Friday, March 27, 2009

Discovering Your Convictions

My favorite aspect of this class is the relation between our designs and our "world view". Discovering your own convictions and world view is a quite enlightening, if not very challenging, exercise. And the words that define these convictions, especially the phrase "world view", are often discussed in class and frequently mentioned between classmates. My first question is what does that exactly mean?

When trying to grasp my own world view, it always leads down a path of spirituality and religion. Would your convictions about the relationship between Human and Earth differ if you believed in reincarnation? Would your convictions about the relationships between different people differ if you believed Heaven and Hell? I think these are all deep and important questions. I understand that religion and spirituality are often taboo in liberal institutions, Macalester is a shining example of that. So is this what we are talking about when we say "world view"? Or is it a distinct idea, somehow separated from religion and spirituality?

I have another question, but I think I'll save that one for later as I ponder this one...


  1. I find it interesting that you say that "discovering" your convictions is "not [a] very challenging, exercise." One, saying "discovering" means that it is already there, latent, and, two, the fact that it is not very difficult for you only goes to make that latent property of your own thoughts more strong-- that all you have to do is pause, and there it is. In a way, I feel that this is in keeping with one thing we have been told about understanding our convictions: that they should be strong, opinionated, clear, without wishy-washy-ness. However, this is the very piece of this exercise that I question.

    Perhaps this is a product of my own post-modern education or maybe my "young" un-confident nature, constantly thinking I am "unfinished." But it is part of my own conviction that while we can have clear ideas and convictions, there is no black and white in anything. To make a clear answer, you need to understand as much about the whole--qualitatively, quantitatively, etc, as possible. This is perhaps why I have such a problem with the "simplicity" of this next project 4: You can never separate yourself from experience or from the outside city world while considering an active and passive life. Nothing is so simple that it can be expressed without reaction to other things, or be isolated from psychology or personal history.

    This too, is why I ponder the need to be so "clear" with convictions. I feel that with every situation, considering extremes or even compromises may very well be ok in one situation, but in other situations, perhaps, grander convictions or different solutions would be better and just as in keeping with the convictions of those involved. One cannot profess to know one's self when tomorrow the world is different. I also feel that it is not only inevitable, but responsible to question what we believe. Not doing so would be a life that is completely selfish and without interaction or growth.

    As far as spirituality, I think that you could look at in in two distinct ways: That spirituality is above all other convictions, that following rules or beliefs based on such a system is everything, or spirituality is merely an input into a more complex web from which we take our decisions. But in the end I think there is a simple answer to your question, in my opinion: of course it makes a difference. If you believe in those things, they will of course reveal themselves in your expression. There would be no way the didn't, unless you didn't really believe in them, or you were questioning them.

  2. Jessie, thanks for the response. Perhaps my language was confusing in my first paragraph, but it was meant to read that it IS a very challenging exercise. So I think we're on same page with that one.

    As for your last paragraph, I too have been grappling with those two options. Take Modernism, for instance. It seems perfectly logical to me that there is a Buddhist from China and a Christian from Kansas who could both fit very well in a small Modernist home--that the principles of Modernism somehow transcend the deeper beliefs of these two individuals.

    Is this true of the Contemporary movement? Is this current movement more of a style, as Zaha refers to Parametricism, that can also transcend deeper beliefs? Is "world view" in this movement not really up to the individual? Meaning that you better be on board with parametric thinking, gradients, biological inspirations, and so on, or you're not really even part of the movement.

    It seems to me that in every style, there are designs / designers who seem to be in line with my tastes. Maybe it's because those designers also shared my beliefs. If there is at least one building in each style that really speaks to me, what does that say about meaning?

    So to my real question: Is discovering, knowing, and applying your true convictions really a part of this new Contemporary movement? Or is it simply good practice that all designers should follow, whether it be for a Gothic, Modernist, or Contemporary design? I'm starting to think the latter.

  3. Thanks to Ted for this great post.

    The concept of a view of the world is broader than religion or spirituality. Spiritualists, whether Christians or Buddhists, share one major tenant in their views of the world - supernaturalism. Despite their distinct conceptions of the supernatural, both hold that there is a dimension or state-of-being outside of and beyond the natural universe of space, time, material substance and energy. This supernatural dimension, by definition, is outside of the power of human perception, that is, our eyes, nose, ears, mouth and skin can tell us nothing about it. We can only know the supernatural through a supernatural means - the Christians call if "revelation"; the Buddhists call it "enlightenment". In each case, the supernatural dimension inserts knowledge directly into the human mind, without any natural means of knowledge acquisition.

    A contrary view, which likewise forms one tenant of many people's view of the world, is naturalism. This is the belief that there is only the natural world of space, time, material substance and energy. There is nothing outside of the natural universe. This is the view upon which all science is based.

    Another contrary view is subjectivism. This is the view that neither a supernatural dimension nor the natural world actually exists. Instead, these are merely mental constructs - ideas in our minds. In some forms of subjectivism, the mental construction of "world" is an individual act - each of us constructs and projects our own unique "myth" or "fiction". This defines each individual's "truth". In other versions, we reach a kind of collective consensus - deciding together which single fantasy world to pretend is real. It is "real" to the extent enough of us get together and vote on its realness. This is the idea of truth through consensus.

    These are the only three basic answers offered through history to the question of the nature of the world: the supernaturalist, naturalist and subjectivist views. Of these, the natrualist view appears first in history, defined by the very first philosopher - the Greek thinker Thales. Aristotle followed soon after with the first complete version of this world view. Another Greek philosopher, Plato, offered the first fully-developed version of the supernaturalist world view. Regarding the subjectivist view, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus offered the first version, but it was not until the 18th century that the first fully-developed version of this world view appears in the philosophy of Immanual Kant, who is the father of Post Modernism.

    Yes, there are many, many variants possible, many individual "takes" and nuanced positions, but in the end there are only three views of the world - the supernatural, the natural and the subjective. Each person holds to one of these three, whether he wants to or not. Notice that this is even true of Jessie, as expressed in her response to Ted's post. But before I leave this point, I want to point out that Modernism and Contemporary thought are both variants of naturalism. They hold this basic orientation in common, despite other crucial differences.

    Back to Jessie. I'd like to use her great comments to Ted's post as an example of the three-pronged choice of views of the world.

    Jessie bravely expresses that she feels uncomfortable committing to any one view, but this is itself fully consistent with the subjectivist view. Jessie seems to realize this, since she mentions that this might make her a Post Modernist: "perhaps this is a product of my own Post-Modern education," she says. Jessie might indeed follow the subjective view of the world, or she might be ligitmately undecided, but it sounds more like she believes objective truth is inherently unattainable, which is a foundation belief of subjectivism.

    Subjectivists believe that truth is relative and ultimately unknowable, and that "convictions" are ultimately merely tools of human manipulation. You adopt one belief in one situation in order to faciliate your goals - in order to make the right friends and influence important people. In another situation, another set of "convictions" might be more useful in order to get what you want (or what you think society needs). Jessie does not put it so bluntly, but her comments are consistent with this subjectivist view, too: "I feel that with every situation, considering extremes or even compromises may very well be ok in one situation, but in other situations, perhaps, grander convictions or different solutions would be better and just as in keeping with the convictions of those involved." Jessie questions the need to be consistent in her beliefs, but ironically, she is fully consistent upholding the tenants of the subjective view of the world (at least in her brief comments here).

    Let me say that I do not offer this as a criticism of Jessie. In fact, I mean this analysis of her comments as a complement. I believe that holding clear, consistent, and consciously held convictions is vitally important for a designer, whether supernaturalist, naturalist or subjectivist.

  4. Kyle, thanks for the wonderful response. I had never quite been able pinpoint some of the distinctions between the three world views (and world view in general), so this really helps.


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