T214: the problem with paradigms

I’m running a little behind with my T214 study but I’m determined to make a few posts about some of the subjects brought up in my readings. I may find these useful when I come to reflect on my learning.

One of the recent readings is concerned with “self-sealing behaviour”. This describes behaviour that reinforces your current beliefs; for example, a bully might persecute someone with low self-esteem, thus reinforcing the poor sod’s dim view of themselves. The reading talks a bit about blame, guilt and criticism, which I found to be quite interesting. Apparently, firms that employ a “blame culture” (whether they mean to or not) tend to have people that won’t accept any responsibility for their actions, and so avoiding any potential blame for failure. This makes it very difficult for companies to learn from their mistakes, as they sometimes won’t admit to having made any.

The reading also raised the subject of paradigms. These describe the “bubbles of reality” that people live in – their perspectives and worldviews – and these paradigms often determine the way in which people make decisions. For instance, the reading explained how scientists become quite protective about their particular field of expertise and won’t accept criticism from those outside. They’re stuck in their own paradigm and can’t see the perspective of others. These are all examples of self-sealing behaviour.

This works for all sorts of world views – you can see this in the discussion of some of the world’s big problems like global warming or the US debt crisis – but I do foresee a problem with this idea. I do think it’s important to attempt to see other people’s viewpoints by attempting to understand their paradigm but I also think that there can be a false equivalence given to this way of thinking. It’s all well and good trying to break out of your own thinking traps (changing your own paradigms, perhaps) but I can’t for the life of me believe that those with some of the more bizarre world views should have equal persuasiveness.

I’m a fan of rational thinking and of science. I think science is great tool for understanding how our world works and I also think that the scientific method is the best tool we have for separating out facts from, well, made-up stuff. My recent course reading seemed to be suggesting that practitioners of alternative medicines suffered because science was stuck in one paradigm, but as holistic medicine attempted to treat the “whole” person it wasn’t suited to double-blind testing. I might suggest that alternative medicine isn’t suited to testing by the scientific method because it doesn’t actually work any better than placebo and isn’t based on reality.

This demonstrates my own thinking traps (relying on rational thought and being biased towards science) and sets out my own paradigm and self-sealing behaviour. I get that. I also get that it’s possible to justify just about anything you like by insisting that your own interpretation of the world is the right one. These world views are fine in themselves, and helpful for systems thinkers that are trying to see different perspectives, but I’m struggling to accept that I should just abandon rational thought – sometimes –  in order to expand my understanding of situations.

I like the systems thinking approach to problems and I’m finding some of the diagramming tools to be very useful but I guess that my self-sealing behaviour is making it difficult for me to do really well on this course. I do find it interesting, but I’m also finding it very difficult.

By rutty

Tall. Likes brass bands. Tests your software