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The psychology of the paradigm shift

Dutch ecologist Frans Vera describes the experience of proposing a new vision for wilderness in Oostvaardersplassen, a region of land reclaimed from the North Sea and eventually turned over to grazing herds as a nature preserve. Reporter Elizabeth Kolbert presents his comment about the challenging process of changing someone’s opinion:

“Mostly there’s no trouble as long as you are within the borders of an accepted paradigm,” Vera told me. “But be aware when you start to discuss the paradigm. Then it starts to be only twenty-five per cent discussion of facts and seventy-five per cent psychology. The thing that I heard most often was, ‘Who do you think you are?'” (52)

The old idea is woven pretty deeply into the psychology of the public, it appears–and so it is no wonder that change often comes only after many encounters with a new idea, as well as under circumstances that encourage taking a fresh look. In the civil rights movement, relatively passive Americans were energized by televised pictures of Southern violence, for example; in Kolbert’s article, some progress is made as people see a chance for a very familiar monetary reward for creating nature preserves of a new kind. Other gratifications and motivations are wrapped around the core logic of change.

(“Recall of the Wild, The New Yorker, 12/24-31/2012)

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