Posts Tagged ‘objectivity’

The subjectivity of objective

April 18, 2022

Absolute objectivity is a mirage. Objectivity, in itself, is always a value judgement and always subjective. There is no observation, no experience, no proposition, no fact, no truth, no logic which has not been filtered through human cognition and all its shortcomings. Nothing is completely objective. Nothing I write can be objective. That is a truth which comes before the beginning.

Let us start there.

Objective is not a useful word in framing an insult. “You objective scoundrel” somehow elevates a “scoundrel” and detracts from the insult. I cannot think of an example where being objective is considered bad. An objective evil or an objective crime are word combinations without meaning. At worst, objective is perceived as neutral. In regard to human thoughts and actions we assume that they are either based on logic and reason or on feelings and emotion. They are not necessarily opposed but it is implicit in our language that they are different. We perceive reasoning to be more objective than emotional reactions.

We allow the ability to distinguish objective from subjective to reside only in animate things having brains. We do not even allow artificial brains that ability. We know that brains are where both logic and reason on the one hand, and feelings and emotions on the other, reside. But we connect being objective with a brain’s exercise of logic and reason and untainted by emotions. Language does not permit an emotional rationality. Being subjective is also of a brain but is a characteristic of the individuality of that brain and its attendant emotions. Subjectivity is undefined without a brain which generates both reason and emotion. The practice of science and the law thus set a high value on the thing we call objectivity, whereas we appreciate, and expect, an individualistic subjectivity from an author or a musician or a painter or a teacher or a tennis champion.

But in seeking objectivity we are chasing a mirage.

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All objectivity is subjective

April 20, 2017

From a recent talk I gave:

When a tree falls in the forest, a pressure wave is borne by the air, but there is no sound if there is no ear to detect the vibration and no brain to perceive that vibration as sound. On the airless moon there is no medium to convey a pressure wave. “The Sound of Silence”. Silence is what you hear when a tree falls on the moon.

Our eyes do not see any object directly except by reflection. In a mirror, the eye sees a reflection of a reflection of light from an object where the light comes from someplace else. When you discover a car hurtling towards you, your eye only sees a reflection of light from the car approaching, but the light comes from elsewhere. It is fortunate that the light happens to travel faster than the car coming to mow you down. (I note, in passing, that it would have been a far more intelligent design if our eyes had their own inbuilt light sources – laser beams perhaps – but what we would see would still be reflections.)

Our reality is limited by our senses. We are blind to what our senses cannot detect. We cannot see the ultraviolet light all around and we can not detect infra-sounds surrounding us. There is infinitely more that we can not perceive or even detect. Even my thoughts are limited by my imagination. What I cannot imagine, I cannot think of. Without experience, I cannot understand what hunger means to a starving person. Information from the outside world is first filtered by what our senses can detect. Then, it is interpreted and perceived within the limits of our brains. I cannot convey the pressure wave my ears detect, but I can try to describe the sound I hear. But all that I can communicate is limited by my language. The structure and vocabulary of the languages I know cannot cope with all the nuances of emotion and sounds and sights and smells and tastes of what I perceive I experience. 

Where I hear cacophony my son hears music. What I perceive as the worst stench in the world can be perceived as the delicate fragrance of surstromming by a Norrlänning

There are no facts that are not perceptions and there are no truths that are not interpretations in a brain. To make a judgement is to be biased. Being unbiased is not always right. To discriminate is a consequence of thought. Discrimination is not always wrong. To be different is to be unequal. Inequality is not always undesirable. To reward is a consequence of deserving. Equality is not always wise. The question is whether one is just in ones actions. But what is just depends on where the observer is positioned.

My objectivity is not necessarily yours. I have no objection if others have different opinions to mine, even if theirs are invariably wrong. My point is that objectivity is inevitably, and always, subjective.


 


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