In recent years, paradigm shift in science gradually becomes a hot topic in the scientific community. Meanwhile, tackling global challenges such as climate change, natural disasters, and serious diseases is also quite urgent.
However, these two aspects are often touched separately. For the former, discussions focus on general trends, and for the latter, more considerations are given to detailed issues. Unification of the two aspects could propel the two aspects in a synergistic way, and breakthroughs might be made more efficiently. The key is to find the bridge.
Scientists from the Institute of Process Engineering (IPE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences have analyzed the essential contents of paradigm shift in science and the core scientific issues underlying global challenges, proposing a strategy in an article entitled “Paradigm shift in science with tackling global challenges” in National Science Review.
“The essential contents are the changes in research contents, approaches, and domains, which emerge with or promote the paradigm shift in science,” said LI Jinghai from IPE.
In more words, research contents are extended from equilibrium static states to dynamic structures and from local phenomena to system behavior, research methods shift from qualitative analysis to quantitative prediction, from single discipline-based to transdisciplinarity-oriented, and from data processing to artificial intelligence, and research domains move from fragmented knowledge to integrated knowledge system, from traditional theories to complexity sciences, from detail-focused to multiscale-associated, and from multilevel discipline-based study to the pursuit of universal principles.
“The above changes should be accounted for in research activities so as to adapt to and promote the paradigm shift in science, and to tackle global challenges,” said HUANG Wenlai, also from IPE.
The authors tried to propose a new strategy, where each complex issue of interest is treated as multilevel systems, and a system at each level contains many elements. Attention is paid not only to the behavior of a single element, but also to the collective effects (caused by the interaction between elements) and their influence on the system behavior.
For a system at a specified level, the influence of internal conditions and external environments on the system behavior is clarified as well. With a combination of reductionist and holistic approaches, the behavior at the mesoscale (between the element scale and the system scale) is specially explored to reveal the mechanisms governing the collective effects, and the critical conditions for the collective effects to emerge and to vanish are determined. The correlation between systems at different levels is established as well.
“Transdisciplinarity has become the major route to scientific breakthroughs, and bridging paradigm shift in science with tackling global challenges requires the joint efforts from different disciplines and fields,” said LI.