project WORLDVIEW worldview theme info         copyright 2009                Home         

Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #1A: Humbly Unsure   Worldview Theme #1B: Skeptic
Contrast Worldview Themes #1A and #2B -- these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!            

Contrast Worldview Themes #1A and #36A --    these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!      

adopting healthy beliefs -- where the evidence for or against buying into a particular belief is not persuasive one way or the other, deciding whether to adopt the belief based on the extent to which it will promote your health and the health of the society you live in. Example: Consider whether to believe in the idea that human beings are all connected to each other in an unseen way. Whereas clearly in the three dimensional world perceived by our ordinary senses human beings are separate, unconnected entities, the possibility exists that humans could be linked in other ways: in higher spatial dimensions, in a spiritual realm, by each being connected to God, etc. Suppose after investigating pro and con evidence related to this belief you are still undecided as to its ultimate truth, but do become convinced that if in fact this were true, and everyone believed it, the world would be a better place -- or at least if you believe it your psychological health will be enhanced (you won’t feel so alone, so alienated, etc.) So you weave this belief and others into your worldview because they have psychological advantages and make you a healthier, more together person and, if others believed them, could make the world a better place -- not because you are unequivocally convinced that they are part of the ultimate, true description of Reality. Similarly you do not buy into other beliefs, not because you’re convinced they are untrue, because you see that they could potentially be unhealthy to you or to society. Example: a young boy decides not to believe that if he behaves badly he will burn in hell because burning in hell scares him and gives him nightmares. He decides to behave (for other reasons) but not believe in hell and this choice seems healthy.

cognitive dissonance--refers to the inner tension or perceived incompatibility that one feels from holding conflicting beliefs or behaving in a way that compromises one's deeply held beliefs or values

complementarity -- the notion that there can be two equally good, complementary but mutually exclusive, even contradictory descriptions or explanations of something. More fully understanding the reality of the something can involve simultaneously embracing both of these complementary representations, often allowing opposing beliefs to peacefully coexist together inside one’s head! From ancient China, the yin and yang provide the archetypes of complementary, polar opposites. Chinese thinkers have sought to explain all natural phenomena and human behavior in terms of a complementary representation involving the dynamic interplay of opposites. A modern physics complemen- tarity example involves conceiving of light as both a particle and a wave. 

dark matter / dark energy--hypothetical forms of matter and energy that don't emit radiation but whose existence can be inferred by other means.  Astrophysicists believe that dark matter exists due to its gravitational effects on other matter and that 22% of the observable universe's mass / energy content is in this form. Black holes represent one form of it. Dark energy--believed to account for 74% of the observable universe's mass / energy content--can be inferred to exist from the observed acceleration in the expansion of the universe. Only 4% of the universe is believed to consist of ordinary matter that emits visible radiation. Failure to understand what 96% of the universe is should keep astrophysicists humble! 

dialectic method—testing beliefs, searching for truth or the right way through discussion / dialogue.  Socrates used the approach, emphasizing expressing doubt / questioning.  Hegel emphasized a struggle of opposing forces / demands / viewpoints (idealistic vs.  practical) and sought to explain history in terms of synthesis / compromise between extreme positions.

explicit knowledge -- knowledge that can be expressed in words or with symbols (perhaps mathematical symbols) or otherwise abstracted from an actual individual experience. If the reality experienced is like the terrain, explicit statements describing it are like a map of the terrain. As science extends its map of reality, the scientific conceptual framework is steadily refined and becomes a better guide to the underlying terrain. But one must recognize that a limitation of science is that -- as good as the map is -- it can not replace the terrain itself, the actual experience of reality.

Godel's theorem--based on the 1930s' work of Austrian mathematician Kurt Godel, the theorem has the effect of inserting unavoidable doubt in mathematics / undermining its logical foundation by asserting that there exist  mathematical propositions for which it is impossible to determine whether they are true or false.

humility -- or being humble. According to Alan Morinis this involves “limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space while leaving room for others.”  Weaving humility into relating to other people means valuing an orientation that proclaims, “I don't have all the answers and I want your contribution.” Embracing humility, according to Gary Zukov, means embracing the “harmlessness of one who treasures and honors and reveres life in all its forms”.

humility and science--Twentieth century scientific advances--in quantum mechanics and chaos theory--underscore that both a fundamental doubt exists in nature and that scientists' ability to use physical laws and make accurate predictions of events is inherently limited.  Not only do all scientific measurements have an uncertainty (or built-in error) based on the instrumentation used to make them, but quantum mechanics' uncertainty principle asserts that it is meaningless to attempt to, without error, pin down the exact values of various physical quantities (such as the position and speed of an object).  Chaos, in the words of John Briggs and F. David Peat, "as a metaphor has a built-in humility that previous scientific metaphors did is as much about what we can't know as it is about certainty and fact."

humility and tolerance--starting from the idea that humility involves limiting the "space" one takes up and leaving room for others, one can extend this to include leaving room for others to hold beliefs that differ from one's own, i.e. tolerance.  Those who feel this way may also value the notion that no one has the right to impose their beliefs on others.  

humility, spirituality, and religion--many seeking inner peace value humility.  Buddhists believe that enlightenment is only possible after one has become humble.  Some Christians conceive of it in terms of submitting to God. 

ignorance, two types of -- -- a distinction between types of ignorance: problems vs. mysteries (first made by linguist Noam Chomsky). A problem solving approach can be employed to better understand what we already know at least something about, whereas those things that are totally bewildering can be considered unfathomable mysteries that we can only stand in awe of. Whereas the scientific method focuses on problems, mysteries are the stuff of religion. A long-term goal of science is to steadily incorporate more and more phenomena once considered mysteries into its framework of understanding.

knowledge, two kinds of -- Bertrand Russell distinguished between 1) Knowledge by acquaintance, that is knowledge gained by direct experience involving a) sensory experience, b) objects of memory, c) internal states, d) ourselves, and 2) Knowledge by description, that is thought-out or mediated knowledge of a) other selves , and b) physical objects (our conceptualization of them, not direct sensory experience ) The distinction he makes is what others (most notably Michael Polanyi in Tacit Knowledge, and Graham Martin in Shadows in the Cave ) have elaborated on in distinguishing between explicit knowledge and tacit knowledge.

probability / random events--the likelihood of a particular outcome occurring. In certain cases, this can be computed by dividing the number of ways the event can occur by the number of total outcomes possible.. Example: in the roll of a die (singular of dice!) the probability of rolling the number three is 1 divided by 6 = 16.7 % or .167. A probability of 100 % or 1.00 means it is absolutely certain that a particular outcome will occur. The concept of probability is intimately connected to that of events that happen at random--meaning with no predictable pattern (at least with respect to knowing for sure what will happen next).

provisional--characterized by an open-minded, tentative attitude that indicates willingness to consider various viewpoints, be persuaded by reasonable arguments, and to tolerate differences.

reverence and humility--reverence--defined as "profound respect mingled with love and awe"--requires humility argues UU minister Phillip Hewett.  To feel reverent, he writes, necessitates that "you are humble enough to see yourself as a modest part of a greater whole, not the pivot around which it revolves."

quantum mechanics -- a branch of physics, developed in the first half of the 20th century, dealing with motion and interactions of matter on very small scales (typically atomic or subatomic). Unlike the visible, large scale realm of classical physics -- where predicted future behavior of individual particles involves deterministic certainties -- predicting the behavior of discrete particles in the quantum realm involves probabilities not certainties.

tacit knowledge -- knowledge that is ineffable, that is can not be put into words, symbols or otherwise made into explicit knowledge. It is argued that you both know much more than you can describe, and that often you know but can’t identify how it is you know. Tacit knowledge is intimately connected with personal experience of reality, whereas explicit knowledge is one step removed from reality. It is argued that the attempted transformation of tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge (by putting one’s experience into words) can not only at times be difficult, fall far short , or be impossible, but can lead to falsification. Such falsification results when an experienced “whole truth” becomes a pieced together collection of parts (words and symbols) and something much different from the whole. Mystical experience is firmly set in the realm of tacit knowledge.

tao / Taoism--the former is a concept from ancient China that can be thought of as the way of nature and, as related to human behavior, the path of virtuous conduct in accordance with nature; the latter refers to the Chinese mystical philosophy or folk religion built around conformity to the tao. Founded by Lao-Tzu in the 6th century BCE, Taoism is polytheist / animist / shamanist in a traditional Chinese way. Ethically it values compassion, moderation, and humility.

uncertainty principle--practically applicable in the microscopic realm of physics, perfectly knowing both the position and the speed or momentum of a particle is impossible. This principle, first formulated in 1927 by Heisenberg and fundamental to quantum mechanics, can be explained by thought experiments in which one realizes that any attempt to pin down the exact position of a particle disturbs it and changes its position. Therefore the concept of scientists making perfect measurements is meaningless, all measurements have some associated uncertainty.

useful fiction -- even if you mostly don’t belief in something, if believing has psychological advantages then for you this belief can be a useful fiction. This is related to the practice of adopting healthy beliefs.


  Contrast Worldview Themes #1B and #2A -- these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!           

debunkers -- scientific skeptics who actively challenge what they consider to be untrue and attempt to disprove it.

dogmatic belief  -- a belief that is firmly held based on the authority of others, but is actually incompatible with existing facts or based on faulty premises or reasoning . In his book Shadows in the Cave, G.D. Martin distinguishes between dogmatic ‘true believers’ and ‘real believers’. He writes, “According to dogma, the final truth is is therefore finite...Real Belief is being open to change and movement, and to the infinite possibilities of the universe...True believers are orthodox. Real believers are inquiring heretics. True believers feel awe at the grandeur of their own thoughts. Real believers feel awe at the immensity of the unknown... Dogma is credulous. [Real] Belief is skeptical, but forever open-minded.”

empiricism -- the belief that all knowledge comes from experience. As part of the foundation of science it stresses that scientific knowledge ultimately should be based on observation and experiment.

judgment -- the process and / or result of forming an opinion or drawing a conclusion based on consideration of the available evidence or knowledge

justification of belief -- This involves 1) believing that according to some standard or by some criterion a statement is actually true, 2) having evidence or data to support the above conclusion, and 3) evaluating the certainty with which the belief is established. In this latter regard, if the evidence or data is complete and fully applicable or relevant to the standard or criterion, the belief can be accepted with certainty; if the evidence is only partially complete and / or not fully applicable or relevant, some doubt should accompany accepting the belief, if it is accepted at all. And, of course, the standard or criterion used should be subjected to similar scrutiny, or at least identified when promoting the belief.

nihilism -- an extremely skeptical orientation that denies traditional values and beliefs have any validity and feels that existence is senseless and useless

pseudoscience -- something that seemingly has a scientific basis, but, upon closer investigation, does not. Examples of pseudoscience include beliefs in 1) horoscopes, astrology and that human personalities are shaped by stars in the zodiac, etc. 2) magical powers of crystals, 3) an ancient technically advanced civilization of Atlantis, and 4) extra-terrestrial beings in flying saucers are visiting Earth. Each of these -- and many other similar beliefs -- have been investigated using scientific methods and thoroughly debunked as lacking in truth, in useful application or both. Many pseudoscientific beliefs persist because 1) people uncritically believe in them without doing their own analysis of the merits; 2) many promoting such beliefs profit from doing so.

quantum quackery--scientific skeptics have used this term in dismissing New Age enthusiasts ongoing attempts to connect the microscopic subatomic realm of quantum physics with human consciousness and thought. Caltech Nobel Prize winning physicist Murray Gell Mann's term was "quantum flapdoodle"--an apparent reference to what he saw as the futile hand waving and doodling of New Agers (including a few reputable scientists who he felt should know better!) in their attempts to make connections where no evidence or possible mechanisms exist for making them.  Critics less gifted in finding clever words have simply charged promoters of what they consider to be pseudoscientific nonsense as urging others to believe in magic.

rationalism -- a philosophical orientation that links finding ultimate truth to employing reasoning

scientism--an ideology that asserts that 1) the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation including philosophy, humanities, and the social sciences, and 2) only these methods can fruitfully be used in the quest for knowledge.

skepticism--classically it is the doctrine that having true knowledge in some areas is impossible, and that in other areas  knowledge is always accompanied by some degree of uncertainty and doubt.  A modern definition, from Michael Shermer, has it as "the fine art and technical science of understanding why rejecting everyone else's reality and substituting your own almost always results in a failed belief system."     

skepticism, two types of -- it can be useful to divide skepticism into scientific skepticism and religious skepticism, the former addressing science or rational based claims, the latter concerned with faith based claims.

superstition -- a position or belief, often with roots in cultural or religious tradition, held despite what could be characterized (by someone not holding the belief) as lack of supporting justification or evidence

testability -- refers to the idea that for a statement or hypothesis to be considered scientifically acceptable it must be testable -- that is, conceivably it could be shown to be false. Here are two similar statements: 1) the entire universe is permeated with an undetectable pure substance: the quintessence;  2) all space is permeated by a substance that is at absolute rest (meaning all motion is relative to it): the ether.  The first is not a scientific statement because it is not testable. (The second statement was most notably tested in the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment of 1887).


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