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Tag: paradigm shift

Horizon loss

Yesterday the NYT published this piece, describing what appears to be a veritable mental health pandemic among Gen Z and late millenials in the developed world, ostensibly resulting from the COVID-19 social distancing measures.

The article reports that youth psychiatry wards in many European countries appear to be filled to record capacity, while in the US a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds have seriously considered suicide.

It is not only the loneliness associated with social distancing, but also the loss of purpose caused by economic collapse and gigantic youth unemployment. There is a massive spike in anxiety, depression, and a sense of guilt from ‘missing out’ on the bright future of carefree consumption promised by the global media-entertainment complex.

Someone in their early twenties describes how they are struggling to envision a future after a year of social distancing and massive job losses. The NYT aptly frames this as “a world with a foreshortened sense of the future.”

I would describe this as a catastrophic horizon loss.

The future is not ‘foreshortened’, it is completely absent. The horizon has been disappeared. Where? Perhaps somewhere between planned obsolescence, environmental collapse, a parasitic global financial system, forced isolation, economic collapse, deliberate social atomization, a global ersatz-culture celebrating hyper-consumption, and a gerontocratic global elite completely out of ideas and utterly divorced from the everyday reality of the 99%.

This horizon loss has nothing to do with the Gen Z and late millenials who are on the receiving end of its arrival. I also don’t think it is caused by the global reaction to COVID-19. The pandemic only sped up and made it visible earlier than it probably would have been otherwise. The disappearance of the future was baked in the paradigm whose death spasms we are living through now. After all, when Fukuyama celebrated the ‘victory’ of global liberal democracy as the death of history, he also inadvertently announced the death of the future and the arrival of an eternal present.

The good news is that this brief and terribly destructive 30 year paradigm has come to an end. There are no more horizons left within it, and many possible futures outside of it.

OODA loops

Building on my earlier posts on paradigm shifts and framing, I continue my interest in the process of shifting perception between models of reality. Paradigm shifts are fundamentally always shifts in the way we perceive reality. Perception itself is the dynamic outcome of the interactions between frames and schema.

When this model of perception is inserted in a complex and chaotically changing environment we end up with a cyclical process involving the reception and processing of external stimuli, followed by action or its absence and a repeated reception of stimuli closing a feedback loop. This process maps very well to John Boyd’s OODA loop concept, where OODA stands for observe-orient-decide-act. The key stage of the OODA loop is orientation, because it is in the orientation stage that external stimuli, and frames, interface with the internal perception frame and the schema that form it. In this lecture I discuss the OODA loop concept as a cyclical decision making and feedback process, and focus on the orientation stage as the key aspect of that process.

On framing and schema

We live in interesting times. Times of transition, involving the collapse of an old order and the shift to a new paradigm. Such transitions are often mistaken for technological changes or revolutionary shifts in material conditions. Actually they are neither. Paradigm shifts are fundamentally always shifts of perception, that is, shifts in the way we perceive reality and therefore in the way we act in the world.

Therefore, to understand a paradigm shift we need to understand how perceptions of reality can be modulated and altered at scale. In other words, we need to understand the mechanics of perception. In this lecture I discuss the concepts of schema and frames as the building blocks of the mechanics of perception. I examine the way framing can be used to alter perceptions and discuss the case of Edward Bernays’ Torches of Freedom campaign.

Paradigm Shifts

You better start believing in paradigm shifts Miss Turner, because you’re in one.

Here’s a lecture I recorded recently, discussing the concept of paradigms and the process of paradigm shifts. I discuss paradigm shifts based on Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, though my focus is on a more general understanding of the process, involving awareness of change and the key mechanics of the phase transition from one paradigm to another. I also use Jordan Hall’s excellent short essay On Thinking and Simulated Thinking to illustrate how paradigm shifts necessitate a phase transition in thinking about and orienting ourselves in a given reality.

I think the year 2020 so far bears the marks of a massive socio-political-economic phase transition to a new paradigm, and that the mid 2020s will be unrecognizable to someone from 1996 or 2006.

There is a story that when Zhou Enlai, the late premier of China under Mao, visited France for the first time in the 1950s he was asked what he thinks of the French Revolution. His answer was ‘It’s too early to say.’