The 7 Basic Worldviews: Tips for Surviving the Modern Worldview Crush
A Primer on Our Mental Operating Systems
If you want to understand the modern world, a solid grasp of worldviews is pretty much mandatory.
Especially if you want to survive what we call “the modern worldview crush” with your sanity intact.
Exploring this can take us into some exotic territories. Getting clear on a worldview definition, how one worldview fits in with others, and why it all matters can be a bumpy ride at times.
But the payoff – the social, mental and emotional rewards – can be well worth it. And then some.
There’s a lot to say here, but we’ll try to keep it brief.
7 basic worldviews in one sentence each.
Materialism (or Atheistic Naturalism)
“The universe consists of matter only, and the only way to know it is through sensory empiricism and reason, or science.”
“The universe is one ultimate reality, and to realize this is to awaken to reality.”
(Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism)
“Reality is divided into two aspects: matter and spirit, or the physical and the non-physical, or ‘nature’ and the ‘super-natural,’ and there isn’t really much overlap.”
“God is the infinite and absolute creator and ground of everything and everyone: the source and destination of all life, being, knowledge, and action.”
(Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)
“Life doesn’t seem to be inherently coherent, meaningful, or particularly conducive to happiness, but we can work to create order, meaning, and happiness anyway.”
“There are no grand metanarratives, only narratives; no facts, only interpretations; no independently existing reality, only perspectives we construct; no truth, only truths.”
“Nothing means anything, nobody knows anything, there is no Truth, and there is no answer to ‘why.’”
“I don’t know.”
That’s pretty much it.
To be fair, the sketches above are a bit rough around the edges.
For one-sentences summaries of complex ideas, a little roughness is unavoidable.
There are plenty of ways to slice the worldview pie.
That includes an earlier version of this article.
In a sentence, postmodernism could be described as this: “There are no grand metanarratives, only narratives; no facts, only interpretations; no independently existing reality, only perspectives we construct; no truth, only truths.”
Yet there are ways that postmodernism doesn’t necessarily stand by itself as an independent worldview. Some variations of it can fit well in the overlap of agnosticism and nihilism. Postmodernism also isn’t famous for its clarity. Ihab Hassan said, “I know less about postmodernity today than I did thirty years ago (in 1971) when I began to write about it.” There are also “postmodern” thinkers in each of the other worldviews.
This brings up some of the meaty questions surrounding worldviews.
With that in mind, we should clarify a few points.
If you’re brand new to this, the seven ideas above might seem like just a random list of statements.
But there’s an underlying order to it all.
Before we dig into that, we need a few qualifiers.
Mapping out worldviews is, in some ways, kind of like mapping out the Earth.
If we were to draw a parallel of the above to mapping out our little home planet, the above would read like this: North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica.
Which is to say, that’s pretty much it, as far as the big pieces go.
We’re fairly confident that there aren’t any undiscovered continents we’ve missed. And it’s the same with worldviews (for reasons we’ll touch on below.) But instead of continents, we’re mapping underlying belief systems (or “mental operating systems”) that serve as interfaces between us and the universe.
And of course, mapping stuff can be a messy business.
Mapping the real world doesn’t lend itself to precision engineering.
Lines get redrawn. Borders shift. Areas in between here and there can get blurry. There are ongoing disputes about whether a line should be here or there. Good folks disagree about whether this or that area should be split off into two pieces, or kept as one. And so on.
For example: "Spiritual Not Religious" could be seen as its own worldview. Or, it could be seen as as a territory somewhere in proximity theism, pantheism and agnosticism. Same with Deism: it could be demarcated as a separate worldview, or it could be an area between theism and agnosticism.
So, it's a messy business.
That said, this map seems to do the job, pretty much, as a short, digestible introduction.
(The version here, by the way, is loosely inspired by James Sire’s The Universe Next Door and Naming the Elephant as well as David Naugle’s Worldview: The History of a Concept. There are some differences. (For example, Sire doesn’t include “agnosticism” as a worldview, for example, which is fair, and separates Judeo-Christian theism from Deism and Islamic theism and Deism, etc.))
A lot also depends on how detailed you want to get.
Imagine you were tasked with drawing a map of the United States.
You could map out the 50 states and call it a day.
Or, you could go the extra mile and also draw county lines. Or you wanted to go full overachiever, you could include cities. And if there was really something off in your wiring, you could go to the level of individual neighborhoods, and even individual houses, and yards, and...Next thing you know, you’ve basically reinvented Google Maps.
Each view could be “accurate.” it’s just a matter of how detailed you want to go.
John Gray, for example, divides “atheism” into 7 different sub-types. Each of those sub-types could be further subdivided. So in the same way that you could say there’s 1 “big category” of atheism, or 7 more detailed groups, you could also say that instead of 8 worldviews, there could reasonably be 9, or 4, or 500. The “resolution” could increase until it becomes, essentially, life-size.
We’re taking a big-picture (“continent”) view, so eight seemed like the right fit here.
Now that we’ve hopefully explained the slippery and gooey nature of this business, we can dig deeper into the meat of the matter.
So, where do worldviews come from?
When we were born, we were all given a task: to try to make sense of life.
(We describe it as “life throwing us existential riddles.”)
Worldviews are ways we make sense of life by putting together a life philosophy.
Which is to say, worldviews are like butts. Everybody has one.
When life throws us Big Questions or existential riddles, we each answer these questions, consciously or not. Then, we usually develop a kind of allegiance to our answers. In this way, worldviews can be something like a king or queen we pledge our allegiance to, consciously or not, and live by and defend. And they become our core belief systems that we use to navigate and make sense of life.
There are just a few key questions that drive all this.
These are the five big ones.
Metaphysics: What exists?
Psychology: What is human nature?
Ethics: How should we act?
Epistemology: How do we know?
Teleology: What's the point?
(This “metaphysics,” to be clear, doesn't refer to the “metaphysical” section of the bookstore. We mean "metaphysics" in the classical philosophical sense, also known as "ontology." It explores “what is?” or "what is being?" or “what is real?” or “what is reality?”)
There aren’t an unlimited number of these. Which is why there are only so many Big Questions.
And so it follows that there are only so many answers to The Big Questions. Which is why we’re saying there are really only eight or so major worldviews.
But how do Big Questions about life become worldviews?
When we ask Big Questions and start answering them, the answers don’t come as isolated, separate pieces.
They come in clumps.
Certain answers are connected to others.
Some answers fit together, and some contradict others.
So if you answer certain questions, other answers start falling into place automatically. If you pull the leash, the dog comes with it.
If you answer that “there is no God,” for example – as an answer to the “metaphysics” question – you probably won’t answer “revelation” to the epistemology question. Those two are usually somewhat incompatible. If you believe that “only matter exists,” then your answer to the epistemology question is pretty much baked in to the pudding: you’d almost have to believe that the only way we really know anything is through sensory empiricism and the scientific method.
And so on. Your answers to the metaphysics question impact your answers to the human nature question, which also impacts your answers to the ethics question, all of which impacts your epistemology. And so on.
But where do our answers here really come from?
Most worldviews are axiomatic.
We should probably back up and unpack that a bit.
Nearly all logical statements come loaded with prior assumptions. And those assumptions are also based on prior assumptions – ones further back in the chain. And if you keep going, and trace all those assumptions back far enough, you eventually arrive at something you see as self-evident, or just plainly obvious. Something based on direct experience.
In mathematics, these are “axioms.”
Our basic answers to The Big Questions are often axioms. They’re First Principles or self-evident basic starting points.
This isn’t relativism, as we’ll see. It’s eventually more of a matter of psychology that takes a verbal form as a kind of logic. Worldviews are in some ways like arguments, and ever argument starts with a premise, and every premise starts from a self-evident axiom. And every self-evident axiom usually comes from a direct experience.
That’s the basic structure of a worldview, and of a life philosophy.
Many of us inherit worldviews from our parents or cultures. This system of inheritance worked, for better or worse, in earlier and simpler times. We’d usually either accept the worldview we grew up in, or rebel against it, or something in between.
But it doesn’t work quite the same way in our modern, smaller, highly interconnected world.
In some ways, there’s almost nothing left to rebel against or conform to. Or at least, that kind of thing seems to be disintegrating to some degree. Because instead of actual cultures, today we’re often confronted by, well, a frenzy of noise, or a blur of different worldviews, or as we call it, “the worldview crush.” Which can have some toxic side effects (like soft nihilism.)
Which means this: surviving modern life requires learning how to navigate multiple worldviews.
This is a new task required of us today that we sometimes aren't equipped for.
Navigating multiple worldviews doesn’t often come naturally to us.
Most folks go from unexamined assumptions to inevitable conclusions without ever stopping to question those initial assumptions.
He assumes this, let’s say, because he’s absorbed this message, semi-consciously, from a slew of movies and tv shows he’s consumed over the years, and because he’s never been exposed to any kind of credible alternative message.
And so, he spends his life working hard every day to become as filthy rich as possible. He rarely stops and wonders whether he’s barking up the right tree, or whether happiness really is a matter of getting filthy rich, or whether his overall master life strategy is based on anything other than what he’s absorbed through entertainment or marketing.
In this way, folks can build castles on sand without ever realizing it.
We sometimes aren’t even really aware that these axioms that we base our lives on even really exist.
It’s not that we’re unaware of our own choices. It’s that we’re sometimes unaware of the prior axioms that those choices assume and are based on.
When we touch on one of those axioms, we often just assume, “that’s just how it is.” We see fundamental starting points in our personal philosophy as “self-evident” or “obvious,” or a “given.” We can’t go back any further. It just stops there. It can be like the floor in a building: we rarely even think about it unless it stops working.
But they aren’t “givens” to those who don’t share those assumptions.
And that’s the crux of the matter. At bottom, a worldview is a set of axioms. And not everyone shares those same axioms.
And when all of this is going on unconsciously, or without deliberate awareness, it can set us up for a great deal of misunderstanding and unnecessary conflict.
But approaching it consciously is way better.
Approaching all this deliberately and skillfully can help us communicate more effectively, and even get along and better.
Because once we clearly understand the core assumptions our worldview is based on, and understand how those assumptions are typically based on some kind of direct experience, it can become much easier to understand and relate to each other.
This can help us argue less about mere facts.
Facts are usually fragments of data we’ve selected to help support our worldviews. (Psychologists call this “confirmation bias.”)
But there are facts, and then there’s the matter of what those facts mean. There are facts on the one hand, and the interpretation of those facts on the other.
We often draw the meaning of those facts from our worldview. (For better or worse.)
This is one way we drive each other crazy. We seem to look at the same facts, yet we draw radically different conclusions about the meaning of them because of the worldview we’re bringing into the situation but not talking about. Or not even necessarily aware of.
This is why two ivy-league-educated economists can look at the exact same numbers, interpret those numbers in diametrically opposite ways, and conclude that the other guy is a total idiot.
But understanding worldviews – which drive our interpretation of facts – can help us communicate and understand each other more clearly. Which means we can spend less time bickering over the later-stage conclusions that we draw from our worldviews, and discuss more the real source of disagreements: the worldviews themselves.
Which gets us to sharing core experiences instead of the concepts we’ve from extracted from those experiences.
And sharing experiences means relating more like humans.
Arguing about ideas, comparatively, is often more like two computers running incompatible operating systems. When we don’t understand our own worldview or someone else’s, we talk past each other. We think we’re arguing about X, but we’re actually arguing about Y. And Y is buried, ten levels (assumptions) down.
All of this, of course, can happen only if we rewind a few steps, dig down and uncover those assumptions, bring them out into the light of day and start communicating on that level – a deeper level, where worldviews live – instead of the surface level.
The idea here isn’t relativism. The focus here is less a statement about the nature of reality, and more about communication (and lack thereof), personal experiences, and psychology.
Because much of this eventually traces back to psychology.
After all: why is delving into this stuff so difficult, and sensitive, and sometimes even scary?
We’re often pretty attached to our worldviews.
A worldview is like an allegiance.
It’s part of our emotional architecture. In some ways, for all its supposed logic and reason, it's an orientation of the heart.
After all, a worldview is our core framework for how we make sense of the world. It’s the operating system for our life philosophy. It’s the concrete foundation and the first five floors of our inner psychological skyscraper.
Which is why changing worldviews often involves going through an existential crisis.
We often feel threatened when our worldview gets questioned.
In fact, most folks find their core beliefs being questioned a disorienting, scary experience. The experience of it might feel something like the floor suddenly dropping out from under your feet, and finding yourself dangling precariously in mid-air.
Why is that?
In part, our core, basic, ground-level beliefs are the welded-together joints and seams of our grip on reality. They’re at the root of how we make sense of the world. And if we start tinkering with those, well, it means we’re tinkering around with whether the world makes sense or not.
And that just isn’t most folks’ idea of a fun way to spend an afternoon.
(Although for some, it actually is.)
That said, there’s a big difference between feeling like the world doesn’t make sense, and the world actually not making sense. Sometimes, if you find yourself dangling in mid-air, you might actually – as strange as it might sound – be getting closer to solid ground.
Which might all seem pretty counterintuitive.
But this is where philosophy comes in.
If we look at this calmly, and rationally, and with an effort to just understand what’s going on – instead of perceiving it all as a threat – and if we hang in there instead of bolting out to the nearest distraction – then we might find that understanding worldviews more clearly can really help us keep our sanity.
Even in a crazy world.
So, why does all this matter?
Why bother with all this?
There are lots of reasons. Let’s touch on just a few.
We’re living through “the modern worldview crush.”
Not long ago, back in olden days of yore, folks lived in communities. They knew each other, met and talked face-to-face, and shared common ideas, beliefs, and practices. Call it a “culture.”
That game has radically changed.
It’s now becoming more common to feel closer to people thousands of miles away than the ones a few feet away from you.
We now live in a dramatically smaller world. Every community in the world is nearly at our fingertips. Nearly any location in the world is now accessible within hours or days instead of months or years. You can often reach any person in the world within seconds, with a phone call or video chat. In fact, everyone these days seems to be in each other’s faces, whether we want to be or not. And it takes effort to imagine (remember?) what life was like before television and the internet were in our homes.
Many cultures are being flattened by this.
There are plenty of unintended consequences from all this.
Many of these we’re only just starting to understand.
For example, there's everyone being able to connect at all times, and yet a simultaneous rise in loneliness. There's the ability to put down roots anywhere, and yet feelings of being uprooted wherever we are. And so on.
One possible window into this could be to look at what’s happened on the economic level.
As we’ve all seen, many old-fashioned mom-and-pop family-run businesses these days have been swallowed or replaced by mass corporate franchises.
The mirrors a parallel process where various cultures are also being swallowed or replaced, one small bit at a time.
But this can happen on a more personal level as well.
The process is pretty straightforward.
For example: a person can grow up within a family that has a particular family “culture.” But depending on to degree that members of the family are influenced by mass media, that culture can easily evaporate. It can be replaced – consciously or invisibly – by a steady absorption of whatever worldview (or worldview casserole) media puts out there to be consumed.
But how does this really happen? Through a process that’s both subtle and pervasive.
Worldviews can be embedded in nearly any media we consume.
They’re embedded in songs, shows, movies, articles, news reports.
Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s prominent and in-your-face, other times it’s practically invisible. Often they’re in the subtext. Occasionally they’ll become explicit.
But it’s usually there, for anyone who really looks, and knows what to look for.
Media is the bloodstream of the modern worldview crush.
But how does this affect us on a personal level?
Let’s imagine something that seems harmless on the surface: a few minutes of watching television, flipping channels, or listening to the radio, or casually breezing through YouTube.
Within a matter of minutes or even seconds, you can sometimes get several dozen blasts of completely different worldviews. A few seconds of materialism here, a jolt of existentialism there, a little taste of theism there, a full blast of nihilism as a chaser. It could happen in less than a minute - for example, when simply flipping through channels, watching commercials, or scanning headlines.
This all can be fired at us at high speed. The worldview components of the media are typically embedded within some form of drama (especially when they come to us in the form of commercials.) These components are often implied and indirect. Unless we’re on guard and know how to spot them, we can absorb them all unconsciously. We don’t usually have time to really digest or process them; we just move on to ingesting more.
And they’re often incompatible.
Which is one reason why seemingly harmless past-times like casual tv-watching – even informative or entertaining ones – can sometimes leave us feeling mixed up, uneasy, disconcerted, and just strangely unsettled. It can leave us with existential indigestion, a sense of feeling mentally bloated, or being full of stuff that just isn’t sitting right.
Heavy amounts of this can lead to “cultural flattening” taking place on a personal level.
Call it “psychological flattening.”
It puts us at risk of a McLife.
The risk there is winding up with a mass-produced, shrink-wrapped, off-the-shelf life.
But in some ways, avoiding that seems to require a lot more effort than it used to. Unless we actively work to resist it, we can easily find ourselves plugged into the Matrix by default, consuming and being consumed, absorbed by and absorbing forces utterly outside of our control or awareness.
Folks react to this in roughly 3 different ways.
One way is to harden up against it: to close yourself off and take an “I’m right, everybody else is wrong approach.” It preserves integrity but at the expense of relating.
The opposite approach is to preserve relating but at the expense of integrity. This takes the form of an openness to various worldviews but a disintegrating self.
With a flurry of contradictory worldviews being fired at us faster than we can digest, it can be easy to just decide it’s all just too much, it’s too complicated to think about, and the only answer is to just clock out. (And “clocking out” often takes the form of flipping through channels, which feeds the problem all over again.)
And through all this noise and hype, we might very well miss the point of it all.
So, is there a better approach?
Our answer here is to avoid becoming either a hermit or a hardball. Insulating ourselves from influences outside of a small and sheltered bubble just isn’t a realistic option for many of us. And hardballing it can lead to a small and self-enclosed system, cut off from some of the good stuff of life.
A better solution, in our view, lies in a road that’s unglamorous but effective: just becoming stronger, and clearer, and smarter.
It’s in working on ourselves. It lies in becoming philosophically amphibious, or learning how to navigate by air, land and sea (to mix and mangle several metaphors.) It lies in working for a deeper understanding of what exactly is happening, and finding a clear alternative to either ejecting from culture or getting snowed by it. It’s hard, but rewarding.
If you’ve actually read this far, you’re probably already well on your way, and already get it. Simply understanding all this, and being on guard, can help dramatically with navigating these seas safely and avoiding existential indigestion and psychological flattening.
It really boils down to a matter of being selective.
It’s like becoming world-travelers of the mind. A real jet-setter exposes themselves to all the variety the world has to offer, yet is also very selective about where they set down roots and build a home.
Or it’s like food: we’re usually pretty selective about what we eat.
We can curate our exposure to influences in the same way.
We can make more efforts to stay away from stuff that gives us emotional food poisoning.
Like we already do with food, we can pick what makes us stronger (ideally) and avoid the junk. We can do the same with the stuff that’s feeding our minds and hearts. We often hear a lot about our physical diet, but we hear a lot less about our mental or emotional diet. It’s one way we often ignore the crucial and glorify the trivial.
These are times of both opportunity and danger.
So, what now?
There are many more questions we could explore from here.
Are the various worldviews compatible, or incompatible? Do they contradict each other? Can folks with different worldviews get along? Which worldview is “right”? Are any “right,” or all, or none? How important are they, anyway? How can someone at least decide which worldview is “right,” or along the lines of an agnostic-existentialist slant, “right for them”?
All great questions to explore.
To really dig in and explore this in more depth, you can "Rethink Your Entire Life."
For now, we’ll can narrow our focus on one:
How can we navigate and survive the modern worldview crush?
Here are a few tips.
First of all, “Know Thyself.”
If you aren’t clear on it already, a good place to start is with getting clear on your own worldview.
This might seem simple.
But let’s be clear about what this means, exactly: the challenge here is to ask The Big Questions of life and figure out your answers to them.
Not exactly like falling off a log.
These are the questions that philosophers, saints, mystics, sages, and even regular folks like us have been wracking brains on for thousands of years.
While we might think we’ve, you know, moved beyond all that nowadays, because we – you know, we have smart phones, and like, Wikipedia and all – there are some things that mere piles of information at our fingertips can’t solve for us.
(But for what it’s worth, at least, you’re in the right place for it here.)
That said, among other things, delving into this can help you navigate the worldview crush. The next time you’re ambushed by a flurry of worldviews coming at you, you’ll be able to see them coming and move through them like a stealthy worldview ninja.
(Also, quick aside: we can put in a brief plug in for “agnosticism” here.
Not because we’re biased in favor of it, but because it often gets a bad rap these days. And an undeserved one. There seems to be an unfair stigma toward it, and it’s rare when anyone comes to its defense.
This unfortunate state of affairs can have the effect of pressuring folks to abort a genuine search for answers, to stop asking pesky questions, and to adopt a façade of certainty.
Pretending to already have answers is often seen as better than actually searching for them. This leads to a situation where everyone is walking around, pretending to have it all figured out, when really they’re clueless but afraid to admit it. Usually, they parrot something they heard from somebody else, often with great confidence, as if it’s The Answer To It All.
Lao Tzu or somebody might have called it “the way of adolescence,” probably, or maybe should have, at least.
But the way we see it, honest uncertainty is better than false certainty. It’s OK not to know. It’s OK to ask questions that don’t have immediate, obvious answers. A person going through a period of searching, and asking questions, and wanting to actually know instead of merely pretending to believe, can be a good thing. In fact, it’s often necessary if it’s going to be genuine. It’s a certain phase of life that more folks probably should go through.
Not knowing, and not putting on a façade of pretending to know, means you’re primed for some honest seeking.
While agnosticism isn’t necessarily the final destination – the search for answers doesn’t mean giving up on ever finding them – finding is often highly correlated with searching. Those who don’t seek probably shall not find. Those who do really find often spent some time searching. So, searching shouldn’t seem like a radical idea.
That, and also: folks like these – Socrates is one figure that comes to mind – are often good company to keep.)
OK. Rant over.)
Secondly, work to understand worldviews that aren't yours.
Getting clear on our own worldviews often happens in parallel with getting clear on the worldviews of other folks.
Sometimes it’s a process of elimination. It’s studying X, realizing that X doesn’t really make sense or sound very attractive at all, and then seeing what’s left.
Sometimes it’s a process of judging worldviews by their fruit.
History can be a helpful guide here. Discerning the worldviews of various figures throughout history can be revealing. In many cases, we have the benefit of hindsight, and so we can judge their intentions against their realities, their goals against their actual results, their view of themselves against the opinions of those they came into contact with.
That said, a word of caution: folks often caricature other worldviews and turn them into simplified-straw-man bogeymen. They highlight all the flaws of other worldviews and pay attention to only the virtues of their own, and they ignore the virtues of other worldviews while ignoring the flaws in their own.
As we mentioned above: folks sometimes see other worldviews as threats to their sanity. This stuff touches nerves. The basic idea is often kneejerk: “if X worldview is right, then my worldview must be wrong.” It then becomes a tribal thing, a my-worldview-can-beat-up-your-worldview thing, which isn’t often a good use of time.
But disagreements about worldviews can vanish when we understand them more thoroughly. Often, different worldviews don’t negate the true aspects of our own worldviews, they merely reveal more that beyond their current reach.
Or in other words: they’re often simply different positions on the elephant.
Third, understand the origins of these worldviews.
Like we touched on briefly above: different worldviews are the results of different answers to The Big Questions.
Our answers to the Big Questions eventually trace back to a few axioms, or initial assumptions that we can’t prove and perceive to be self-evident.
This is the case with every worldview, not just one or two.
Often, we adopt unexamined assumptions as answers to Big Questions and proceed from there to inevitable conclusions without ever stopping to examine those initial starting points.
But again: stopping to examine those initial starting points every so often can be a good idea sometimes.
Folks often adopt worldviews early in life, never question them, and live within the confines of those worldviews for the rest of their lives.
But a period of questioning (again – even a temporary phase of agnosticism – can sometimes be a life-changing and hugely beneficial course-correction, even if it means sweating through an existential crisis and coming out the other side.)
Fourth, become skilled at spotting implicit worldview messages.
If you’ve done the above, this step will probably happen naturally, all by itself.
Worldview messages are hiding all around in plain sight. Sometimes they’re being argued for or against, ridiculed or promoted, glorified or demonized.
They’re embedded in songs, movies, television shows, news stories, commercials. Even something as subtle as a tone of voice or a facial expression can convey a lot. It’s sometimes less about facts, and more about how those facts are framed. The key often lies in what isn’t said. It’s often less about what you’re focusing on, but what you’re ignoring. It can all be very subtle.
But we can train our eyes to see them. With some practice, they might suddenly appear all over the place, until they’re coming out of the woodwork. (Often, they’ve been there all along. They’ve just been invisible.)
“The world is full of obvious things
which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
- Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Once you’ve gotten to this point, there’s a good chance that you’ll find yourself feeling more sane on a day-to-day basis. You might find that a mentally bloated feeling of existential indigestion you’d been unconsciously carrying around has evaporated, and you’re left with a nice, light, clarity.
Fifth, in conversations: less surface, more depth.
The basic direction here is a basic way to help with the ways we talk to each other: less talking about conclusions we’ve reached, more talking about premises we’re assuming in order to reach those conclusions.
“We do not need theories
so much as the experience that is the source of the theory.”
- R. D. Laing
Some of the most painful conversations happen when two people are talking about a certain fact, and one of them makes fifty assumptions and states their conclusion and reacts to that fact, and someone else makes fifty different assumptions and reacts to that same fact, and then they try to argue about that fact.
A better idea: let’s rewind a few steps and start talking about some more basic assumptions.
Which is to say, we can have better conversations if we discuss issues more on the deeper, worldview-level instead of the surface-level of mere facts. Our discussions about various issues are often dozens of layers above the real issue.
The real issues, where fruitful conversation actually takes place (as opposed to mere bickering), are often several layers down, at the level of The Big Questions.
Again, much of what actually happens in conversation and arguments, unfortunately, is simply declaring conclusions instead of discussing how we arrived at those conclusions. It’s stating what we think are facts when but are actually a set of judgments about the meaning and interpretation of facts. We assume different worldviews and automatically interpret facts based on those worldviews. But instead of talking about the worldviews, we focus only on – and argue about – the facts. The models they use to interpret those facts get ignored.
All of which often leads to a stalemate.
And dull, abrasive conversations.
A better way: if we drill down to the worldview (or axiom) level in our discussions, suddenly we’re talking about the underlying worldviews we use to interpret those facts. This is the level of personal experience, where fruitful conversation can happen.
Conversations here are a lot more interesting, because personal experience – the stuff at the axiom-level, where experience gets translated into ideas – is interesting. It becomes a human encounter instead of a mere collision of disembodied ideas.
The idea isn’t a fanciful, starry-eyed notion that if we all become more conscious of worldviews, we’ll all magically start agreeing on everything.
But we’ll probably understand each other a little more. Our conversation will become richer and more effective. This would mean less verbal combat, less unnecessary friction and drama, and more understanding.
After all, there’s us baffling each other, and there’s us understanding each other more.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and really get controversial: understanding each other is better than baffling each other.
But, there’s more: if we can do more of this, we can increase our odds of surviving the modern worldview crush.
And we can view the world through clearer, wider, more powerful lenses.
Or even, with no lens at all.