December 18, 2017

The Future of Law (Part 17): How Long Before the Future Gets Here?

rhodesWell, for one thing, the future is already here. The signs of it are everywhere; this blog has been looking at them for a couple years. But for another, we’re talking about a paradigm shift here — a major change in perception and operative dynamics. Paradigm shifts don’t become the new normal until a critical mass of recognition has been reached.

Physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn introduced the term “paradigm shift” 53 years ago. His work was itself a paradigm shift in how we view the dynamics of change:

[Kuhn’s] vision has revolutionized the way we think about science, and has given us as well a new way to look at change in all of life.

From this paper published in the early days of the internet (circa. 1992) by Prof. Tim Healy, Santa Clara University

Kuhn created what has come to be known as the Kuhn Cycle to describe how new paradigms replace old ones. Here’s a schematic from an article on Thwink.org, which introduces the cycle as follows:

KuhnCycle_BasicCycle

The Kuhn Cycle is a simple cycle of progress described by Thomas Kuhn in 1962 in his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In Structure Kuhn challenged the world’s current conception of science, which was that it was a steady progression of the accumulation of new ideas. In a brilliant series of reviews of past major scientific advances, Kuhn showed this viewpoint was wrong. Science advanced the most by occasional revolutionary explosions of new knowledge, each revolution triggered by introduction of new ways of thought so large they must be called new paradigms. From Kuhn’s work came the popular use of terms like “paradigm,” “paradigm shift,” and “paradigm change.”

Kuhn used the term incommensurability to describe the clash of old and new paradigms:

Writing in his chapter on The Resolution of Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn states that:

If there were but one set of scientific problems, one world within which to work on them, and one set of standards for their solution, paradigm competition might be settled more or less routinely by some process like counting the number of problems solved by each.

But in fact these conditions are never met. The proponents of competing paradigms are always at least slightly at cross-purposes. Neither side will grant all the non-empirical assumptions that the other needs in order to make its case.

Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing his science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be solved by proofs.

From Thwink.org

Or, as science historian James Gleick said in his bestseller Chaos:  The Making of a New Science, “Ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility.”

Continued next time.

A collection of Kevin Rhodes’ Legal Connection blog posts for the past three years is now available in print from Amazon. Also available from Amazon as a Kindle, and as an ebook from Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Smashwords, and Scribd.

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  1. […] Planck’s comment is right in line with what we learned last time from physicist Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions about how […]

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  3. […] looked last year at physicist Thomas Kuhn’s model for how paradigms shift, and also explored another scientist’s exhortation “The best way to predict the future is to […]

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