Starving for Worldviews

I have before talked about how to use monsters to advance worldviews and have suggested using ancient worldviews as scaffold for modern ones. I have also made attempts to figure out how worldviews evolve (although I think the previous analysis missed some crucial points).

In this essay I redefined worldview, and explain the modern problem of being starved for worldviews and propose how to solve it.

 

What is a Worldview?

A Worldview, is a “coherent collection of concepts allowing us to construct a global image of the world, and in this way to understand as many elements of our experience as possible.” (1)

Philosophy is – under this view – an attempt to answer the questions of worldview, that is, philosophy is the method to answer the problems posed by Worldviews.

Question Philosophical Discipline
1. What is? Ontology (model of reality as a whole)
2. Where does it all come from? Explanation (model of the past)
3. Where are we going? Prediction (model of the future)
4. What is good and what is evil? Axiology (theory of values)
5. How should we act? Praxeology (theory of actions)
6. What is true and what is false? Epistemology (theory of knowledge)

 

The Need for a worldview

Firstly, we “(…) all need a certain worldview, even if it is not made fully explicit, to interact with our world. There is a practical need to have at least an implicit, pre-ontological and for that reason “naive” answer for each of the worldview questions.” (1)

Further, in our modern times, we face a particular problem of meaningness. Here is David Chapman on it: “The atomized mode takes incoherence for granted. It does not seem a problem, in this mode; we don’t need systems. Meanings do not hang together. They are delivered as bite-sized morsels in a jumbled stream, like sushi flowing past on a conveyer belt, or brilliant shards of colored glass in a kaleidoscope. Or—to use the thing itself as a metaphor for itself—like Twitter.

The problems we have now: Throughout the twentieth century, from the beginning of the breakdown of the mainstream systems until the breakdown of subcultures, the underlying worry was “not enough meaning.” The atomized mode delivers, for the first time, way too much meaning. It is overwhelming, like trying to drink from a firehose.

Because the shards of meaning do not relate with each other, it’s impossible to compare them. There is no standard of value, so everything seems equally trivial. The collapse of subcultural community has atomized society, and we find it impossible to construct satisfactory selves from the jagged fragments of meaning we’re bombarded with.”

Modernisation and increasing specialisation led to fragmentation, distillation and diffusion of meaning and experiences. This diffusion lead to clashes.

As our world becomes further modernised and globalised the types of experiences available become incredibly diverse. This is a really short list of possible subcultures one can belong to (each reflecting a inchoate worldview). Then there is the different worldview tidbits one gets bombed with using any sort of media or under any sort of conversation. And finally, through social media, the need to present a coherent self-image to others, and thus to oneself.

 

Attempted Solutions

Traditional worldviews, which offered an integrated view of the world have failed:

“The religious worldview has no rational mechanism to resolve issues or disagreements; it gives no answer to contemporary developments, and thus is non-adaptive. There is a fundamentalism aspect in them. The traditional reductionist scientific worldview maintain determinism, claim that there is no goal- directedness, and thus no meaning. Holistic worldviews (e.g. “New Age”) are too fuzzy, irrational and impractical.

A humanistic worldview is too anthropocentric; it should consider seriously man in its broader context (evolutionary, ecological, cosmological, etc…). It can’t deal with problems such as the so-called singularity. What about a humanistic worldview if man had to disappear to let place to intelligent machines? Individualism is a value so widespread that it could be interpreted as a worldview. It is often viewed as the main problem of our society. On one side, it can mean one different worldview per person, and thus, no shared worldview. This lead to the claim that no worldview is better than another . To its extreme, this implies no common values and thus no common goals (relativism).”

Philosophy has failed as well to provide us with a worldview. Continental philosophy builds castles on moving sands, and analytic philosophy sets forests on fire. One has the virtue of a broad outlook, the other the virtue of clarity and precision. Yet a broad outlook without precision leads you to being not-even-wrong and clear destruction without any building effort leads you to blindness.

Traditional worldviews and philosophy have failed to live up to the challenge. In response, there have been two answers: trying to hold on to dead worldviews or trying to build new ones piece-meal.

Consumerism and Fundamentalism are the main choices for holding on to macro-shared wolrdviews. At the micro-level you have buffet like offer from rational AI focused, to reactionaries, to secular appropriations of religion.

I choose these examples because they are so different and yet are all an answer this same very modern problem: the jaggedness of meaning and the lack of a worldview that makes sense of our more-diverse-than-ever experience.

Fundamentally, there is problem of a mismatch between our worldview needs – given our drowning in meaning shards – and our worldview offers – given the the impact of modernisation and specialisation, and the failure of traditional worldviews and philosophy to live up to the challenge.

I call this mismatch between our need for worldviews, given our drowning in meaning, and the lack of encompassing, broad, responsible solutions that answer the problem our being starved for worldviews. We cannot make sense of incredibly diverse experiences.

 

Proposed solution: Worldview Building

I think that the ones building worldviews are taking the right step. We need not only continental and analytic philosophy, we need – more than ever – synthetic philosophy. This was what I called for with Modern(ised) philosophies for living.

Vidal (1) takes an interesting approach to worlview building.  He starts with a toy problem: building a scientific worldview – a worldview that unifies the finding from the various sciences. To do so he proposes a language, a stance and a guiding idea. The language is that of systems theory, the stance is that of problem-solving, and the guiding idea is evolution.

I don’t want to go into detail on his views just yet, but I do want to discuss some of his desiderata for a worldview.


space

Desiderata of a worldview

 

One vs Many

Should one hold one worldview or have various and trigger conditions for shifting between worldviews? On the one hand singular worldviews have been dangerous in the past, on the other our problem is drowning in meaning shards.

My intuition is that many is best. Information will have to compressed and any particular worldview will either leave something out or be incoherent. Which leads to the second desiderata.

 

Completeness vs coherence

Should we aim for completeness or for coherence first? Here I side with Eugine:

“Also keep in mind that it’s more important to make your beliefs as correct as possible then to make them as consistent as possible. Of course the ultimate truth is both correct and consistent; however, it’s perfectly possible to make your beliefs less correct by trying to make them more consistent. If you have two beliefs that do a decent job of modeling separate aspects of reality, it’s probably a good idea to keep both around, even if they seem to contradict each other. For example, both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics do a good job modeling (parts of) reality despite being inconsistent and we want to keep both of them. Now think about what happens when a similar situation arises in a field, e.g., biology, psychology, your personal life, where evidence is messier then it is in physics.”

 

No single man

This may be the toughest point for intellectuals to come to terms with. Ever since the knowledge explosion that one cannot know everything. This means that one has to rely on others for his worldview building efforts.

Having said that, there are high leverage concepts that illuminate whole areas of knowledge – like the theory of evolution by natural selection, or the idea of legibility and non-predictive control – and yes, the details are messy, but one can check it for coherence against other areas, then.

Secondly, there are various forms of intelligence augmentation in the form of cognitive tools, and this trend can be expected to continue.

Thirdly, one can craft heuristics to figure out how to get knowledge faster. (What I’ve been doing in my analysis of map-making)

 

Conclusion

We have analysed the origin of our drowning in meaning and our corresponding starvation for worldviews. We have seen how contemporary approaches have mainly failed at answering this problem. We have also sketched some desiderata for worldview building that will guide further attempts.

 

(1) Vidal, Clément (2008) What is a worldview? [Book Chapter] (In Press)

(2) Vidal, C. (2007). An enduring philosophical agenda. Worldview construction as a philosophical method.


 

 

 

 

Future:

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