Minimum Viable Worldview

In the past, I immersed myself in many business books. I chose to be a freelancer and freelancing was a pretty scary endeavor. It requires a lot of affirmation, inspiration, and instruction. In hindsight, I think reading a lot of business books while I freelanced was inevitable.

Looking back at all the business books I read, I realized I wasted a lot of my precious time. Most were really just fluff and their advice often operated on a very shallow understanding of human life and society. In my view, income generation is only a subset of the bigger human pursuit of navigating the material world. And yet, most business books treat income generation as the “be all and end all” of human existence. People who sincerely want to learn “how to make a living” would be better off not reading any of these books.

Having said this, not all business concepts are useless. As I ventured into my intention to pursue a self-directed study of philosophy this year, I struggled with a particular problem early on that reminded me of a concept I picked up from reading business books. This concept solved my problem and I think it is a useful tool for anyone starting a similar journey in life. In this post, I’ll share the concept and how I applied it to my problem.

Metaphysics and Ethics

After reading Square One and familiarizing myself with Steve Patterson’s work, I came to this conclusion:

There are just so many things I need to learn before I could reach a personally satisfying understanding of the world.

This, of course, isn’t bad. In fact, it should excite any sincere seeker of truth. And excitement was what I felt after realizing the immensity of thinking that has accumulated for thousands of years about the fundamental questions of reality. However, the realization presented me with an obvious practical problem.

Before encountering Patterson’s work, I already held beliefs about the world. These beliefs have been with me since what I may call “my enlightenment” in 2011. While I have not reached an amount of certainty on these beliefs that would push me to commit to them 100%, I have definitely invested my time and emotions “acting” according to them.

For example, for quite some time now, I have held the belief that ultimately there is no skin-encapsulated ego-centric “self.” Instead, what exists is an “interdependent self” made up of myself, other humans, animals, plants, and the physical world. This belief, which I now understand as a “metaphysical” claim about reality, has inspired me to act on a considerable amount of environmentalism in previous years. These actions can be considered derivatives of an “ethics” (moral principles) inspired by my metaphysical understanding of the world. Early in my philosophical journey, without diving deep on the literature, I felt intuitively that: my metaphysics informs my ethics.

Now, after meeting Patterson’s work, it became clear to me that I have to get deeper on my metaphysical beliefs to check their accuracy. Or more accurately, to check whether or not I am upholding one of my most cherished values: honesty. It became even clearer that this should be an important part of my About me for years to come. I said “years” because again, there’s just too much information to consume!

This led me to my major conundrum:

Because my metaphysical understanding of the universe ultimately informs my ethical intentions, should I wait for that understanding to be complete and accurate before I act in any personally meaningful, ethical way?

This conundrum is based on the worry that if my understanding of the world is flawed, my actions, which are influenced by that understanding, may also be flawed.

“Just Start and Iterate as You Go”

While pondering on the questions, I remembered the concept of the “minimum viable product” (or MVP) popularized by silicon valley entrepreneurs Steve Blank and Eric Ries. The MVP is a product that is intentionally released to the public in its simplest useable form. Releasing a product in this “ugly” version has two purposes: (1) to test the product’s marketability and (2) to lessen costs and risks of monetary loss associated with the project.

The idea came out of the more innovative members of the business world—creatives who are bombarded every day with a lot of project ideas and worries on how to start them. The concept of an MVP gave these creatives a framework that encouraged them to “just start and iterate as you go.” This, my friends, is a good model applicable to any journey one takes in life.

Contemplating the concept of an MVP, I played on the idea of applying it in the philosophical journey I decided to start. I reasoned that there is no way that I could create a personally fulfilling picture of reality, at least at this early point in my journey. While my understanding of the world will take some time to develop, the issues that bother my emotions cannot wait—poverty, violence, the destruction of nature. I have to act according to what I care about right now if I am to contribute to any difference.

I need to act now according to what I believe is right and make use of whatever amount of metaphysical knowledge I have to inform my actions. Then, like a startup entrepreneur, I will treat my worldview as a minimum viable product—a minimum viable worldview—open to iteration as I go along.

I would define a minimum viable worldview as a worldview that makes use of whatever one knows about the world right now to inform what one could do right now. It is a worldview that allows one to get out there and do some meaningful work while at the same time learning, absorbing input, and modifying one’s worldview as feedback is received.

Humility and Resoluteness

In my opinion, the minimum viable worldview fosters two values, which I think is essential in any philosophical journey.

First, the minimum viable worldview encourages humility by accepting one’s state of uncertainty and ignorance at the beginning of the journey. It brings this even further as one opens oneself to the views of others and the strong possibility of being corrected multiple times.

Despite this, however, the framework allows one to foster resoluteness—to stand firm on things that one is “reasonably certain” and convinced about at the “present” moment. The framework encourages active participation in the most pressing issues of our time despite one’s seemingly limited understanding of the world. A person who is strongly called at the moment to contribute to the furthering of the cause need not understand the totality of knowledge. She could act now, and grow along the way.

I am not sure if I get this one correctly. The framework itself is open to feedback and iteration. But in its current form, I find it meaningful and useful. The framework permits me to continue my environmental activism while I examine the very roots of my beliefs.