German philosopher Hans Vaihinger developed a system of thought which has had a profound effect upon me lately. He explained that our thoughts and constructions about God and the universe are best viewed as useful hypotheses rather than representations of objective reality.
This is a strange and frightening concept for Mormons. Latter-day Saints are highly invested in a "one True Religion" and in one way of seeing the truth. Mormons have difficulty seeing that Joseph Smith and nineteenth-century members might have held different world-views than ourselves. We even embarrass ourselves by, for example, superimposing our own unique temple practices upon Old Testament traditions.
In contrast, Vaihinger developed the philosophy of "as if," in which people try out different constructions of events in order to see what might happen when they act "as if" these constructions are so. Here's how it works:
- Imagine that there are an infinite number of ways to construe the world.
- To gain a fresh and potentially transforming perspective, purposefully loosen your construction and entertain novel possibilities for understanding it another way.
- Test out these new possibilities by acting "as if" these new constructions are true.
- If the constructions adopted fail to prove useful (or even if they do and one wishes to simply experiment with even more alternatives just to see what might result), formulate further alternative constructions of the same events and act "as if" these apply instead.
Personal Construct theory has been explained by George Kelly as a "playful" way to explore the world, an experiment in behavior that that people can use in testing their personally constructed hypotheses. It can be used as a tool in psychotherapy; for instance someone who is shy could act out the role of a "gregarious" person for a few weeks; living "as if" he or she were more outgoing in order to experiment with new ways of behaving and anticipating life. The construct system is an instrument, an ongoing creation of an active person for more easily finding our way in the world.
It scares me to death.
I've always been especially skilled in seeing and entering into others' paradigms and world views. But I've tried to hold on to a notion of One Truth of which Mormons were cognizant. It has been an anchor in my life to know that there is a divine purpose to life, that my trials are given to strengthen me, that there is a God who loves and created me, and a Jesus whose atonement covers my sins and shortcomings. Increasingly, as I've opened myself up to different paradigms, I realize that this is only one world view.
What happens when a Mormon opens her/himself up to this possibility? Do you believe the Kantian assertion that the human mind tortures itself with insoluble problems, searching for truth where no possibility of achieving the truth exists? Can one really know that there is a God, or is faith simply another fictional explanation of observed phenomena (and not always even the best one)?
In the strange and eerie faithless landscape one inhabits as varying models are entertained, can the "as if" theory be of assistance? Does acting "as if" God is there satisfy the human longing for truth and meaning when we find that there are other paradigms that work quite as well in explaining truth? What could happen if we loosen our construction of God and entertain other possibilities? Does this excite you or depress you?