February 17, 2006
Reflections on Worldviews
I've heard a lot about "worldviews" in my short life (at
least, I think I've heard a lot about worldviews). They
were a popular buzzword in my high school experience. It was very
important to have a right worldview, they were the fundamental
reason anybody did anything.
The best simile I ever heard for a worldview was a pair of
glasses. They shape how you see the world. This is very true. I
guess what this entry is about is my reflections on exactly what
that means ... or, at least, what I'm coming to
understand it to mean.
I guess I would define a worldview as "that which determines
the stories you believe in." What I've noticed as I've run across
people who believed different things than I do is that they have
a truly different view of the world. It shows up most distinctly,
for me, in a person's view of history. I think that a person's
response to the question "tell me the story of the United States'
war in Vietnam" would allow me to make very shrewd guesses as to
what they believed in a lot of other areas (as long as they knew
what I was talking about). Same for similar topics like the Civil
War, or the history of Christianity, or the story of the
Americas. Liberals and conservatives (as we use those terms today
in the States) have extremely different answers to those
questions (well, maybe not about the Civil War). We have a widely
divergent view of history. What was the primary motivating force
in American history? What were the most dearly cherished ideals
of the Founding Fathers?
I suppose this observation really is terribly obvious to
anyone. But it still interests me. The thing that interests me is
that a person's worldview determines the stories they tell. How
they tell the story of Christianity depends on what they believe
about it. I guess the thing that so intrigues me is the way that
all sides of a issue start with (more or less) the same facts.
They have the same data points.
The schoolboy's version of the scientific method describes the
first step as noting the facts, and the formulating a hypothesis
to explain the facts, and then coming up with things the
hypothesis predicts and seeing if they come true or not. It seems
to me that a modified version is how we come by our worldviews
... people tell us their stories of "how the world works." The
first stories we're told have a huge impact on what we believe
... any story told afterwards has to either fit with or overcome
the first story. As we go through life, we accumulate experience
... data points. Say a boy is told his first stories by a
libertarian who despises the welfare system. As he grows up, he
accumulates experience points (hopefully) and actually might get
to know someone on welfare. That's a point on the graph of life
that our stories are supposed to predict. A libertarian's
predictive model describes what this person on welfare
ought to be like. And, of course, real life will differ
a bit. It always does. This boy will have to find a way to fit
his experience to the predictive model ... the story he
was told. He may find a way to do so without modifying the model.
He may modify it a bit.
I guess the thing that fascinates me is the way a person's
worldview shapes what one sees. What one believes. When one is
told the story of the Vietnam War by a hard-core conservative
veteran who describes it as a noble enterprise destroyed by pansy
peaceniks, that story may cause friction with the predictive
model one already has. If one grew up only hearing stories about
how everything the United States has ever done ... at war, anyway
... has been unremittingly evil, this story from the veteran will
cause problems. The problem can be remedied by classifying the
veteran as a "right-wing kook," as deluded, or in a number of
other ways that cause no significant damage to the worldview.
And, of course, the vice versa case is true as well.
But a worldview isn't immune to challenges from the real world
of data points and stories. The more stories and data points that
need explaining away, the weaker a worldview may become. In time,
all sane people moderate their worldviews, coming to see the
awful truth that "all men do what is right in their own eyes,"
coming to doubt the infallibility of one's own story and
The symbiotic relationship between a worldview and the real
world is fascinating. A worldview shapes how you see the world,
because it predicts certain things. A person has a way of making
the data fit the model, of fitting data points to predictions.
How delicate and twisty the road between massaging the data and
twisting it! What a razor edge life often is, as we struggle to
make sense of the world around us!
Posted by Leatherwood at 02:29 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings
February 05, 2006
I've had a powerful imagination for as long as I can remember.
Even when I was small, I would make up stories for myself from
the books that I read ... like most children I suppose. I
remember that when I was very young, before my family moved from
Gallup to Phoenix that my imagination frightened me. You see, for
some reason words had become associated with mental pictures
— whenever someone would say certain words or phrases,
pictures would flash through my mind. I feared this because I
couldn't help it and didn't know how to stop the flashing
pictures, and they hampered my ability to function. It was hard
to talk or listen to people when their words (and one's own)
provoke such sharp breaks. For some reason, moving cured that
particular problem and I've never struggled with it again.
But my imagination grew in power. Third grade was my most
miserable (and unusual) year of school ever. I was eight years
old and it was the last year before we moved to Mongolia. I once
thought that third grade was the first time I discovered books;
my parents firmly disabused me of this notion, pointing out that
I was a voracious reader from long before that. I think that
third grade was the first time I discovered libraries, though.
And the Hardy Boys. And Dan Frontier. And Robin
Hood. (Though, with Robin Hood, I'd already seen the Disney
cartoon version and loved it. Therefore, when I saw that one of
the chapters had Robin Hood being captured by the Sheriff of
Nottingham, I refused to read it for months.) I read book after
book after book non-stop. I read at school and at home and
everywhere else. Then one day my teacher asked me to take a note
home to my parents. I had no sense of foreboding when I agreed
(I'll blame the books for my lack of attention). The note warned
my parents that I was on the verge of failing three of my
classes. My parents were ... unhappy, shall we say? It was one of
those days when I was most grateful for the telephone ... its
continuous ringing through that afternoon kept me alive as my dad
had to keep answering it and couldn't kill me properly. I was
instructed in no uncertain terms to raise those grades. I did so
successfully (got them up to Bs) and never seriously
neglected my schoolwork again until my senior year of
It was in third grade, I think, that my imagination's power as
storyteller really began to expand. I was the single most
unpopular person in third grade — to my recollection, I was
always unpopular in school; in every single grade I can
remember people picking on me and I never "ran with" anybody so I
was always alone (which is probably why they picked me). I hardly
noticed (except for a couple of times ... but I digress). My best
(to my memory, my only) friend in school was the most
unpopular person in second grade ... a boy named Alan.
Sometimes together with him, more often alone, I would play in
the worlds I created during recess. Increasingly I learned the
art of being able to slip into another world ... to a point where
literally what I would see and hear would vanish and be replaced
by whatever I could imagine. Of course, what I did in the real
world looked rather bizarre (later, my favorite method of
"slipping" was beating a stick against the ground and making the
necessary sound effects), but I didn't care.
This time moving didn't "cure" my problem. Not that I saw it
as a problem. Instead, I sort of saw it as my salvation. When we
first arrived in Mongolia, it was August 28, 1992. Two days
before my ninth birthday. There were only a handful of other
missionary kids in the country and half of them would move out or
move away in the next few years. For those years, I did three
things. I read (continuously ... somehow, we acquired a library
of 200+ books by our trip over), I studied (I never got anything
below an "A" for the next seven years), and I played in my
imagination. After a year in apartments in the city, my family
moved out to a "suburb" of Ulaan Bataar called Damtardja (closest
phonetic spelling I can come up with right now ... I don't recall
that I ever tried to spell it before) which offered vast empty
fields for me to lose myself in. My imagination was at its height
in those years ... it swallowed my life and I wallowed in it. My
stories focused on interstellar exploration and conquest, or
Somewhere in this time (my mind is fuzzy on the dates), I used
my imagination to do something useful ... I told stories to my
brothers and sister. Almost every night for two years, I told
them stories of Daryl (named after the robot-human boy
D.A.R.Y.L. in the movie of the same name) and his crew ...
Jeremy, Tony, Fenton, Frank ... I can't remember the others, but
there were at least two more and at least one female. They lived
through one fantastic adventure after another, living as
miniature people in a forest, sailing a vast ocean, plying the
tracks of interstellar space, flying over a jungle, driving
through over a desert, and descending into the depths of the sea
(those are the scenarios I can remember). After the first
adventure (when I was just figuring them out), they were always
cargo pilots ... they were always delivering cargoes from one
place to another and being set on my pirates and being marooned,
etc. My siblings loved the stories ... and, looking back, I think
that God used my telling them and their enjoying them to help
heal some of the isolation in me.
I don't know quite why I stopped telling the stories. I think
it was partly because we went on a furlough to the States and I
lost my bearings. Another part of it may be that I'd nearly
exhausted my characters and couldn't figure out how to make new
ones. For the next few years, my siblings kept asking me, off and
on, to tell them more stories. I never did. It seems sad. It
But my imagination was going through another revolution ... I
was losing it. I began to lose my ability to submerge into other
worlds when I was thirteen and fourteen. I don't know why. Part
of it was that my family moved back into the city, where things
were more crowded and I couldn't get away to act like a lunatic
and dream up more things. Part of it was that my imagination
itself began to pale and ebb. I couldn't keep stories alive very
long ... they began to bore me after only a few hours. Part of it
was that more foreign children began to arrive and I began to
have "real friends" again. And that was hard to adjust to.
I remember being frustrated as I tried to figure out how to
relate to friends again. They weren't like my imagination —
they weren't there every time I wanted them to be and they
were there when I didn't want them to be. They
weren't under my control. But ... oh well, suffice it to say that
I was glad to have friends again.
Fast forward to the present. My internship ended a couple of
months ago (December 3). Since then, I've struggled (and failed,
largely) to do useful things with my time. Most of my time is
wasted these days, as I (frantically?) flit from one distraction
to another. I've read book after book after book after book,
played game after game after game, even watched TV (in
desperation). Before this morning, I referred to it was
"escaping." I want to escape and get away from this world and my
problems in it. But it occurred to me that the thing I'm escaping
into is my imagination. It's reasserting itself. I can
still lose myself in books and computer games; my imagination
plays a great role in my enjoyment of both. And one advantage to
both is that I'm sustained by the imagination of another ... the
creator of the game or the writer of a book. There's less chance
of my own imagination running out of gas.
This observation troubles me. Looking back over my life, I've
had an uneasy relationship with reality as long as I can
remember. Somewhere down the line, I decided that I would
function in reality only as much as necessity required. My "real"
life would be in my dreams. I've always had a tendency to "live
in my own little world," as my parents can vigorously attest to.
I fear I'm once again slipping into "my little world," coming out
for air only to relate to my wife (and she's gone for most of the
I'm not sure I want to do anything about it, though.
I've loved my world, and it's generally treated me well. But I'm
uneasy; there's a voice inside that says living in this
world matters ... unlike living in my world. Maybe that's
why part of me so bitterly
resents needing to matter, to work ... I've never liked
living in the real world more than I can help it.
So, my friends, do as God as used you to do so many times
before ... call me back and remind me why this world matters. Why
I should live here, not there. Remind me why I am wrong to want
to live in make-believe.
I'll help start you off — you're here. More importantly,
my wife is here.
Posted by Leatherwood at 01:18 PM
This post has been classified as "Autobiography