Monday, October 25, 2010

Rationalization part 4 - Objective/Subjective?

This is a long swirl of thought exploration. Perhaps skimming (or skipping!) is as good or better than reading here......

From the Wikipedia pages on these subjects (objects?)

"Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desiers.[1] In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.[1]"

"Objectivity is both a central and elusive philosophical category. While there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity, a proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are "mind-independent"—that is, not the result of any judgments made by a conscious entity or subject."

When thinking in ultimate terms, there is a false dichotomy between objective and subjective. In the end it’s all the same stuff. Here are two problems I see with any notion of ultimate objectivity:

One - Can we really conceive of anything “mind independent” since our minds, and the inevitable coloration they bring to apprehending “reality”, are required to conceive of anything at all? If there is objective reality, how can we know we accurately perceive it?

Two - Ultimately our minds, and the subjective thoughts and feelings they produce, are as much a part of “objective" reality as anything else. They actually do exist. Products of minds and products of “mind-independent” aspects of the universe are ultimately the same thing. The unicorn I imagine is ultimately made of the same stuff as the keyboard I am touching now.

But even though there is no ultimate objectivity we can access with certainty, it’s a useful concept in everyday use, as it helps distinguish between things that we describe as a personal point of view and things that are there regardless of our point of view - even though ultimately we couldn’t perceive anything as exisiting at all without a point of view! Yes, it’s tricky business.

Is it hopeless to have conversations which seek objectivity? No, but they must be built upon shared suppositions that may not be ultimately defendable themselves.

Could these suppositions be anything? No, because even if they cannot be ultimately defended, there must be some sort of reason for them - primarily that they give us success in some way. Rationality tends to give us positive results, for instance. It gives us more prediction and control over aspects of our world, and this contributes to our well-being. Therefore it seems a wise choice to seek this idea of rationality. And of course, I have to use rationality to justify rationality, and the only thing I can appeal to in defending rationality is some sort of enhanced well-being.

How do we define what is rational and what isn't? Aren't these systems of thought that we have developed that just seem to be true to us? Is that proof? We think it is true. We feel it is true. Can there be evidence that it is true? Can we exhibit meta-rationality? Perhaps only in the realm of our intuitions and feelings about what is successful - in the evidence of what works and enhances our lives.

Once again, we have to adopt foundations to have a discussion or a train of thought, but the only way we can justify these foundations ultimately is if they work in some way for us. Otherwise we are making a giant claim about the ability of the human mind to understand ultimate reality, and this is difficult to justify. Even logic depends on our levels of ability to generate words and concepts and the context in which we do it, which I do not think we can assume is indicative of any ultimate reality, else, once again, we are making very strong claims about the scope of the finite human mind.

In an ultimate sense, we can't start at the beginning, with ultimate foundations, because we are not there! We are in the middle and we have to reconstruct backwards and forwards to find the best way.

Perhaps in a deeper, more comprehensive level of reality, A can be "A" and "not-A" in a way that would blow a gasket in our finite minds. After all, can ants understand calculus? Just because I may be unable to have a system of thought without logic, is this proof that logic is an ultimate reality beyond humanity? Apparently I am trying to use logic to question logic's ultimate reality. So what does it mean for something to be illogical? That it cannot exist? Like a married bachelor? But if it cannot exist, then is the term logical really meaningful in any way? And what am I even referencing when I say something like "unmarried bachelor"? Nothing? Is even the term "nothing" indicative of some concept that is real? That would seem to make it not nothing....

If logic is the standard by which we judge thoughts, how do we judge this standard? Who will police the police? The Coast Guard?

Perhaps logic is a term that we use to describe the quality of the ability to exist. Or perhaps it is a term that we use for thought systems that work - that generate results. So by definition what is logical is what works, but what we use to fill the term "logic" needs to be proven as effective in some way. We discovered it and then labeled it, but we used it to discover it, but we have to check our process of discovery by that which we have labeled. Chicken, egg, Chicken, egg - phoenix, fire, phoenix, fire....

I am not suggesting that logic is not foundational for us. It is. It certainly is the word to describe what is foundational for the human mind. But there may exist things that could blow our minds.

What about quantum mechanics? It seems to suggest that something can act as a single particle and as a wave at the same time. Perhaps this implies that multiples worlds exist outside our ability to normally apprehend, but perhaps it also MIGHT suggest that the principle of non-contradiction falls apart at some level of reality. Perhaps something can be a single particle and a group of particles at the same time. The same is true when contemplating the beginnings of things. What was before the beginning of everything? Such a question is impossible to answer and makes no sense, but the idea of a beginning out of nothing suggests a vioation of the principle of sufficient reason, that everything must have a further explanation for why it is so. If we appeal to a necessary being that does not require any cause at all and has existed forever, this also violates the principle of sufficient reason. We have to pick our nonsense at this point which may point to the limits of the human mind in comprehending the ultimate nature of things, or at least the deeper nature of things.

Does all of this put one of my feet in the camp of the pragmatists? I am not a trained philosopher, and I enjoy reinventing the wheel, but it is nice to find a useful label now and then.


  1. Hi, Steve-

    What a funny post. I am curious about your idea of logic. Logic is an abstraction, and we can make different kinds of logic/maths to suit different axioms. How well any particular logic/axiom fits the natural world is an empirical question. Quantum mechanics follows a particular logic, which is to some degree incompatible with our well-honed macroscopic logic.

    How can we choose the proper logic to apply to ideas and logic themselves? That derives from their definition. If we say that idea A represents a macroscopic box, then we can use macroscopically based logic to manipulate that idea. If we say that idea B represents an imaginary spirit of love and light, we can develop any kind of ornate logic around it that we like. But without empirical connections, we can't call it real.

  2. I think we are on the same page, Burk. QM certainly follows its own logic, but as you say, it may violate our sense of macroscopic logic.

    I guess my thought is that of a deeper sense of rationality or logic - "if this, then that" kind of stuff. I think we take experience and construct abstract models of how things work. But we must utilize these models to create the models, so it's a funny game.

    Mostly, this post is an attempt to get all the stuff rattling around in my head out into the open air before my new son arrives on Monday!

  3. Oh- I forgot to say congratulations in advance. Such excitement!