In the 1998 movie, The Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank is an unwitting participant in an ongoing reality show that is watched by audiences around the world.
Truman’s entire world that he lives in, is an artificial construct within a giant arcological dome in Hollywood. Around the town are thousands of cameras watching his every move. All the events that Truman experiences take place within a closely controlled environment. This is overseen by the show’s executive producer, Christof, played by Ed Harris.
On his 30th birthday, Truman begins to notice unusual occurrences. These slowly challenge his reality and cause him to question whether everything in his life is actually real. As his reality starts to unravel, he eventually attempts to sail away. However, he collides with the wall of the dome and punctures it.
When he finds an exit, Christof tries to discourage Truman from leaving, telling him that there is no more truth in the real world, and that Truman would be better off in the artificial one where he would have nothing to fear. However, now that his eyes are open, this changes his worldview of his own reality forever. Truman decides to leave as he can no longer stay where he was all these years.
How our worldview affects us
The Truman show presents a powerful image of how our worldview can suddenly change. As a result, we can no longer go back to the way we were before.
Most of us aren’t conscious of our worldview. We do not learn it so much as absorb it from our surrounding culture. We assume that the way we understand life is how everyone else does, and that our own understanding of the world is reality.
In his book The Universe Next Door, James Sire defines a worldview as “a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) that we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.”
We acquire many of our thinking patterns through which we evaluate and interpret our experiences from our parents, the media, art, education, to name but a few sources. Our worldview acts like a lens. It colours, clarifies or warps our perception of the world around us.
These thinking patterns are also known as paradigms.
What is a paradigm?
The word “paradigm” was originally a scientific term and was introduced by Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn argues how almost every significant breakthrough in the field of scientific endeavour was a break with old ways of thinking or paradigms.
Today, the word more commonly refers to a model, theory, assumption or frame of reference. In its more general sense, it refers to the way we see the world. This is not so much in terms of our visual sense of sight. It’s more in terms of the way we perceive, understand or interpret things.
A simple way to understand paradigms is to see them as maps. We know that the map is not the territory itself. Instead, it is an explanation of certain aspects of the territory. This is essentially what a paradigm is – a theory, explanation or model of something else.
Each of us tend to think that we see things as they are, that we are objective. As Christof says in the Truman show, “We accept the reality with which we are presented.”
However, this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are, or as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we’re actually describing things with reference to our own perceptions or paradigms.
The more we’re aware of our paradigms or assumptions, and how our experience influences it, the more we can examine these paradigms. We can test them against reality and truth and listen to others. This allows us to be open to their perceptions, and obtain a large piece of the picture and a more objective view.
In order to do this, we need to undergo a paradigm (or perception) shift. In other words, we need a change of our worldview in order to see things different, much like how Truman underwent one himself.
How we experience a paradigm shift
Have you seen those optical illusions like the duck-rabbit picture where there appears to be more than one image but you usually only see one at first?
Take a look at the one below. What do you see first? A young lady or an old woman?
Some see a young lady at first. Then, looking at the picture differently, an old woman. For some people, they can only see one and find it difficult to see the other until someone shows them how to see the image differently. The lines of the drawing do not shift, but the perception of the observer does.
The type of perception shift associated with this type of image illusion above is more commonly known as a Gestalt switch, which is a psychological term.
The image is not dependent upon your change of perception. The picture of the young lady and old woman are still there regardless of whether you are able to perceive it differently or not. However, in order to be able to see and experience both, you need to experience a paradigm shift or a change in your perception or world view.
Not all paradigm shifts or Gestalt switches are instantaneous. It can sometimes be a slow, difficult and deliberate process. Sometimes it can be the outgrowth of years of conditioning and experience. As we grapple with different situations in our lives, this forces us to challenge what we accepted without question before.
Learning to see differently can be a process that we arrive at over a period of time. However, most people are unaware of this process actually taking place.
The need for a renewal of our minds
Think back to how you thought before you became a Christian. Your view of the world and of everything that happened was completely different to the way you might think of things now.
This might be different for each of you depending on your own experience. If you only became a Christian later in life, then you’ll be more aware of this. However, if you were a Christian from a young age, the you might find it hard to remember a time you ever thought differently.
If you went from an atheist to a Christian, this would have involved a complete shift in the way you viewed and interpreted the world. Many non-Christians often regard Biblical truths as illogical or contrary to one’s general worldview. By nature, we cannot accept certain Biblical truths, for it doesn’t fit with what we usually consider to be rational, logical or “true”.
1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16 demonstrates this so-called “illogic” or “foolishness” of God.
In 1:18, Paul writes:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
And in 2:14, he explains:
14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
However, to experience a Gestalt switch, we need a complete change of our minds and the way we see things. Once we’ve experienced this switch, we can’t go back to our previous way of thinking.
Throughout the New Testament, St Paul emphasises the need for God to renew our minds.
In Romans 12:2 he says:
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
He also adds in Ephesians 4:22-24:
22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self,created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Only God can renew and change our minds
Unfortunately, changing our minds is not something that we can arrive at simply through logical reasoning or rational thought.
Although God has made us in His image, because of the Fall, that image is now corrupt. It is only Jesus who can restore that the image of God in us. Similarly, because of the Fall, our reason is also corrupt. That means that we can’t make that rational leap on our own. We cannot experience that paradigm shift and know God or choose Him of our own accord.
Unlike the examples of the Gestalt switch images where you can sometimes discover the other image by yourself, when it comes to knowing God, this change of mind is not something we can initiate ourselves. It involves someone else pointing out the image to us.
As Romans 8:6-7 says:
6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
It is only through a renewing of our minds as we encounter Jesus that we are able to come to know God. Through Jesus, God reveals Himself to us.
In John 6:44, Jesus says:
44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,and I will raise them up at the last day.
It is only when we experience an unveiling or revelation from Jesus through personal encounter with Him that He is able to pull back the curtain that is clouding our minds. When that happens, our whole worldview changes and we can see Jesus as He truly is and experience that paradigm shift.
People are generally unaware of how powerful the influences of a worldview are and how it affects their perception of the supernatural in scripture. If you project your own assumptions or preconceptions derived from your worldview onto God or scripture, this can affect your understanding of key theological concepts.
There’s a lot more that can be said about paradigm shifts and Gestalt switches. I realise I’m only scratching the surface. It’s not my intention to go into a philosophical or psychological discussion here at all. That’s not the point of this post. However, it’s good to be aware of our worldviews and how it affects our thinking.
If you’re a Christian, how did you come to know Jesus? Was it something gradual or over a period of time, and if so, did you experience a complete change of your worldview?
What did you see first? The young woman or the old woman? Can you think of any other pictures similar to that which require a Gestalt switch or paradigm shift in order to see the other image?
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.