Knowing How You Know/Examining Ideologies

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Examining Ideologies[edit]

This section of the course encourages you to explore various ideologies that may guide your current thinking.

An ideology is a set of beliefs intended to describe how the world works, or how it should work. An ideology is a particular way of looking at the world, often codified into a doctrine. Often our religious, political, and economic beliefs are drawn from a particular ideology. You may also follow particular lifestyle choices such as veganism, or environmentalism based on a particular ideology.

Because the structure of a particular ideology provides a known set of rules from which to observe, perceive, experience, and judge the world, it can simplify and even enhance your experience of life. But a number of problems can arise—perhaps as people seek an expedient path from understanding the world as it really is to conceiving a world as they would like it to be—when an abstract theory is allowed to obscure real evidence. This can happen when various ideologies, such as: faith, theism, political ideologies, economic theories, economic ideologies, and other bold concepts capture our imaginations and distract us from seeing and exploring what is. “Essentially, all models are wrong,” George Box noted, “but some are useful.” This section of the course will help you assess the accuracy and usefulness of various models you may have consciously, or perhaps unknowingly, embraced. The general principle we will apply here is that evidence trumps ideology—understanding the world as it really is provides more reliable information than any supposition of how the world might be. Ideologies along with the theories and abstractions they are based on must be revised, and often rejected, to account for newly uncovered or newly understood evidence. Learn to recognize orthodoxy in many forms—religious and otherwise—and question it.

Seek out gaps between what the theory predicts and careful observations of the real world. Explore these gaps vigorously; they provide fertile ground for learning and gaining new insights. Remain curious until you fully resolve the gap. Is the theory based on inaccurate abstractions, overgeneralizations, or an incomplete or unrepresentative evidence sample? Are you misinterpreting the evidence perhaps because it is providing only a partial glimpse of a larger system you do not yet fully comprehend?

Whenever the model represented by theory or doctrine diverges from reality, beware! Consider carefully if the model or the evidence is providing the more real, accurate, and complete representation of the world as it is. Increase your understanding until you can close the gap.


Consider these examples of apparent gaps between theory and observations of the real world. Explore each and decide how to resolve each apparent gap.

  1. The theory of gravity describes objects falling toward earth, such as an apple falling from a tree. Yet we see party balloons and hot air balloons rising from the earth. Does the rising of hot air balloons disprove the theory of gravity? How does an understanding of buoyancy help you better comprehend the theory of gravity and what is real?
  2. Modern astronomy tells us that the motion of the earth causes cycles of day and night, and the annual cycles of the seasons. Yet each morning we see the sun rise, move across the sky, and set in the evening. How does an understanding of the motion of the earth and the heliocentric geometry of the solar system help you better comprehend the nature of the universe, and the illusion of a sunrise?
  3. The theory of the invisible hand, attributed to a metaphor used by Adam Smith, assures us that individuals’ efforts to maximize their own gains in a free market may benefit society, even if the ambitious have no benevolent intentions. Yet we see the ravages of poverty, and other grand challenges, persist. How does the reality of poverty increase your understanding of the limits, inaccuracies, and abstractions of the invisible hand?
  4. Identify some other gap you are curious about where theory does not accurately correspond with reality as you understand it. Dive into that gap and explore both the theory and the real world to better understand the gap. What did you discover? What new insight was lurking in that gap?

With this broader understanding of the limitations of theory and doctrine, continue with this next assignment to examine in depth a particular ideology you may be curious about.


Identify the various ideologies that shape your beliefs.

  • When, if ever, do you rely on faith as the evidence to support a factual claim?
  • Consider your religious belief system, perhaps it is chosen from one of the world’s organized religions, including those in this list of religious and spiritual traditions.
  • Consider your political belief system. It may appear in this list of political ideologies.
  • Consider your beliefs about money and the economy. Your thinking may be shaped by one of the prevalent economic theories or economic ideologies, such as the economic ideologies in this list.
  • Consider other rules you use to organize your life, establish beliefs, or make decisions.

If you are open to exploring and challenging your religious belief system, then complete the Wikiversity course Beyond Theism.

Examine your particular ideology-based belief system by answering these questions:

  • How do you name or describe your ideology-based beliefs?
  • How did you choose this ideology-based affiliation? What alternatives did you consider before choosing this ideology?
  • Has your affiliation changed over time? Why, or why not?
  • What is the primary doctrine of this ideology? Does the doctrine accurately account for a broad set of real-world evidence, or is it narrow and simplistic?
    • Does the doctrine devolve into dogma?
    • Does it establish any rule for you to follow?
  • What are its major assumptions, principles, and values?
  • What is the real-world evidence for and against those assumptions and values?
  • What gaps, if any, exist between the theory or doctrine and the real world as you understand it?
    • Dive into those gaps and explore them, as in the previous assignment.
  • What alternatives are there to these choices of values? Do you regularly seek out alternative viewpoints and strive to learn from these?
  • Who is the most respected person you know who holds differing, even opposing beliefs? Engage that person in a thoughtful dialogue with the sincere goal of understanding what they believe and why they hold those beliefs.
  • Does the ideology establish or rely on artificial boundaries, definitions, or abstractions that do not correspond accurately to the natural world?
  • When you become aware of evidence that is contrary to the doctrine, are you more persuaded by the evidence or by the doctrine?
  • Does the ideology established, promote, or overlook false dichotomies or other logical fallacies?
    • Is censorship used in any form, overtly or covertly, to limit access, discount or dismiss dissenting opinions or contrary evidence?
    • Are you encouraged to freely explore beyond the bounds of the ideology?
    • Is dissent welcomed as a way to further explore and strengthen the ideology, or is dissent discouraged, and dissenters marginalized, ridiculed, or vilified?
    • Does the ideology establish an insular culture that reinforces the ideological beliefs while disconnecting from or discounting other points of view?
  • Does adhering to the ideology require people to knowingly advance or overlook falsehoods, deceptions, overgeneralizations, or otherwise encourage a lack of good faith?
  • What matters most to you? Depending on your own values and the importance you attached to each criteria, assess:
    • To what extent does adhering to the ideology help you achieve moral virtue throughout your daily life?
    • To what extent does adhering to the ideology help you become an exemplar of wisdom? Help you make wise decisions? Help you live wisely?
    • To what extent is the ideology actually effective at solving the grand challenges? What is the supporting and contrary evidence for this?
    • To what extent does the ideology attain a global perspective?
    • What concept of good does the ideology adopt and promote? What evidence is there that real good is a result of the ideology? What contrary evidence is there?
  • How well has your ideology-based belief system enhanced the greater well-being of the people of the world? Are the proponents of your chosen ideology actually effective at creating a better world as you envision it? For example, do the policies tend to promote world peace, reduce poverty, increase income equality, treat more people more fairly, reduce suffering, improve overall health and fitness, and help people focus on what matters?

Assess your correspondence with what is real and what is good.

Assessing efforts to seek what is real and what is good
  • Look at the figure on the right illustrating regions of “good” and “real.” (It may be helpful to double click on the image and view it full size.) Moving toward the right in the figure represents increased correspondence with reality. Moving up in the figure represents doing more good in the world. Each of the four quadrants is named to provide a shortcut for thinking about it and referring to it.
  • Plot each of your ideologies, such as religion, politics, or economics, on the grid.
  • Is each both good ("do no harm") and real ("advance no falsehoods")?
  • If not, what can you change to move toward the real, good quadrant?

Considering the ideas advanced by your chosen ideologies, what, if anything, is beyond belief? How will you adjust to better align your beliefs with what is real?

Think beyond the doctrine.