Because my research topic is so broad, there are many systems that it may sit within or encompass. To keep things simple, I’ll focus on two big ones: the solar system, the capitalist economic system.
Here I am focusing on the heliocentric model of the solar system, which was a paradigm shifting idea that came out of the Coperican Revolution in the 16th century. Prior to Nicolaus Copernicus, the solar system was commonly thought to revolve around the earth, called the geocentric model of the solar system. This theory presented by Ptolemy in between 140 and 170 AD was widely held until the 13th century when scholars because to poke holes in its foundation. Copernicus’s teacher, Domenico Maria Novara da Ferrara had explored the possibility of a heliocentric system under his own teacher, Regiomontanus, who had studied ancient heliocentric theories from Hellenistic scholars like Aristarchus of Samos.
Copernicus’s theories fundamentally upset establishment science of the time and went on to revolutionize our understanding of our own solar system and the larger universe, shaping astronomy to this day. This paradigm shift was one of the examples cited by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolution as evidence of the cyclical nature of scientific progress, and a prime example of a paradigm shift.
Prior to the industrial revolution, global economies (at least in the west) were controlled in large part by royalty and feudal lords, largely revolving around land holdings. Over time, land ownership became less centralized as the power of an economy shifted from the land and into cities with central markets. This gave rise to the merchant class, who traveled the world and explored new territory to trade goods and open new markets. Still, the prevailing economic wisdom was that the world’s wealth remained constant and growth was only achieved at the expense of other nations.
Around the mid-18th century, English social theorists such as David Hume and Adam Smith began to challenge the mercantilist doctrines and assert the power of the means of production to generate wealth. A paradigm shift occurred when industrialists replaced merchants as the primary drivers of economic growth and prompted the decline of artisans and gilds. During this time factories were developed and technological gains in production and agriculture yielded huge surpluses of resources and wealth, leading to the creation of the working class, consumers, and eventually the middle class. Suddenly there was more of everything, most significantly wealth for the owners of production who sought to further maximize their returns. This lead industrialists to strain their workers, prompting the world’s first workers movements and the rise of parallel systems such as socialism and communism. The fundamental conflict between the owners of capital and the workers who generate and operate it has been the primary driver of socio-political controversy for the past 200+ years.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The structure of scientific revolution. University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Copernican revolution planetary astronomy in the development of western thought. Harvard University Press, 2003.
Graeber, David. Debt: the first 5000 years. Melville House, 2014.