What A Paradigm Shift Looks Like

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In the video clip from Jurassic Park, a man and woman who are a paleontologist and paleobotanist, respectively, suddenly comprehend the fact that dinosaurs are no longer extinct but alive again. This triggers the type of paradigm shift that’s initiated by an unexpected event that violates the existing paradigm. The most significant stages of a paradigm shift, which apply to all types of paradigm shifts, are visible in two key places, and the smaller progressive steps of a paradigm shift are visible between these.

  • At about the 22 second mark, the woman is looking closely at a plant she finds puzzling, intellectually trying to figure out what’s going on. She’s got a green leaf of it in her hands but says the plant has been extinct since the Cretaceous. So obviously the leaf she’s holding shouldn’t exist. As she’s doing this, unable to intellectually “make sense” of things, the man physically grabs her head and redirects her line of vision. This “reorientation of perception” is always the first step of a paradigm shift. In fact, we see the same reorientation of perception happen to the man in the initial moments of the clip: he looks out from the jeep, stands up, takes off his hat, and then his sunglasses. The woman also removes her sunglasses, a gesture that signifies the role of “really seeing things as they are” in a paradigm shift. That moment of reoriented perception — of truly perceiving something that was previously unimagined and even unimaginable — is the hallmark first stage of perceiving a new paradigm one had not even imagined before. It’s a much bigger thing than most people realize.
  • Paradigms don’t shift all at once, no matter how big the evidence they need to. Even though the scientists see and accept the dinosaurs, the old paradigm that “dinosaurs are extinct” still lives inside the man paleontologist. We see this because at about the 2-minute mark, that old paradigm suffers the second “blow” of another unexpected event. He learns that Tyrannosaurus rex (the characters in the film refer to it as T. rex) has also been restored to life. The paleontologist’s entire sense of reality shifts farther into the new paradigm this time — moving so much, so rapidly, that he’s physically overcome with disorientation and nearly faints. This shows you the personal impact of a paradigm shift of great magnitude.

Throughout the clip, smaller progressive steps of a paradigm shift are also portrayed.

  • Different characters voice their realizations of how the new paradigm impacts the part of reality they care most about (e.g., “We’ll make a fortune on this place,” and “They do move in herds”). The repeated sensations of “oh! this means that. . . ” mark a person’s adjustment to the new perception of reality that constitutes a paradigm shift. These adjustments continue to happen over and over during and after a paradigm shift, sometimes for years. And, as seen in the film, the ways we choose to respond also have consequences.
  • As the characters adjust to the new reality, their perception broadens or widens, and they take in more information about the magnitude of the new paradigm. We see this happen as the two scientists transition from seeing a single dinosaur to realizing there are herds of multiple types.

One of the most important parts of this clip is the difference between the woman’s experience of trying to figure out the leaf at the beginning of the clip, and then her actual perception of the living dinosaurs once her line of sight has been redirected. The thing that most commonly blocks a paradigm shift is working too hard to intellectually “figure things out” instead of simply opening up and being receptive to the new information available, and then accepting that new information and the changed reality it embodies to see how things will play out. Figuring out what the new reality means, or would mean, to this or that theory or idea (i.e., working through the consequences of this new understanding of reality), has to happen later. And it always does. But trying to do that first prevents the reorientation of perception that fuels the shift to begin with.

When you think about facing and going through a paradigm shift as big as the one shown in this movie, do you feel a little uncomfortable?  You might, because the story told in Jurassic Park‘s main plot expresses Western culture’s paradigm about the relationship between humans and the natural world — and it doesn’t end well for the humans. So let’s briefly look at what Jurassic Park tells us about Western culture’s paradigm of human-nature relationship so we can set any trepidation aside. Fear keeps people from making important paradigm shifts.

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