A Paradigm Shift In Our Midst
A paradigm is a certain understanding of reality. It is a school of thought or framework which forms a worldview – a shared way of perceiving aspects of reality. For example, there can be economic paradigms, scientific paradigms and philosophical paradigms. A paradigm is formed when there is general consensus that the worldview is good enough for the collective to gather around and so progress from. Hence the paradigm becomes more than an agreed theory of understanding but a societal worldview that underpins collective beliefs in how life is attended to.
A paradigm is a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality. (Fritjof Capra)
[A paradigm] is like a superstructure of ideas, a scaffolding upon which we hand our understanding, our ‘knowledge’ of reality.’ (Christian de Quincey)
Philosophical, theological, artistic and scientific explorations into reality contribute to the formation of paradigms when they engender value-sets and ideas which become embodied by the collective. The comfort provided by the sense of knowingness tends to stifle the creative exploration it ought to spawn. Rather than nourish fresh shoots of exploration that healthily challenge and so evolve the paradigm’s inherent inadequacy, cultural embodiment can bring dogmatic entrenchment that creates an environment of inertia where those that challenge the dogma face transgressing the cohesive cultural conditioning of the collective belief-system. The prevalence of the paradigm begins to sow the seeds of its own demise by fostering collective resistance to anything other than incremental adaptation to its embodied sense of reality.
Any fixed worldview invariably proves to be a partial, cut-down view of reality based on incomplete assumptions. This is because reality in its raw, infinite, creative-destructiveness is beyond being tamed, tied-down or fixed within definable limits. It is vital to recognise the built-in limitations of paradigms and not to become overly confident in them to the point where they are accepted, without question, as complete truth. For that is when they become socially embedded as paradoxical belief systems inconsistent with actual experience and natural sense. This is where the danger lies, in the unquestioned knowing paradigms can engender. Pre-definition becomes belief – literally, prejudice. Partial truths become accepted as whole truth.
Our prevailing paradigm – since the era of Enlightenment – is hallmarked by ‘Rationalism’. Rationalism is the view that reality is best understood through abstract mathematical propositions supported by rational logic and reductive scientific positivism which atomises one thing as separate and completely definable from another. This creed is alluring not least due to the sense of certainty of knowing it breeds in an uncertain world. Yet, as well as this atomised way of attending corrupting sociality, it exacerbates an anthropocentric hubris. Enter the dog-eat-dog competition and selfish gene thinking of Neo-Darwinism, colonialism and neoliberalism. In the Enlightenment’s noble quest for truth we have inadvertently cloaked our perception of reality. As I have explored in the book The Nature of Business, we are increasingly asking what an overly mechanistic and reductive paradigm obscures from view and how it conditions our knowledge.
In the 1980s, M.L. Handa introduced the idea of the social paradigm and he explored how social paradigm shifts cause significant transformations in the way societies are organised. He also explored how the inertia of social and educational institutions can cause ‘paradigm paralysis’ in blocking radical thinking that challenges the status quo. We find in our universities, political establishments and research institutes that funding is greatly skewed towards research and ‘innovative’ thinking that incrementally adapts the current paradigm rather than radically transforming it.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (George Bernard Shaw)
Deep and complex influences within our own psyche, our collective consciousness and in the structures pervading our culture today are being challenged to radically reshape; at its heart the paradigm shift challenges the very way we view the world and ourselves as a part of it. Paradigm shifts are difficult moments due to the increased level of creative destruction, yet paradoxically they can be profoundly liberating as the breakdown leads to breakthrough, the release from old ways allowing for a reconfiguration into new and more beneficial ways of operating. We may begin to move beyond the confined box of orthodoxy, awakening from our ‘business-as-usual’ slumber.
A radical inner transformation and rise to a new level of consciousness might be the only real hope we have in the current global crisis brought on by the dominance of the Western mechanistic paradigm. (Stanislav Grof)
Giles Hutchins, Guest Blogger and author of ‘The Nature of Business’.