On Scientific Paradigms – and Screenwriting Paradigms

So – this post is on Scientific Method, and Scientific Paradigms: Popper, Kuhn, and Feyerabend.

In screenwriting jargon, the word `paradigm’ (possibly, due to a misconception) – has customarily evolved to mean structural story/screenplay template:

"Aristotelian 3-Act structure" applied to common everyday household building materials

“Aristotelian 3-Act structure” applied to household building materials

But – in the domain of Science – the term `paradigm’ in fact means something different.

(In point of fact – it can mean 22 different things, much like `22 words for snow’…)

23 words for snow

In the excellent The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2012), Thomas Kuhn states:

`Turn now to paradigms and ask what can they possibly be. My original text leaves no more obscure or important question. One sympathetic reader, who shares my conviction that `paradigm’ names the central philosophical elements of the book, prepared a partial analytic index and concluded that the term is used in at least twenty-two different ways.’

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 181)

Kuhn also states:

`Because it demands large-scale paradigm destruction and major shifts in the problems and techniques of normal science, the emergence of new theories is generally preceded by a period of pronounced professional insecurity. As one might expect, that insecurity is generated by the persistent failure of the puzzles of normal science to come out as they should. Failure of the existing rules is the prelude to a search for new ones.

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 68)

(Currently: 7 in 10 movies loses money. There is therefore – perhaps – an apparent failure of story/screenplay theory.)

7 in 10 feature films lose money

7 in 10 feature films lose money

Kuhn goes on to say:

`In the sixteenth century, Copernicus’ co-worker, Dominico da Navara, held that no system so cumbersome and inaccurate as the Ptolemaic had become could possibly be true of nature.

And Copernicus himself wrote in the preface to De Revolutionibus that the astronomical tradition he had inherited had finally created only a monster. By the early sixteenth century an increasing number of Europe’s best astronomers were recognizing that the astronomical paradigm was failing in application to its own traditional problems. That recognition was prerequisite to Copernicus’ rejection of the Ptolemaic paradigm and his search for a new one.

His famous preface still provides one of the classic descriptions of a crisis state.’

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 69)


Copernicus felt the tradition he had inherited had finally created only a monster. This is possibly like the Screenwriting Domain, now.

Screenwriting students are possibly, much like Science students:

`…Science students accept theories on the authority of teacher and text, not because of evidence.’

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 80 – emphasis mine)

Paul Feyerabend agrees:

`Older theories or observation languages are adopted not because of their theoretical excellence (they cannot possibly be – the older theories are usually refuted). They are adopted because they are “used by a certain language community as a means of communication.”’

(Feyerabend 1984: 281)

On the subject of films, Kuhn states:

`[Physicist] Wolfgang Pauli, in the months before Heisenberg’s paper on matrix mechanics pointed the way to a new quantum theory, wrote to a friend, “At the moment physics is again terribly confused. In any case, it is too difficult for me, and I wish I had been a movie comedian or something of the sort and had never heard of physics.”

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 84)

Wolfgang Pauli - would-be movie comedian

Wolfgang Pauli – physicist and would-be movie comedian

(If Pauli knew what a `mess’ the film/screenwriting domain is (i.e. – is currently) in – possibly he would have been glad to be a scientist.)

Note thatI do not expect the existing screenplay gurus to accept my StoryAlity theory.

In fact, I predict, of necessity, they will outright resist it:

Someone's not happy

`Drama’ is Conflict…

`Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”’

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 150)

According to philosophers of science, this is because they are “the establishment / the old guard”:

Men [or women] just entering a profession have not yet acquired the special vocabularies and commitments of various (paradigm) groups. (Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 202)

Similarly, Sir Karl Popper, in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Popper 1990) points out:

`Whenever the `classical’ system of the day is threatened by the results of new experiments which might be interpreted as falsifications according to my point of view, the system will appear unshaken to the conventionalist.

He will explain away the inconsistencies which may have arisen, perhaps by blaming our inadequate mastery of the system.

Or he will eliminate them by suggesting ad hoc the adoption of certain auxiliary hypotheses, or perhaps of certain corrections to our measuring instruments.’

(Popper 1990: 80 – emphasis mine)

However – on the bright side – Kuhn states:

`Gradually the number of experiments, instruments, articles and books based upon the paradigm will multiply.

Still more men, convinced of the new view’s fruitfulness, will adopt the new mode of practising normal science, until at last only a few elderly hold-outs remain.

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 158)

Speaking of “old guards” – (e.g. Aristotle) – in What Is This Thing called Science? (2000)

Chalmers points out:

`The progress of physics from Aristotle through Newton to Einstein provides an example… The falsificationist account of that progression goes something like this. Aristotelian physics was to some extent quite successful. It could explain a wide range of phenomena. It could explain why heavy objects fall to the ground (seeking their natural place at the centre of the universe), it could explain the actions of siphons and liftpumps (the explanation being based on the impossibility of a vacuum), and so on.

But eventually Aristotelian physics was falsified in a number of ways. Stones dropped from the top of a mast of a uniformly moving ship fell to the deck at the foot of the mast and not some distance from the mast, as Aristotle’s theory predicted. The moons of Jupiter can be seen to orbit Jupiter and not the earth. A host of other falsifications were accumulated during the seventeenth century.

Newton’s physics, however, once it had been created and developed by way of conjectures of the likes of Galileo and Newton, was a superior theory that superseded Aristotle’s. Newton’s theory could account for falling objects, the operation of siphons and liftpumps and anything else that Aristotle’s theory could explain, and could also account for the phenomena that were problematic for the Aristotelians.

In addition, Newton’s theory could account for phenomena not touched on by Aristotle’s theory, such as correlations between the tides and the location of the moon, and the variation in the force of gravity with height above sea level. For two centuries Newton’s theory was successful. That is, attempts to falsify it by reference to the new phenomena predicted with its help were unsuccessful. The theory even led to the discovery of a new planet, Neptune.

But in spite of its success, sustained attempts to falsify it eventually proved successful…

Einstein was able to meet this challenge. His relativity theory was able to account for the phenomena that falsified Newton’s theory, while at the same time being able to match Newton’s theory in those areas where the latter had proved successful… The falsification of Einstein’s theory remains a challenge for modern physicists…’

(Chalmers 2000: 72-3)

Why do we still use Aristotle in screenwriting? This is potentially deeply problematic.

Abandon Aristotle !!!

Abandon Aristotle !!!

See my earlier post on “Screenwriters: Abandon Aristotle”, here.

Thomas Kuhn outlines a remarkably-clear list of criteria that should enable anyone to distinguish between an earlier (older, archaic, abandoned) and – a more recent (newer, better, more accurate) theory:

`Among the most useful would be: accuracy of prediction, particularly of quantitative prediction; the balance between esoteric and everyday subject matter; and the number of different problems solved.

Less useful for this purpose, though also important determinants of scientific life, would be such values as simplicity, scope, and compatibility with other specialties. Those lists are not yet the ones required, but I have no doubt that they can be completed.

If they can, then scientific development is, like biological, a unidirectional and irreversible process. Later scientific theories are better than earlier ones for solving puzzles in the often quite different environments to which they are applied.

That is not a relativist’s position, and it displays the sense in which I am a convinced believer in scientific progress

A scientific theory is usually felt to be better than its predecessors not only in the sense that it is a better instrument for discovering and solving puzzles but also because it is somehow a better representation of what nature is really like.’

(Kuhn and Hacking 2012: 205)

It seems clear that the existing screenplay manuals do not reflect reality.

McKee spots a film turd

– They will not necessarily help a screenwriter or filmmaker (even a Hollywood studio) create a film story that will go viral.

For that: I suggest we need a new paradigm. An empirical, scientific paradigm in Film Narratology.

Using: the scientific method.

The Scientific Method

The Scientific Method. (Source: Jansen Media, 2012)

It is, therefore: Time for a paradigm change in Screenwriting.

Game Over Man

Introducing: Creative Practice Theory Narratology: an empirical and scientific critical approach that (unintentionally) falsifies the existing guru screenplay manuals.

CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

CPT General Model Diagram (Velikovsky 2012)

StoryAlity is a film story system based on empirical, real-world evidence.

To see the scientific, empirical evidence of this, please go here.

…Thoughts, comments, feedback?


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Chalmers, A. F. (2000), What Is This Thing Called Science? (3rd ed. edn.; Buckingham: Open University Press).

Feyerabend, Paul K. (1984), Against Method (Rev. edn.; London: Verso) viii, 296 p.

Jansen Media (2012), 9/11 – Explosive Evidence:  http://www.smh.com.au/tv/Documentary/911-Explosive-Evidence-4313104.html

Kuhn, Thomas S. and Hacking, Ian (2012), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (4th edn.; Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press) xlvi, 217 p.

Popper, Karl R. (1990), The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Cambridge: Unwin Hyman Inc.).


5 thoughts on “StoryAlity #41 – On Scientific Paradigms – and Screenwriting Paradigms

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