A  paradigm is the thinking that serves as a pattern or model. A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.These assumptions are often not consciously held and so we tend not to challenge them.

How can we challenge what we are not aware of?

If we construct our view of reality through our paradigms, then it follows that if we can change our paradigms, we change our reality.

The following true story is a classic tale of a paradigm (reality) changing experience by a naval officer, Frank Koch, which appeared in an issue of Proceedings, the magazine of the United States Naval Institute (1)

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on manoeuvres in heavy weather for several days. Koch was serving on the lead battleship and was standing watch on the bridge as night fell. He recounts his experience.
The visibility was extremely poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on our navigation activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, ‘Light bearing on the starboard bow!’
The captain called out, ‘is it steady or moving astern?’
The lookout replied, ‘steady captain’, which meant that we were on a collision course with that source of light.
The captain then called to the signalman, ‘Signal that ship: We are on a collision course … advise you change course 20 degrees.’
Back came the signal from the other ship. ‘Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees’. The captain barked, ‘Send, I am a captain … change course 20 degrees immediately.’
‘I am a seaman second class,’ came the reply. ‘You had better change course 20 degrees’.
By this time, the captain was furious. He spat out, ‘Send, I am a battleship! Change course 20 degrees.’
Back came the signal from the flashing light …’I am a lighthouse’.
We changed course.

Because paradigms are based in what we hold to be true, they dictate what we hold to be possible.

In other words, they reflect our beliefs. Our beliefs can also be shaped by others who might cling to their paradigms even in the face of reason, and so limit our understanding of ‘reality’.

For example. For centuries mankind’s understanding of astronomy was based in what is known as Ptolemaic astronomy which portrayed a cosmos with the earth stationary at its centre and the stars, sun, and planets rotating around it. Then along came Copernicus in 1543 who strongly argued that far from being immobile, the earth and the other planets moved around the sun.

This was such an affront to the generally held paradigm that when Galileo began to promote this idea the Inquisition forced him to recant or be convicted of heresy.

Paradigms reflect our beliefs, and no-one likes having their beliefs challenged, not least the establishment …

We construct belief systems based on an incomplete view of the world then surround those cherished systems with high walls to guard against the intrusion of new evidence.

In a complex world, forming theories to guide and orient oneself is essential to narrow down the overwhelming task of decision making. But we face a problem in the fortification we erect around those systems. Dogmas are created, elevated to truths and defended, sometimes to the death as superior to new insights into reality. (Erdmann and Stover, 1993:60)

Guest Blogger, Dr Brian Gordon

*Regular mindful meditation increases awareness, helping to give insight to imbedded paradigms. AL