Paradigm shifting

This morning’s Observer column

It’s interesting how phrases take on a life of their own. Take, for example, ‘paradigm shift’ – originally coined in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn, the philosopher of science, to describe the transition of a scientific community from one theoretical framework to another. The phrase was quickly recognised as a Big Idea by people in all walks of life because they could use it as a metaphor for describing traumatic or difficult transitions in worldviews and mindsets.

As a result, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – in which Kuhn first sketched out the concept – has never been out of print and is among the 10 most cited books of all time. A quick search on Google for ‘paradigm shift’ brings up 1,240,000 hits. And an investigation using Amazon’s useful ‘search inside’ facility reveals that ‘paradigm shift’ occurs in over 23,000 books on Amazon’s virtual shelves, from all over the disciplinary spectrum. Truly, Kuhn’s phrase has entered our collective unconscious…