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The Objective Subjective Dichotomy

  1. Aug 14, 2003 #1

    Another God

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    My quick definitions

    Objective = The way things are. The facts of the universe.

    objective = The human subjective take on what we believe the Objective is like. In our discussion of the objective we are assuming that our subjectivity is an accurate representation of the Objective.

    Intersubjectivity = The consensus of many subjective views. This often results in 'facts' about the objective. It is otherwise an agreement about subjective views (EG it is wrong to kill)

    Subjective = The personal experience. Subjectivity is a purely personal thing. Caused by some external origin (Whether that be a direct causality between the actual Objective universe, or a false representation such as a Matrix type scenario), the Subjective is all we know, and all that is 'knowable', since knowledge, meaning etc are concepts which only exist subjectively.

    Ummmm, yeah, thats basically what I think. Feedback.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2003 #2
    Sorry, I don’t have time to give a real reply tonight. Tomorrow I will. Until then I’ll just post the core of reply from your other thread (sorry for going off topic over there).

    And here is Davidson (in an interview) himself on the three varieties of knowledge (a view I have become found of):

    ...For you, it is no longer sufficient to maintain, like the pragmatists, that one can have knowledge only from the moment in which the single vision of the world is shared, but you insist that it is not possible to reach a vision of the world in the first place without intersubjective sharing.

    Look, what I call the "Cartesian vision" is just a metaphor, and not a comment on Descartes. There is one way of doing philosophy in which you suppose that something is presented to us. That something is either raw experience, sensory data, or stimulations of our nerve endings — it doesn't make any difference; on the basis of this, we construct a picture of an outside world and of other people. I prefer to call such pictures empirical and Cartesian because we can develop a picture of the world all by ourselves, and we could do so even if there were nobody else in the world. Now, my own view is that, until we have an idea of what's going on in the minds of other people, it doesn't make sense to say that we have the concept of objectivity, of something existing in the world quite independent of us. The empiricists have it exactly backwards, because they think that first one knows what's in his own mind, then, with luck, he finds out what is in the outside world, and, with even more luck, he finds out what is in somebody else's mind. I think differently. First we find out what is in somebody else's mind, and by then we have got all the rest. Of course, I really think that it all comes at the same time.

    But if objectivity does not exist without intersubjectivity, how do you define the space of subjectivity? it is in this sense that I am interested in what you have to say about the mind.

    We really can distinguish three different kinds of knowledge. The most important one, the one without which there would not be any other, is third-person knowledge; that is, the knowledge of what is in other minds. The implication is that we have to communicate with somebody else, which means knowing what they are thinking in order to have a concept of objectivity — that is, a concept of objects in a public space and time. Of course, if we have knowledge of other minds, we must at the same time already have a concept of the shared world. Knowledge of the external, in the sense of shared, world, is the second kind of knowledge, from which follows a third: the knowledge of what happens inside ourselves.

    Are there differences between these three types of knowledge: that which we can learn from someone else's mind, that of common objects in the world, and that of oneself?

    Certainly. And to understand them, we need to begin with a question. If we ask what the criteria are for saying that some object is three feet long, the criteria themselves are objective in the sense that we can agree with other people as to what the criteria are. For example, we map lengths of things or temperatures on the basis of numbers, insofar as the relevant properties of numbers is a fact we can agree upon. When it comes to keeping track of what is in somebody else's mind, there is no way to agree on criteria, because our contacts with other minds were the basis of the criteria. So, when we ask, "what does somebody else think, believe, or want?" all we can do is relate their states of mind to our own states of mind. There is only a subjective yardstick. But there is also a mild paradox — that intersubjectivity is the sphere where each of us uses his own thoughts to make sense of other people's thoughts — so that between us we construct something intersubjective that is objective.

    And the third type of knowledge? that of oneself?

    The third type of knowledge is the knowledge of our mind, and we cannot talk about criteria anymore. It does not make any sense to ask, "Does my sentence 'the snow is white' really mean that the snow is white?" Self-interpretation does not have criteria, except when you begin to use very sophisticated psychoanalytic and Freudian concepts to question the contents of your own mind from the point of view of other things that are also in your mind. Basically, however, you don't interpret yourself on the basis of evidence. When things go wrong, you act as though you were looking at yourself from the outside.

    From Giovanna Borradori's “The American Philosopher:
    Conversations With Quine, Davidson, Putnam, Nozick, Danto, Rorty, Cavell, MacIntyre, and Kuhn”
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 14, 2003
  4. Aug 14, 2003 #3
    I'm not sure how this ties with your ideas, but I realized long ago that the subjective-objective dichotomy is a feature of our language and not of our experience.

    The main purpose of language is to communicate. Communication itself embodies the notion of duality, of a dichotomy between something/someone who has information and something/someone who doesn't. So the single most important function of language is to move information between two essentially different entities.

    But communication implies more than that. The notion that information can be communicated also implies the notion that at least some amount of information is conserved by the process of communicating it. That is, communication depends on the existence of a medium which somehow isolates the information from the entities involved in the communication process. Hence, subject, object, and a common yet independent reality which connects them.

    From that perspective, all scientific theories, even logic itself, can be seen as the study of the consequences of the fact that reality, by definition, conserves information. In other words, science and logic are the study of linguistic concepts! It is no coincidence that our rational knowledge implies the existence of dichotomies between two mutually exclusive concepts; the dichotomies are embedded in the very concept science is devoted to: language.

    If you stop the endless chatter in your head, and try to perceive the world without consciously thinking about it, you'll soon realize there's no clear division between the self and what the self is experiencing. The notion that the self is independent from experience, as well as the notion that the objects of experience are independent of the self, is just an illusion caused by "the bewilderment of thought by language", as a famous philosopher put it. Not to mention the Eastern mystics, who have known that for ages...
  5. Aug 15, 2003 #4


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    I don't see verbal commmunication as being inherrently ambiguous, amadeus. Thats a relatively new disease called "Clintonitis."

    Most words, especially those used in science, have highly specific and universally accepted meanings. I think the dichotomy in the language comes from the dichotomy in the concepts themselves. If it were possible to separate the two, the meanings would be unambiguous.
  6. Aug 15, 2003 #5
    Words are symbolic of concepts and, as Hegel pointed out, one concept leads to another which leads to yet again more. Thus the objective and subjective imply each other and a great deal more. Their exact meaning as well, if there is such a thing, changes with our growing realization of the interconnectedness of all concepts.

    If the objective is simply a subjective deduction, then objectivity is merely a statistical affair. There are of course lies, damn lies, and then statistics. At one time most people believed the objective truth was that the world is flat. So much for the trustworthiness of statistics and objectivity.

    Subjectivity has proven just as fickle a guide, and some psychologists suggest it is for exactly the same reasons. Instead of a single personality and seat of consciousness, each person may have hundreds floating around in their head. Certainly the notion of the conscious and unconscious minds that is so popular today implies there are at least two. Where does it all end?

    Curiouser and curiouser said Alice looking upon the cakes and potion. Eat me, drink me.
  7. Aug 15, 2003 #6
    It's impossible to know even IF Objective exists...
  8. Aug 15, 2003 #7

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    By my definition of Objective, it is a definite contingent truth. That which exists is Objectively in existence. It is quite apparent that I exist (whatever that means/implies) and so there is an Objective fact about my existence, and so Objective exists. there can be no question as to the existence of Objective.
  9. Aug 15, 2003 #8

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    reply when you get the chance, because I think the extra definitions used above will change your prvious statements a little.... So I'd rather deal with your direct comments rather than what was said in your quote (mostly because I don't really get all of the quote. I will need to read it a few more times I think)
  10. Aug 16, 2003 #9
    My answer: yes there can. Your existance might be an illusion, nothing more. Perhaps nothing exists. Perhaps you exist and everything else exists in your mind. The human mind is so far from Objective it cannot even tell if Objective exists for sure, because all the proof comes from the human perceptions, which are highly subjective.

    Your existance is only "apparent" to you...
  11. Aug 17, 2003 #10

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    Where does this illsuoin come from? Is there an illusion, or isn't there?

    The answer is quite apparent, and the implication is unavoidable.

    Perhaps it is possible that nothing could exist, but it is apparent in this instance, that something does. What that is precisely, I am not 100% fussed about. On account of the fact that I can only know my subjectivity, I am only concerned with what my subjectivity can tell me. But the subjectivity is certainly coming from somewhere. That is Objective.
  12. Aug 18, 2003 #11
    Sorry, still no reply, I am actually away from home remodeling my parents' other house.
  13. Aug 18, 2003 #12
    Another Gods,
    perhaps our logic itself is flawed.

    Good argument about the existance of the illusion, though!
  14. Aug 18, 2003 #13
    Just to tie things up in even greater knots.
    If reality, objectivity and subjectivity, is an illusion and the illusion exists, then objectivity and subjectivity exists for they are the illusion.
    If I exist as I must to perceive the illusion, the illusion must exist for me to perceive it.
    Is then the illusion a product of myself or provided by something else?

    If I am an illusion percieving an illusion and nothing exists in reality then in what form other than reality do I exist and what form other than reality does the illusion exist? Who, what, where, when is creating the illusion that is me and creating the illusion that I perceive to be reality?

    Wu Li may be able to answer these questions but I'm sure it would boil down to the absurd and paradox of existence. He would be right; but, is it the words or reality that is the absurd and paradox?

    I think that for any meaningful discussion to take place about anything between two entities we must assume that at some level we exist in reality as do others and that objectivity exists in the physical material reality and that subjectivity exists in the mental reality of our minds. There may be other realities, as I believe, but the objective and subjective are the minimum required to avoid the total absurdity and paradox of an uncreated timespaceless illusion discussing illusion with another illusiion. My head hurts!
    Enough already!
  15. Aug 19, 2003 #14

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    If all of those things are an 'illusion' then you might as well dispense with the word illusion, and call it reality. For an illusion is simply that which is pretend, as compared with reality. If everything was an illusion, then the illusion would be reality since it was not actually illusory in comparison to anything. It just is. Just like reality.

    The illusion is certainly not a product of yourself. It can exist without you. It will not be percieved without you, but we have no reason to believe that perception is required for existence.

    So what is it? It just is. It exists (in reality...or, as reality if you insist on the above situation) and that is all. It is Objective.

    Exactly. If 'everything' is an illusion, then why call it an illusion? It's an illusion in light of what exactly?

    Drop the illusion tag, and the question goes away quite easily.

    Hmm, yeah, head hurting stuff alright. I am actually considering revising my definitions now anyway. This discussion is pointing me to some real issues which I need to deal with. The fact that my definition of Objective could, for instance end up being meaningless...But I am still unsure. I mean, under my current understanding each of our subjective thoughts, can be said to Objectively exist... It is an Objective fact that I am subjectively thinking about this topic. But what does that mean...does it mean anything?

    hmmm...i think it does, but I am less sure. Probably less practical application in daily use, but for abstract philosophical concepts I think it does help somewhat.

  16. Aug 19, 2003 #15
    AG, you saw my point that if everything is illusion then as the illusion exists, illusion becomes reality and therefore the word illusion is no longer required and becomes meaningless in this context. It is a moot point.
    I don't think that objectivity is a meaningless term. The objective reality, a least in my mind and what I thought you were saying, is material physical reality. A rock exists. It is a physical object and thus objective.
    I percieve the rock through my senses and have the rock firmly in my mind along with a lot of information about the rock. This mental image or perception of the rock however is not physical but mental.
    This perception is therefore subjective not objective. Both are real and both exist in reality but they are not the same.
    As you pointed out my sujective perception of the rock requires that I exist for it to exist. The rock does not require my existence for it to exist. The objective rock and all other objective things in the universe including the universe do not require my existence to exists. My knowledge and perception and mental image of the universe does required my existence to exist therefore it is subjective.
    I think that that is the main difference between objective and subjective. Objective exists whether anyone is present to percieve it or not. Subjective requires someone to exist to have the perception in their mind.
    A tree falling in the woods with no life form to perceive the vibration of its falling makes no noise merely physical vibrations in the different media present. Sound is subjective as it is a perception, an interpetion of vibration as sound in a mind.
    Do you see the point, the difference and why both are required in our world at a minimum.
    Objectivity exists independent of a mind to perceive it; but, so what? With out a mind present it doesn't matter if objectivity exist or not. It is a meaningless moot point. All that a mind perceives and contains is subjective but it requires not only our existense but the existence of the objective world to perceive in the first place.

    This thinking is why I refer to myself as a material idealist which seems self-contradictory and mutually exclusive but not in my mind.
    It is a perfect example of Wu Li's absurd paradox of existence; but, to me it is neither absurd or a paradox. I makes perfect sense to me and is an acceptable natural dichotomy. It simply is.

    Absurdity and paradox do not exist in nature. It is only the limitations of our linear language, minds and perceptions that make reality appear absurd or paradoxical. Once again as you and I say along with the Taoist and Zen Buddhist --- It Is. (I would also add that God Is. That is why, It Is.)
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2003
  17. Aug 19, 2003 #16
    I happen to think along very similar lines. Everything we know about the world from direct experience, all our sensory impressions, are mental. So when we talk about the physical universe and everything within it, we are talking about an image that only exists in our minds. The objective universe, as we define it, cannot be perceived; whatever objective reality is, it can only be known by inference. And this is where I think we should take the next step...

    Actually, because we cannot experience the objective side of reality, but only make inferences about its existence and its properties, wouldn't it be fair to say that objectivity is just as mental as subjectivity? Without a mind to infer the existence of something which is supposed to exist in the mind's absence, but cannot be proven to exist by definition, doesn't the objective universe vanish together with the subjective one?

    The dichotomy obviously exists, but I think it's time we understand where it comes from. However you look at the universe, if you think seriously about it you always end up with the same conclusion: the universe is monistic. As far as I'm concerned the only dilemma left for philosophers is whether to assert "it's all matter" or "it's all mind". As far as I'm concerned, materialism and idealism are almost perfectly isomorphic so in the end it's just a matter of choosing the word we like best.

    Yet, even as we understand why the universe must be monistic, we still have to explain where the dualistic dichotomies come from. For both the materialist and the idealist believe in the existence of a subjective mind as well as an objective physical reality; the only issue is which comes first, mind or matter. That's where the isomorphism between the two views breaks. I know of no solution for that dilemma, other than asserting as a matter of faith that whatever position you happen to hold is the true one. But I have my own guess.

    I think the essence of reality, whether you call it physical or mental, can be best understood as an undefined paradox. The objective physical world exists as an attempt to solve the paradox. The subjective mind exists as an attempt to solve the paradox. The paradox is never really solved, only replaced with new ones, which is the phenomenon known as "time".

    If you think, as I do, that both the subjective perception as well as the objective existence of reality are manifestations of a paradox, it becomes futile to try and solve the dichotomies, or even assert the superiority of one position over the other. Both materialism and idealism are true, and the fact that they contradict each other is just a reflection of the fact that both attempt to define an undefinable paradox - reality.

    That's as far as my rational mind can possibly go. Beyond that, there's only the humbling feeling that a sacred book, a magnificent temple, a symbolic ritual, can make you feel closer to reality than any scientific theory.
  18. Aug 19, 2003 #17
    I agree completely so far. What then is the next step?

    It would be fair but this is where materialism comes in. Objectivity exists without a mind to perceive it within the dichotomy of objectivity/subjectivity. I hold, however, that without a mind to perceive or experience objectivity it's existence is moot.

    We disagree here also. Material objects exist and may be thought of as monistic. I hold that our perceptions of the monistic universe is seperate from and different from objectivity. Our perceptions and mental images and knowledge are nonmaterial and thus subjective but just as real as the objective reality. It is a dichotomy only in words, semantics not in nature or better reality.

    The reason it appears to be a paradoxis because we are looking and only part of reality, two parts or a three part reality. Once we understant that the untimate reality is spiritual, outside of spacetime objectivity and mental subjectivity the paradox and dichotomy disappears. The spiritual reality that is God wholly contains and made to be all of subjectivity and objectivity, two faces of the same reality. They are simply two aspects of the one reality that all exists within.
    To belabor the obvious, we cannot remove or seperate any one side or face of a triangle, trinity, without completely distroying the triangle. In this sense it is one, monistic, yet not the same, trinity. The trinity of reality is made up of the objective and subjective and spiritual for want of a better word. There is no paradox. There is only reality, nature. It is our inability to correctly and adequately comprehend reality that leads to percieved paradox and absurdity.

    Thus we come to the next step. We must look beyond paradox and absurdity, beyond objectiity and subjectivity and percieve the ultimate reality of God.
  19. Aug 20, 2003 #18

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    I think I have it now.

    My contention laid within the fact that my definition of Objective completely missed the problems faced by a situation where we are a simulation, within a simulation, within indefinite numbers of simulations, leading to the question of 'Where is the real reality?' How can you ever tell? etc

    So I need to find a way of defining things so that we can refer to 'Material physical reality' without it presuming materialism and while maintaining the 'Objective' nature of it.

    I am thinking we need to find a name which presents its 'Subjective causal nature' ie: We need to name the very thing which causes our subjective experiences.

    It is one thing to say that there is a top level to a multileveled illusion within illusion within illusion type world, and that that top level essentially comes down to the description of every illusionary world that exists, but that is meaningless to us. What we are directly concerned with, is the cause of our subjective.

    It is almost irrelevent (for the moment at least) whether our subjective cause happens to be The Reality or whether it be the consequence of the actions of a higher level being creating our world as a simulation: The fact is, we are interested in our subjective cause. And that is Our own personal Objective. but I think we need a name for it other than The Objective...or maybe it should be called 'Our Objective', and the uppermost level could be called Objective Reality or something.


    Objective Reality
    Our Objective (or any number of other possible sub reality existences)
    Human objective

    Well...so much for the 'Objective' - 'Subjective' dichotomy, as if they are obviously discrete concepts. I have just created a heirarchy of Objective type subjective type levels.... all of which I claim to exist....
  20. Aug 20, 2003 #19
    AG, this is going to be a long post, so please bear with me.
    I think, if I understand what your last post is saying, that you ar e making a bit too much of the illusion bit.
    The way I look at it and try to understand it is this:

    In our everyday world consider and artist and his work of art. The artist is real, a man, and his art, a painting is real. It is made up of wood, canvas and pigment, all very real physical stuff; but the artist added something to it. By arranging and applying the pigment he added qualities we call art and beauty. The physical painting is still wood, canvas and pigment but now it is also art and beauty and has a worth or value greater than its original parts. This in my mind makes the work of art also real. It exists and has intrinsic value or worth and is art and beauty whatever those terms mean.

    The actual thing that make it artful and beautiful is in realily illusion. The clever way that the artist applied the pigment to create art and beauty is an illusion, a depiction of something that it is not. It is still pigment but pigment arranged to create an illusion of another real thing or person. Yet it is real. It is real art and not just pigment on canvas and wood.

    Now I ask you which is more real, the artist who created the art or the art itself? My answer, of course, is that the artist is more real for while the artwork is real it is still and illusion of a greater reality. With me so far? Now I ask you to consider God and the reality that he created. Which is more real?

    This is why I say that God is the ultimate reality and that ultimate reality I call spiritual because I can't think of a better term to call it.

    I came to this line of thinking by the way when I first heard that your Australian aboridgenies call this the Dream Time. I intuitively sensed the truth and profoundness of this. Many Buddhist refer to this life or reality as an illusion.

    Yes it is dream time and illusion but it is real it is not just smoke and mirrors and it is not really what I think of as a simulation. (By the way I am a Simulation technician and work on an F/A- 18 Flight simulator) Simulation is make believe or pretend illusion.
    this reality is real and only illusion when compared to the ultimate reality as the artwork is real but only an illustion of a greater or more real reality.

    So we have first the ultimate reality of the spiritual realm. Then the next most real subjective realm and finally the least real, the material or objective. This is just the reverse of the way most of us have been taught to believe. What could be more real than our proverbial rock? What is real about thought or knowledge and last the spiritual has no reality at all and as Zero says is pure imagination. This inverted view of reality is what causes the apperent aburdities and paradoxes that we encounter all of the time.

    We infant souls cannot conci=eive of, much less perceive the purely spiritual reality that is God and what we refer to as heaven. We have to have a place to stand and thing to hold on to until we can walk upright on our own two feet. This is, in my mind, why the objective world was created in the first place.

    As we grow and become more mature, spiritual, we learn of the illusion and of the greater reality of the pure spirit realm. We find that we do fine without a place to stand, no place to put our feet or no physical support at all. We no longer are bound or limited to the physical realm and can travel freely in the subjective realm and frequently catch glimpses of and somewhat understand the spiritual realm.

    This IMO is why so many young people are atheist and materialist. They have broken the bonds of childhood and the teachings of their parents and are on their own and own two feet for the first time. They need the physical world to be absolutely real so they can have someplace to stand and something to hold on to. They put aside Santa Clause, the tooth fairy and Easter Bunny along with God and all of the other make believe stuff of their childhood.

    Later as they mature and hold the miracle of their first child in their arms and are overwhelmed by the love that they feel they begin to realize and accept that the subjective is far more valuable and real than the mere objective. This is the first step in maturity. The next step is of course realizing and accepting the ultimate reality of God. Some of us don't have to go through this as we don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

    I realize that you say you are a non-believer, an atheist or agnostic.
    None of that matters. You are beginning to see the reality of the subjective where as Zero only accepts the reality of the objective material realm. Take what you will and can find useful in what I have written here and as always keep and open mind. I think this will if nothing else help you see where I, we are coming from and why we believe, think, as we do.
  21. Aug 20, 2003 #20
    Actually, I think the paradox stems from the fact that we can only understand something if we can establish a cause-effect relationship between that something and something else. For instance, we understand that rain comes from clouds, that clouds come from evaporation, that evaporation is caused by sunlight, that sunlight is caused by nuclear reactions, that nuclear reactions are caused by nuclear forces... where does it stop???

    The thing is, it doesn't matter how long your causal chain is, it always ends up with something you can't possibly understand. Ultimately we have no option but to choose among one of the three possibilities:

    - it comes from nothing
    - it comes from itself
    - it comes from something that cannot be understood by definition (eg, God)

    Either choice is paradoxical. I'm of the opinion that "it comes from God" is the best choice, as it implies that the paradox is a feature of our knowledge, not of reality. But the bottom line is, any rational explanation of the universe leads to a paradox. We can shift the paradox further away from view, but we can't get rid of it.

    On the other hand, if you stop trying to understand your experiences, and simply focus on the here and now, then it all makes perfect sense. The universe exists because it does; if it didn't then it wouldn't. May sound cheesy but it's as close as we can possibly get to the truth.
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