Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Subject of Objectivity

Ever get into one of those discussions where, despite an intense volley of back-and-forth points, the conversation usually ends with, "Look, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Let's just agree to disagree". Or, you get people who insist that, "Truth is relative. That's your truth, not my truth".

Polarisation is something that most people can understand pretty easily.

Black vs White, Good vs Evil, Male vs Female, Up vs Down, "A Current Affair" vs real journalism... you get the picture?

Then you have what I call the "Shades of Grey"-er's.

Generally speaking, SOG'ers think that:
  • Good and evil don't really exist

  • Everything is relative

  • Absolutes are bad and miss the bigger picture

  • Truth is always "in between" the opposites.

Etc, etc... The typical Post-Modernist is one way of putting it, although they might vehemently deny being postmodernists quite loudly.

Ironically, both these viewpoints are opposites in a sense as well. Yet, in my opinion, they are reconcilable. Why not have Black, White AND Shades of Grey? I think this can be summed up quite poetically by the saying, "There is Good, Evil, and the specific situation that determines which is which".

Of course, this point of view does not sit very well with the "Morality Police" who belive that "moral relativism" is a cancer that is eating away at the heart of society. Not does it sit very well with the SOG'ers and postmodernists who declare that taking an absolutist stand on any issue is akin to fascism.

Logically, in allowing for the existence of absolutes, one must try to at least hypothesize what they might be. Good and Evil? God and Satan? Well, that's opening up a philosophical and theological can of worms right there. Personally, I think that the terms "Good" and "Evil" are probably too subjective, despite my reference to the previous quote. How many different popular figureheads around the world have defined Good and Evil by their own rules? To suit their own agendas and belief systems?

A better description of the proposed "Universal Absolutes" could be:

  • Chaos vs Order

  • Entropy vs Negentropy

  • Subjectivity vs Objectivity

This might be similar in some ways to the Chinese concept of Yin/Yang.

Of course, to define such things as "Universal Absolutes" is to give them meaning in the same sense as the laws of physics. They are not "concepts" or "ideas" - they are actually real principles that operate in the Universe. If that is the case, surely they can be observed and measured in some way?

Physicist John Wheeler wrote:
"We had this old idea, that there was a universe out there, and here is man, the observer, safely protected from the universe by a six-inch slab of plate glass. Now we learn from the quantum world that even to observe so minuscule an object as an electron we have to shatter the plate glass; we have to reach in there... So the old word observer - simply has to be crossed off the books, and we must put in the new word participator."
I think most people would agree that they observe things. Perception of some sort is part and parcel of what it means to exist as a human being. Another thing relating to this is that human beings are made up of atoms, molecules etc.. the same "stuff" as the Universe we observe. So, in real terms, we can say that the Universe is observing itself, because we are part of the Universe.

When one considers that people have many different points of view, (for instance, how good a job George W. Bush is doing as Prez of the US) then it is also logical to conclude that the Universe does not view itself in exactly the same way all the time. We arrive now at the concept of Subjectivity - the fact that people see things in different ways.

A harder question is - What is Objectivity?

As a working hypothesis, how about like this: Since subjectivity is derived from a subset of the Universe viewing itself, perhaps objectivity could be described as the entire set of the Universe viewing itself?

This is all one huge can of worms right here. The logical conclusion of the above is that the entire Universe is capable of perceiving itself, which leads to questions of the Universe being a sentient entity. The word "God" usually pops up around here somewhere.

Interestingly enough, I came across this idea on a news site I regularly read - "Signs of the Times". In the Halloween 2004 edition, Laura Knight-Jadczyk writes:
In the past three years, as I noted at the beginning of today's page, we have made some considerable progress on our mandate of discovering what really makes reality tick and how does humanity fit into it. Much of this work is pure science - physics and mathematics - but I'm not going to give you the formulas or the computer simulation codes, I'm going to explain it to you in simple terms.

Our universe seems to be made up of matter/energy and of consciousness.

Matter/energy by itself "prefers", as it seems, a chaotic state.

Matter/energy by itself doesn't even have a concept of "creation" or "organization". It is the consciousness that brings to life these concepts and by its interaction with matter pushes the universe towards chaos and decay or towards order and creation.

This phenomenon can modeled mathematically and simulated on a computer using EEQT (Event Enhanced Quantum Theory). Whether EEQT faithfully models the interaction of consciousness with matter, we do not know; but chances are that it does because it seems to describe correctly physical phenomena better than just the orthodox quantum mechanics or its rival theories (Bohmian mechanics, GRW etc.)
In the same article, LKJ quotes a French mathematician and astronomer named Pierre Laplace:
We must regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. Consider an intelligence which, at any instant, could have a knowledge of all forces controlling nature together with the momentary conditions of all the entities of which nature consists. If this intelligence were powerful enough to submit all this data to analysis it would be able to embrace in a single formula the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atoms; for it, nothing would be uncertain; the future and the past would be equally present to its eyes.
She then writes:
Certainly, such an intelligence as Laplace describes would be "Godlike," you agree? And certainly, no one of us human beings is capable of such "seeing," you will also agree. However, what does seem to be true is that this is a significant clue to the solutions to the pressing issues of our day: knowledge that leads to awareness.

Here I will insert a major clue: As the brain interacts with its environment, synaptic circuits combine to form synaptic maps of the world perceived by the senses. These maps describe small segments of that world - shape, color, movement - and these maps are scattered throughout the brain. As the brain's synaptic network evolves, beginning at birth - or even before - these maps process information simultaneously and in parallel.

Based on our synaptic maps of the world, we are enabled to have a more or less objective view of reality.
Wow. Where to start with this doozy? I might leave the issue of the role our brains have in perception for a later post, as the key point I want to consider here is of the Universe being an objective reality that does exist.

So if I pick up a rock and drop it, and I perceive that it falls to the ground, this can be said to be an objective perception. If I believe that it has just floated up into space, despite the fact that it's sitting on the ground in front of me, then that can be said to be a subjective perception.

This is all well and good for rock-watching, but things become a little less clear-cut when discussing things like politics, religion, sex, or any other topic liable to have people insisting on the existence of floating rocks.

Or maybe rocks can float?

I wonder what the Universe sees when it looks at itself? Surely a lot of things a hell of a lot more interesting than "Reality" Television. (Or probably any television).

Anyway, I think that's a pretty good definition of Truth - the actual state of the Universe as observed by itself, not by individual human beings engaged in creative doublethink, which, (let's be honest here), we do pretty much all the time. Are we capable of seeing ourselves as the Universe sees us - knowing the Truth about ourselves? And from there seeing the truth about others, even whole societies and ultimately ourselves as a planet-bound species?

I'll leave those ones for you to ponder.

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