No-one has the mental capacity to fully understand the world. Each of us is only capable of a partial understanding. This concept is known as perspectivism. It is possible, however, to expand and improve our worldview through interaction with those of others. This is known as poly-perspectivism. To give an analogy, when we look at a statue, we see only one side or perspective. Two people at diametrically opposite positions see entirely different perspectives. However, each is a part of the truth. Walking around the statue enables us to see all perspectives and, thus, the whole truth. Individually, we lack the mental capacity to do this for the whole of reality, of course, but it can be done for relatively limited topics.
Poly-perspectivism means understanding other perspectives. It does not mean abandoning our own, but rather building on it and correcting it where necessary. Unfortunately, each worldview is partially true and partially false. The proportion varies from individual to individual, and from worldview to worldview. Thus, other perspectives will almost certainly include beliefs which are objectively false. Furthermore, beliefs can deliberately be falsified in the interest of their proponents. This means that the techniques for identifying truth, described in my previous article, must be used when considering other perspectives.
Advice on how to engage with other perspectives is given in Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement here and, diagrammatically, here. As a rule, the lower a person’s behaviour is on Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement, the more defensive they are of their worldview.
One major advantage of poly-perspectivism is associated with “holism”. This term was coined by the South African statesman, Jan Smuts, in 1926, and means that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Holism is another way of describing emergent properties, i.e., properties which are not held by the individual parts of a system, but only by the system acting together as a whole. Our personal perspective may enable us to see part of what emerges from the whole, but it is unlikely that we will see all of it, or understand how and why it emerges. However, the more we adopt truths from other perspectives, the more we can:
- see the relevant topic as a whole;
- see errors in our own perspective of it;
- see fully what emerges from it; and
- understand how and why those things emerge.