Paradigms and Models



Designed to be tested (scientific), or cannot be tested/disproved (metaphysical)  Assumed but not tested.   (May become  testable if the context is enlarged, or may be untestable.)       
Models are constructed for usefulness, and many alternatives may be used by the same person for different applications.   Models are constructed within a paradigm's "landscape," and use a similar symbol structure.            
Although a model may become commonly used, it can be replaced with "improvements" when needed or new understanding is achieved. When a paradigm becomes "subconscious" it begins to define the "reality" of personal experience, and  becomes more difficult to replace.          
We often are very pleased to see new innovations, and anticipate the  prospects of new model improvements with pleasure.   We may become blind to many of our observations when they do not fit our expectations, and misperceive stability and absolutes as "reality."
If we CANNOT make a change to an entirely new and improved model, we are resentful and protest loudly. If we MUST change a paradigm that has defined our "reality" it is very difficult, and causes high anxiety, confusion, anger and depression.
A certain model may become a strongly cherished symbol, and may be retained with nostalgia, but will not be confused with reality.  One may fight for a paradigm, even give one's life for it if the  interpretation of reality is dear, and defines one's self and  self-value.    
Use of models creates a jargon, which is intended to have clear definitions that can be used to explain and compare the terms. A language may be built upon a certain paradigm (world view), and make it difficult to communicate  when the world view is changed.
A model may reflect a skill, but not an awareness.  A paradigm may be associated with a "consciousness" level (perception of relationships and interconnections).
Models may change, but they remain within the same paradigm. Paradigms may become models, but a re-definition of the scale, scope, universe usually is required.
Difficult problems highlight the needed changes in the models. Businesses function within a common paradigm. New models are "marketable." Many "insoluble problems" have no solution until the paradigm is changed. Einstein said, "Few real problems can be solved with the same consciousness from which they arose." (The discussion of "sustainability" has no solution within our prevailing paradigm!)

Some examples of paradigms and their uses on a personal level:

  1. A paradigm is the way you see the world - your world view - and comes from your frame of reference. Example:
  • The University of Texas Tower is an impressive building that symbolizes prominence in the community.
  • The University of Texas Tower is poor design with a large proportion of the floor space lost to elevators and stairs, and is difficult to heat and cool since there is a large exterior surface area compared to the internal volume, and largely depends on a reliable electrical power and functioning elevators to be used.
  • The University of Texas Tower is an effective position for a sniper to defend and kill unsuspecting pedestrians.
  • The University of Texas Tower is a place where one can see far and wide in the Austin area -- a great tourist site to visit.

The paradigm does not necessarily describe reality, and at best only describes one aspect of reality. The paradigm establishes limits. Within your frame of reference you can achieve improvements. The tower could become more prominent if lighted orange, OR it could become more efficient if the windows were thermal glass, OR it could be surrounded by a moat. Some have said it should be laid on it's side and have only entrances without halls and stairs -- or others say it should be replaced entirely and the space used for a sports complex. (If the campus were located elsewhere where real estate values are lower the university could get more money for nonacademic purposes and the cost of academic functions would be lower.) Try to think of more uses, each "better" under it's individual paradigm. Notice that by changing the "rules" embedded in a paradigm, one reasonable interpretation is strikingly unreasonable under other "rules." The rules define different "realities" defined by different paradigms.

  1. On a personal level, our paradigm becomes our "map" for determining values of alternatives.
  • As a metaphor, if we have a map that reads "City of Austin" and we have the directions to a party in a part of town we do not know, we expect to have no problem in navigating there. However, if the map is a misprint, and that part of town has been replaced by the street plan of San Antonio, unknown to us or our host, we might have the following scenario:

We begin to drive to the party, and as we enter the new part of town, we can't find the landmarks given on the invitation on the map. After a while, we call our host, and explain how we are having difficulty. Our host is busy getting the party arrangements ready, and says, "I've been there hundreds of times, and I know the instructions are clear. Go back and look very carefully (instead of just talking and driving on "autopilot"). Note that host is saying to change our behavior and we will succeed.

We return, and do so very carefully, not wishing to appear stupid. After a while, we are again frustrated and lost, and call again. We're very worried, and begin to doubt our selves. Our host realizes this, and says, "It's probably just your worry that's keeping you from seeing the obvious. You may have over-reacted to the details, since the landmarks I gave in the directions are very conspicuous, if you pay attention. Just chill out, and try again. Note that our host is telling us to change our attitude and we will succeed.

These two actions, changing behavior and changing attitude, will improve performance, provided you have the correct map. The map is your metaphorical paradigm. (This is modified from a similar example developed by Stephen Covey in his workshops.)

  • In science, we call the paradigm different names. The name may be "axioms" in math, or "assumptions" in chemistry. In either case, if we decide to change the assumptions, we can build an entirely different set of models, but they cannot be directly compared - that is, tested against each other, until we define a new paradigm that includes both of the original paradigms. This comprehensive paradigm converts the former paradigms into models.

In the map metaphor, both our host and ourselves assumed the map was correct. That was a paradigm we shared. The problem was insoluble, until we could shift our paradigm and include the possibility of an incorrect map along with correct maps.

  1. Our paradigms may be true, or not. We cannot tell which until we change our paradigm! Then we can select a paradigm from our possible choices. The change is not a result of disproving a paradigm, but a decision.
  • As long as we function within a paradigm, we cannot test it. We will gather information that is consistent with the paradigm, and dismiss the remainder of our data as irrelevant. (A fish is unlikely to discover water.) This process of "screening" our observations is a necessary function for our minds, but if we do not realize it, we will resist changing a paradigm that is incorrect. Many times we hold onto paradigms because we all share it, and believe that our past success and present agreement "proves" our paradigm. Our "social mirror" is not a test! We are exhibiting Paradigm Paralysis.
  • Science makes major progress when the paradigms are changed. In biology today we are in the transitional stages of changing paradigms. During such a time, clear communication is difficult because terminology, models, and accepted concepts are developed within a paradigm that is being changed, and we often are unconsciously jumping from one paradigm to another, and back again. We are very much in this situation in genetics today, and it is for this reason that we spend so much effort learning to recognize when we are in one paradigm and when we are moving into another. Otherwise, we will overlook vital information, get frustrated and confused, and become progressively more paralyzed in understanding success, and recognizing misdirection and false claims made under an inappropriate paradigm.

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Maintained by Dick Richardson
Last updated 11/06/03