World Views and Cosmic Views

Two items today by Adam Lee.

OnlySky, Adam Lee, 17 Jul 2022: How to tell if you’re in a bubble

OnlySky, Adam Lee, 19 July 2022: My humanism comes from the stars

The first item is only partly what the title implies; it’s about how to tell if your worldview makes sense or not. The essay begins:

The world is deluded and blinded — and we’re the only ones who realize it.

Churches, cults, political factions, corporations all conspire to keep people cut off from the truth. Since we’re the enlightened rational ones, we can look down and see the poor suckers who’ve fallen for it. They’re being drip-fed with lies and propaganda, trapped in a bubble of misinformation constructed by those who benefit from keeping them ignorant.

It’s tempting to pity them… except that they’re pointing back at us and pitying us for the same reason. In their eyes, they’re the critical thinkers and we’re the sheep.

How do we break this symmetry? How do we know who’s deceived and who’s truly seeing reality as it is?

It’s about “the marks of a good worldview,” a set of criteria to assess whether your worldview makes sense or not. This is all very basic stuff, but I suspect the majority of people on the planet would disagree on one or more of these points. (After all: religion. Which the article does not mention explicitly.)

First, a truthful and objective worldview should contain no plot holes, meaning logical leaps, explanatory gaps, internal contradictions, or question-begging assumptions deployed to paper over problems. It should be grounded in simple, defensible principles, not complex suppositions about what could or might be so. While it doesn’t have to account for every fact in the universe, it should be a seamless weave of cause and effect, organizing the facts it does explain in a consistent way.

As part of this, a good worldview should also do justice to the complexity of human motivation. It should allow for the possibility of people often being stubborn and irrational while still recognizing that everyone acts in (what they perceive to be) their own self-interest. It should allow for people to be malicious while recognizing that no one becomes a cackling villain for no reason at all. And it shouldn’t claim that all virtue resides within the bounds of one belief system or that all evil is to be found without.

I’ll briefly summarize the others, lest I blockquote the entire article.

Second: Always be able to answer the question “How do you know that?

And wherever possible, those sources should be rigorous tests and controlled experiments designed to eliminate bias—not anecdotes from strangers with unknown motivations.

In counterpoint, a good worldview should not assert that some beliefs come from mystical revelation that can never be replicated or explained to the uninitiated, and have to be taken on faith. This claim can (and does!) justify literally any belief, including beliefs that directly contradict each other, so it’s useless to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Naturally, the religious would disagree, but they’ve never been able to explain why their source of faith is true, unlike all the others.

Corollary: A good worldview should be falsifiable. What evidence would convince you to change your mind? If nothing — you’re trapped in a bubble.

Moving on: A good worldview encourages questioning (if leaders of your tribe discourage you from asking questions or listening to the “other side,” you’re in a bubble). A good worldview is fruitful: it yields new knowledge, rather than repeats founding dogmas. And last but not least, a good worldview is beneficial: it should make life better for those who follow it.


Second item:

OnlySky, Adam Lee, 19 July 2022: My humanism comes from the stars

The second item here is presumably inspired by the James Webb telescope photos. The article begins with some background about that, and Lee’s reactions to the first images.

Thanks to the scientists and engineers who built this telescope, we have a deeper vision than ever before. What does it show us about ourselves?

Some philosophers would argue that science is one thing and morality another, and the gap between them can’t be bridged. They’d insist that no observation of the universe, however precise, can tell us anything about how we should treat each other.

I disagree. A true understanding of our place in the universe doesn’t just confer scientific insight. It’s the basis for a profound moral vision.

He goes on in the mode of Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.” (I suppose the basis for my own personal philosophy stemmed from looking at the stars through a small telescope when I was in 6th grade, and reading books by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and… Carl Sagan.) About the vastness of the universe.

For a humanist, this knowledge is a healthy tonic. It dispels the arrogant belief that we’re the most special and important beings ever to exist. It shatters the conceit that we inhabit a universe made just for us, that it was created when we were created and it will die when we die. It puts our great deeds, our achievements and our sins, into their true context.

He finishes,

The cosmic vision is humility and greatness combined in one. It shows us how ultimately insignificant we are, but by our mere ability to comprehend the whole of space and time, it elevates us. We’re not lost or bewildered amid this chaos. We know where and when we belong, where we came from and why we exist. What other collection of atoms can say the same?

I suppose it’s *possible* to believe that humanity has always been the center of God’s attention, and the entire enormous mindbogglingly large cosmos we’ve been able to detect over the past century is just evidence of God’s profligacy. After all, he’s infinite and has nothing else to do, right? (Except decide which prayers from the faithful to answer, or not.) I must assume that’s how the religious *do* think of these cosmological revelations. But this presumption has always struck me as self-centered, blinkered, even childish. “It’s all about me.”


Adam Lee is a writer who’s been around on OnlySky and before that Patheos for many years. I read his book Daylight Atheism (the title of his blog on Patheos), and reviewed it here in 2014. He had a great many background essays at his subsite at Patheos, and they all seem to have disappeared, alas.

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