Editor's comment

Here is a plea for a universal, rational world-view.

As the authors state "a meaningful world-view is a collection of concepts that allow us to construct a true image of our world."

The main properties of such a world-view are coherence and fidelity to experience.




Aerts, and others Worldviews: From Fragmentation to Integration, VUB Press, Brussels, 1994 [excerpts – 1700 words] — explaining what a worldview is
(the authors are from universities in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands)

The fragmentation of our world

We can find our way in our own house. We know how many rooms it has, and how they are used. Knowing one's house thoroughly makes one feel "at home." The world around us can be construed as a huge "house" that we share with other humans, as well as with animals and plants. It is in this world that we exist, fulfilling our tasks, enjoying things, developing social relations, creating a family.

In short, we live in this world. We thus have a deep human need to know and to trust it, to be emotionally involved in it. Many of us, however, experience an increasing feeling of alienation. Even though, with the expansion of society, virtually the entire surface of the planet has become a part of our house, often we do not feel "at home" in that house. With the rapid and spontaneous changes of the past decades, so many new wings and rooms have been constructed or rearranged that we have lost familiarity with our house. We often have the impression that what remains of the world is a collection of isolated fragments, without any structure and coherence. Our personal "everyday" world seems unable to harmonize itself with the global world of society, history and cosmos…

It is our conviction that the time has come to make a conscious effort towards the construction of global worldviews, in order to overcome this situation of fragmentation. There are many reasons why we believe in the benefit of such an enterprise, and in the following pages we shall attempt to make some of them clear…

Global worldviews are like geographic maps, which help us find our way and act coherently in this world… We must first clarify what we mean by world and worldview, and specify the role of a worldview in a culture. We shall first introduce the basic concepts of "world" and "world view," which we will explore later at greater length.

"The world" is the broadest environment that is cognitively, practically and emotionally relevant. This "world" can differ, depending on the culture that we consider. Therefore, we can speak of "the world of Antiquity," or "the world of the Eskimos." "The world" should not be identified with "the earth," nor with "the cosmos," nor with "the observable universe," but with the totality in which we live and to which we can relate ourselves in a meaningful way.

"A world view" is a coherent collection of concepts and theorems that must allow us to construct a global image of the world, and in this way to understand as many elements of our experience as possible.

Societies, as well as individuals, have always contemplated deep questions relating to their being and becoming, and to the being and becoming of the world. The configuration of answers to these questions forms their worldview… Even if this [search for answers] does not appear to be of any immediate value or necessity we still should promote and encourage it energetically, because it also expresses the most unselfish striving of humanity "the desire to know," a property of "Homo sapiens sapiens."

… The material used to construct a worldview comes from our inner experience and our practical dealings with things, as well as from the interpretation of history and of scientific knowledge about our world.

The main properties of a worldview are "coherence" and "fidelity to experience." Because of the rational demand for coherence, a worldview should be a consistent whole of concepts, axioms, theorems and metaphors which do not exclude each other but which can be thought together. A worldview can only be faithful to experience if it does not contradict known experimental facts. Of course, what is to be considered as fact is not a simple matter. A "fact" for one generation is merely a "theory" for another and sometimes even a scandal (e.g. evolution theory). Scientific consensus continually evolves.

Although a worldview must be much larger than all that the physical sciences can offer us, the knowledge acquired in a systematic and methodological way by these sciences is of great importance, especially in the light of the widespread consensus that exists for this knowledge. The human and social sciences continuously provide us with a deeper insight into the nature of man and society. A worldview cannot contradict known experimental facts, but this does not mean that it coincides with them. A worldview may even inspire further development of science and if necessary, from a synthetic vantage point, criticize certain one-sided aspects of it. In this sense a worldview is a continuation of what the sciences pass on to us, sometimes coinciding with it, sometimes generalizing from it, and sometimes critically rejecting it. The contribution of scientific knowledge and the continuous critical evaluation of it are of great importance. Every scientific theory, no matter how well it describes and explains facts in its own domain, will always be confronted with problems that cannot be solved in the theory. Therefore, a worldview will always be a fragile system.

Why World Views?

The greater unification of humanity and the interaction between cultures, with the expansion of science and the increase of our technical capabilities, mean that our "life plans" are more and more determined by our relations to larger groups. We are confronted cognitively and emotionally with the whole universe, and with questions about the role of humanity in this greater whole. Ecological problems related to the survival of humanity on this planet have more and more become the concern of everyone. And yet, it has become increasingly difficult to elaborate a life plan, because it is very difficult to take into account the complexity of this whole.

[Here are some questions which] represent, in our opinion, basic elements that must be accounted for in every worldview.
1. What is the nature of our world? How is it structured and how does it function?
2. Why is our world the way it is, and not different? Why are we the way we are, and not different?
3. Why do we feel the way we feel in this world, and how do we assess global reality, and the role of our species in it?
4. How are we to act and to create in this world? How, in what different ways, can we influence the world and transform it? What are the general principles by which we should organize our actions?
5. What future is open to us and our species in this world?

Worldview construction must not be seen as an arbitrary projection. The word "projection" itself calls to mind the work of the cartographers of antiquity and the Middle Ages, who indeed were involved in a sort of construction of worldviews. They constructed maps of the world using the data coming from navigators, merchants and explorers. Even though this information was often incomplete, imprecise, contradictory or even invented, it was gradually adjusted and shaped into a coherent image. The construction of these maps even helped introduce new values and initiated new activities and exploration…

In our search for a world model, we intend to use concepts such as "world," "nature," and "universe" in the most general way possible. We mean something like this: "the totality of all that exists, and with which we are confronted in one way or another." …
No matter how important facts may be, we are not satisfied with merely "knowing" them. We also want to "understand," gain "insight" into and explain them. We always seek an answer to the question "why?"

The fundamental impossibility of a complete explanation has caused some to refuse any attempt at explanation. This attitude amounts to a rejection of reason itself and leaves our deep need for insight completely unsatisfied…

[The tasks required when one goes to a strange land or] an unknown region, do not differ much from those that we have to perform to orient ourselves in our own milieu as we work on world-view construction. Nobody thinks that working consciously [at understanding a new country, its people and its customs] when one explores a new environment. Why then should one be amazed, and even consider it an impossible undertaking, when someone tries to orient himself on earth and in the cosmos – the "new" environment of man? Most of the time, we live as individuals in a small geographical and social environment. Our interests are limited and we are not able to think and plan far ahead. Our "spontaneous" worldview is that of our families, our region, our group, our profession, our people, our time. Not everybody is interested in the stars. Not everybody is an animal friend. Stars and animals are not part of the world of everybody…

The tasks that have to be undertaken to be able to orient ourselves in a meaningful way in our world, that slowly is becoming the whole universe, are more urgent than ever. As we understand that our world is not our land or Europe or the USA or another continent, but that we have to learn to live and think on a planetary scale, the urgency of a global worldview will become even more obvious…

"To understand" always means: to grasp the general in the particular.

The workbench of theory and knowledge is the history of science. In the history of science, the worldviews of the investigators determine to a great extent the questions they ask, the hypotheses they take into account, the experiments they carry out and the weight they attribute to the verification or falsification of these hypotheses. A historical study of the interrelations between worldviews and the different features of inquiry, throws light on the present-day situation.