Missing Things

20 May 2010

Worldbuilding Worldview

I like to write stuff.

Actually, strictly speaking, I don't like the actual act of putting words on paper so much as I like coming up with the things that can be turned into words on paper, but that's part of the reason I got this blog in the first place.

Anyway, in either case, this is probably not a huge surprise.

What I was doing recently, while I was writing - or, as the case may be, not writing - that's a well-worn joke by now, I'm sure - was designing a universe. Not from scratch, that's rather beyond me, but starting with our universe and... tweaking things about it. Adding new and interesting particle sets that act in unusual ways, making gravitational fields act perpendicularly to the movement of electrical charges, that sort of thing. But, since none of these worlds are particularly interesting without people in them, I get to worldbuild the people too - and, even more interestingly, how they think. This means some primitive sociology, since to understand how my fictional societies think I need to figure out how normal people think first. Tricky.

The modern world operates on what might simplistically be termed the scientific method - we try different approaches and use the ones that seem to work. Why is that, exactly? Well... we've tried it before, and it seemed to work, so we keep using it.

That's very intuitive, yes?

That's when it occurred to me that this is rather similar to the charge thrown at various religions by ardent scientific humanists - you know the one, that "you only believe that book because it tells you to!" This, in turn, led me to wonder what other kinds of worldviews I can self-justify in this way. Here's my list...

(*NOTE: This is a thinking exercise more than anything else, so it's okay if I'm reductive to absurd lengths.)

- Scientific: Try everything and keep what works. We've done this before, and it seems to work.
- Post-modern: We took a poll among everybody, and we all agreed that we're mostly sane and have an accurate perception of reality. So if we ask each other, we've got a good chance of getting the right answer.
- Separatist: No need to bring in other people. I'M more usually right than wrong. Right? Right.
- Authoritarian: This guy here is really smart/enlightened/powerful/inspired, and he's right most of the time, which indicates a strong connection with the truth. So when he says we can trust him, it makes sense to believe him.
- Intuitive: My very existence can be described as "I am true". I have this in common with everything else that's true, a connection I should notice. The things I know best are those which are most familiar to me, so the things that feel most familiar are most likely to be true - actual familiarity as well as gut instincts, intuitions, and feelings of deja vu. It gets trickier if things don't seem familiar, so I should keep finding more information until it does connect with something familiar.
- Gnostic: Everything I encounter, true or false, has in common that I have encountered it, and is therefore connected to everything else I've encountered. By exploring this inner existence and finding what is true about myself, and following the connections from myself to the world, I can determine truths about the world. Deep inside, you know I'm right.

What this exercise is demonstrating to me, more than anything else, is the importance of paying attention, not to where your theory is right, but to where it is wrong. You can prove anything you like; but you can't disprove the truth, and if you succeed you obviously did something wrong.

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