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Worldview and Identity
Posted: 22 October 2011 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I find it strange that skeptics don’t seem to like talking about worldview, whereas of course religious fundamentalists, postmodernists and others are always going on about it. Now, by worldview, I mean things like Christianity, libertarianism, socialism, feminism, scientific materialism, and the new age. These worldviews are closely bound up with a person’s identity, and also with a person’s sense of community and friendship. When one encounters evidence threatening to the worldview, it’s much easier to ignore it or dismiss it than it is to leave everything you care about behind.   

The question I’m interested in here is whether skeptics should have a worldview. Skeptics usually respond either by saying that they’re naturalists or by saying that they don’t have a worldview at all. Personally, I think saying there’s nothing outside the natural world is a bit problematic. I can’t help wondering how such people would respond if we did stumble upon some convincing evidence for ghosts or a soul or something. They’ve got so much invested in the naturalistic worldview/identity that they would probably have to dismiss the evidence, attack the research, and so on. The most extreme example of this kind of thing today is where you hear scientists saying we don’t need to bother looking into ESP or near death experiences because we already know these things are impossible. The second option of not having a worldview seems the most intellectually honest one, but it may not be psychologically possible.   

In any case, I always have to laugh when I hear people refer to Michael Shermer as a skeptic and a libertarian! It seems to me that the whole point of being a libertarian is to believe dogmatically that the free market is always right and is the answer to all our problems. What, then, would Shermer do if confronted with evidence showing that in some cases government programs actually work better than the market, or that competitive markets are just not appropriate in certain spheres? Well, he’s a libertarian! He could not accept this. He would say that real capitalism and a truly free market would always do a better job of everything in all circumstances etc etc. So I just don’t see how you could be BOTH a free-market worshipping libertarian AND an open-minded truth seeker who follows the evidence wherever it leads. In fact - and this is the whole point of this post - it’s difficult to see how any worldview could be compatible with free open-minded inquiry.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 06:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I have had all kinds of different worldviews when I was younger and as I kept getting older I decided to study which one was the correct one. However, what I now find is that the more I know, the less inclined I am to judge how the world ought to be.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think being a sceptic implies a naturalist (or rationalist) world-view, at least for most actual ‘sceptics’.  There might be super-sceptics who (claim they) don’t believe anything at all, but I think they must be very rare.  I am sceptical they even exist!

I think that it is true that as one develops (ie gets older) a person does form a world-view (explicitly or implicitly).  World-views are bad in that they can lead people into mental ruts dominated by confirmation bias and so on.  But they are also quite possibly necessary because they act as filters - world-views help us to distinguish between what is worth thinking about and what isn’t (no one has infinite mental capacity or unlimited time to think about everything).

My world-view is such that even if I saw a ghost I still wouldn’t believe in ghosts.  On the other hand if I merely read about a newly discovered sort of neutron star in Scientific American I would believe such neutron stars existed even if I’d never seen one, or even didn’t really understand the article.  I know I shouldn’t admit to such one-sidedness, but I know it’s true about me, and I don’t think I am unique!

I think I am quite lucky that I have the world-view I do.  When I look at the world-view of some people I am appalled by their faulty ‘fact-filters’.  How can anyone’s brain let creation in but keep evolution out?  Well, there are such people, and their world-view makes sure that only facts consistent with that world-view get through, keeping it intact against all comers.  Of course, a creationist would be equally baffled by my ability to deny the obvious, but his view doesn’t count, because I’m right and he’s wrong.  At least I think so.

Being introspective, I have at least recognised my hopeless degree of bias and come to terms with it.  I make some attempt to ameliorate its effects, but I don’t know how much good it does.  I can’t accept theism, or the healing powers of crystals, (etc etc) no matter how much I try (not that I try all that hard!). 

Perhaps I should try harder, but once you get a world-view they are very, very hard to shake, as anyone who has debated with someone with a different world-view will know.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Skeptics usually respond either by saying that they’re naturalists or by saying that they don’t have a worldview at all. Personally, I think saying there’s nothing outside the natural world is a bit problematic.

Not really. If it ACTUALLY exists, and this includes ghosts or gods, and can be domonstrated by the evidence to do so, then it’s just another part of the natural world that’s been identified.

That’s it.

It seems to me that the whole point of being a libertarian is to believe dogmatically that the free market is always right and is the answer to all our problems.

Huh??? You are aquainted with the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, are you not?

What, then, would Shermer do if confronted with evidence showing that in some cases government programs actually work better than the market, or that competitive markets are just not appropriate in certain spheres?

If you would provide him the evidence to support this, I would expect him to change his mind on these issues.

He’s done that sort of thing before.

it’s difficult to see how any worldview could be compatible with free open-minded inquiry.

Why would that be? Everybody has world views. The difference is that skeptics are willing to change theirs by a rationalist/evidence based approach. Mind you, this is not a barrier to being wrong, but it allows you to correct a mistake when you’ve identified it.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It seems that the term, “world-view” would mean the composite of one’s beliefs about society.  Many accept the whole package defined by some authority: political, religious, ethnic, etc.  In addition, if one has a few basic premises on which s/he bases everything (e.g. “sex for any purpose other than procreation in marriage is always a sin” or “being poor is always one’s own fault”) then one will probably have a consistent world-view. 

However, the world and each of it’s vectors or areas of concern are exceedingly complex.  As such, if one hasn’t subjugated his/her mind to some particular belief system, to some extent one will have to think about most of the situations independently.  So, I wouldn’t expect humanists to have a consistent “world-view”.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 07:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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EOC, I like the way you just stipulate that anything that exists must be natural. So whether it’s immortal souls, numbers, logical and mathematical truths or objective values, we can just call of these things ‘natural’ and then there’s no problem. We’re all naturalists now! 

Anyway, my two favourite examples of worldviews are libertarianism and marxism. What does it mean when someone like Shermer self-identifies as a libertarian? It means that he has certain principles and values, and he will stay true to these even if it looks like some of the evidence is pointing the other way. For example, the evidence is overwhelming that welfare state capitalism has worked well over the years in Sweden and Denmark. But hardcore libertarians will never accept this. They can always come up with some other explanations. They’ll say those Swedes are just so smart, and they’ve done well in spite of the welfare state rather than because of it. They’ll say they would have done even better over the years if they’d had dog-eat-dog capitalism with very low taxes and very few health and safety regulations. So what I’m saying is that hardcore libertarians and marxists are not really interested in the evidence. They already know the truth, and they just pick and choose real-world examples when it suits them. Also, the social pressure on these people is extreme. If Shermer were to admit that welfare-state capitalism works really well, then his libertarian buddies would be on his back straight away - “Hey Michael, I thought you were a libertarian!” etc etc.

But please don’t take this as an attack on Shermer. I quite like him and I do believe he’s genuinely interested in the evidence. I guess my point would be that he’s not really a libertarian. I don’t think I was attacking a straw man in my last post. I just want to get clear about what it means to be strongly commited to a worldview/ideology and whether this is compatible with real open-mindedness and an ability to change one’s mind.

I think the point EOC made about holding a worldview loosely is a good one. It’s not possible to have no worldview, but it may be possible to hold a worldview in a kind of provisional way, though I’m a bit skeptical about this. As soon as it becomes a strong part of your identity, then you’re in trouble. We see this all the time with materialism/naturalism. You hear people like Susan Blackmore and Sam Harris trying to prove that they’re tougher and more of a hardcore materialist than other people. It’s not enough to reject Christianity and Islam. To be a real materialist you must also reject free will, consciousness, love, or whatever. Once you get to this point, you’re very unlikely to change your worldview. The mind is what the brain does. End of story. Any evidence suggesting otherwise is just complete rubbish.

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Posted: 22 October 2011 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 07:07 PM

To be a real materialist you must also reject free will, consciousness, love, or whatever.

Then you should also reject music, books, speech, and science (do not confuse the contents of science and the being of science, as practised in discussions, articles and books) itself. All these are dependent on meaning, and meaning is not material.

About your main point: of course both libertarianism and Marxism are completely ideological. If we want a just and rich society, then we should make small steps, see how they work out based on honest observations, correct them etc etc. The problem with ideologies is that their representatives find the ideology more important than humans. Mostly it also turns out that these representatives profit the most of the ideology.

Edit: typo

[ Edited: 23 October 2011 09:55 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 23 October 2011 02:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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IMO, skeptics don’t practice backslapping to make each other feel that they “belong”.  The same way that atheists don’t gather to celebrate the absence of a god.
However, when a respected thinker has a lecture, the hall is usually filled…...with critical thinkers (skeptics), but instead of “hallelujas” after the lecture, one might hear an occasional “I agree” or “I’ll have to think on that”...... cheese

[ Edited: 23 October 2011 02:13 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 23 October 2011 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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EOC, I like the way you just stipulate that anything that exists must be natural.

Not exactly. What I’m saying is that if it ACTUALLY exists, it’s a part of nature. That would by extension, apply to ghosts, souls, etc. IF…IF….IF… they ACTUALLY exist, then they are a part of nature. Supernatural is a meaningless term in this context.

The problem….and this is a big one….in this instance is that there is no testable evidence that any of those things DO exist.

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Posted: 23 October 2011 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Equal Opportunity Curmudgeon - 23 October 2011 09:08 AM

EOC, I like the way you just stipulate that anything that exists must be natural.

Not exactly. What I’m saying is that if it ACTUALLY exists, it’s a part of nature. That would by extension, apply to ghosts, souls, etc. IF…IF….IF… they ACTUALLY exist, then they are a part of nature. Supernatural is a meaningless term in this context.

The problem….and this is a big one….in this instance is that there is no testable evidence that any of those things DO exist.

W are actively searching for the “god particle”.... cheese

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Posted: 23 October 2011 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 05:47 AM

I find it strange that skeptics don’t seem to like talking about worldview, whereas of course religious fundamentalists, postmodernists and others are always going on about it. Now, by worldview, I mean things like Christianity, libertarianism, socialism, feminism, scientific materialism, and the new age. These worldviews are closely bound up with a person’s identity, and also with a person’s sense of community and friendship. When one encounters evidence threatening to the worldview, it’s much easier to ignore it or dismiss it than it is to leave everything you care about behind.   

The question I’m interested in here is whether skeptics should have a worldview. Skeptics usually respond either by saying that they’re naturalists or by saying that they don’t have a worldview at all. Personally, I think saying there’s nothing outside the natural world is a bit problematic. I can’t help wondering how such people would respond if we did stumble upon some convincing evidence for ghosts or a soul or something. They’ve got so much invested in the naturalistic worldview/identity that they would probably have to dismiss the evidence, attack the research, and so on. The most extreme example of this kind of thing today is where you hear scientists saying we don’t need to bother looking into ESP or near death experiences because we already know these things are impossible. The second option of not having a worldview seems the most intellectually honest one, but it may not be psychologically possible.   

In any case, I always have to laugh when I hear people refer to Michael Shermer as a skeptic and a libertarian! It seems to me that the whole point of being a libertarian is to believe dogmatically that the free market is always right and is the answer to all our problems. What, then, would Shermer do if confronted with evidence showing that in some cases government programs actually work better than the market, or that competitive markets are just not appropriate in certain spheres? Well, he’s a libertarian! He could not accept this. He would say that real capitalism and a truly free market would always do a better job of everything in all circumstances etc etc. So I just don’t see how you could be BOTH a free-market worshipping libertarian AND an open-minded truth seeker who follows the evidence wherever it leads. In fact - and this is the whole point of this post - it’s difficult to see how any worldview could be compatible with free open-minded inquiry.

Personally, I’ve not noticed that skeptics are reluctant to talk about worldviews; I don’t see the harm in a skeptic having a worldview at all.  The reality is that people have more then one worldview, and these can clash often and make a person seem bizzare, or stupid.

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Posted: 23 October 2011 06:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 07:07 PM

EOC, I like the way you just stipulate that anything that exists must be natural. So whether it’s immortal souls, numbers, logical and mathematical truths or objective values, we can just call of these things ‘natural’ and then there’s no problem. We’re all naturalists now! 

Anyway, my two favourite examples of worldviews are libertarianism and marxism. What does it mean when someone like Shermer self-identifies as a libertarian? It means that he has certain principles and values, and he will stay true to these even if it looks like some of the evidence is pointing the other way. For example, the evidence is overwhelming that welfare state capitalism has worked well over the years in Sweden and Denmark. But hardcore libertarians will never accept this. They can always come up with some other explanations. They’ll say those Swedes are just so smart, and they’ve done well in spite of the welfare state rather than because of it. They’ll say they would have done even better over the years if they’d had dog-eat-dog capitalism with very low taxes and very few health and safety regulations. So what I’m saying is that hardcore libertarians and marxists are not really interested in the evidence. They already know the truth, and they just pick and choose real-world examples when it suits them. Also, the social pressure on these people is extreme. If Shermer were to admit that welfare-state capitalism works really well, then his libertarian buddies would be on his back straight away - “Hey Michael, I thought you were a libertarian!” etc etc.

But please don’t take this as an attack on Shermer. I quite like him and I do believe he’s genuinely interested in the evidence. I guess my point would be that he’s not really a libertarian. I don’t think I was attacking a straw man in my last post. I just want to get clear about what it means to be strongly commited to a worldview/ideology and whether this is compatible with real open-mindedness and an ability to change one’s mind.

I think the point EOC made about holding a worldview loosely is a good one. It’s not possible to have no worldview, but it may be possible to hold a worldview in a kind of provisional way, though I’m a bit skeptical about this. As soon as it becomes a strong part of your identity, then you’re in trouble. We see this all the time with materialism/naturalism. You hear people like Susan Blackmore and Sam Harris trying to prove that they’re tougher and more of a hardcore materialist than other people. It’s not enough to reject Christianity and Islam. To be a real materialist you must also reject free will, consciousness, love, or whatever. Once you get to this point, you’re very unlikely to change your worldview. The mind is what the brain does. End of story. Any evidence suggesting otherwise is just complete rubbish.

  The examples of Blackmore, and Harris are overkill IMO, it could be that strong materialism “comes natural” to them and the current scientific evidence simply points in that direction also; if we find evidence that consciousness survives the death of the body, ESP is real, and so forth then they would probably be willing to adjust their “worldviews”.  Remember Susan Blackmore was a heavy believer in woo when she was younger, and as she studied the hard sciences more, she accepted that she was wrong.

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Posted: 23 October 2011 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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W are actively searching for the “god particle”....

As Astro the dog would say: Rotsa ruck!!!

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Posted: 24 October 2011 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I first heard the term “world view” many many years ago in a Sunday School class. The title of a series of lessons was something like, “Developing a Biblical World View.” Of course that meant learning to think “correctly” about any number of issues which actually the Bible said very little about, such as abortion, prayer in schools, gay rights, etc.

So now that I am a free thinker, one of the most exciting aspects of my new life is getting to work out my own world view. I do believe that we all have a world view, whether we realize it or not. Some folks never think about it; others obsess over it. Some peoples’ are set in stone and never change; others twist in the wind.

I intend to actively develop mine. I am trying to use it as a means of self-reflection and course correction. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t have to change my views on something. When I do change, it is because I have learned some new piece of information that informs the change.

Part of the fun of being a free thinker is we all get to “invent” ourselves. How cool is that.

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Posted: 24 October 2011 02:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dom1978 - 22 October 2011 07:07 PM

EOC, I like the way you just stipulate that anything that exists must be natural. So whether it’s immortal souls, numbers, logical and mathematical truths or objective values, we can just call of these things ‘natural’ and then there’s no problem. We’re all naturalists now!

Science is based on empirical evidence. All empirical evidence is physical by definition. So if there is physical evidence of ghosts, the ghosts must be physical, so they could no longer really be considered supernatural. Anything supernatural cannot be examined by science. If it can be, it is actually natural.

If there is evidence of ESP, but without a theory to explain it, then the default position in science is to assume there is a physical explanation and search for it (because the alternative is to assume there is a supernatural explanation and cease all inquiry, which is not exactly the best way to gain knowledge about the world wink )

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Posted: 24 October 2011 02:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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dom:

Science is based on empirical evidence. All empirical evidence is physical by definition

That is what makes studing societies; cultures and sbu-cultures so difficult, it is difficult if not impossible to put numbers to cultural phenomomon.

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