The Problem with Paradigms – Day Two

Carol A. Hand

I would like to begin by again thanking Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.

The rules of the challenge are:

1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)

On Day One of the challenge, I focused on Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) work.

“Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.”

“Understanding different worldviews requires the ability to shift paradigms. Next, I will turn to Thomas Kuhn to explore the process of “scientific revolutions,” the next step I took in my journey of discovery years ago.”

Thomas Kuhn “was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.” (Wikipedia)

Writing the Day Two post for the challenge began after I read the two horoscopes I sometimes consult in the morning, Pisces and Aquarius. I was born on the cusp between these two signs. The message for Aquarius inspired me to tackle this rather weighty discussion about paradigms.

“Remember, the hardest prison to escape from is your own mind.” (Huffington Post, November 25, 2016)

The horoscope’s advice also reminded me of Theodore (not his real name) and the many people who only wanted to help him. It was in the late-1980s when I learned about Theodore’s situation. I was meeting with a team of health and human service providers who were assisting me with the development of a series of workshops for men who were caring for older relatives (Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care). Our conversation veered from the topic when one of the providers described Theodore’s situation.

Theodore was in his late 80s, the sole caregiver for his wife, Grace (not her real name), who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. He was a retired business executive who was used to exercising control over his life and others. Forced retirement and then dealing with his wife’s illness had been challenging. He had overcome many difficulties because he was resilient. But any vestiges of control over his life were suddenly shattered. He failed his vision test because of advancing macular degeneration and lost his license to drive.

He had recently met with the provider who was sharing his story, not to request services, but to simply tell her that his wife, Grace, didn’t really have Alzheimer’s. He knew she didn’t. When he drove places with her in the front seat beside him, she could always tell him when to stop. Although the thought of Theodore driving concerned me, I still admired his spirit of adventure and resilience.

Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care (C. Hand, 1991, artist Caren Caraway)
Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care (C. Hand, 1991, artist Caren Caraway)

The conversation quickly shifted with each provider offering solutions for Theodore’s dilemma. Some were simple, like those from the person who oversaw senior centers, transportation services, congregate noon meals for elders on weekdays, and home delivered meals for elders who couldn’t drive.

We can transport Theodore and his wife to the senior center every day. That way their needs for good nutrition and socialization will be met.”

I don’t think that’s his most pressing need,” said the provider who worked with the mental health agency. “He needs counseling.”

The daycare provider who had voiced Theodore’s dilemma with her colleagues disagreed. “No. I think his wife needs to come to the adult daycare center every day. We will be able to make sure she has access to proper nutrition and proper care.”

Each provider around the table saw Theodore’s dilemma from her own unique vantage point. After listening patently and respectfully for a while, I posed a simple question. “Has anyone asked Theodore what his concerns are and what he proposes as solutions?” No one had thought to do this because each one knew what was best for him. After all, they were all kind and competent professionals, trained and seasoned experts in their fields.

A problem with paradigms is the fact that, like the macular degeneration that was robbing Theodore of his sight, we can all too easily become blind to alternative ways of viewing problems. Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigms carries two distinct but interrelated meanings.

“On the one hand, it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by members of a given community. On the other, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science.” (p. 175)

Paradigms, those taken-for-granted ways we analyze problems and identify solutions, provide blueprints for action that we have been dressaged to perform without thinking.

“In the metaphorical no less than in the literal use of ‘seeing’ interpretation begins where perception ends. The two processes are not the same, and what perception leaves for interpretation to complete depends drastically on the nature and amount of prior experience and training.” (p. 198)

According to Kuhn, change comes from those who have not yet been completely socialized into the paradigms of a discipline, sometimes leading to a long struggle he refers to as a scientific revolution. He uses a comparison with political revolutions to illustrate the process of change.

Tug of War (Microsoft Word Clip Art)
Tug of War (Microsoft Word Clip Art)

“Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much of the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is a prerequisite to revolution.” (pp. 92)


“Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all.” (p. 93).

The edition of Kuhn’s book that I read ends with a postscript.

“Having opened this postscript by emphasizing the need to study the community structure of science, I shall close by underscoring the need for similar and, above all, for comparative study of corresponding communities in other fields. How does one elect and how is one elected to membership in a particular community, scientific or not? What is the process and what are the stages of socialization into the group? What does the group collectively see as its goals; what deviations, individual or collective, will it tolerate; and how does it control the impermissible aberration?” (p. 209)

Michel Foucault’s (1979) work, Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison, suggests some answers to the questions Kuhn and Bronfenbrenner raised.

To be continued…

Work Cited:

Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Thomas S. Kuhn (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.



Interestingly, as I sought clip art images to illustrate “revolution” I became aware of my own limited paradigm assumptions. I’m ending with another way to think about revolutions…

A Different Kind of Revolution?
A Different Kind of Revolution?

Image: A Different Kind of Revolution (Wikimedia)




26 thoughts on “The Problem with Paradigms – Day Two

  1. I wish to comment on two quotes within this post. The first quote, ““Remember, the hardest prison to escape from is your own mind.” Almost everywhere that awareness is touched upon, this “beware of the mind” warning comes up, and I find it almost “insulting” it its suggestion: that the mind is in some way responsible for man’s problems. Would man be better off being completely mindless? It seems some “highly educated” and religious people think so, or at least teach it. It is certainly implied often enough. What is mind? Mind is who we primarily are. When the body dies, who, or what, survives? What is it that carries the individual template through that part of reality most Earthians deny themselves, or turn into some religious caricature of eternal life? Soul? Spirit? Nothing? No, it is the mind. Only the mind can learn, instruct and carry through various dimensions unscathed. I didn’t just make this up, I’ve spent a lifetime of non-academia “study;” of observation; of remembering past lives, or discovering future lives and events. And I did this in my mind. Well, this is a huge subject, but suffices to say here that I totally disagree with the modern, New Agey view of mind as a prison, or a distraction. Let’s turn the question: “what” is IN mind’s prison? “What is being distracted or led astray by mind? Who is it that’s supposed to break free of mind’s prison (using the Huffington quote).

    Second quote that jumped at me: ““Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all.” OK, so what’s an institution? When two or more people work together to reach or fulfill a mutual goal, isn’t that an institution? Marriage is an institution of two people committed to a certain purpose. In any revolution it takes large numbers of individuals working together to overthrow an old regime and replace it. What will replace it is the “institution” or “institutions” extant during the revolution. Social, political, economic organization requires institutions to function otherwise they would all fall into anarchy. A revolution is the opposite of anarchy, though it may seem to the old guard and to those who still support the old regime, that the revolution is anarchy – it never is. If anything it is even more “institutionalized” than the old institutions it is overthrowing because it is more goal-oriented whereas the old regime is reactionary and maintenance oriented. Point: the interim of status quo rule to revolutionary rule is not without institution, just with a different kind of institutional rule.

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    1. Thank you for your intriguing comments, Sha’Tara. It’s fascinating to see how words can have such different meanings to people. When I read the quote this morning about minds being prisons, I was thinking of the police who are attacking Standing Rock Water Protectors, and the puppet masters who are driven by goals I can’t easily envision. But nonetheless I try. I want to understand. Is it a matter of socialization that enables people to be so seemingly heartless when it comes of the suffering of others? I watch how my thoughts change and then affect how I relate to others and interpret interactions. When I notice I’m being judgmental or impatient, I look for the causes of fear and insecurity. It helps me escape the prison of repeating thought patterns developed as a result of childhood trauma.

      Or is the seeming heartlessness due to the need to have power over others? And why are some people willing to follow the orders of “leaders” or the rules of “traditions” that conflict with their own sense of what is right or true? I watched how the professionals all assumed they knew what Theodore needed without even thinking to ask him. It’s a situation I witness all of the time. It’s often the foundation for institutions in the US. For example, judgmental attitudes toward poor people are interwoven throughout social welfare institutions, policies, intervention paradigms, and automatic assumptions (stereotypes) about those who are poor. From my perspective, these are also “mind prisons” that blind us to others’ shared humanity and gifts.

      Revolutions in how we solve problems occurs unevenly, when they do happen. They begin from the fringes with those who see things differently and gradually begin to influence others by raising awareness of new possibilities. It’s a chaotic time of transition as some of the old guard cling to the past and defend their paradigms and institutions vigorously (like the police attacking the Water Protectors). At the same time, new paradigms are still in flux as they’re being created anew. How will our societies need to change to free ourselves from dependence on oil? How will we be able to develop new ways to heat our homes or run factories? Adjust to a world with no more new plastic products, pesticides, or foods transported across long distances? Can we overcome habits and old attitudes that keep us from exploring how to live and share with others in more communal ways, perhaps without central state governing structures like those of today? Many may join in a movement to change things without realizing what that will really mean. Few institutions will be untouched by the profound changes ahead.

      For what it’s worth, those are the thoughts that were running through my mind as I wrote this. It may already be too late for us to transition to new paradigms without massive chaos and conflict. From my perspective, we can’t even begin what we need to do for the future if we continue to cling to old patterns of thinking…

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      1. Thoughtful questions… that have answers, actually, but sadly those answers as I’ve discovered, run in diametric opposition, or counter, to the “standard” programming. What are you up against, Carol? A civilization programming template that no longer works because it has been exceeded and is cracking at every seam, world-wide. Why I mentioned the mind thing is because if we were to think of the “I” as mind, “I am mind” then we could have that “revolution without institution” within ourselves, not as groups, collectives or institutions, but as self-empowered individuals. The programming insists that “power” comes from groups; that to overcome one power group, you need a counter group to wrest power from the other, say the oppressive group. That is completely false. We know that a 1% power group possesses as much power and wealth as 50% of the rest of humanity. So it’s not numbers. It’s energy focusing. That 1% knows exactly what it wants and spends all of its energy and time accumulating it and protecting it. I’ll leave that line of reasoning and return to self-empowerment.
        Self-empowerment… well, what does that mean? Watch the movie, “V for Vendetta” to get an idea. But it doesn’t have to be focused on destroying the 1%. It can take the form of compassion, in a total, complete, focused way that chooses to sacrifice even its body to its purpose. I’ve done that, so I know what it entails, and how powerful it is. I did a “life trade” some years back, a “backroom” deal to save a mother’s life by trading mine for hers. It was something my Teacher El Issa demanded of me. I learned what compassion is and never looked back. (Yes, she was exonerated, her death sentence commuted, so I’m still here to think about it… 🙂 ) The goal of our soul programming is to keep us in complete subjection to a system of lies; to keep us in fear, anger and hate. To feel helpless without the 1% to “guide us” and “govern us” and “feed us” and “entertain us.” Self empowerment is more powerful than all of their laws, security measures, police and militaries. It is based on detachment and in a dysfunctional, violent world such as this one, it accepts and practices self-sacrifice willingly. The individual makes her/his own choices about everything and thoughtfully considers possible consequences and analyzes results as a mind being, not a physical being. Self empowerment through detachment transcends physical reality, over-rides the drive for survival, overcomes all base fears that lead to cowering, obedience or slavish support.
        This is already too long. I’m sure you can extrapolate from these few explanations and draw your own conclusions, perhaps see some answers to your questions.

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        1. Thank you for your always thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, Sha’Tara. I promise to respond in a more substantive way when I have time to reflect. I have five more student papers to grade before I will be able to think clearly (at least I hope I will be able to think and communicate with some degree of clarity again).

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        2. I would never, ever, expect you to feel obligated to respond to my too long comments. Most of what I write I consider self-explanatory (is that hubris? hmmm, never thought of it that way). Thanks for allowing me the space to express my thoughts on such terribly serious issues. Take care o’ you first and foremost.

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    2. I believe that the next stage in human evolution is to transcend thinking, to evolve beyond it. We are not our minds. We are souls that inhabit these forms at the present time. Our minds are, for the most part, automated response systems. Most of the time, we don’t use our minds. Our minds use us. We’ve learned to go on automatic pilot and it has pulled us into a trap in which we believe we are our minds. This causes much suffering. To be in the present moment and to just be is to be at peace. Most suffering occurs when we are in either the past or the future. If we become still and surrender to the present moment we can channel universal intelligence. It’s simply ego to think it’s all about us. It isn’t devolution into a pre-thought state, but evolving beyond thought.

      Everyone has glimpses of enlightenment. It happens when we know something without having to think about it. It’s deeper than thinking.

      I hope I made sense to you. Thank you for your patience.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve encountered the point you present many times, in fact I used to believe that too, but it’s like religion: it’s a matter of faith, and faith is a chimera that doesn’t bear scrutiny. No one who claims to be a “soul” has ever done the research needed to understand, to know, to explain, what EXACTLY is a soul. I have that information and I use it. It’s what one does with information as opposed to feel good beliefs. I have information that shreds every religious and New Age belief, but even without that information, any intelligent and THINKING individual can readily see that none of those beliefs actually work or have ever worked according to their claims. Why cling to what does not work? I don’t get it. Yes, we are mind, pure and simple. We are not spirits, or souls, or bodies, though we come from spirit, and we (or most) are equipped with a soul, and we have bodies to interact with our physical environment and learn from it for human purposes beyond this physical reality. We are also infinite in scope. Understanding this and making it work is your next “shift in consciousness” people of earth.

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      2. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful reflections, A Shift in Consciousness, and joining in the dialogue Sha’Tara initiated. The point you made about enlightenment is important to remember: “Everyone has glimpses of enlightenment. It happens when we know something without having to think about it. It’s deeper than thinking.”

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  2. Carol, I wrote a lengthy response, that was lost by my computer….. Basically, I just acknowledged the profound shifts in meaning and living, which are coming. Sadly, the politicians are not willing, or are unable, to see them, even as they are on the horizon. Politicians who wish to upset the current paradigm cannot see, like those already embedded in it, that it is hopelessly inadequate to address the needs ahead. So, yes, an acknowledgement of your thought, and a wish for a better vision of a way forward. A tsunami is indeed coming.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Michael, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to see your original response. Reading your eloquent thoughts is always such a gift. I agree with your assessment. Formidable forces are arrayed to protect the present institutions and views of reality as those in power desperately try to prevent awakening. The challenge for us remains. How can the work we do add to the collective awakening in ways that build more peaceful transformations?


    1. Thank you for your important comments, Rich. The “revolution” clip art had the same effect for me. History does seem to repeat itself in ever-revolving cycles, giving us yet new opportunities to make wiser choices. ❤

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  3. “Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit.” (Kuhn p.93)
    ~ Herein lies the challenge of Bernie Sanders’ call for a political revolution. According to Kuhn, we will not succeed unless we dismantle the old system. Such is the nature of revolutions. Are we prepared for the violence and chaos that we will unleash? As you noted in your comment to Sha’Tara: “It’s a chaotic time of transition as some of the old guard cling to the past and defend their paradigms and institutions vigorously (like the police attacking the Water Protectors).”
    ~ Our Water Protectors are showing us the way forward.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to be ever the cold water in the boot, but perhaps, as I see it having been involved in many protests, the Standing Rock protesters are clearly demonstrating that peaceful protest is no longer effective. Example, anti-Vietnam war protests would have no effect upon the elites in today’s reality, in fact the protest themselves would not be possible today except in small, ineffective events to which the forces of repression would bring state sanctioned violence, jail terms, torture and murder. Your country of choice has turned under you way further than most suspect in becoming the very kind of police state it has been foisting upon Latin America and the rest of the world for generations. The chickens have simply come home to roost. Now you speak of revolution, but that too is already proven to be a failed concept. Undoubtedly there will be some sort of revolution, or revolutions (plural) as states are forced to rip themselves away from DC and Wall Street but it will be a long and bloody process reached only when the “Black Friday” shoppers are driven into hopelessness and despair; when the shops don’t open on “Boxing Day” or the gas stations are shut down. Half of your country should be standing against the DAPL “foreign devil” yet only a handful are there sacrificing themselves for nothing except perhaps their own sense of value. Obama and Trump, as well as Sanders’ calls are the fake revolution, the Status Quo handing out circuses to the masses and they bought it and are still buying it. As long as there’s still food and booze in the stores, gas at the pumps and TV reception there is no possibility for revolution. Only talk, lots of talk, and perhaps in time, as the Nihilists and Bolsheviks did under the Czars, serious preparation in secret cells, the long-term commitment to the revolution, keeping in mind that many of those working underground were discovered, tortured, disappeared or killed by security forces, often entire families as is the case in North Korea today. Your countrymen are still a long way from that kind of serious commitment to revolution: they still have what matters: Kim Kardashian, NASCAR and the super bowl. Add the events video’d on Black Friday shopping and that’s the reality you have to deal with. I’m just saying. I don’t expect any return comments. All you can do with a boot that has cold water in it is take it off, dry it and put it on again. If the water comes back you’ll know it is punctured… 🙂 And we’ve already discussed my “solution” to all of that, a solution that considering the average Earthian’s mind evolution must for many sad years remain pie in the sky thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just a quick note before I return to grading student papers, Sha’Tara. On one hand, I see clear evidence that peaceful protest is not often effective. But I tend to believe that the lack of success is because people give up too soon.

        In answer to a question my daughter asked on Thanksgiving, my google search yielded a surprise. Here’s the email I wrote to her.

        “I found myself wondering how to answer your question about why the National Guard left Madison. So I googled it this morning and found a “maybe” answer. It’s not one I like, but it seems to be logical. It was radical student action that turned the tide and ended the credibility and energy of a movement. Four students bombed a UW building that symbolized university complicity with the war machine. An innocent researcher was killed in the blast. The anti-war movement lost its credibility and support. The movement dissolved rather rapidly and there was no longer a need for police.

        Here’s a link to a video that describes those days:

        I do believe that peace is the only way to pursue positive transformation – but it’s so hard to hold center. Impatience, ongoing provocation, loss of hope, and probably ego tempt us to counter violence with violence. When we do, peaceful movements motivated by loving recognition of our oneness with those on the “other side” die a quick death. Just my thoughts at the moment.

        Thank you for keeping the spirit of critical thinking and dialogue alive. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with your comment about peaceful revolution. When people say that nothing has ever been accomplished from non-violent resistance by pointing out that nothing seems to have changed, it is disingenuous. It is a long term commitment and we in Capitalist societies have been indoctrinated into a selfish, instant gratification lifestyle that breeds impatience. We give up too easily. Courage and discipline are foreign concepts to most of us.

    Yes, it is difficult to keep up a resistance to oppressive tactics. It’s difficult to survive (pay bills, eat, etc…) while making a stand about the injustices going on all around us. That is why we need a large number of people to share the burden. A lot of people sacrificed comforts during the OWS movement and are doing it now at Standing Rock (for recent examples). If more people had put in effort during the OWS protests things would have come out differently. The point is, this is why it’s difficult to see progress. As soon as we let up the rulers take back our gains. They are relentless. We must be as relentless in our determination to make actual change.

    We know we must change this suicidal system that rewards greed, obedience and violence while punishing creativity and generosity. We need people to light the fires of our imaginations and inspire us. Apathy and complacency are destroying us. If more people could see that blind obedience to a sick system is a form of slavery, we might be able to change things.

    Sorry if I rambled, but this is an important issue that is easy to be passionate about. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and astute insights about patience and tenacity. Resistance will only have a chance for success if we recognize we’re in it for the “long haul.” We may never see the benefits in our time, but the means we use must reflect the goal we hope to achieve. Peace can’t be achieved through violence, and inclusion can’t be won by divisiveness. As you point out, these are not easy things for us mere humans to do. I appreciate the time you took to explain your perspective with such clarity. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If I understand this correctly, what you and “ashiftinconsciousness” are saying is, you, as individuals, are engaging the process of non-violent change as a life-long commitment to what I call “satyagraha” – the term Gandhi used in leading the people of India against the British Raj. Now that I can agree with as it speaks of personal commitment and self empowerment. This is a state of mind, first, then action within one’s community, supporting that, boycotting this, and so on. I’m totally with you on that.

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