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On the existence of Objective reality

  1. Aug 21, 2003 #1


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    This discussion originally arose in the thread "The answer to the 'Does God exist' question from Human Practice." I'm posting it in a new thread because by now it's a pretty deep tangent to the original thread and it's also an issue worth discussing in its own right.

    I am not arguing for solipsism. Obviously something 'objective' exists in some sense, because different people share the same experiences of an external reality. But what is the nature of this mysterious objective realm? Well, it is inter-subjective in that there are multiple subjective viewpoints of it. Is there something beyond and fundamentally different from these subjective viewpoints? If so, it is by definition impossible for us to come into direct contact with it; by extension, it is impossible for us to verify its existence. We can ascribe our varying subjective viewpoints to something that is fundamentally not subjective in nature (call it the Objective world, with apologies to the "Objective Subjective Dichotomy thread"), but this ascription can never be verified. Objective reality, in the sense that it is commonly used, is as much of a philosophical chimera as God; we can never verify that our assumptions about it are true, and so any argument we make about it runs the risk of being an unsound argument.

    Of course, it is also ultimately an assumption that there exist more than one subjective viewpoint, i.e. that I am not the only conscious being (thus contradicting solipsism). But I do not find this assumption as problematic as the assumption of Objective reality. Supposing that other humans are conscious only acknowledges a multiplicity of subjective viewpoints, something which I already know to exist (in myself). Supposing that Objective reality exists posits the existence of something that I can never touch (figuratively and literally) and whose nature differs fundamentally from anything I can possibly know. Furthermore, it introduces the mind-body problem: how can something that is fundamentally not 'mental' or 'conscious' in nature give rise to consciousness?

    Now, I am not arguing that Objective reality does not exist. I am merely arguing that, just as with God, we can never know for sure if it exists or not, and furthermore that supposing its existence raises a number of seemingly intractable philosophical problems. Therefore, we should retain at least some measure of doubt as to the existence of Objective reality.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 22, 2003 #2


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    (a) You are not conscious - at least, not in any special sense.
    (b) There is something additional to objective reality.
    (c) Objective reality is conscious.
    (d) Consciousness describes an event, not a fundamental essence, and so can be produced.

    Take your pick.

    Definitely. But supposing that it doesn't raises another set of problems.
  4. Aug 22, 2003 #3


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    (a) I reject immediately, from first principles. (d) doesn't seem to address the problem; how can an event be conscious? I believe the answer lies somewhere between (b) and (c). But both (b) and (c) directly contradict the assumption of the nature of Objective reality-- namely, that Objective reality is fundamentally different in nature from mental phenomena, or more particularly, that there is nothing subjective or 'mental' about Objective reality.

    Even if we suppose that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon produced by the physical brain existing in Objective reality, we still lack any semblence of a bridge principle from the reductive level of analysis (sets of neurons) to the emergent global one (consciousness). For instance, the property of a liquid that it takes the shape of its container is an emergent phenomenon, and the reductive level of analysis describes this in terms of the loose attractions between individual molecules of liquids. Here there is a clear bridge principle-- both reductive and global levels describe the structure of a liquid, just on different scales; there is something 'structural' going on in both accounts. But if there is nothing 'mental' about Objective reality, it is not clear if there can even be a coherent bridge principle between describing Objective neurons and subjective experience. In the face of this quandary, I prefer to believe that the assumption that Objective reality is something altogether different from mental phenomena is faulty. If we cede this point, we must begin to question the extent to which subjective and objective (little o) are really different or distinct-- in other words, further assumptions about Objective reality are called into question.

    This is true, but I don't believe these problems to be as fundamentally intractable as those that come along with Objective reality. Or at least, the number of problems raised is reduced. For instance, there will always be the problem of why anything exists in the first place, no matter what we think about the nature of reality. But assuming that Objective reality doesn't exist at least begins to chip away at the mind-body problem, and although science espouses the Objective reality paradigm, a rejection of Objective reality doesn't necessarily imply any inconsistencies with the findings of science.

    (edit for typo)
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2003
  5. Aug 22, 2003 #4
    Do you want to back to the begining again?
    I think; therefore, I am.
    Proof that I exist and sujectivity exists as both thought and the concept of I, self, are subjective.

    Can I prove that others exist?
    Only by intersubjectivity. I gain information outside of myself from others.

    Can I prove that objectivity exists?
    Only by acceptence of the above then by again using intersubjectivity.
    I gain information from outside of myself that objectivity exists and confirm that information with others.
    I: "Is that a rock?"
    Other: "Yes, that is a rock."

    There is no way that we can ever prove that anything but ourselves exists without accepting that our senses are giving us valid information and confirming it with the information supplied by others.

    How valid and complete the information is can be tested and varified but only through our senses and the interpetation that our mind makes on that sensory input. We call this perception.

    Does objective reality exist? Yes, but is only faith that I believe it to be so. I see no way around it or any way to go beyond that leap of faith that objectivity exists. There is no evidence that it does or doesn't that is not a sujective perception.
  6. Aug 22, 2003 #5
    As an aside and some what off of the topic but germane, In light of this thread, how can someone be and objective materialist and believe that sujectivity does not exist?
    I would reaaly like to know. It is a question not a comment. I really can't see or understand where they are comming from and how they rationalize it. In the numerous threads on or involving this suject I have never read one of them actually putting down what makes them think as they do, their line of reasoning other than their proverbial rock.
    Please, if this is too far off the subject just ignore this post. It was just a thought rattling around in my head. I in no way meant to highjack this thread.
  7. Aug 22, 2003 #6


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    This option asks what is consciousness? What it is saying is that conscious as we conventionally think it - as something which is subjectively removed from the world, and as something that is individually real is incorrect, but rather consciousness is a description given to a process, a highly complex system of decision making. From this complexity comes the pattern of thought, and this pattern of thought is what forms feelings.

    From a direction of chaos theory, this is very wrong. Chaos is about the emergence of whole new qualities of behaviour with increasing complexity, and gives the idea that naive scaling behaviour is incorrect. For example, the limitations of the above can be seen if we talk about a single atom. What about a single atom of hydrogen says fluidity to you? Rather, the property of water, such as flowing, is a description of the dynamic behaviour of the particle in interactions, not something that is really reflected from a reductionist scale.

    Even with simplified models, it is possible to model the behaviour of the brain to acheive some quality of how it acts. Consciousness is still seen to follow rules. So, if we can repeat the behaviour of mankind by modelling the dynamics of neutrons - if it smells conscious, looks conscious and acts conscious, how can we say it isn't conscious?

    Well... If you are interested in this, look up the "Participatory Universe" idea by Wheeler. It screws around with causality a bit but basically, it says that the existence of the universe is due to the retro-active observation of conscious observers.
  8. Aug 23, 2003 #7


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    This doesn't amount to the Objective reality I was talking about. The shared perception of the rock is simply an intersubjective phenomenon-- A's subjective content agrees with B's, and so part of their respective and apparently private consciousnesses overlap into something that is, in effect, public. This implies objectivity in some sense; the rock perception is not unique to A or B, and therefore it can in some sense be said to exist outside of their independent minds-- it is a public, shared experience, but it is important to note that what is public and shared to this point is still purely subjective. This shared subjectivity can be called inter-subjective or objective, but Objective reality as I have been using it includes a further assumption.

    Strictly speaking, the scenario above does not imply an underlying, non-mental phenomenon that is responsible for A's and B's shared perceptions of the rock. For instance, suppose for an instant that my brain during a dream can somehow generate two consciousness that can communicate indirectly but cannot directly share their subjective experiences. Now these two dream figures both wind up in the same dream world, where they happen to be looking at a rock. If both of these figures are believers in Objective reality, they will conclude that their shared sensations of the rock imply that there exists between them a 'physical' rock that itself is not mental in nature. But they will be wrong on this account; the rock is mental in nature, because in actuality it is a prop in a dream.
  9. Aug 23, 2003 #8


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    Yes, but this explanation does nothing to fill the explanatory gap-- how can the processes of fundamentally non-mental neurons produce the mental phenomenon of consciousness? The only solution in this scenario is a dualist position.

    I was getting at the latter description, my apologies if I wasn't entirely clear-- what I meant to say was that the macroscopic property of fluidity can be described reductively in terms of the behavior of the constituent molecules. A successful bridge principle does not necessarily endow the component parts of a system with the emergent properties-- this is reflected in your observation that a liquid can be described as fluid even though a single molecule of water cannot be. This is also why I do not believe that we need to say that a neuron, or an atom, is conscious when we are trying to explain the emergence of human consciousness. But what a successful bridge principle must do is make the emergent behavior or nature of a system intellegible in terms of the behavior or nature of the constituent parts. Thus, in the water example, the fluidity of the water is intellegible in terms of the behavior of the constituent parts-- fluidity is a dynamic structural property of water, and so it makes sense to describe it with an appeal to the dynamic microscopic structure of interacting molecules. But there can be no analogous bridge principle linking activity in the brain to consciousness, unless we concede that there is something 'mental' about the constituent parts of the brain and/or their interactions.

    I'm going to address this from two different angles. First, let's consider a real person whose behavior apparently implies consciousness. You take a person and hold a red card in his left visual field and ask him, what color is this card? The person tells you it is red, so you conclude that he had the conscious experience of the color red-- that he actually subjectively experienced redness. But in actuality, you have been fooled-- this person turns out to have blindsight, a condition where he has no visual consciousness in a certain portion of his field of vision, but he can nontheless reliably give you correct information about visual stimuli located in that 'blind' field. Apparently the brain can process information about sensual stimuli without attendent conscious perception. Thus, just because it seems like it is conscious does not mean that it actually is conscious.

    Second, do you mean to imply by your argument that a sufficiently detailed computer simulation of the brain will be conscious? This amounts to a functionalist position. The problem with functionalism is that it denies any meaningful physical basis for consciousness. You can make a detailed simulation of an electromagnetic field, but that doesn't mean magnets will stick to your computer. If we assume that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of the brain, then we are implying that there are certain causal factors in the brain underlying this emergent phenomenon. A computer simulation will not necessarily possess these causal powers.
  10. Aug 23, 2003 #9


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    The way I see it is to define the idea of mental itself. I consider the mental thing itself to be something of the mass behaviour of the neurones, and so not individually special. Ie. one side is simply a different perspective on the action of the entire other side.

    But on the flip side, we have an another problem - how can we say someone else is conscious at all without resorting to functionalism - of perhaps the appearance of their brain cells, their eeg scans as well as what they say. From this basis, we do get pushed towards the solipsist side, until we make some sort of functionalist assumption.

    That's because you don't have a sufficiently detailed model. :smile:

    I am talking about something else altogether - perhaps a hypothetical neural network replacing all of the brain cells with processors, connected to a speech interface and everything, programmed to give exactly the same responses as a human, the same eeg readings, so sufficiently detailed to be absolutely indistinguishable. How do you say, when observation confirms everything, that the computer is not conscious? How would you say that this is not what the body does in the production of a child?
  11. Aug 23, 2003 #10
    Objective reality can "strike you on the head".

    If you walk in the mountains, it can occur a stone is falling on your head. Now that stone does exist, without your or anyone else's prior knowledge about it. As soon as it strikes you on the head, provided it does not knock you unconsciouss or out of existence, then becomes available to your consciousness.

    There is no measure of doubt about the existence of the real and objective world. To do so, is only to give credit to the possibility of there being a God. Now it is perfectly arguable that no such form of existence does or can exist. Not using more then trivial logic.

    I have done so in many threads, look for instance at the thread 'Necessity of Being' and the other thread mentioned in there.

    The 'mind-body' problem is not a real problem. The basic issue is perhaps the question of how something can become something else, which is intrinsicaly different.

    Your intuition perhaps tells you that whatever matter is able of interacting, it can not become something else as matter. So it would essentially stay the same.

    This is however not the case.

    Take for instance a cloud of hydrogen gass. Now your logic would infer that whatever there occurs with that cloud of hydrogen gas, it would essentially remain the same.

    But stellar evolution proofs this to the opposite.

    And that is just one of the many steps that are involved in the development of the material world.

    Of course you need many times such steps in material changes to have matter organized in more sophisticated forms, but geological processes and chemical evolution provide all the necessary components to that.
  12. Aug 24, 2003 #11


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    I would agree, but this correspondance is still unintelligible without a bridge principle. If we say that mental is something of the mass behavior of neurons, then this in turn must tell us something about neurons and their interactions; specifically, that the building blocks of subjective, conscious experience are located somewhere in that tangled web of neurons and their mutual activity. This alone contradicts the conventional notion of Objective reality, which attributes nothing to objective matter and energy that could intelligibly account for even the building blocks of subjective, conscious experience. Thus, I think it is most rational to reconceive some of our assumptions regarding the fundamental nature of reality; there seems to be something which the traditional account is omitting, and this omission in turn propogates through basically every nook and cranny of philosophical thought, giving us an impoverished and incomplete understanding of reality and our relationship to it.

    Well, look at it this way. We can start by saying that I (you) am (are) conscious. Then we take the next step by assuming that other people are conscious. This step is further justified if we presume that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of the brain; if we know that a device works to a certain effect, then a (nearly) identical device should work to the same effect. This is a pseudo-functionalist position, because the design specifications of the devices involved (human brains) are basically the same.

    Once we get to the question of a sufficiently detailed computer simulation of a brain, we are making a further assumption-- that it does not matter if we replace the physical organization of neurons in the context of the brain in the context of the body with the vastly different physical organization of processors and memory chips in the context of a computer. Not to say that such a device as you define it would not be conscious; there is no way to be sure. But where do you draw the line? Functionalism says there is no line to be drawn-- as long as you perform the same computations as the brain, you have something that is conscious. Thus, if you have an abacus whose beads you shuffle over centuries to mimic the structure and information processing properties of a brain, then that abacus, over a period of centuries, will be a conscious system. Does this proposition sit well with your intuition? Admittedly this is just intuition, but mine tells me that something is wrong with this picture.

    Functionalism basically pulls the rug out under the notion that consciousness is in any meaningful way a physical process-- rather, it attributes causal powers to abstract mathematical formulations. If we want to keep our theories of consciousness grounded on a solid, physical and dare I say scientific basis, we must acknowledge that it is the totality of the physical brain that generates consciousness. Starting from this point, it is not clear what physical aspects can be abstracted away without disrupting the physical processes underlying the emergence of consciousness.
  13. Aug 24, 2003 #12


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    Re: Re: On the existence of Objective reality

    You haven't refuted any of my arguments; all you have said is "the position of Objective reality is correct." Here is an account of your mountain situation, without the question-begging assumptions:

    You are having the sensual, subjective experience of walking through the mountains, when suddenly you have the sensual, subjective experience of being struck on the head by a rock. Now, what is the nature of this rock? Is it a hallucination brought on by a bout of epilepsy or is it what you would call a 'real' rock? Let's suppose that you have been walking through the mountains with someone else, and they have seen you being struck by the rock. Well, this pairs down our doubt as to whether the rock was a subjective or objective (private or public) phenomenon. Its existence was apparent to two independent subjects, so unless they were in the unlikely situation of sharing a joint hallucination, it is an objective (public) phenomenon. But is it an Objective phenomenon? That is, is it something whose nature differs fundamentally from a subjective experience, or is it simply a phenomenon that is still of a subjective nature, but happens to somehow avail itself to more than one subject at once (and thus, public)?

    Do you see what I'm getting at here? There is no denying that consciousness exists, and there is no denying that some conscious experiences are shared by arbitrarily many people. I denote these as private and public here, rather than subjective and objective, to eliminate the inevitable assumptions tied into the words 'subjective' and 'objective.' Why are some conscious experiences public and others private? The assumption of Objective reality states that the publicly experienced phenomena are generated by an underlying set of phenomena which themselves are entirely 'non-mental' in nature. But this is only an assumption, and does not of necessity follow from first principles. For instance, a competing ontology might hold that publicly experienced phenomena (external reality) are those areas of independent subjective experience that overlap; this would be analogous to creating a mental landscape and viewing it in turn from different imagined perspectives. There is no way to prove that the one is the case, and the other is not; but I have argued what I think is a compelling case for something like the latter, since it is not a dualistic philosophy and makes the mind-body problem intelligible.

    edit: Additionally, not holding the position that Objective reality is true in no way necessitates the introduction of the concept of God.

    Your example of stellar evolution does not address the problem; it is a case of an Objective phenomenon of one kind becoming an Objective phenomenon of another kind. This is not comparable to an Objective phenomenon becoming a subjective phenomenon. Bridge principles exist for the former, but no bridge principles exist for the latter. The problem as it stands is intractable, and the only way to remove this flaw is to hold a dualist position or to reconceive of what we mean by 'objective.'
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2003
  14. Aug 24, 2003 #13

    Since we can research the stone and the cause for it falling on our head, and research the wound on our head, this sort of makes it an objective experience.

    It is not that it happened in a dream or so.

    The other thing you mentioned, that something obective can become something other objective, but that it can not turn into some subjective...

    What are you trying to say, that you yourself, or your consciousness only exist in a subjective form?

    That you do not have objective existence?
  15. Aug 24, 2003 #14


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    I don't think you are quite understanding my point. The phenomenon is objective, insofar as it is a public phenomenon that is experienced by other people as well as myself. But the observation that some conscious experiences are public does not require or logically imply in any way that there is something fundamentally 'non-mental' about them. In what sense is a dreamed reality different from a waking reality, besides that the former is privately experiences and the latter is publicly or mutually experienced? You would say that the former is a mental phenomenon and the latter is not, but there is no reason to establish any ontological differences between the two, beyond the fact that the one is experienced by one person and the other experienced simultaneously by many people, besides human bias.

    I said that something Objective can not turn into something subjective, because of the onological assumptions that go along with "Objective" as I have been using it. Thus, I suggest that perhaps there is something fundamentally 'mental' or 'subjective' about my objective (public) existence.
  16. Aug 24, 2003 #15
    You did not understand MY point.

    The relations we have with outside reality are objective, not subjective. Only if we were to state that the stone was intentionally falling on our head, then that is subjective.

    But I claimed that consciousness is an objective phenomena.
  17. Aug 24, 2003 #16


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    I don't think the content of what I am trying to say is quite getting across, so I have sketched it out pictorially, using the example of two people looking at a tree. The stick figures are a shorthand for the consciousnesses of A and B, and the thought bubbles represent the content of their consciousnesses.

    1. depicts all we can be sure of in this situation-- A and B have conscious perceptions of a tree, and their perceptions of the tree are more or less congruent-- the contents of their visual consciousnesses are the same.

    2. depicts the explanation of this situation according to the idea of Objective reality. Here we see A's and B's perceptions of the trees corresponding to something we call the material tree, whose existence is inherently unknowable to A and B (who can only know what is contained in their thought bubbles), and which itself is entirely non-mental in nature. Note that there is nothing from 1. that necessarily implies the situation in 2.

    3. depicts a possible alternative explanation for the congruency of A's and B's conscious perceptions of the tree. Here, we see that there is a certain portion of their conscious content that actually overlaps. This overlapping portion is what we call the objective world or external reality. But in this scenario, the tree is not ontologically different from any other mental phenomena A or B might experience-- it is simply a logically consistent mental object that avails itself to the consciousnesses of more than one person at a time, and in this sense it is "external" or "public" but not fundamentally different from any other mental phenomena.

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    Last edited: Sep 3, 2003
  18. Aug 24, 2003 #17

    Simple question:

    Where does the projection/image/idea of tree in the mind of those people (A and B) come from in example 1) 2) and 3).

    Only 2 describes a source, the objective existing tree.

    In 1) we simply assume that A and B's mind 'invent' the same tree, coincidently?

    and in 3) you then invent a sort of 'supermind' which overlaps both A and B's minds?
  19. Aug 24, 2003 #18


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    Let me put this another way.

    This choice - which is of course not proven or anything but a simply possibility, asks us not to re-examine the nature of objective universe, but the real nature of subjective existence. In effect, it is saying that the building blocks of mental etc are not really distinct from the objective, that we misconceive the nature of the brain and mind. The painting is still paint, so to speak.

    But indeed, how do you draw the line between acceptable pseudo-functionism, or assuming that small changes in the brain makes no difference, and full functionism, which is unacceptable? Can it be in any way that is not arbitary?
  20. Aug 24, 2003 #19


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    Well, what is the 'source' of the 'objective existing tree' then? This argument mirrors the first cause argument for the existence of God; all you have done is pushed the philosophical problem of existence onto Objective reality as opposed to subjective experience.

    1 does not make any definitive existential claims, it only states the basic facts of the situation without making any assumptions; namely, that A and B perceive the same thing. 2 and 3 are possible explanations for the congruency relation in 1.

    Whereas in 2) we have invented a concept called 'Objective reality.' What's the difference?
  21. Aug 24, 2003 #20
    The difference is that we state in 2 that the reason for the coincidental experiences are because they come from the same source, the real existing tree.

    This we do not simply "invent", as if it would be a baseless assumption to state that the tree exists on itself.

    The real existing tree is a sufficient reason and cause for this.

    The third things makes a baseless assumption. It assumes the exisence of a third mind. But same as the tree itself, also the mind of the other observer is based on objective experience. Both observers can state from each other that they are consciouss observers.

    Whereas the third mind, just comes from nowhere, it is not objectively based.
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