How do people shape their worldview


At all times people made a picture of the world in which they lived and how they understood it - and recorded this visually according to their possibilities and the media available to them. [1] The questions behind this practice of creating world views have remained the same over the centuries. They concern the order in which man finds himself embedded and his position within this order: What is the shape of the world? Which forces and ideas are working in her? What is it made of? How did it come about? What does your future look like?

The terms "worldview" and "Weltanschauung" associated with this order refer directly to the fundamental importance of seeing and imagery for the human experience of the world. [2] Images have a fundamentally orienting and structuring function for people. However, clarity as a fundamental category for our understanding of the world means more than a mere reproduction of the visible: The visual worlds of the world views not only convey a clear picture of the world and the cosmos or the corresponding ideas. Pictorial representation necessarily always goes hand in hand with an abstraction. Therefore, the world represented is always a reality produced by humans and thus interpreted on the one hand and symbolically constructed on the other. Images of the world are at the same time powerful instruments for practical and theoretical action in the world and shape the construction and imagination of the world in general in a wide variety of ways.

The history of the "world as image" ranges from cosmological models of antiquity to the latest computer-generated visualizations in astrophysics. So it is not just a story of changing world views, but also a story of changing presentation methods and different visualization media: When looking at world views, a variety of visual media comes into view: book illumination and computer simulation, panel painting and infographics, cartography and diagrams. In the following I would like to use selected pictorial representations of the world to show examples of some aspects of the history of the visual worlds of world views - although this chronological order is only to be understood as a linear development to a limited extent.

From the symbolism of the center and perfect circles

Figure 1: Babylonian world map (7th - 6th century BC) (& copy bpb)
Images of the world in the sense of practices of visual world creation arise long before our era. One of the earliest surviving world views is the so-called Babylonian world map, which dates from the 7th to 6th centuries BC. BC in Mesopotamia and is now in the British Museum in London. On the 8.2 by 12.2 centimeter fragment of a clay tablet, texts in cuneiform are carved on the front and back, and a map from a bird's eye view is on the lower half (Illustration 1).

Important cities and areas are located on a circular area within an evenly wide ring, which is marked as the ocean. Beyond the ocean, a series of triangular shapes adjoin on the outside in a star shape, the tips of which protrude into presumably unknown terrain - the spaces between the tips are unlabeled. Two parallel lines, which very likely represent the Euphrates, run from the top center of the circle down through the center of the map and meet two horizontal lines called the canal. In the center is the city of Babylon with the high temple, which is presented as a symbol of the cohesion of the world - heaven, earth and underworld - as a vertical cosmic axis, which has guaranteed the stability of the world structure from the beginning of time. [3] Following older cartographic conventions, the edges of the known world are represented either as mountains or as seas, populated by terrifying hybrid creatures and thus embody a kind of counter-world to the civilization of the ordered ancient oriental urban culture.

The text on the front and back of the clay tablet makes reference to the illustration. In this way, the conceptual order of the world is juxtaposed with a model-like, intuitive order. At the same time, the perspective representation of the Babylonian world map gives the viewer a cartographic orientation in the familiar space, which allows him to grasp the world of the Babylonians as a whole. This perspective on the world is, however, at the same time a perspective, the framing of a relationship to the self and the world that is based on certain basic assumptions of the world, on the basis of which the phenomena can be viewed in the first place. [4] These are always culture and time bound. Worldviews are therefore to be understood as models of convictions through which people ascertain themselves, their position in the world and the world as such before all knowledge and before every action, with an orientation and interpretation function. [5] The Babylonian world map and the text belonging to it are embedded in a symbolic world view, in which the action of the gods in particular makes the world legible for people.

This can also be seen in the images of Christian world views of the Latin Middle Ages, so-called mappae mundi, [6] moor. Unlike the medieval Muslim sky maps based on the methods of Greek natural science, which themselves do not document a religious dimension and rather served to create lunar calendars for religious rituals and to determine the times of prayer, or map diagrams of the Islamic world to determine the kibla, the direction of prayer to Mecca from any direction in the world mappae mundi religiously reshaped and shaped by the biblical tradition of the order of the world and have numerous references to Christian salvation history. [7]

One example is the London Psalter map, which was created in the 1260s and is now kept in the British Library in London (Figure 2). On the front, also from a bird's eye view, it shows the world as a disc blessed by the Savior, framed by a green ring that represents the ocean. In the middle at the top of the map, i.e. in the east, you can see paradise with the double portrait of Adam and Eve and five rivers springing there. To the right of it the Red Sea can be seen, to the left the Caucasian fortress, behind which Alexander the Great is said to have enclosed the end-time peoples Gog and Magog. Opposite, on the southern edge of the map, there are human malformations and half-animal fantasy beings in their housings. In the center of the earth, in the middle of the world and the peoples, lies Jerusalem - as has been customary on such western representations of the world since the conquest of the Holy Land by the Crusaders in 1099. In the lower half, the horizontal rivers Don and Nile, also in green, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, sketched vertically, can be seen. This T-shape of the waters, embedded in the world ocean, separates the three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa, which are arranged around the Mediterranean Sea. Following the ancient convention of so-called T-O maps, Asia is in the upper part of the inhabited world, Europe in the lower left quarter and Africa in the lower right quarter. [8] On the back of the sheet, the three continents are assigned to the three sons of Noah Sem (Asia), Jafet (Europe) and Ham (Africa), who, according to biblical tradition, populate the earth after the flood.
Figure 2: London Psalter map (c. 1262 AD) (& copy bpb)

To the same extent that pictorial representations of the known world are inspired by the symbolism of the center up to the early modern period, the geocentric worldview dominates people's conception of the cosmos: from antiquity on, the constantly changing existence on the Earth contrasts the supralunar divine realm of the eternal and unchangeable spherical world, in which the stars in perfect circular movements move their orbits around the earth, which is presented as immobile in the center of the cosmos.

This reference to the ideal shape of the circle is inspired by the assumption of a divine geometry, which was already described by the Greek philosopher Plato (approx. 428–348 BC). He sees this in connection with the creation of the world. Its function is to limit the unlimited, to shape matter according to measure and number and, above all, to create harmony and order. [9] This motif of the geometrizing God can be found in annotated Bible manuscripts from the early 13th century. For example, a representation in the "Bible moralisée" from Oxford from 1235/45 AD, which is now kept in the Bodleian Library, shows God as deus geometra sitting on a throne chair holding the world disc in front of him and precisely outlining the circular shape of the world with a compass in his hand.

The idea of ​​the perfection of the circular movements of the divine stars was already called into question in antiquity by the contemporary observation of the celestial phenomena of the so-called five mad stars: the orbits of the planets Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus and Mercury form loops that can hardly be interpreted, stand still or are even declining. In the second century AD, the Greek mathematician and natural scientist Ptolemaios of Alexandria (approx. 100–170 AD) was able to conclusively explain the complex planetary movements. Century - remains valid: He makes the celestial bodies orbit on epicycles, with which the orbits and the angular distances of the planets from the sun can be precisely described. Ptolemy can reject the heliocentric model developed three centuries earlier by the Greek astronomer and mathematician Aristarchus of Samos (approx. 310–230 BC) to explain the complex orbits of the planets. Because he comes to the conclusion that if the earth were to move in a huge orbit around the sun, certain shifts would have to be recognizable in the fixed star sky in summer as well as in winter - so-called parallaxes. However, parallax effects cannot be discerned in Ptolemy’s time, not even during the lifetime of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) or Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). The latter can use the planet Mars to prove that planets move on elliptical orbits at different speeds around the sun, thus sealing the final departure from the ideal shape of the circle. But it was not until 1838 that the German astronomer and mathematician Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel (1784–1846) was able to precisely demonstrate the effect of a fixed star parallax required by Ptolemy.