Scientific paradigms have a tendency to rise fast and decline slowly. This asymmetry reflects the difficulty in developing a truly original idea, compared to the ease at which a concept can be eroded by numerous modifications. Here we formulate a model for the emergence and spread of ideas which deals with this asymmetry by constraining the ability of agents to return to already abandoned concepts. The model exhibits a fairly regular pattern of global paradigm shifts, where older paradigms are eroded and subsequently replaced by new ones. The model sets the theme for a new class of pattern formation models, where local dynamics breaks the detailed balance in a way that prevents old states from defending themselves against new nucleating or invading states. The model allows for frozen events in terms of the coexistence of multiple metastable states.