Shifting Paradigms

Paradigm is a short word that has the intimidation factor of a much longer word. It’s one of those that we know the meaning of, but can’t put into words particularly well. So let’s start with getting on the same page with the meaning, I’m going for the third entry in Websters:

a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated; broadly : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind

A cognitive framework if you will. A way of thinking. This gained meaning for me in a class at Stanford called Programming Paradigms. Simply put, there are many different ways to achieve a desired outcome in programming. There are different ways to think about how to approach solving the problem. This is why different programming languages are useful – they can enable these different ways of thinking. Everything is an object. Or everything is a list.

Paradigms certainly aren’t limited to programming however. I think they should be more widely used in our every day lives. The right mindset has the potential to offer a better solution to our problems, but more importantly having the flexibility to shift paradigms gives us the ability to empathize. If you are unable to shift your perspective, you will never truly understand how someone believes what they do.

Thought exercises should be a part of our education to promote an open minded population. Simply having an open minded population would solve so many of our problems. The goal for these exercises is to keep an open mind for a set period of time, not to ultimately believe it.

Here are some mind blowing thoughts to try out:

  • The world is a computer simulation, as explored in the Matrix. You and your independent decisions are really just a program that is able to learn and grow. Scientifically there could be some validity to this. The laws of physics break down at the smallest margins. Any simulation has a limit to how many calculations can be made, and the result would look like what physicists have observed. What would this mean? Would this change anything?
  • Democrats’ willingness for the government to help the poor and less fortunate are selfishly unloading the job on someone else so that they personally don’t have to do it and don’t feel guilty. What pieces of evidence can be used to support this? How do personal feelings get in the way?
  • That money has no real meaning. It has value because we all agree that it does, but if that were to change, what would happen? If only a handful of people realized this, what would change? Would those people be better or worse off?
  • 1984 and the Hunger Games feature worlds that appear completely unrealistic. But if one of those societies is the ending point, and today’s society is the beginning, what would the path look like to get there? Have we already started on that path? Can you defend that argument?
  • There is a limit to how many people the earth can support – one day that limit will be hit and the leaders of the world will realize it. The days of parents deciding how many children they want to have are limited. What will the warning signs of this limit look like? How far past the limit will we blow past until it gets to the point of controlling births? How will it feel having this aspect of your life controlled?


Hopefully at least one of those blew your mind. If I were in charge of education, how would I implement these thought exercises? Introduce these ideas and form small groups to explore them. Then have each person come up with a 2-3 minute argument supporting the case. Basically everyone practices defending the pro side of a radical argument. Someday it will be important to understand why the crazies believe what they do.

3 thoughts on “Shifting Paradigms

  1. 1) Brings to mind a story from class today (based on a Borges short story). A group of mapmakers try to make the most accurate maps. The winning map is accurate down to the molecule — but it’s as big as the world itself, collapses on the mapmakers, and they die. Point is, even a simulation/representation of the “real world” acts just like the real world as we know it. unless it’s possible to “break out” like in the Matrix, this changes nothing.

    2) I could go on this if it were possible to pull data showing that democrats are less likely than republicans/others to give money. Otherwise, they’re just trying to access large pools of capital/resources that would otherwise remain self-serving if not for a mandatory tax. That’s not selfish unless they themselves are unwilling to pay the taxes they are seeking to levy.

    3) I believe this one… but unless EVERYONE believes it, AND decides it’s not a good system, then the system remains. Alternately something changes like the environment’s/society’s ability to sustain growth, or revolution/conflict borne of inequality, and some other source of quantified value comes in to replace current non-asset-linked value. Thus, we revert to a limited “gold standard” type of economy and start seeing the same painful contractions and inflationary expansions of pre-bretton woods. Or society collapses and small community-based currencies emerge… then consolidation happens, and broader currencies develop… and we start all over again. #BSG

    4) Would have to entail a major worldview shift from freedom/markets to centrally planned/controlled economies and societies. Likely would require a massive watershed event to destroy current system (enormous war, catastrophe). Certain technologies would have to be preserved and controlled by a ruling elite. Rest of society would have to be so disconnected as unable to coordinate. Global nature of the world would need to be completely unraveled or else empires would squash out the inefficiencies of these types of societies (my opinion).

    5) We’ve already blown past it. Luckily there seems to be a GDP-to-birthrate effect and increasing wealth+education will continue to lower birthrates. Countries like Italy will try to import labor from countries still growing in population. Before population controls, likely that governments try massive reproductive health campaigns and prophylactics. Less invasive. You have just read the #FreeMarketsWillSolveIt argument… other argument is that if the planet is so stressed, there will be serious environmental/societal repercussions in the forms of droughts, famine, disease, war that naturally force population attrition. Sad/scary. This is the #NaturesFreeMarketWillForceASolution argument.

  2. suiter says:

    Following a very odd dream, I had a very serious conversation wtih myself about the existence of time. Since then, my paradigm hasn’t stopped shifting.

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