Paradigms and paradoxes

From early in our childhood, ways of living are imposed on us by society. Parents, teachers, politicians, as well as others in our daily lives, try to shape our worldview in order to regulate our behaviour. And, for the most part, they succeed. Despite being problematic in itself, the real dillema in imposing a way of life is that imposed worldviews often contradict our nature and even reality itself, erroneously dictating the way we relate to the existential realities of life.

The matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room, you can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth. – Morpheus, from The Matrix

In the film The Matrix, human beings unknowingly live in a computer-generated dream world, a simulated reality that imprisons the minds of people. Since the world perceived in the matrix is a virtual world, anything found there – a car, a chair, a building – could serve as an example to show that that reality is in fact false. However, in order to describe the nature of the system to which human beings are born subjected, Morpheus makes use of examples that are pertinent not only to the matrix but to our reality as well – a reality that, although non-virtual, is permeated by nationalistic, religious and capitalist ideologies.

Worldview

In cognitive science and philosophy in general, the perspective that you acquire as a member of a society in order to make sense of reality is called “worldview”. It is the way in which you interpret the world and think about the things that you do in order to organize and give meaning to your life, and it is composed of the beliefs, the customs and the values of society. Your worldview, therefore, provides you with a picture of reality that is not only influenced, but formed by ideologies – ideologies that, in most cases, are adopted without any questioning whatsoever.

We feel that our point of view is rather particular when, in fact, it is merely the product of the geopolitical territory in which we live, and is imposed on us by the socio-economic and cultural systems to which we are already born subjected. What do you think about the world? What are your plans for the future? What is right, and what is wrong? How do you intend to achieve your goals? What is true, and what is false? Despite the complexity of these questions, we all have opinions – and convictions! – about them. Or at least we behave as if we did. But what if the rationale behind an ideology that was imposed on us is incorrect? What if the criteria that make up our worldview are mistaken, even contradictory?

Paradigms

The rationale and the criteria that justify the way we see the world are composed of paradigms. Paradigms are examples that are exceptionally typical and serve as a model for something; they are formal or informal rules that set limits on a particular subject. For instance, the paradigm of the “successful person” that is imposed on us by society is often that of a person who strives to achieve and maintain a high standard of living even at the cost of their quality of life. In this way, if you intend to be a successful individual, you are told that you need a good vocational education in order to be able to devote most of your time to a job that you might or might not like (probably not), but that will allow you to finance cars, properties, trips (but not too many), electronics and many other things, most of which you don’t particularly need or even enjoy.

Another paradigm familiar to us all is that of the romantic relationship, where two people (a man and a woman) take part in religious rituals and sign contracts in order to ensure that their feelings will forever remain the same. The man and the woman are then to have children and begin to seek, as a family unit, the standard of living necessary for a happy life (as per the “successful person” paradigm described above), even at the cost of their quality of life. Furthermore, the couple should strive to keep their contract even if, in the end, either party (or both!) were mistaken in their promises of eternal love, protecting not only their children but the paradigm of romantic relationships itself from a harsher, less convenient reality . Granted, this paradigm has changed in recent years and now includes the possibility of divorce, allowing each individual to resume the search for the ideal partner with whom they will sign new contracts. To a lesser extent, homosexual couples have also been included in this paradigm, so that now they, too, may reinforce the many ideologies that still condemn and even criminalize homosexuality.

Paradoxes

The problem with the paradigms described above, as with many others, is that they are paradoxical: their descriptions of the world contradict reality; their behavioural prescriptions contradict our nature. Because of this, our worldview – that is, the way we interpret reality and give meaning to our lives – is fundamentally paradoxical, generating existential crises not only in individuals but in entire societies. Without a deeper understanding and a systematic analysis of our worldview, we risk spending our entire lives searching for happiness without even knowing what it is, looking for answers when, in reality, we should be challenging the criteria of the questions that are imposed on us by society and formulating new questions therefrom.

We need to challenge the most fundamental aspects of our existence – aspects that appear to be absolute truths and set false limits as a result. By eliminating the presuppositions that form the worldview that is imposed on us by society, we can break paradigms and reject ways of life that are not only superficial but contradictory. We can transcend to new realities. This is an arduous task, but, fortunately, philosophy provides us with the tools to do just that. And even though it has long been perceived as some useless academic relic confined in the university [1], Conditioned Things aims to bring philosophy back to its righteous place: the daily lives of people.

But not everyone has the patience – and time, they say – to carefully reflect on these issues. But what could be more important than seeing reality for what it is, free of distortion? Not having time to better understand the nature of reality because we are too busy living life is like not having time to look on a map for directions to a place because we are too busy driving there. It’s paradoxical. In order for us to get out of the matrix, and so be able to focus on what is essential and be truer to ourselves, we need to deconstruct our experience in the world to better understand the mechanisms behind our actions. Conditioned Things aims to help you with just this.

[1] A succinct expression borrowed from philosopher-counselor Patricia Anne Murphy

Photo: TIMEANDDESIRE

Bruno Vompean

Bruno Vompean

Many minds think inside my own and I am always wandering: in here or out there. I take pleasure in the details and enjoy the little things. I also take pleasure in challenging worldviews, deconstructing paradigms so that we may transcend to new realities. I’m a philosopher, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

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