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My thoughts began to shift from the political-science aspects of the idea to the computer-science aspects of it. This shift reached critical mass when I began learning how to program...

I don't think "critical mass" is the right word here. I'm looking for something like "turning point", analogous to the critical point on a graph, the top of a curve.

What's the word I'm looking for?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

The phrase tipping point sometimes is so used. Its senses include “(catastrophe theory) The point at which a slow, reversible change becomes irreversible, often with dramatic consequences” and “The point in time at which some new technology becomes mainstream”.

Also consider cusp, “(figuratively) An important moment when a decision is made that will determine future events”.

Edit: Also consider bib's worthwhile suggestion, turning point: “A decisive point at which a significant change or historical event occurs, or at which a decision must be made.”

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+1 Or possibly a turning point –  bib Dec 1 '13 at 2:20
    
@bib, thanks, added to answer –  jwpat7 Dec 1 '13 at 4:13
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The turning point is mentioned by OP himself, actually. I think what needs to be stated much more explicitly is that he must pick exactly one metaphor and then stick to it. The problem with the original sentence is not the metaphor chosen, but the number of metaphors chosen. Thoughts can shift, thoughts can reach a cricial mass, thoughts can get to a turning point. Pick one. But a shift does not have a turning point, a critical mass or a cusp. You already decided it's a shift. –  RegDwigнt Dec 1 '13 at 15:02

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