Paradigm Shift

CloudMy favorite example of a paradigm shift is the one about natural phenomena. The day before the shift God was in the clouds hurling lightening bolts to punish the wicked. The local fire brigade would arrive and keep the fire from spreading but they let the stricken house burn . . . because it was God's will.


The day after the paradigm shift, which was a different day for different people, lightening and thunder are natural phenomena resulting from the movement of air masses. Ben Franklin was an early adopter of the new understanding. But how did the shift take place?


It seems clear that few took Ben's word for the fact that lightening was a natural phenomenon. Instead, Ben invented and patented the lightening rod and placed the design in the public domain. After that both saints and sinners could protect their homes from lightening. It no longer mattered whether a person believed that God directed each bolt or not.


That paradigm shift took place at the beginning of a scientific approach to understanding the world. It did not mean that there is no God. It just meant that the stories we told to explain natural phenomena were wrong.


This next paradigm shift signals the end of an era in which science understands the world by studying the parts. In this new era science will focus on the function of wholes.


On the day before the paradigm shift all the bad things in the world are the work of evil. In this world it is necessary for good to prevail over evil in order to prevent violence and hunger and environmental degradation. On the day after the paradigm shift you will be a part of a single pattern built up from the individual interactions of all the living things around you. In this pattern, every actor believes that they are doing what they must do. There is no good or evil . . . there is only choices and consequences.


The shift does not mean that there is no God. It means that the stories we tell to explain violence, hunger and environmental degradation are wrong. Bad things do not derive from evil . . . they are a lack of necessary interactions . . . and it is within your power to facilitate the missing interactions within the range of your influence.


You do not have to take my word for this fact. I expect that most readers will not take my word for it. Just observe as we build a better set of interactions . . . a set of interactions in which the actors work together to provide for the needs of all people and all species. It will no longer matter whether you believe in evil or not.


The consequences of the old paradigm can be summed up in the 3 Assumptions that prevent us from building the world that we want.

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  • David Braden IV, Executive Director, Living Systems Institute
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