Submitted by Francis Heylighen on Wed, 08/13/2008 - 14:03
What is a worldview?
For centuries, people have been wondering about their existence and place in the universe. These fundamental questions can be classified in six categories, each defining a particular philosophical domain:
1. What exists? What is reality?
Ontology: defining the constituents of reality
2. Why is the world the way it is? Where do we come from?
Metaphysics: determining the origins or ultimate causes
3. Where are we going to? Will the world come to an end?
Futurology: forecasting the future
4. What is good and what is evil? What should we strive for?
Axiology: a system of goals, values, and ethics
5. How should we act? How can we tackle our problems?
Praxeology: a method for practical action
6. What is true and what is false? How can we know?
Epistemology: a theory of knowledge
The answers to all these questions together determine a worldview, i.e. a comprehensive philosophical system, a coherent vision of the whole. A worldview gives meaning to our life, and helps us to understand the world around us.
A coherent worldview is particularly important in the current era of accelerating scientific, cultural and social developments, in which all the old certainties are put into question. The confusion and fragmentation associated with this often lead to pessimism and uncertainty, and the need for psychological guidance in the form of a clear and reliable system of thought.
Unfortunately such a framework is all too often found in fundamentalist ideologies, or in irrational beliefs and superstitions. Science should be our weapon in the fight against irrationality and fundamentalism. Unfortunately, contemporary science seems to contribute to the confusion by the avalanche of often contradictory observations and theories that it overloads us with. That is why we need to develop a coherent, new worldview that is solidly rooted in the most advanced scientific concepts and observations.
The ECCO worldview
Our ECCO philosophy tries to show how the different scientific and philosophical insights can be integrated in a coherent framework. This framework is based on the notion of evolution as a spontaneous force or drive for the self-organization of increasingly complex and intelligent systems. This evolution leads from particles to atoms, molecules, cells, organisms, humans, and societies to the emerging "global brain".
Let us summarize this philosophy by the way its answers the fundamental questions:
the most fundamental components of reality are actions and agents, i.e. elementary processes and relations, not independent, static pieces of matter. Out of their interactions, organization emerges. As these systems become more complex and adaptive, they start to exhibit cognition or intelligence, i.e. the ability to make informed choices. The fundamental concepts in our ontology are further defined in the Glossary of ECCO Concepts.
if we go back in time, towards the origin of the universe, systems and agents become ever simpler, until they lose any form of complexity or organization. The organization we see around us now can be explained by the processes of blind variation, that has been producing random combinations of agents and actions, and natural selection, that has retained only those combinations that are "fit", i.e. adapted internally to each other, and externally to their encompassing environment. Since natural selection or self-organization is a spontaneous, automatic process, there is no need to postulate external or supernatural causes or forces to explain the origin of the phenomena we see around us.
this process of on-going complexification and adaptation can be extrapolated towards the future. This allows us to predict that in the medium term conflict and friction within human society will diminish, cooperation will expand to the planetary level, well-being will increase, individuals will become ever more integrated with the socio-technological systems that surround them, while individual and collective intelligence will spectacularly augment. In the longer term, this increase in cooperation and evolvability is likely to expand beyond the planet into the universe. However, since evolution is a process of trial-and-error that is not accurately predictable, we should be ready for various unexpected problems and setbacks along the road.
the inner drive or implicit value governing all life is fitness, i.e. survival, growth and development. In the present human situation, this fundamental value can be translated as a universal and sustainable quality-of-life, well-being or happiness. Evolutionary, psychological, and cybernetic theories allow us to derive a number of more concrete values from this overarching value, i.e. properties that are necessary for long-term well-being. These include openness, diversity, intelligence, knowledge, cooperation, freedom, personal control, health, and a coherent worldview. In the longer term, fitness implies increasing adaptiveness and evolvability beyond human society as we know it. Actions that promote these values are intrinsically good, actions that suppress them are bad.
to maximally achieve these values in real life, we will need to overcome a variety of problems and obstacles. Cognitive science, cybernetics, and complex systems science suggest various tools and strategies to tackle complex problems, and to stimulate and steer self-organization so as to be as efficient as possible. These methods include feedback control, anticipation, hierarchical decomposition, heuristic search, stigmergic coordination, and memetic engineering. At the level of society, these methods define a strategy for effective governance, for the maximization of collective intelligence, and the minimization of friction and conflicts.
in order to solve problems, we need adequate knowledge. Knowledge is not an objective reflection of reality, though, but a simple model that makes useful predictions. Different problems may require different models of the same reality, without any one being the "true" representation. However, models that make more wide-ranging and accurate predictions are intrinsically better. Cognitive science, cybernetics, and neuroscience help us to understand how the brain learns from experience and makes predictions via the self-organization of neural patterns, and the feedback between perception and conception, observation and theory. Similar mechanisms may be implemented as computer algorithms to extract new knowledge from unstructured data, and thus discover better concepts and theories.