Objectivity, Obfuscation, and Mysticism

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Objectivity, Obfuscation, and Mysticism

Postby Brad » Fri Aug 23, 2002 7:31 am

Again and again, I see objectivity and subjectivity thrown around these forums as value judgements rather than whatever it is that they are supposed to mean.

objective argument=good argument

subjective argument=bad argument

This simply mucks things up in many cases. You can agree to a subjective point just a much as you can disagree with an objective one. It's almost as if many are looking for that one knock down argument where everyone will magically agree. It ain't gonna happen until we realize that we decide the things that determine the truth in mathematics as much as we determine the greatness of Hamlet. Rather than use these terms, I suggest we try to understand each other and find the points of disagreement in an ongoing conversation. Some disagreements will be impossible to negotiate but some, I suspect, can indeed be worked through.

On a related point, I also think that scientism is simply a form of mysticism. That magic charm doesn't work anymore but somehow a formula does? Formulaic models may have their uses but not always and sometimes they are even detrimental to what you want to say.
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Postby JP » Fri Aug 23, 2002 9:05 am

With regards to your first point, I agree that there is a misunderstanding about the terms "subjective" and "objective" on occasions, and often an argument can be dismissed on the grounds of "not being objective enough". In a more pure sense of the words - subjective representing a personal view point, objective representing a view which transcends entirely your own subjective prejudices - then to dismiss an argument on the grounds of it being too subjective, or not objective enough is absurd. "Subjectivity is truth" as Kierkegaard famously said, and since the Cartesian epistemological turn I think it would be pretty hard to disagree with that point of view. It's impossible to transcend your own human, subjective point of view and be truly objective in the pure sense of the word. You don't have to be a dualist to understand that.

However, at the same time, if we alter the meaning of objectivity slightly, then it's still a useful place to argue from. For instance, we can never be truly objective, and think from a position that transcends our own, but we can empathise, and imagine ourselves in a position that trascends our own. Thus, from this perspective, being objective amounts to attempting to identify your own argumental flaws - or if we go even deeper, perhaps, an identification of your prejudices or reasons for arguing from the position you are - as they may be viewed by another person. So, from my perspective, in writing this post, I will read over my words from time to time and try to picture any objection that may be raised with regards to them, then - if these imaginary arguments are strong enough - I alter the words or the argument to conform to the imaginery objections I have raised. I suppose all it really amounts to is questioning yourself, based on the sort of questions you'd expect from other individuals - to try and preempt and empathise with their position - and to try and shape your view around this.

Hardly pure objectivity, but I would still argue that thinking this way is far more advantageous than to restrict yourself purely to your own, subjective world on the basis that its all you can "properly" know.

And on your point about formulae, I suppose I'd have to agree. I've long wondered whether the patterns or "laws" we impose on the universe (particularly in theories such as that of "the general theory of relativity" which are almost exlusively conducted according to equations and precise mathematical formulae) actually correspond exactly with what we see. For instance, Newtons laws - we no realise - are incorrect, and do not actually fit in with the movements of the bodies we see in our solar system. However, by virtue of it being a simple theory, and by corresponding fairly closely with what we do know about the properties of bodies, it is used, most of the time, in preference to Einstein's General Relativity principles. Which got me thinking - by making the formulae more complex, surely you're bound to end up with a closer approximation of reality? For instance, the formulae the Einstein came up with may be as close as we get to the mathematical formula of the universe, but it doesn't mean that the universe operates by such principles. The universe certainly doesn't know that E=MC^2 within its boundries. Even if it can be shown that the universe operates by certain and definate principles, we don't know that these principles aren't infinitely large and complex (and thus presumably innaccessable to mere humans) or, indeed, that they can be described in terms of our systems of mathematics.

Of course we may be getting closer and closer to coming up with a system that corresponds with what we see in nature, but we have no of knowing if we are accurately depicting the principles that actually govern the universe. Does the fact that the principles correspond with what we find mean that they must necessarily be the cause of what we find? Surely assuming that our formulae are responsible for the movement of the planets, or any other physical action, represents a position of false causality.

The principles that we find in nature may correspond with nature, but it doesn't mean that these principles exist or that nature is guided by them. Perhaps that is why we must take scientism with a grain of salt.
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
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Postby Polemarchus » Fri Aug 23, 2002 6:20 pm

When I read that the world is either this or that, I invariably try to picture the universe scurrying to divide itself into two tidy categories. But why two categories instead of three or thirteen? Philosophers with their beloved Dualism’s display a curious fondness for the number two. Mathematicians are far more egalitarian in their view of the numbers.

The Red Line on the Boston subway is listed as the "Alewife-Ashmont" line, but people understand that these two locations at the extreme opposite ends of the tracks are not the only possible destinations. The subway visits many stations between Alewife and Ashmont.

Dualism, as I see it is similarly a way of denoting a linear concept by its opposite endpoints. Objective-Subjective, Good-Evil, Mind-Body...why would we preclude the idea that stations exist between the opposite endpoints? If at least one other station exists between the endpoints, well...so much for our dualism. The real world ultimately might be discrete (in a quantum sense), or there might be an infinite number of subway stations between any two given stations. In either case I generally accept that a world of gray exists between black and white.

"...the distinction between more subjective and more objective views is really a matter of degree, and it covers a wide spectrum. A view or form of thought is more objective than another if it relies less on the specifics of the individual's makeup and position in the world, or on the character of the particular type of creature he is."
Thomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere, page 5.

A physicist's world consists primarily of quarks or strings. Mankind was born of this objective Reality, but men inhabit a larger world. This larger world is one of objective Reality plus our value judgements. Nietzesche commented in The Will To Power:

"There are no facts, only interpretations.

Tor Norretranders makes nearly the same observation in his excellent book The User Illusion:

"We do not see what we sense. We see what we think we sense. Our consciousness is presented with an interpretation, not the raw data. What we experience has acquired meaning before we became conscious of it."

You can agree to a subjective point just a much as you can disagree with an objective one.

I agree with you, Brad. I'd only add that objective truth does not necessarily follow from the fact that men agree on an interpretation of the data. Truth is not determined democratically. Throughout most of the 19th century the scientific community was in a general agreement about the existence of the Ether. Doubtless, many of the ideas generally agreed upon today will be found wanting in the future.

When the subject of objective philosophical thought arises, Hegel's name is never far behind. Truth in Hegel's view doesn't exist in localized phenomena but only as part of the universal picture. Hegel didn't seem to place much value on the "little details." What he prized was denken ueberhaupt. JP's quote is a case-in-point to the fact that Kirkegaard reacted vehemently to Hegel's "intoxication of the dialectic."

In the big picture of things I am primarily a collection of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and calcium atoms. Each of the billions of atoms that constitute my body is identical to the scad-zillion of other like-elements in this vast universe. In the very big picture there is no meaning attached to the tiny subset of nondescript atoms that constitutes my body. In the big picture the atoms in my body have no more meaning than if they instead comprised a compost heap.

The Existentialists reacted against this view. They argued that man gives his own life meaning. Yet having said as much, even they miss few opportunities to remind us that our life is ultimately Absurd; at best it's a source of nausea, at worst, a useless passion. This is where I part company with the likes of Messrs. Camus and Sartre. I join instead with Robert C. Solomon in the view:

"What gives our lives meaning is not anything beyond our lives, but the richness of our lives."

A scene from an old Woody Allen film had a kid arguing with his mother about the futility of doing his homework. It seems he'd read an account of how the Universe would end, and he decided as a result that all effort is an exercise in futility. This situation is funny because we know that men normally maintain disquieting objective truths alongside subjective and localized truths.

I'm aware for example that the dimensions of the atomic nucleus compared to the radius of an atom suggests that my wife's arms are made mostly of nothing. But that realization takes nothing away from the joy I feel when she puts her arms around me! I'm content to enjoy a Mozart piano concerto while I read a proof in pure mathematics. I'm equally pleased to enjoy the scent of a rose, all the while my mind is denken ueberhaupt to beat the band.

Does attempting to strip away our subjective interpretations of the world help us to more closely approximate truth? The problem arises from the fact that as we strip away the subjective we simultaneously strip away the value. Quantum physicists have similarly discovered a problem with pretending the world is an object without a subject. It appears that we're an integral part of both the moral and the physical equations of this world. Our world, the only world we know or care about, requires our participation. We must come to terms with the understanding that the world is no more "all about us" than it is about everything except us. The world is partly as we find it and partly what we make it.

"One moment you are aware of your shoes pinching your feet, the next moment you might be aware of the expanding universe. Consciousness possesses peerless agility."
Tor Norretranders

The universe certainly doesn't know that E=MC^2 within its boundaries...or indeed, that they (physical laws) can be described in terms of our systems of mathematics."

Once again JP, you've said it beautifully.

"Deux excès. Exclure la raison, n'admettre que la raison" -- Pascal, Pensées
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Postby Imagistar » Tue Aug 27, 2002 5:03 am

(1) I agree that the distinction between "objective" and "subjective" is meaningless.

To a jeweler, the Hope diamond is perfection; to a banker, it is an investment; to a cop, it is a responsibility; to a thief, it is an opportunity; to a scientist, it is pure carbon; to a poet, it is "a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear," and so on.

All of these interpretations are legitimate. The Hope diamond will answer to each of them. The opinion that the Hope diamond is an umbrella is not legitimate in that it will not protect you from the rain.

Facts do not exist. All that exists is our interpretation of facts.

Carl Jung showed his usual good sense when he said that all facts are psychic facts.

According to science, the universe is a machine. Whitehead contradicted that opinion by insisting that the universe is a process.

At the end of the day, object is relative to subject. As Aristotle said, "What the eye perceives is the intention of the soul."

Believing is seeing.

(2) I agree that scientism is mysticism. It is the secularization of the religious instinct.
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