Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?

Troy, you ask the most fabulous questions!  HERE You asked:

“Which has priority to you, objectivity or subjectivity?”

I know your question is asking about Objectivity considered as impartial or detached fact, considered apart from Subjectivity as a kind of wishful thinking or bias or partiality.  It’s about clear thinking based on objective evidence as opposed to believing something because, well, you darn well WANT to.  But I can’t resist going a bit deeper and talking about the philosophical basis of Subjectivity vs. Objectivity.  The reason is because, on a deeper level, there is less difference between them than it seems.

Consider a different ontology where subject and object aren’t so distinct (process ontology and its accompanying epistemology).  Some of this is paraphrased from A.N. Whitehead’s “Adventures of Ideas” and “Process and Reality.”

The Cartesian appeal to clarity and distinctness, and accompanying radical split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.  This assumption is based on the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present, and that there’s nothing “real” in the process of the actual perception.  (By “actual perception” means what’s happening at the sub quantum level.)

Whitehead points out if we define ‘perceptions’ as “…experiential functions which arise directly from stimulation of various bodily sense-organs, then the argument ceases…” (AI 178) and he’s willing to accept this definition, but says that while it’s true, it’s only superficial.  That definition of perception relies tacitly on a deeper analysis.  The deeper analysis is that human experience (and perception, and subjects and objects, and everything else) is based on real things called “actual occasions…the final real things of which the world is made up…” A chair or desk is fundamentally actual occasions “…and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far off empty space…” (PR 18).

Objects are linked to subjects and visa-versa, because the only way there can be continuity in nature (such as memory, or even the flow of time) is if at the sub quantum level the constitution of one actual occasion enters into the make-up of the next actual occasion.  Matter/energy has both external AND internal relations with itself.  I.e., because matter “is” energy at a fundamental level, reality is a process of interrelated “drops of experience” pushing their way “into each other” from past, to present, and into the future.  Data is actually passed between them.  Of course, the current ontology thinks about reality like a bunch of pool balls, with bits of matter banging into other bits of matter, primarily enjoying only external relations (and not internal).  But if this is true, there can be no continuity in nature.  (Nor can real causation exist, as Hume argued, and this discontinuity creates a host of other problems for the modern ontology.)

In both PR and AI, Whitehead brilliantly deconstructs Hume’s arguments about causation, and says with ONE TWIST, Hume’s entire argument in Part III of the ‘Treatise of Human Nature’ can be accepted as valid, and Hume’s conclusion can be changed to argue FOR (yes, “for”) causality, not against it!  Why?  Because Hume’s entire set of arguments about ‘custom’ and ‘constant conjunction’ assume that “…one occasion of experience enters into the character of succeeding occasions…” (AI 184).  That’s the one twist.  And it’s really only a variant interpretation of Hume, because Hume’s argument does logically assume it!

I think it’s worth quoting Whitehead (from AI p. 185-6) at length regarding this continuity in nature, because it’s important vis-a-vis Subject and Object.  Remember, this next quote is about occasions of experience in the human brain and nervous system, and he’s talking about memory between events, causality between events, and the flow of time between events:

“The science of physics conceives a natural occasion as a locus of energy… The words electron, proton, photon…matter, empty space, temperature…all point to the fact that physical science recognizes qualitative differences between occasions in respect to the way in which each occasion entertains its energy.  … Energy has recognizable paths through time and space. …  physical energy …must then be conceived as an abstraction from the [fundamental] energy… It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete [and fundamental, at the base of reality] fact from which that abstraction is derivable.”

So he’s saying energy as defined by physics is really based on a more fundamental kind of “energy” at the base of reality (yes, he’s speculating!).  Above I said the “split between the knower (subject) and the known (object) makes an erroneous assumption that the subject-object relation is the fundamental structural pattern of experience.”  So, it’s erroneous to think the person, the subject, is an entirely separate “thing” which resides “in here” and has to connect across an ontological gap somehow–has to connect with the world and with objects “out there.”

Look at neuroscience and quantum mechanics.  We’re finding out that we, as subjects, our way of knowing, actually shapes what can be known.  (This is Kant, sort of, but to comment on the accuracy of that is another story…).  As you pointed out, “perfect objectivity is not possible” and Whitehead would say it’s not possible because any ontology which separates knower and known, that makes knowledge somehow entirely objective, makes no sense.  Going back to what I said above, about “the idea that all perception is based entirely on bodily sense organs, and that all percepta are bare sensa given in the immediate present…”  Whitehead would say there’s no such thing as bare, uninterpreted, detached, objective “sense-data” which just floats in from nowhere and is completely disconnected from the knowing subject.  Sense data meet our various bodily organs, and at the sub quantum level enter into and become one with, and are  appropriated by the actual occasions of our bodies, and visa-versa.  Our bodies influence those sense data.  (Again, as we’ve spoke about before, this is why “eye-witness testimony” is the most UNTRUSTWORTHY kind of evidence in court—subject and object can’t be utterly separated.)

Oh, regarding your question, I think Objectivity has a WAY HIGHER priority than mere Subjectivity.  (:


Review: “Out of Our Heads”

What is the nature of the human mind?  Rather than saying the mind is Simply Located in the brain and gives us access to the world via the five senses, Noe argues we are immersed in a world.  Segall says:  “Only contact with and access to an actual world is sufficient for conscious experience.  Being conscious is something we must do, something we constantly achieve together with others and the help of the world itself.”

Click below for Matt Segall’s book review of

“Out of Our Heads” by Alva Noë