Posted by: robertartemenko | October 26, 2013

Paradigm Shift (or Shaft)

There is consensus that Thomas Kuhn popularized the phrase “paradigm shift” in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, now in it’s third edition. Winning praise as one of the Top 100 non-fiction books written (Time Magazine), it challenges how you think about your thinking, how the the world processes understanding itself – nature – how things work – what is true.

While a budding scientist himself, Kuhn opted for what he found to be a more intriguing area of study, namely the “History of Science,” in which he found as much or more mystery, and as much or more opportunity to make a difference. It’s a classic case of “why just give a man a fish when you can teach him to angle.” Why just discover x-rays, or oxygen, or planetary orbits, when you can equip the world with perspectives on how one navigates the perplexities of passing from one hypothesis, theory or paradigm, to another. Maybe I go too far in reading into his opting for the “history of” versus being a “practitioner of,” science, but the point is by staring upstream on how science has done-it’s-thing, he’s able to elucidate the quirkiness and blind spots that short circuit accumulating knowledge.

What hit me, without going deep into his nuances of defining paradigms or how they are birthed, is that a human life — who we are — is made up of the paradigms we hold. The quality of our life is then somehow affected or directed by the ways in which we acquire, alter and shed these frameworks for thinking.

Kuhn talks more about the how theories related to the alchemists theories of “phlogiston,” were overridden by theories relating to oxygen and combustion, or how Newton’s Principia’s classical mechanics and laws of motion were amended 250 years later by Einstein.

We can think of less scientific theories, though no less consequential, through which the culture has had to transition.

Consider.

While “fire” was only a scary, painful, destructive thing, people did not avail themselves to warmth, light and cooking.

While men thought others of their species were innately inferior or just property, civilization was corrupted with slavery and rampant national or tribal “-isms” that partook in genocide.

So what hit me recently because of Mr. Kuhn, besides now seeing my thought life as a web of paradigms, is how “paradigms” as frameworks, permeate the Bible.

Moses witnessing the “unconsumed” burning bush, or receiving “Ten Commandments” were certainly events that gave him pause to think-about-his-thinking, his paradigms.

How about the Sermon on the Mount and the thousands of people on the hillside that heard it?

How about Saul’s blinding encounter on the road to Damascus with the post resurrection Jesus, and how it totally changed his purpose, trajectory, mission and name as well.

GOD IS ABOUT PARADIGM CHANGE

Any time God speaks, any time we hear from God through the Bible or other people, our live’s paradigms rattle, and their possible redirection or dissolution results.

Look at Stephen’s defense of himself and last words in Acts 7. As a recently minted deacon he had proceeded to demonstrate levels of grace and power that drew great attention from the wrong people. The persecution of Christ’s teaching and His followers were still the focus of Jewish leaders, and they did not like the paradigm(s) he continued to assault.

Responding to trumped up charges of blasphemy, he proceeds through a Kuhnian historic review of how the God’s effort to revise His chosen people’s paradigms related to faith and obedience were generally overcome by their willfulness, mistrust and plain selfishness.

Stephen purposefully lays out wonderful, blessed exceptions. God shook Abram’s paradigm of purpose by telling him to “depart” from where he lived without any specific earthly destination, and so he did. God directed Moses to take on Pharaoh and lead the captives out of Egypt, and he stepped up.

But Stephen’s recounting of Jewish history is a sad tale of how the minority, the prophets of God (Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Jesus Christ), espousing the paradigm of His Kingdom, were generally ignored, marginalized, harassed and often killed by the majority.

Not the way it was supposed to be.

So next time you open the Bible, next time you hear it’s claims from the pulpit or a friend, examine it in the light of a call to a paradigm shift. Also, take time to inventory your major beliefs, assumptions about how the world works and why, and what your place is in it, and test whether your paradigm portfolio has been intentionally assembled, or is more like an end-of-season snowman, where the bottom ball was rolled up and just got bigger and bigger with old sticks, clods of dirt, dog biscuits and an old gas bill.

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