2.00 plus tax."

What did the codger buy?

House numbers.

The title of the puzzle is simply a reminder that it is indeed one's mental model which sometimes gets wrested from one's grasp when underlying assumptions are suddenly demolished by revelations.

Paradigm Shift plunged into public pretensions in 1992 with the publication of a book entitled Paradigm Shift: The New Promise of Information Technology by Don Tapscott and Art Caston, McGraw-Hill. The expression continues to enjoy currency thanks to later works that include  Paradigm Shift in their titles, such as an expensive paperback published in 2000, Mahathir's Paradigm Shift - The Man Behind the Vision by Ahmad Aziz, Pelanduk Publications -- not to mention a strange and ambitious cartoon website, Dynamanga.

The expression traces its roots to the late Thomas Kuhn and his 1962 essay cited in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Intended for the now obscure International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, the essay is a radical manifesto bent on liberating science from the cold language of logic.

    Huh? Is that something we really ought to be doing?
ogic and rigor are thus cast as villains, victimizing scientists, limiting their ability to fulfill their role in civilized societies.  That "role" is thought by some benighted souls to be "finding harmony in place of cacophony and unity where nature appears discordant."

Kuhn's essay was translated into sixteen languages, and over one million copies have been sold. Metaphysical enthusiasts join Kuhn in depicting science as merely one style of human endeavors to grapple with the intricacies of our world, to discern patterns in the muddle of our perceptions. Discovery, it is thought, calls for laying aside disciplined procedures of inquiry and for embracing alternative models of reality.

    Spooky stuff, when it comes to doing critical work in technology: programming an embedded microcontroller, qualifying pharmaceuticals, remediating toxic waste, designing an airplane wing...
At the core of Kuhn's thoughts is the notion of "paradigms." Although Kuhn cannot claim credit for coining the term, no philosophical work popularized the word like Structure did.  Kuhn's essay may be fairly characterized as having a singular lack of specificity. One source claims that Kuhn utilizes twenty-one implicit meanings for the word during the course of his long essay, which necessarily makes for slippery reading. 

y the way, the expression Paradigm Shift does not actually appear in "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," and no examples are given, only high-sounding abstractions. Plenty of "shifts" are indeed present, though, including...

activity shift, aesthetic shift, allegiance shift, assumption shift, commitment shift, criteria shift, formulation shift, gestalt shift, hypothesis shift, interpretation shift, metaphysical shift, model shift, practice shift, precedence shift, psychological shift, relevance shift, significance shift, theoretical shift, tradition shift, and veracity shift.
Philosophers and scientists remain divided on the 1962 piece and the nature of Kuhn's legacy. Accordingly, the sophisticated puzzle solver may want to study Kuhn's essay and form his or her own opinion of its merits.

paradigm(PARADAEM) n. 1. A list of all the inflectional forms of a word taken as an illustrative example of the conjugation or declension to which it belongs (huh?) 2. Any example or model [Late Latin paradigma, from Greek paradeigma, model, from paradeiknunai, to compare, exhibit: para, alongside + deikmunai, to show.] {Return}
-- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language,
Houghton Mifflin Company.


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