The Role of World Views in Human Psychology (Introduction by Paul Von Ward to the following article in the October, 2005 AHP Perspective.)
David Brooks, recently in the New York Times, called attention to the fact that "while global economies are converging, cultures are diverging, and widening cultures differences are leading us into a period of conflict, inequality and segmentation". In this phenomenon that I have called "increasing fragmentation of species consciousness" some traditional self-segregating cultures become stronger and newly self-identified communities create separate enclaves.
It is most obvious in the virulent religious antagonisms fueling 21st-century terrorism and the equally powerful, although presently less violent, divergences in American society. Wealthy elites and sectarian cults have gone beyond nonphysical barriers to separate themselves from the "unwashed" and the "unsaved." They build walled neighborhoods and gated communities to insure they do not have to relate to those who are different. For instance, the founder of Domino's Pizza has under construction an entire city in Florida where the university, businesses, and homes will be reserved only for conservative Catholics.
Humanistic psychologists should be on the forefront of research into the existential basis of this phenomenon. Something more than superficial lifestyle choices are at work here. The species appears to be engaged in a profound "re-tribalization" process, at a time when the weapons for defending one's culture and territory far exceed the destructive power of clubs and rocks. The inability of such a fragmented species to reach consensus may threaten its very survival.
At the Association for Humanistic Psychology (AHP) June 2005 meeting at the California State University - Northridge (CSUN), several presenters gave talks that either explicitly or implicitly dealt with the role of world views with regard to individual development or societal trends. While no one attempted to give a "one-serves-all" definition of world view, a number of participants talked about the need for a better understanding of the role of personal world views in shaping human emotional and behavioral responses to events or issues.
The notion of something that might be studied and/or used in education, therapy and even broader social interventions under the rubric world view is sort of like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography: "You know it when you see it." Regardless of its currently nebulous state, it seems to me that CSUN exchange may be a step toward dealing with the profound breakdown of comity now threatening modern society. At its most fundamental level, a person's world view is why the answer to the second question below is No.
Aren't you curious why we don't agree on certain issues? If two people have the same facts about an issue, then - if they both are logical - would they not draw the same conclusions?
These are actual questions raised by a conservative writer with whom I had an email exchange on the causes and possible remedies for terrorism. It is clear that despite an external reality that a Martian observer might see, when two humans perceive it, they are very likely to do so through two different - and even mutually exclusive - a priori sets of assumptions or beliefs about the nature of reality and the human role in it. In other words, for all perceptual, emotional, and behavioral purposes, they live in two different realities. The result is a species dissociation, where groups are perpetually at odds with one another.
For this discussion, let's stipulate that culturally created world views lie at the roots of Islamic rejection of modern European and American culture, and that this Western culture is also based in its own culturally created world views. That both are hyper-aggressive fantasies of the way the natural world really works is suggested by science and secular historical research. In this issue we attempt to understand why and how such abstract social constructs have come to substitute for a tested reality where evidence provides a basis for consensus.
For both the person-centered psychologist and anyone who wants to understand the seemingly immutable conflicts that divide Homo sapiens into competing and even warring camps, certain steps may be very helpful. First is to define in some operational and communicable way what we mean by world views. Second, we need ways to identify or measure the differences among them. Thirdly, we need to be able to predict the implications of their differences.
For a start, world views may have also been called paradigms, cosmologies, religions, core beliefs, mind sets, theories-of-everything, memes, and others by various writers. Such potential synonyms will be defined as subsets of world view in order to establish a working definition for purposes of this issue. In this issue world view will be considered to comprise the answers anyone would give when pressed to answer the fundamental existential questions of life.
The renowned Russian-born, Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin developed in the 1930's a taxonomy of Sensate, Ideational, and Idealistic cultures whose central belief systems could be called world views in the present context. He wrote that all of these systems are logically correct, but that each starts with different major premises. Once each system accepts its major premises, all of its conclusions and behaviors are logically valid and predictable. Each has its own mentality, its own system of truth and knowledge, its own philosophy and Weltanschauung (a comprehensive conception of the world). This suggests, from another era, what we mean by world view for purposes of this issue.
In this discussion we posit that the "major premises" referred to by Sorokin are the answers any self-defined cultural group will give to existential questions like: Where did humans come from? What is our purpose in the universe? What lies beyond life? In addition, the premises or assumptions making up a world view would include the answers given to other questions like: What is the nature of the origin or source of the universe? What principles govern natural and human events? How much and in what ways do humans control their own destiny? What is the human relationship to other species and natural phenomena? What are our ways of knowing and which are most valid?
To reach professional consensus about this concept, to develop tools that enable us to identify and measure differences in world views, and to validate their potential for predictions of behavior would require a commitment to a long-term effort. Whether that happens depends on the perception of the value of such an exercise by a number of scholars and practitioners, and the commitment of time and energy to its success.
However, to start, this issue brings together several examples of world-view-like taxonomies and examines how they might help us better understand the role of such belief systems in human psychology. They include Cuf Ferguson's "levels of consciousness," Larry Stevens' "locations of comprehension," Maureen O'Hara's use of a progressive-world view model of social change, Ilham Al-Sarraf's bi-cultural perspective, and my "four modes of consciousness" model.
From these few samples, it should be possible to begin to frame a dialogue about the importance of such a concept and tool for tackling both personal and societal issues in a different manner. It could also serve as a self-learning tool as individuals begin to recognize and make explicit their own unspoken beliefs. It could "out" the unconscious role they play in personal choices. Personal and group uses of world view models might become an aid to self-directed change.
The questions raised in this issue are offered to the AHP community (and others who might be interested) for consideration and individual or collective action. One possibility might be a professional or annual meeting convened around this topic. Another might be a series of response articles to continue exploration of this perspective and it relevance to work and role in society.
FOUR MODES OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Paul Von Ward for the Association for Humanistic Psychology's Perspective Magazine in October, 2005
Although it may be the most powerful force in the universe, consciousness is the most amorphous and intangible aspect of human existence. We have a vivid dream that awakens us, thrilling or threatening, but we change position and it eludes us like a puff of cloud. An image or concept grabs our attention, but a friend telephones and we can't recall it. Sometimes we just "know" something, but a few rational thoughts reveal it has no substance or practically.
How do humans corral and harness such a wild and tempestuous force, making it respond to their daily need for interaction with nature and one another? We learn some basic assumptions that help us make sense of our reality. We commit them to deep memory banks and act on them without thinking. They move from our active or yang aspect of consciousness (thinking) to our passive or yin aspect of consciousness (knowing). They become the "truths" that impose a personal order on the data coming through our physical and subtle senses.
These beliefs—considered truths—comprise our world views and answer most questions in life. These worldviews serve as the individual's lens for interpreting oneself, others, and external events. The more basic worldviews deal with the most fundamental of questions: What are the design and the purpose of nature? This teleological question requires our assumptions of final causes. Assumptions like the following determine why we think and behave as we do:
"Yahweh created me. Mind rules. God/Allah decides all. Nature is neutral. Allah/God is just."
At this level of yin consciousness, humans behavior is guided by instinctual survival impulses and by such culturally conditioned assumptions about the nature of nature. These assumptions are for the most part implicit, outside of ordinary awareness. It requires great effort for people to even give expression to them. For most, these assumptions are simply considered to be The Truth. Each individual and his or her cultural cohorts feel no need to question them.
Changing Our Truths. Because these assumptions derive from cultural practices and beliefs, they can be mutable as a result of experience or new learning. We can change these mindsets through a yang re-thinking of specific beliefs. The active aspect of consciousness tests and considers alternatives (based on new evidence) to the ingrained world view. However, such change is not easy and it requires arduous mental and emotional transformations by the individual.
The first step is the most simple, yet the most difficult: Recognition that my perception of reality is based on assumptions that may be true. The key word is may. If they may be true, they also may not be true. The second step requires my identification of the central assumptions I hold. This can be done in thought experiments, by asking when I observe an action or event, "What causes can I imagine that could result in this outcome?" And then I ask, "Which of these causes do I believe is the most likely to be correct?" The next step requires that I look for evidence that supports my chosen assumption over alternatives.
When I cannot find evidence that a nonbeliever will agree tends to support my assumption, I must conclude that I am taking it on faith. It is this "taking on faith of one's own or one's group's assumptions" that leads to polytheism. In terms of religion and spirituality, the United States of America is a polytheistic nation. This means that to the extent that any group believes its concept of "god", by whatever name, and its "god's" word (as interpreted by the group) is The Truth, it sets itself apart from all others. When many groups do this, their polytheism divides a society or the world into irreconcilable camps. (It is no wonder that the newest of the three great supernatural religions sees "polytheists on the path to Hell.")
Because these beliefs are taken on faith, based in some priest/rabbi/imam's inspirations (which are infinite in number), over time the result is deeper and deeper fragmentation of a society's consciousness. More and more people come to inhabit diverging realities and increase the potential for political and physical conflicts. To understand the depth and complexity of this maelstrom of world views, we must look deeper than the labels believers attach to themselves. Publicly they may use the same words, when in reality they worship vastly different "gods."
Scientific theories and philosophical schools based on tentative evidence add their own "realities." To pierce the facade of superficial labels and symbols, I have constructed a self-assessment tool to differentiate among groups at a teleological level regardless of their nominal religious or spiritual orientation.
Aspects and Modes of Human Consciounsess. Above I described the natural yin (knowing) and yang (thinking) aspects of human consciousness. We may call the passive form "assuming" and the active form "thinking," or respectively, "perceiving" and "projecting." It is through the explicit yang aspect that we can both identify the elements that make up a person's world view, and observe how it changes. We can participate in the world-view change process with others.
World views may be associated with various modes depending on which type and level of assumptions are included. I have chosen in this article to deal with what I believe are teleological world views, or human assumptions that deal with the character and functions of human nature and the universe. In four decades of cross-cultural work on personal, scientific, political, and religious issues as a diplomat, educator, and psychologist, I have dealt with different world views in 100 countries. Identifying and understanding their various assumptions about the nature of reality has been essential to cross-cultural communication and cooperation. (My work involved 15 years as U.S. diplomat, 15 years as CEO of Delphi International, and 10 years as international activist for world peace.)
From this experience, I have have developed a tool that I believe can transcend language and cultural barriers. It can place people into categories on the basis of fundamental beliefs that cut across current religious, educational, and social divides. I have chosen to use four descriptive terms for different modes of thinking that are somewhat self-evident: Material, Supernatural, Mystical, and Natural. (The modes of consciousness they suggest can be understood as actually "living in different worlds" or "different states of reality." As world views they are just that important for understanding one's perceptions and behavior.)
The simple instrument comprises 32 questions with four possible answers to each. (Based on a forced-choice principle, the response closest to the person's own belief must be selected even if it doesn't exactly represent that person's view.) Each of the responses falls into one of the four modes labeled above and described below. The scoring system clusters responses into quadrants.
The following sample question/answer sets illustrate the concept:
17. What is the relationship between God/Allah and Nature? A. God personally rules nature. B. God exists in nature. C. Nature and God are one. D. Nature has no God.
27. The timing of my physical death: A. Is the choice of one's soul. B. Is in God's plan for my life. C. May involve various dimensions. D. Comes from natural or human causes.
29. Truth is best learned through: A. Scientific experimentation. B. Meditation and inner channels. C. Comparing different ways of knowing. D. Revelations from God or his angels.
Most of us have some of all four modes of consciousness or world views. The scoring system is designed to profile the relative strengths of the respective modes (basic paradigms that influence a person's thoughts and actions) in terms of their importance to a person. Each mode reflects a different approach.
I: PHYSICAL: Focuses on a material reality and depends on the five senses and human technology to validate one's beliefs. Subordinates inner experience.
II: SUPERNATURAL: Assumes a separate, divine realm from which a god rules daily events. Favors revelations from accepted translators of the truth.
III: MYSTICAL: Believes unseen and spiritual energies control events. Sees humans as spirits with the ability to directly control their reality through belief.
IV: NATURAL: Accepts various ways of gaining knowledge, but subjects them to consensual validation by non-believers. Seeks connections among all events.
The questionnaire rests on the hypothesis that it covers the central basic areas of beliefs that shape an individual's emotions and physical reactions to most categories of life experiences. With its comprehensive focus on the thinking (yang) level of consciousness, the instrument allows one to infer the underlying (yin) world views. These world views can be correlated with individual life-style categories and group norms. Consequently, data about world views can be used to predict choices that may lead to family, community, political, and economic comity or discord.
This concept and instrument is now in the pilot-study phase of development. Interested parties can participate in this pilot phase, and help shape its outcome by contacting the author at the email address shown below. On-line submission of answers and score is welcome on the website below. Feedback on the article, concept, and the instrument is welcome in any form.
(Paul Von Ward, an interdisciplinary cosmologist and independent scholar, is the author of Gods, Genes, & Consciousness, Our Solarian Legacy, and The Soul Genome: Science and Reincarnation, among other books and articles. His website is www.vonward.com and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)