Are paradigm shifts important?



Return to "Paradigm and paradigm shift"



Paradigm shift is another expression for more significant changes within belief systems. Within philosophy of science this concept is sometimes considered important and is sometimes given great attention within education.



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.


Sports; two well known paradigm shifts

In order to estimate the importance of paradigm shifts, an area showing quantifiable results is required.

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 analogy science - sports



Exactly how important were these paradigm shifts?

The diagrams below show results through the years within these two sports. Paradigm shifts are indicated with text.


World records in high jump for men and women plotted against year. The colored lines follow results that evolved linearly during 1955-1990. Data from wikipedia.

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 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.


Conclusion: In these cases, paradigm shifts were not significant

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 may know about a hundred.

In addition to these originators, it exist millions of people within different areas. People that have contributed to the development with new observations and important, but not for their society equally revolutionary, creations. The power of the masses appears, in these two cases, to be the stronger force.

The two examples above demonstrate that many small observations, or in other worlds many small changes in belief structures, may be at least as important for the evolution as a paradigm shift.


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