A Look Back: Human-Friendly Worldviews Workshop

Anna Guðjónsdóttir, “little big one” (2016). Mixed media on paper. Courtesy: The artist.


A Look Back: Human-Friendly Worldviews Workshop

On February 13, 2024 we hosted a one-day workshop on "Human-Friendly Worldviews". The goal was to outline new ways to capture the diversity of human experience beyond formal measurements. We now take a look back at the event and summarize key takeaways.


Worldviews, like stories, can help or hinder action. As the novelist P. D. James once said, "What a child does not receive, it can seldom give.” Yet our orthodox scientific worldview, which now seems to have colonized all fields, repeatedly reinforces the idea that we as humans are accidents of nature, without free will and agency, and certainly not special in any way. At the same time, the stated goals of this same scientific orthodoxy include things like climate action that require humans to choose to act differently. These would seem to cancel each other out. Yet, as this workshop has shown, there are perfectly plausible worldviews that advance humanitarian goals by offering visions of humans in the world that at least open up a space for human freedom, and can even positively empower action by offering a narrative that presents humans as natural stewards of their world.

‘Objects are lifted out of nothingness by a human point of view.’
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Dean Rickles opened the workshop by describing what a worldview is and how it also functions to delimit how we view the role of humans (the worldviewers) and their capacities. Dalia Nassar then spoke on themes related to her recent book ‘Romantic Empiricism’, arguing that aesthetic experience (seeing things as integrated wholes that don't make sense when taken apart) can serve to expand our capacities as humans engaged in empirical science. The physicist George Ellis argued that there is a feedback loop between the whole and its parts, rendering materialism and reductionism invalid. This was argued to make room for agency. A point that Kevin Mitchell, a neurobiologist, followed up by showing in detail how it is simply impossible to tell a deterministic (or random) story of human behavior. Andrej Zwitter came to the notion of worldviews through the old idea of eudaimonia and its possible role in constructing societies with more room for flourishing. Harald Atmanspacher discussed dual-aspect monism - an approach that considers the connections between our minds and the world, and the deeper realm. Markus Gabriel closed the session with an expansion of such a deeper realm of nature into a ground for a plurality of possible world images that we tend to see as the physical universe. The images are fictions of a kind (fields of sense), but they are as real as beings like us can reach.


Physics, biology, philosophy – they all say that humans not only have freedom of action, but we are invited by the world to co-create it according to our holistic mental models. We are quite flexible in our choice of world images. Scientific 'facts' thus become a new entity – 'facts-in-the-world'. This gives us a chance to compare worldviews and study how they can change and overlap.

This workshop was convened by Dean Rickles as part of the "Conceptions of Human Flourishing" program.

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