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Wordlview: We Can't Build What We Can't Imagine
"Will it ever stop?" The alarm clock was displaying 4 AM, thoughts kept racing through my mind and there was nothing I could do stop them.
Some nights I am excited and overflowed with energy. I keep picking up my phone every few minutes to write down ideas, send a message or divert my attention to calm down.
At these moments in time, I see the world in a whole different way. I'm much more optimistic about my projects and relationships; much more positive about the state of the world and my position in it.
Some other nights, it is the opposite.
We all have a certain degree of volatility in mood. I have friends who remain as still as greek statuses in all situations of life. I also know people who experience an ever going roller-coaster. Most of us lie somewhere in between.
I find it fascinating when neurotransmitters in our brains go wild. It radically changes our perception and interpretation of life. It is as if we wore different pairs of eyeglasses with different tints from one day to the next.
All of a sudden, our mood changes and makes the world seem cold or warm. Impacting us all the way down from important decisions to small behaviours.
Going through a lot of these cycles, I've learned to deal with them. But I am still amazed at how, each time, they change my worldview.
Before we start let me highlight that worldview and mood are distinct cognitive phenomena. Mood is an ephemeral emotional state. Worldview on the contrary is a vision of the world that we slowly evolve over time. It is not exactly reality either, but our mental model of reality.
The importance of our collective and individual worldviews going through the current crisis is the focus of this essay.
In the next section: worldview interfacing moods and actions, I'll define what worldview is and locate it on the map of our cognitive processes.
Next, I'll go over its main function and see how worldview stirs our lives.
Third, I'll illustrate with real life examples how individual and collective worldviews can power society as much as they can break it.
I'll conclude that there is an emergency to adopt pragmatic approaches to our visions of the world and modes of action if we want to start moving again.
Key takeways are the end of each section. Feel free to skim through the essay. But please don't. lol.
Worldview Interfacing Moods and Actions
Common view for mood-action relationship
But this would be neglecting a crucial step in the process.
When someone says "today I feel optimistic" what it really means is: "Today, I think that the world will go in my direction. People will be nice to me. I feel good and ready to tackle challenges."
Behind the temporary state we call "optimism" and "pessimism" is a much more stable worldview. A mental model of reality which undergoes distortions as the mood swings. As we switch pairs of tinted eyeglasses.
A small earthquake shakes the ground, a bigger one causes entire landslides. So violent emotions -- breaking up, losing someone, going through a crisis -- can change our worldview durably.
Worldview interfacing moods and actions
But emotions are not the only things that shape our worldviews, far from that. For obvious Darwinian reasons, we are engineered to adapt to our physical and social environment.
Scientists have worked hard to establish the relationship between our context and behaviours. As my researches went, I stumbled upon a corpus of work known as 'constructivism'².
The theory originated by Piaget³, has quickly spread through neurosciences⁴, psychology⁵ and sociology⁶ among others.
Constructivist psychology describes how the mind constructs mental models to interpret reality and navigate it. A bit like with neural networks in AI, the brain runs models that make sense of sensory inputs by associating them with past experience.
What kind of models concretely? Models which match past experiences with new experiences. Once trained these model become the frameworks of morals, habits and assumptions about ourselves, others and the rest the world. We use them all the time make sense, think and act.
Here is a short personal example. I have read a book about Buddhist hygiene a year or so ago. One of the main principles described there is that you become what you ingest. Not only the food, but the people you're with, the content you absord, the way you work daily, how you move your body and so on. This clicked. I ended up slowly re-training a new mental framework. I'm do much better now at recognizing what is good or bad for my health.
It is as simple as that. Our worldview is the sum of all the mental frameworks we use for our judgement. Both the ones we've been holding since childhood and the ones that we picked up and trained most recently.
Our worldview is our interpretation of reality. It is made of frameworks sitting in our brain.
It is shaped by internal factors (DNA, emotions) but also by external factors (environment).
Worldview Stirs Our Lives
My hands can grab things, but what can my worldview do for me?
At each step, each second, there is an infinite number of choices we can make. If our minds were blank slates, we wouldn't have any data to rely on when making a decision. Instead, we'd have to assess each option one after the other or pick randomly.
And this is where Worldview takes a very practical turn:
These decision making processes would be either very inefficient or very risky. In both cases: unsustainable for the human species to survive. So evolution came up with tools to cut down the cost of decision making.
The various frameworks --habits, morals, assumptions...-- which constitute our worldview are as many shortcuts to decision making. We use them all the time to analyze a situation, interpret it, and make a decision.
Thus, worldview's job is to classify and categorise events and things we encounter by putting names and values on them. So we can use our judgement and move on.
Said fancy: worldviews exist to rationalise the chaos of reality and create meaning for us to navigate life.
-The Worldview Map, cutting through chaos to put order and meaning for us to navigate life-
When we become skilful at something, we have assimilated the right bunch of patterns and habits for it. Wether conscious or subconscious, our mental frameworks are on point. With time and practice we rewire our brain⁷.
This is true for anything: from mathematics to sports to video games.
As we get better, the famous state of flow⁸ becomes accessible. For example the programmer in a state of flow is fully immersed in code and makes the right decisions quickly, almost intuitively.
But this is a process that needs time and proper conditions for practice. The right initial settings and training environment.
→ The content of our worldview ends up being our tool for decision making. Decision after decision, our life is shaped by our worldview
→ Our mental frameworks can be trained with effort, time and experiences
Worldview Powering Society
When we step back and take a holistic approach to our worldview, it becomes apparent that it not only works for programming or sports. We are trained in all compartments of life.
The culture and context we grow up into trains our frameworks to see the world a certain way. To interpret it a certain way. This ability to perceive well is perhaps our most valuable skill in the end. As our interpretation of reality is the ground for all our decisions.
It takes time an practice for an expatriate to familizarize with a foreign culture. With the moral and expectations frameworks over there. But after 10 years, he has fully adopted them. He is skilled at being a local and makes all the right decisions to act like one.
This process doesn't have to be passive. By taking over the training process of the right mental frameworks we can reprogram ourselves to make decisions towards a precise objective.
Now let me make a bunch of bets.
My first bet is that an articulated and singular Worldview is a common denominator among most people who are worth admiring. Biographies, documentaries and myths are all about praising and surfacing these singularities.
To pick up some iconic examples from the tech world:
There is Jobs' obsession for "end-to-end"⁹ philosophy reflecting in the suite of Apple products.
Musk's obsession for the survival of the species¹⁰ -or for saving it- reflecting in SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City.
Lastly, Jack Dorsey's interest for emerging patterns¹¹ in ant colonies and ambulance networks is known for having influenced Twitter's approach to product -- and people -- management.
In each of these cases, individuals with singular worldviews work to materialize it through their decisions. As they build.
-Zuck and Dorsey: two Worldviews, two approaches, two social networks-
My second bet is that the tiny bit of free will that we have resides in our ability to curate our mental frameworks. Once we have become conscious of our vision of the world and its roots, we can start taking things in and out of it for a purpose. We can assign more weight to the pieces of information that we judge most important and erase the things that burden us.
This can be done as an individual or a collective process.
There are examples of iconic characters who have changed other's worldviews through sheer willpower. They have invited people to give up on their old frameworks and to train new ones with new assumptions and new data, new assumptions about reality.
-Gandhi's 150th's birth anniversary. Luther King speaking-
Gandhi fought against a colonization that he found insulting. King invited the world to change their views and behaviours towards black people. Both felt that it was possible to create landslides in people's worldviews.
Note that like any technology, worldview can be used for "good or bad". Like tech CEOs, dictators try to make their worldviews exist. And just like Gandhi and King, terrorists attempt to change people's worldviews.
Same process, different purpose.
→ A well articulated worldview put at work on a long period of time is behind most novel and valuable achievements
→ A meticulous curation of our worldviews is not only possible, but it is a key part of progress and opening new paths
Worldviews Breaking Society
When worldviews are articulated with singular skills and visions, they can be a great vector of change.
Diversity in worldviews is a pillar of liberal society. Where the greatest number of economic decisions are made by individuals instead of a central entity.
For example in the Chinese model, lots of decisions are taken centrally. Top down. A liberal model instead, relies more on individual initiatives. Bottom up.
Here is an issue though. In the past few decades the way we consume content has changed radically. Mass content platforms supercharged by AI is the perfect recipe to create generations of individuals trained with shallow and perishable information. Individuals which worldviews will fail to interpret reality accurately.
Not every teenager goes to school, but 100 million TikTok users spend 52 minutes a day watching 15 seconds videos (KPCB Internet Trends 2018, p.247).
160 million Netflix suscribers worldwide all watch the same superhero and whatnot shows¹².
126 million monthly YouTube viewers in the U.S only and 85% of all views goes to a small minority of 3% of all channels¹³.
-1.6% of 1 billion Instagram users have more than 500K followers-
The West and especially the US was far ahead in the curve of adoption of this binge-watcher lifestyle. At nation wide scale.
As a result for about 15 years, a larger and larger chunk of the 1st world population -- especially the youth -- has been training important mental frameworks on a single set of illusionary data. The frameworks that we rely on when we ask ourselves: "what does the world look like today? Which problems should I solve?"
A 20 year old who spends 50% of his time playing Fortnite develops valuable skills, but without tremendous efforts to transpose them to real applications, they are only useful in a Fortnite world. As a former gamer, I never thought I would find myself saying that and I do believe that gaming develops interesting skills.
As a result, most of us hold formatted views. Modes of action which are not directly transposable to the real world. We become poor decision makers.
I am a not a TikTok native, but travelling the world I have 'studied' how the youth used it. One thing I can tell is that the Western relationship to content is catching up everywhere Western culture develops. Accross India, China or Morocco's youth: same popular songs, same dance moves.
The fact that we're all the same is fine to a certain extent. Peer pressure and mimetics have always been part of our social environment. They seem like natural forces for social cohesion.
But the fact that we are formatted and poorly trained at the same time becomes a lot to bear with. We are slowly breaking the maths of the liberal system which made our success.
The same maths which underly a VC firm portfolio. Where a small subset of out-performers create value for the whole. The maths of diversification which says that you need to pick 100 equally talented teams for 5 of them to return enough value for the whole.
I posit that in today's society, we have proportionally less diversity and quality in worldviews than 20 years ago. Less people with the right mental frameworks. Less actions which address valuable problems in singular and articulated ways.
-The balance between innovation and stagnation in worldviews in society-
Our brains think they live in TikTok and Netflix worlds. But in TikTok there is no climate change, no pandemics. As a result, we are abstracted from the giant chains of causalities that we participate in. How are we supposed to address things that we are not prepared to even see or conceive? Which are not part of our worldviews?
Reality is complex. But to me, the addition of conformity and distortion in perceptions is once cause of our current struggles.
Ironically, we don't lack task management start-ups or productivity blogs. We manage to-do-lists all days of the week, so we're highly trained for the matter. And we regularly come up with smart solutions to be more productive.
I do love task managemers and productivity hacks. I use Notion and a Tomato Timer at the moment. But is an incremental improvement in productivity the path to a disruptive change in the course of things? Or do we need to start seeing differently?
→ Mass entertainment platforms format our mental frameworks. We think and act increasingly similarly
→ On top of that, our mental models are trained on bubbles of fake experiences and prevent us to articulate views which are relevant to our context
→ We end up breaking the maths of aliberal system which relies on diversification
Start moving again
Here is a tweet which inspired the title of this essay.
The West is at an inflexion point, but we're still in a position where we've never been more wealthy and technologically advanced.
In this essay I explained why I think we face an information problem. If we fail to see and feel what matters in the long term, we will fail to allocate resource to the most valuable things.
So here is a question we may ask: what is wrong currently in the way we see the world? Which frameworks in our worldviews and our modes of action are obsolete? Should we start being more experimental with our worldviews and how we train them?
At one moment or the other, political and environmental forces will catch up on us and force us to adopt drastic measures.
One option is to bury our heads in the sand and wait. A term coined 'decelerationism' in this tweet by Balaji S. Srinivasan:
The other option is to go back to the roots of our worldviews and sort the mess out of them.
→ If we cannot imagine or conceive the world the right way, we cannot come up with solutions to repair it
→ Working on our worldviews so they reflect our realities better seems like a first step forward
What to expect next on Albert's blog
Thoughts on worldviews in tech and crypto
Reports on technologies that help solve collaboration and information problems
More personal views and experiences