Evolution is (or is not) due to natural selection.
Nutrition has nothing (or everything) to do with systemic inflammation in the body.
Mental health is (or is not) connected to gut health.
Each of these statements represents scientific paradigms.
Thomas Kuhn was a scientific historian who popularized the word ‘paradigm’, which we now use freely as a synonym for worldview.
According to Kuhn, a paradigm was more specifically the scientific beliefs that define a particular historical period.
It was Kuhn who noticed that throughout history, science has evolved, not gradually (as one might expect) with each generation of scientists standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before, but through sudden radical tipping points.
He first came to this realization when comparing Aristotelian to Newtonian physics. The two were so fundamentally different, he concluded that they weren’t part of an evolution in thought, but that at some point Aristotelian physics must have been simply tossed aside and replaced.
This would have constituted a revolution: a profound shift in the entire scientific paradigm through which ‘reality’ was defined and perceived.
According to Kuhn, such shifts have occurred repeatedly throughout the history of science, and it is evident (to me) that we are nearing one again.
Michael Crotty explains “the prevailing paradigm is quite simply taken for granted within the contemporary scientific ethos. Any challenges that are mounted tend, at the start at least, to be dismissed out of hand.”
So, we end up with a widespread grassroots movement in which chronically-ill people are successfully reversing their ‘incurable’ autoimmune conditions, while the mainstream medical community continues to insist that nutrition has little or nothing to do with systemic inflammation and autoimmune.
This kind of tenacious adherence to the current scientific/medical paradigm was evident in a mini-experiment Matthew and I ran last summer, in which we interviewed three medical professionals in one day about the role of nutrition in treating autoimmune. Find those results in Have you heard the one about the rheumatologist, the ear-nose & throat specialist & the functional medicine doctor?
The Breeding Habits of Paradigms
According to Michael Crotty, a given paradigm “establishes the parameters and sets the boundaries for scientific research and, in the ordinary course of events, scientific inquiry is carried out strictly in line with it”.
This is how a paradigm perpetuates itself.
If we view a paradigm as a living system, we might even say this is its method of reproduction.
Scientists (and everyone else) are acculturated into the paradigm, and then research reinforces this existing consensus about reality. As Kuhn explains, “normal research, even the best of it, is a highly convergent activity based firmly upon settled consensus acquired from scientific education”.
Until something destabilizing happens.
Or, more likely, a number of destabilizing things happen, such as:
- Dr Terry Wahls develops the Wahls Protocol, gets up out of her wheelchair & starts clinical trials to research nutritional and lifestyle treatments for multiple sclerosis;
- Sarah Ballantyne publishes The Paleo Approach documenting the science behind the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP);
- An increasing number of people with diverse ‘incurable’ chronic autoimmune conditions find that they are reversing those conditions through adhering to strict dietary protocols, like the AIP, that have been specifically designed to reduce systemic inflammation and improve gut and cellular health;
Biohackers like Dave Asprey (and me) find that healthy people who follow these protocols experience previously unimagined levels of well-being and capacity.
In this way, a new paradigm emerges & gains momentum.
According to Kuhn, eventually there will be a tipping point and the new paradigm will ascend.
I don’t know how close we are to a paradigm-shift, but it is apparent that the old paradigm is lagging.
I don’t know what we’ll call our new paradigm. But until we decide, I’m calling it Biohacking~.