The concept of scientific paradigms was given currency by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. (1962) Kuhn's concept of paradigm applies both to a body of ideas, theories, etc. -- a "worldview"-- and to the social organization of science in which it appears. There are two aspects to scientific paradigms. Paradigms are shared constellations of belief (a disciplinary matrix) and they are also models or examples.
Is a paradigm a kind of self-sustaining circularity between ideas and practices? (The proliferation of cycles and hemicycles in the Ptolomaic system would be the classic example. Kurt Goldstein described reflexology and psychoanalysis finding confirmation for their original assumptions through a combination of new observations procured in the same way and self-repairing auxiliary hypotheses.) Kuhn might be understood as suggesting that some amount of this kind of circularity is a necessary component of science and he calls resulting unity of theory and practice "exemplars."
In his analysis of the development of science Kuhn famously distinguishes "normal science" from "revolutionary science". "Normal Science" is characterized by an operating paradigm: that is to say, there is consensus among scientists as to what questions scientists are concerned with and how they are formulated. The majority of scientists are described as engaged in a kind of "mopping up" operation -- trying to tie up the remaining loose ends in an otherwise coherent picture. (This is operationalism) For Kuhn "normal science" is in fact the norm. ("conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level or type; typical.") "Normal science" is generally the case, and it is distinctly anti-historical in spirit. The work of cientists from previous periods is considered superseded -- and not of scientific interest.
In Kuhn's account "normal science" gives rise to revolutionary situations when anomalies begin to accumulate that threaten the basic presuppositions of the paradigm. These periods of crisis are marked by concerns over the philosophic foundations of the science not evident in times of normal functioning. Scientific revolutions "transform the scientific imagination in a way that needs to be described as a transformation of the world in which scientific work is done." A scientific revolution occurs when a new paradigm is proposed and generally accepted, which renormalizes those anomalies by putting them in a framework in which gives them a sufficiently general account that they can be explored through the new "normal science." According to Kuhn, explanations under two different paradigms are not just dissimlar, they are incommensurable.
Kuhn's concept of the paradigm is closely related to Foucault's episteme, a coherent way of seeing whose history was developed in Les Mots et les Choses, translated into English as The Order of Things, and published one year before The St ructure of Scientific Revolutions. For both authors, a radical discontinuity separates two paradigms or epistemes. Like a gestalt switch , they are distinct structures of macroperception.
In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari, much of whose work consists in the elaboration of philosophical concepts directly related to scientific thought, restate Kuhn's position by describing science as paradigmatic, while philosophy is syntagmatic. (see Science / Philosophy)
Kuhn's critics accuse him of "relativism". They ask what would differentiate science from other, group-consensual activities, like art. Other historians are more comfortable with analogies between scientific and humanistic thought. Mary Hesse suggests that the vital spirit or basic organizing relations of paradigms can be thought of as metaphors (in their productive effects). Metaphors are images that give concrete coherence to even highly abstract thought. (see Mary Hesse, "The Explanatory Function of Metaphor," in Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science) Some philosophers, on the other hand, claim that Kuhn's critique of science's "scientistic self-understanding" does not go far enough. For Simpson, the scientific view rests upon a transformation of world (in the Heideggerian sense of context that gives meaning to our practices) into objectum. What counts as scientific experience is determined here.
The paradigm and revolution concepts are frequently applied to technology, especially as a result of the convergence of technological and social change. In the Informational City, Manuel Castells describes the rise of the informational paradigm arising from the discoveries of the transistor (1947), the integrated circuit (1957), the planar process (?) 1959, and the microprocessor (1971). As a result of these discoveries, computers were able to revolutionize information processing, telecommunications became the basis for forming informational networks, and information became both the raw material and the product of a set of new technologies, including biotechnologies. The new technical paradigm transformed the processes of production, just as previous industrial revolutions had been organized around the steam engine and later electricity. For Castells, the complex, interacting systems of technology and organizational processes underlying economic growth and social change are modes of development. (p.17) The informational mode of development assumes the importance and scope of the agrarian and industrial modes that preceded it.
Does it make sense to talk about architectural paradigms? (what about distinction Kuhn draws on p. 19 between sciences and fields like medecine, technology, and law, of which the principal raison d'etre is an external social need).