noun: paradigm; plural noun: paradigms
  1. 1.
    a typical example or pattern of something; a model.
    “there is a new paradigm for public art in this country”
    synonyms: model, pattern, example, exemplar, template, standard, prototype, archetype

    “why should your sets of values be the paradigm for the rest of us?”
    • a worldview underlying the theories and methodology of a particular scientific subject.
      “the discovery of universal gravitation became the paradigm of successful science”

A paradigm is a pattern or worldview. It’s often something accepted as true by virtue of the it’s acceptance by the culture. So the pattern for national elections is a paradigm:

  1. Two parties compete for votes within their own parties (the primaries)
  2.  One candidate from each party is elected
  3.  The candidates from each party then compete against each for the votes of the entire nation

This is a bit crude; the paradigm has many more parts to it, but the point is that there is a consistent pattern which our culture accepts as “the way” we do national elections. To change this pattern would require a paradigm shift – or a change in the pattern and thus a change in the way our culture perceives the right way to do national elections.

Sometimes we take these patterns as “gospel truth.” For example, you might have heard someone say, “this is always the way we’ve done ____! It’s tradition. It worked in the past, there’s no need to change it.” Most paradigms we experience go unchallenged because it’s simply the way we’ve always done things. And while maintaining true paradigms is important – even necessary – false paradigms often permeate culture by way of “tradition.”

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What is a false paradigm?

A false paradigm is the negation of a true paradigm? Don’t freak out by those words – let me explain:

A paradigm that is true, is a pattern (or worldview) that truly exists in reality whether we believe it or not. A false paradigm is simply a pattern that doesn’t truly reflect reality. So, for example, it is a true paradigm that the earth revolves around the sun causing a consistent cycle of day and night. A false paradigm (here comes the hate mail) is the notion that sun revolves around the earth to create that cycle of day and night. See the difference?

A false paradigm doesn’t reflect reality – in other words, the fact that we have day and night doesn’t necessarily mean that the earth revolves around the sun. It might look that way because we *feel* stationary, but that doesn’t make it true.

Why does this matter?

There was a time in history when people truly believed that the sun revolved around the earth – in fact, the medieval Catholic church banked on this false paradigm being true and based doctrine on it. It took brave people to challenge this paradigm in order to illicit a paradigm shift. This is a bit of an extreme example as not all – in fact most – paradigms are not as big as the issue of what celestial object revolves around the other.

Basing our belief on a false paradigm though had damaging consequences; it damaged science, it damaged religion, and ultimately harmed individuals who questioned the paradigm, thus damaging freedom. So paradigms matter because they can contribute to human beings harming one another in a variety of ways.

Where do you find false paradigms?

Everywhere! At work, at school, in the family, in the church, in culture … they’re everywhere. And without even realizing it, you already participate in them and have even challenged them or accepted them without question. They form your opinions in politics, in religion, in life … literally in everything you do, a paradigm exists and a false paradigm is competing for your attention. You affirm paradigms every time you claim a statement as true. You deny paradigms every time you reject an idea.

Affirming and rejecting paradigms is not inherently bad, it’s realizing how you arrived at those conclusions that matters. Did you ask questions to investigate whether or not the paradigm is true? Do you have enough information? Is that information even knowable? (That’s a tough one – and if you’re up for it, you can check out the Challenge Your Intellect category to see what this means). How do you arrive at the conclusions you do?

How do you break through false paradigms?

This can be a tough question to answer. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you think you have, but really have not. The key to Карл-Попперchallenging paradigms is to continually challenge them. One of my favorite philosophers is Karl Popper; he created a theory for scientific philosophy that we can never arrive at the truth, but can only determine if something is false. While this may sound like the ultimate skeptic, it’s really pretty profound.

There are two components to understanding the truth.

  1. There is the truth of reality – how it exists apart from human understanding. You may have heard this termed “absolute truth,” or “ontological truth.” It’s what is true whether you believe in it, see it, or suspect it.
  2. There is our interpretation of this truth – how we think truth exists as influenced by our perceptions. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure; we perceive things differently based on how we live, how we were raised, what religion we ascribe to, etc.

It is our perceptions that create false paradigms, so breaking through false paradigms means understanding where our perceptions of truth are faulty. But will we ever receive 100% clarity on truth? Not likely. And this is why we must continually be willing to challenge what we think we know.

Let’s understand this first from a theological perspective: God is infinite; we are finite. God is perfect; we are imperfect. Finite and imperfect beings are utterly incapable of understanding fully an infinite and perfect being. It’s simply not possible. This is why we have a need for intervention by the Holy Spirit. As imperfect beings we can identify other imperfections, but without divine intervention, we cannot identify perfection. And if you’ve been a Christian for a significant length of time, you know that the Spirit doesn’t bestow us with all knowledge of the truth upon conversion. We still have a journey ahead of us.

From a philosophical perspective, I’ll just suggest that you Google “Xeno’s Paradox.” It’s fascinating! I will write on it more at some point in the future, but for now will leave it at that.

How do I start challenging my paradigms?

One of the easiest ways to start is to ask yourself (and others) open-ended questions, and then try and answer them. If you do this right, your questions will prompt more questions which will prompt more questions. This might feel overwhelming for you, so I’ve put together a list of questions that can get you started. Just fill out the form below and you’ll receive this free list in your inbox.

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