World views

by Marcus Loane

Spiral Galaxy

A world view is how you think everything is. It is a conceptual framework that all your knowledge should fit into. It includes the origins of the universe and ourselves and may include belief in gods or a supernatural realm. The word "world" in this context means everything, not just the earth. Everyone has a world view even if they do not realise it. Most people assume that the way they think the world (everything) is, is the way it really is. That is so obvious to them that they never question it. However many people differ in the world views that they hold. There are major differences in the world views of opposing religious traditions. There can be major differences between a scientific world view and a supernatural world view.

Getting it right

The more you know and the more scientific your thinking processes, the more accurate your world view is likely to be. That statement is based on history. Science has a good track record simply because it insists on testing claims. Faith and philosophy have a poor track record. That is because they consider testing claims as unnecessary. We only have a limited life time so there will always be a compromise between depth and breadth of knowledge acquired. I would start with breadth and then work on the depth later. That way the basic framework is in place for everything else to slot into.

What's outside the goldfish bowl?

I would describe my world view as scientific naturalism, (also known as physicalism). There is only Nature. There might be something outside our universe but unless it has some effect on the universe which we can observe, noone can reasonably claim that it exists. A scientific world view is a work in progress. It is always subject to change as more data and more accurate theories become available. Contrast that with a religious world view which is often dogmatic and invested with certainty. A realistic world view should not be certain. It should be the most probable given the current state of knowledge. Most scientific world views are in broad agreement across cultural and religious divides. There is not one set of scientific laws for Muslims and another for Hindus. We all inhabit the same universe so we are able to repeat experiments in Egypt, India, England or Mars and get the same results. Anyone can, in principle, repeat scientific experiments so a consensus can be reached. The same cannot be said of faith based world views. There is no way to settle disputes over beliefs based on faith and in extreme cases this leads to opposing factions killing each other.

Warped spacetime at black hole

Everything in the universe is ultimately derived from physics. Physics explains the formation of the universe. Physics also explains the behaviour of particles and molecules, so chemistry is derived from physics and biology (and hence us) is derived from chemistry. Physics is the foundation that other fields are built on. The pillars of physics are General Relativity for describing the very large (eg. galaxies) and Quantum Theory for describing the very small (eg. atoms). These two theories may not be the whole story as they lead to difficulties when attempts are made to combine them. Why does one set of laws take over from another when we go below a certain size? The theories could be approximations of some underlying principles which are not yet known. However this does not mean the theories are of no use. General Relativity has been used in creating nuclear power and Quantum Theory has been used in the creation of silicon chips, fueling the computer revolution. Both theories have been confirmed to ridiculous degrees of accuracy yet we know they may not be the whole story. The theory (yet to be devised) that will solve this riddle has been named the Theory Of Everything.

A flexible, probabilistic world view is the most realistic and useful world view to cultivate. Consistency is also very important. A world view should have the minimum contradictions possible. A world view is something that should be tweaked and refined and occasionally dramatically overhauled.

This process can be very rewarding. In fact, for some, acquiring knowledge is what gives life meaning.

Some of the subjects I have incorporated into my world view:

Psychology and neuroscience
World religions - past and present
Computer science!

The world world view

We all have our personal world views. The collective mind of humanity and its artefacts (books, databases) contains more knowledge than any one individual. This communal mind could some day contain a consensus and this could be called the world world view. The only process with a track record for producing consensus across religious and cultural divides is the scientific method. The world world view, if it is ever achieved will be through science and the proliferation of the scientific method into more subjects. An examination of the history of science shows this is by no means a far fetched idea. Many subjects used to be the domain of philosophy but have now become scientific disciplines. Consciousness, human behaviour and the workings of the brain used to be regarded as philosophical subjects. They are now a part of science and what we find may not be pleasing to some with preconceived ideas about the way things should be.

The unification of knowledge

The physics to chemistry to biology progression can be extended. See below. I have put physics at the bottom. In the hierarchy there is the potential for a unifying framework which encompasses most of what we know and value. Phenomena at one level should be explicable in terms of the subjects below them from which they are derived. *

Culture: arts, science, religions, political systems...

Psychology & Sociology


B i o l o g y



The unification of knowledge is not complete. However there is already blurring of the boundaries between each level. We have biochemistry and molecular biology linking chemistry and biology for example. The biggest gaps are at the higher levels. Neuroscience is in its infancy. Advances in computer science in artificial intelligence and neural networks have had knock on effects in neuroscience - an alliance that makes some very uncomfortable. There has been and there will continue to be considerable resistance to attempts to explain human behaviour as the result of purely mechanistic processes. This resistance is similar to the resistance to the Copernican revolution and to Darwinism. Humanity gets one demotion after another. There is irony in the idea that neuroscience and biology may be able to explain precisely why there is resistance to the explanations they provide.

Marcus Loane

* The diagram shows a very human-centred and life-centred hierarchy. There are alternatives with perhaps ecosystems or planets at the top. Alternative hierarchies can co-exist. The main point is the concept of levels.