Start page  
What is
What is
of Science
Verification and
about Science
Paradigm and
paradigm shift
Karl Popper -
Logic, Status
Results of


logo vetenskapsteori

Paradigm and paradigm shift

Within all types of activities an enormous amount of conclusions, experiences and belief structures are collected. Within philosophy of science, belief structures are called "paradigm".


Paradigms evolves continuously


Belief structures or paradigms are found within all human activities, for instance politics, philosophy, sports and music. As we gain additional experience within an area, also the belief structures within the area evolves. Belief structures are therefore seen to evolve continuously within many areas.


The additional experience rarely implies that the previous conclusions were erroneous, they were merely less complete than today. And tomorrow we have probably learnt even more about the area.


Paradigm shifts


At rare occasions something is discovered, is invented, or just occurs, that radically changes the belief structures within an area. Examples are a political revolution, a new type of instrument like electric guitar or synthesizer, or the possibility to buy baker’s yeast for baking.

Such radical changes sometimes become publicly known, as opposed to the less remarkable common development within an area. Therefore a belief may exist that changes in belief systems are common and that an area cannot evolve without them.

The public may also have missed that a new belief system is not necessarily incompatible with earlier opinions, they may be just complimentary.

A football team today uses different tactics as compared to 50 years ago. This does not imply that football played at that time was "erroneous". In 50 years from now, the game, the rules and the balls will probably have evolved further.

When Jimi Hendrix during the sixties howled his guitar sounds it implied a developmentof his own and also of many other's handling of guitars.


Paradigm shifts within science


Paradigm shifts, i.e. changes in belief systems, within the activity science were discussed by Thomas Kuhn in the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The concept is used abundantly within social and humanistic teaching.

Minor paradigm shifts, that influence our belief structures to a minor extent, occur frequently and are called "discoveries" within science.

A paradigm within science is the confidence in scientific methodology. This paradigm has not been changed during the last 300 years.

It is tedious that lecturers in science philosophy, paradigm and paradigm shifts are said to provide arguments for that scientific results are not trustworthy. They may be altered "anytime".

Thanks to the antidogmatic attitude, science evolves. This is not a paradigm shift because evolution most often imply a clarification or an expansion of earlier conclusions. The paradigms becomes more detailed or, alternatively expressed, the present paradigm includes the earlier.


As example, the statement that quantum mechanics should be a new paradigm that replaced Newtonian mechanics is erroneous. Quantum mechanics is a complement to Newtonian mechanics for very small objects.

At older age, Kuhn expressed that events that may be claimed to be paradigm shifts are not the most important development pattern of science. The lecturers in science philosophy normally omit this:

... two types of scientific development, normal and revolutionary. Most successful scientific research results in change of the first sort, and its nature is well captured by a standard image: normal science is what produces the bricks that scientific research is forever adding to the growing stockpile of scientific knowledge...

Kuhn (2000) - The Road Since Structure, p.13


Paradigm shifts in practice


Paradigm shift - a fuzzy concept

It is not easy exactly to define what may be called a paradigm shift within science, and it is even harder to really express that such a shift actually occurred.

A well-known example of paradigm shift, the "scientific revolution" or the "Copernican revolution", developed gradually during more than hundred years, from something that sometimes is called a starting point, until it was generally accepted.




Within chemistry, the development has occurred in many small steps. It was early imagined that various elements were related, which evolved to the periodic table, and chemists were dealing with concepts like atoms before these were widely accepted.

It is possible to claim that within chemistry, no paradigm shifts have ever occurred, as well as to claim that there have been thousands. Chemistry is hence not a good area for demonstration of paradigm shift importance, if any form of reliability is desired.


Sport results

Sports are one of few areas where achievements are continuously recorded. The equivalent to paradigm shifts occurs here, as within other human activities.

As I am quite ignorant within sports, I have only heard about Fosbury flop within high jump and V-style within ski jumping, and I have lived with the belief that they were important.

The results below show results through the years within high jump and ski flying. The paradigm shifts sports. The paradigm shifts Fosbury-flop and V-style are indicated with text.


World records in high jump for men and women plotted against year. The coloured lines follow results that evolved linearly during 1955-1990. Data from wikipedia (m/f).


The curves demonstrate that something extra-ordinary occurred during the years 1959-1963. Records for both men (due to Valeriy Brumel) and women (due to Iolanda Balaș) show dramatic improvements during these years. One of the explanations for these results, that extreme talents were active, is hence less probable.

The paradigm shift Fosbury flop which became known 1968 cannot be seen in the data. Both men and women performed world records around 1970 using older jumping styles.


The longest jumps in ski flying for men plotted against year. Data from wikipedia.


The thin blue line follows results that evolved about linearly during 1925-2011.

The paradigm shift V-style that gained in importance around 1985 cannot be seen in the statistics


The two examples above show results different from what I expected. Paradigm shifts cannot be seen in the material.

The results have probably been influenced stronger by general improvements in techniques, materials, training methods, and unfortunately also by doping.


We love to hear accounts of innovators within all fields, people that by discoveries and creativity changed their world. We maybe know about a hundred.

In addition to these originators, millions of people within different areas exist. People that have contributed to the development with new observations and important creations. Although not revolutionary, the power of their small steps appears, in these two cases, to be the stronger force.