A Shift in Worldview

By Beichman, Arnold | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 4, 2001 | Go to article overview

A Shift in Worldview


Beichman, Arnold, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Some four decades ago, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Thomas Kuhn, propounded one of the most important intellectual theories of our time, what he called the paradigm shift, to explain what happens in scientific revolutions, such as those brought about in physics by Newton, Einstein or Planck.

"A revolution happens, his theory goes," to quote the London Economist explication, "not because of startling new facts, but because of a change in the overall way that the universe is seen. . . . After this shift, old knowledge suddenly takes on new meaning: the sight of the rising sun becomes evidence for the turning Earth." In other words, one conceptual world view is superseded by another; the Ptolemaic universe is overthrown by the Copernican universe.

While Mr. Kuhn applied his illuminating theory (his seminal work is titled, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions"), primarily to the history of science, his theory when applied to nonscience areas can also lead to new understanding about changes in society, government, culture and politics. The cataclysmic events in the 20th century - World War I and the overthrow of four empires; World War II and the end of European colonialism; the Bolshevik Revolution and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in August 1991; the end of the Cold War - produced, to quote Professor Kuhn in another context, "the successive transition from one paradigm to another."

For example, domination of subject peoples in Eastern Europe by the Austro-Hungarian Empire or planting colonial regimes in Asia and Africa was once accepted as normal behavior until other events - wars and revolutions - forced "a change in . . . the overall way that the universe is seen."

Such a paradigm shift is now under way in the 21st century. It involves the relationship of the United States and the rest of the world, particularly the world of dictatorial states like China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea - although democracies like France and member states of the European Union are also part of this paradigm shift.

What is involved is the ebbing credibility of the United States as a superpower capable and willing to inflict harm on its enemies. …

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