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Paradigm Shift


Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti, 1857. 

If we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same result. Albert Einstein is credited with that saying. But Einstein’s genius is not required to say something as obvious as that. Yet, in spite of the backing of Einstein’s genius, we keep doing same things and keep getting same results. Our petty jealousies and violent spirituality, craze for power and race for wealth, idolisation of a Hitler or a Modi in the name of something as evasive as culture or race – nothing has changed over centuries.

We need a paradigm shift. Desperately so. We have messed up this world of ours terribly. We need to reshape our earth and our heavens. We need a paradigm shift.

One of the most influential philosophers of science of the 20th century, Thomas Kuhn, introduced the concept of paradigm shift. A paradigm, according to his definition, is a collective set of attitudes, values, procedures, techniques, etc that form the generally accepted perspective of a particular discipline at a point of time.

For example, the Ptolemaic system gave us a paradigm of the cosmos with the earth at its centre. That paradigm was very flattering for human beings because the sun, moon, stars, and planets all orbited the earth. The earth was a special planet, in other words. Religions, particularly the powerful Catholic Church, were mighty pleased with that paradigm. It fitted well with the Biblical paradigm of the earth being the chosen place of Yahweh and homo sapiens being the chosen race. [This chosen race narrowed soon to clutch only the Jews many of whom must have wished again and again to be liberated from God’s special fondness for them.]

In the first half of the 16th century, the Ptolemaic system gave way to the Copernican one and that was a revolutionary paradigm shift. The earth lost its most favoured status and became one tiny nugget of a planet in a gigantic cosmos which had many other heavenly bodies that were probably far more charming. This paradigm shift meant much to religions, particularly the powerful Catholic Church. The Church’s God could have lost His supremacy in the universe if all people accepted Copernicus instead of the Bible as a source of truth. Human beings would become insignificant creatures on a very minor planet in a gigantic system. Priests would lose job. That didn’t happen, however. The Church prohibited the Copernican theory and set in motion the bloodiest attack on truths. Inquisitions came into existence. Thinkers and truth-seekers were killed brutally.

Paradigm shifts are not easy affairs. Especially when gods come into play.

Genuine seekers of truth refuse to be deluded by gods. So we have had a lot of useful paradigm shifts along the way. Aristotelian mechanics gave way to classical mechanics in the 17th century. Later Newton gave way to Einstein. In psychology, cognitive approach superseded the behaviourist approach. In economics, Keynes turned an entire set of pet notions upside down.

Religion is one place where a paradigm shift was most wanted and that did not happen, alas. Our gods continued to demand blood and we killed fellow beings for them. We still do.

Religions claim to redeem souls from perdition but they are the most irredeemable entities. That’s a terrible irony. Jesus came to redeem his religion (and presumably all religions) from heartless rubrics and rituals. But his followers ended up establishing the most heartless religion with a whole range of absurd rubrics and rituals. The Buddha was a bold paradigm shifter before Jesus. He ended up as another blind squatting idol in the hands of his followers. More recently, Mahatma Gandhi tried to elevate the heart above everything else (like vindictive nationalism) and his country today stands diametrically opposed to all that he stood for and, irony of ironies, in the name of the very religion which Gandhi believed in.

We need a paradigm shift desperately today. It is obvious that religions can’t bring about that. Even gods failed when they tried to do it by coming amongst us in our own shapes and forms. But we need a shift from our self-centredness to a cosmic outlook. Who will bring about that shift? You.

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Previous post in this series: Outliers

Tomorrow: Quest


  1. Recent events made me realize how we have learnt absolutely nothing from history and it is rather aggravating. We are the only ones who can save ourselves.

    1. If a sizeable number of people realise that, the world will be saved.

  2. You make a powerful plea for paradigm shift in your post today.

    Yuval Harrari, in his book Homo Deus, talks about dataism as the next big thing. I paraphrase his opinion of the current scenario about religion and the mess the world is in because of it: God is dead, but the dead body is taking time to be disposed off.

    As long as humans are enticed by power and greed, they will invent/use any ploy to seize that power. Religion and supremacist ideologies have been used thus far in human history to that end. We have seen how 'social media' has been used in case of Brexit etc. So, I wonder if we will just replace religion with another yardstick to keep a few in power (as we've always done)

    But, I'm an optimist so I believe in what Gandhi said: change begins from within. I reckon that is our only hope if we want to save ourselves.

    Thank you for writing such thought provoking and honest posts.

    1. Even if a 100 Hararis come and go, our systems will remain the same. Greed for wealth and power will continue to drive us.

      Thank you for being here with me.

  3. We do need that shift. We have distorted all the learnings we got from spiritual leaders and philosophers of the past to suit our selfish needs.

  4. Absolutely need of the hour! People at the helm of the affairs have shifted to a base that is completely against us in all aspects. Seeing the recent turn of events, this shift is urgently required and only if people understand the gravity of the situation can something happen!

    1. At least the pandemic should accelerate the shift.

  5. Absolutely. We desperately need a paradigm shift in our attitudes, values...
    The point you made about followers of different religions reminded me of a series, where a good man offers help to a black couple in need. Later he misinterprets the teachings in his holy book and unjustly persecutes the same couple. I feel he lost his way because in his heart he desired more to please his community rather than go by the spirit of his book (Series: THEM).
    Just a thought.

    1. Thanks for the example. People often stick to rules and rubric without understanding the spirit.


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