Why write a worldview?

It is dangerous to run a website like this without outlining your own world view. Rule #1 as a design researcher or argumentative interlocutor is to understand and state your biases up front.

A worldview is a mental model for how the world works. It rests on assumptions you have about how the universe works together.

As an undergraduate, my Methods in Design teacher made us write a worldview. He introduced the assignment at the beginning of the class, and by semester’s end, we were supposed to have an essay written.

I don’t even remember if I turned it in, I was so confused. What the hell is a worldview anyways?

Wikipedia defines a worldview as “the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual’s or society’s knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”

In this article, I’ll differentiate my worldview from my Bio. I’ll also do my best to update my worldview from time to time as I’m constantly learning new things and re-framing and updating the articles on my website to be more comprehensive and useful.

My Worldview

I personally do not believe in a god or higher power that has designed or given a purpose or meaning to human beings. Instead, I see humans as animals that have evolved the capacity for higher cognition through evolution – particularly, through evolution in groups.

I believe that there are a number of factors of this evolution that we can see and analyze today. All of these things have made us successful in a tribal sense, but as we further refine what we believe to be ‘right’ or ‘true’ for the good society, we constantly call into question some of our own tendencies.

Generally speaking, at the individual level, I believe that humans develop a certain gestalt (( I do have a background in design that pays quite a bit of attention to gestalt principles. I haven’t done a lot of further research in the theory, so while gestalt principles and laws tend to be extremely useful to the design community, I so far don’t know enough about the current state of gestalt psychology to understand if it is still valid. At a surface level, it seems to conform with most of what I understand about how cognitive bias, for instance, helps humans apperceive new knowledge without causing too much destruction to our worldviews. From my understanding, this might mean that the preservation of gestalt is a fundamental need for humans – one that makes the apperception process extremely delicate and, at times, terrifying.))  for the world around us. This may be a fuzzy picture, but it is a whole picture for how the world around us functions. I do believe these are self-centered projection, though. The development of my perspective as an individual is intrinsically linked to the extremely pragmatic tasks and relationships that I need to fulfill from day to day.

In other words, humans do not develop bullet-proof, rationally stress-tested understandings of the world around us – and very few even attempt something like this.

Charles Taylor refers to the “collective imaginary” as the socially constructed worldview that a group of people holds (( He writes about this in A Secular Age, a historical text that tracks a shift int he collective imaginary in Western Europe as the general understanding of the world shifted from the “enchanted” world of medieval times to the more rational, secular, or scientific world of the enlighten.  )). I believe that this is true, but that the “collective imaginary” isn’t the whole of an individual’s worldview – rather, it is the place where the worldviews overlap enough that we can satisfactorily get along(( Not that I believe this is Taylor’s argument, just that his framing of this word led me down this particular path of thought. )).

It is the satisficing((Herbert Simon uses the term “Satisfice” to describe the way that humans don’t optimize in situations. Rather, they employ a “decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.”)) of collective worldview that enables humans to get along, but also causes a lot of our frictions. It was never a system designed to scale (( …or designed at all, since evolutionary systems are necessarily emergent )), and as these imaginaries bump up against each other, their general gestalts are challenged.

Though I personally hold political views about individuality one would expect of an American liberal democrat, I believe philosophically that we have to understand individuals as embedded in and channeled by our environments. We are shaped by our environments both in our understanding and our actions.

Most importantly, our attention is heavily influenced (if not completely directed) by our context and our personal relationships. Because attention has such an effect on both our worldviews and our behavior, I believe that the struggle to understand and direct the attention of others may be the central kernel around which we can build a theory of human understanding.
In a world of infinite stimuli, the human brain needs a way to operate. This operation is pragmatic (feed, fuck, fight…) and though we create ever more intricate structures to allow ourselves to bring structure and meaning to this chaotic universe, we have to understand first that these structures and meanings are specifically resolutions to the base-level problems humans have always tried to solve. Like our thumbs – these philosophical meanings and social structures are simply evolutionary tools that continues our species.

Attention creates the world we live in. The structure of the world for a human will be robust as long as the pieces fit together within a common gestalt. As long as things make sense, we can go along with our lives. If the gestalt is challenged, we risk breaking the game.

I believe that humans need these games – and we need them to be robust. They helped us craft the lives we currently live, and they help us continue to do actions that we find meaningful. Outside of this game may be nothing but a meaningless void – the simple, “inhumane” realities of nature.

At the same time, if we understand the rules of this game that we’re collectively playing, we can make it better. So many human-created systems of understanding (like ‘science’ or ‘mathematics’) and social abstractions (like ‘citizens,’ ‘money,’ or ‘laws’) seem to really energize people toward making our material situations more advantageous. This seems to be a good thing.