New-Paradigm Thinking

Bryan Frew (
Wed, 16 Nov 94 16:08:34 PST

Fritjof Capra, in his book, "Belonging to the Universe" (1992. Penguin Books) developed a list of
the characteristics for "new-paradigm thinking" in science. (His co-author, David Steindl-Rast
developed a look-alike parallel for theology.)

I thought it might be interesting to develop a look-alike parallel for the commercial/management
world. The idea is to use the structure below and adapt the words to suit the business world.
Some of the characteristics translate directly across but others may be a little more
challenging. We can either debate the various suggestions in the forum or you can send me your
ideas which I will assemble and post back to the forum when they're in reasonable shape.

New-Paradigm Thinking in Science
by Fritjof Capra

The old scientific paradigm may be called Cartesian, Newtonian, or Baconian, since its main
characteristics were formulated by Descartes, Newton and Bacon.

The new paradigm may be called holistic, ecological, or systemic, but none of these adjectives
characterises it completely.

New-paradigm thinking in science includes the following five criteria - the first two refer to
our view of nature, the other three to our epistemology.

1. Shift from the Part to the Whole

In the old paradigm it was believed that in any complex system the dynamics of the whole could be
understood from the properties of the parts.

In the new paradigm, the relationship between the parts and the whole is reversed. The
properties of the parts can be understood only from the dynamics of the whole. Ultimately, there
are no parts at all. What we call a part is merely a pattern in an inseparable web of

2. Shift from Structure to Process

In the old paradigm it was thought that there were fundamental structures, and then there were
forces and mechanisms through which these interacted, thus giving rise to processes.

In the new paradigm every structure is seen as the manifestation of an underlying process. The
entire web of relationships is intrinsically dynamic.

3. Shift from Objective Science to "Epistemic Science"

In the old paradigm scientific descriptions were believed to be objective, i.e. independent of
the human observer and the process of knowledge.

In the new paradigm it is believed that epistemology - the understanding of the process of
knowledge - is to be included explicitly in the description of natural phenomena.

At this point there is no consensus about what the proper epistemology is, but there is an
emerging consensus that epistemology will have to be an integral part of every scientific theory.

4. Shift from Building to Network as Metaphor of Knowledge

The metaphor of knowledge as building - fundamental laws, fundamental principles, basic building
blocks, etc - has been used in Western science and philosophy for thousands of years. During
paradigm shifts it was felt that the foundations of knowledge were crumbling.

In the new paradigm this metaphor is being replaced by that of the network. As we perceive
reality as a network of relationships, our descriptions, too, form an interconnected network
representing the observed phenomena.

In such a network there will be neither hierarchies nor foundations.

Shifting from the building to the network also implies abandoning the idea of physics as the
ideal against which all other sciences are modelled and judged, and as the main source of
metaphors for scientific descriptions.

5. Shift from Truth to Approximate Descriptions

The Cartesian paradigm was based on the belief that scientific knowledge could be achieve
absolute certainty.

In the new paradigm, it is recognised that all concepts, theories, and findings are limited and

Science can never provide any complete and definitive understanding of reality.

Scientists do not deal with truth (in the sense of exact correspondence between the description
and the described phenomena); they deal with limited and approximate descriptions of reality.

Bryan Frew
Global Strategies Australia 24 Marinna Road Elanora Heights NSW 2101
Tel: +61 2 970-7566 Australia.
Fax: +61 2 970-7510