I can tell you what I hope the next paradigm shift will explain (if that’s helpful for you). Lots of the universe is made up of things that we know hardly anything about. These are dark matter and dark energy. I wonder if we need a paradigm shift to find out what they really are.
Here is a pi-chart showing that it is actually the majority of the universe that we don’t understand!
No, this isn’t a silly question- it’s really interesting to try to think about. We don’t know what the next paradigm shift might be, but we know the sort of problems it might come from.
We know we have a number of unresolved problems in physics. As Chris says, Dark Matter and Dark Energy are two of the really big ones, as they make up most of the Universe. Dark Energy is really mysterious- it seems to act like an “anti-gravity”- making things fly apart. Nobody knows what it is!
One of the other big questions is what to do about the theory of the very big (Relativity) and the theory of the very small (Quantum Mechanics). The two theories don’t seem to be consistent, and to resolve it what we really need is a theory of Quantum Gravity. This is really important for understanding how the early Big Bang occurred, and how black holes work- both of which push our understanding of physics to its limit.
Some physicists think these two big questions might be linked. What we really need is a really new theory- something that nobody’s thought of yet. It might explain a lot of the weirdness of quantum mechanics too. That would be a really huge paradigm shift- the most important new physics since Einstein!
As I work in the a nanoscience group, I’m going say the next paradigm shift will come in our ability to manipulate atoms. Already members of my group have started experimenting with switches made out of single molecules. We’re a long way off yet, but eventually, our control at this scale will be good enough to make everyday devices at this scale and we’ll truly be in the age of nanotechnology.
I agree with the others — I think there will be lots of huge advances (with big implications), but the biggest paradigm shifts in our understanding are likely to come from improvements to the ‘standard model’ of particle physics, incorporating gravity, dark matter, and all of these exciting things. Whether or not this actually translates into something that will impact on our every-day lives, however, is another question…