“Paradigm shift” is a term coined by Thomas Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) to describe how a prevailing paradigm (set of unconscious assumptions that guide our thinking about reality or model) breaks down and is replaced by an emerging paradigm. The term quickly spread beyond the history of science.
Paradigm breakdown begins when people encounter anomalies, data that cannot be explained by the prevailing assumptions, in their understanding of reality. When these anomalies pile up and can no longer be discounted, a crisis is created in which the entire prevailing paradigm is called into question. At this point a new paradigm begins to take shape, and takes hold when, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s term, a “tipping point” is reached. The shift from Newtonian physics to quantum physics, and much earlier the shift from paganism to monotheism are examples of paradigm shifts.
In his essay, Peace as a Paradigm Shift, Michael Nagler makes the argument that we are on the brink of a shift in human culture, which will delegitimize war and violence and move us to a culture of nonviolence. This shift from a materialistic worldview based on separateness and scarcity to one based on the unity of life and sufficiency is similar to the switch from material, Newtonian, physics to quantum physics. As long as material, Newtonian, physics prevailed, it influenced people to hold a materialistic, mechanistic worldview geared toward scarcity and uniformity, which breeds competition and violence. The paradigm shift to Quantum physics has made it more acceptable to speak of the nonmaterial as equally real and the universe as one entity.