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. (:
Troythulu the Skeptophrenic Blogger, must think I’m mad. I respond to some of the posts on his blog, but I don’t seem to respond directly-my responses have a non sequitur feeling. The reason I respond is because the ideas in some of his posts are as close as they can be to mine, but just far enough way to make it very satisfying to attempt to build a bridge between the skeptical point of view and mine. Thus the non sequitur feeling of my responses. I wonder if he feels the same way?
I suppose partly in response to something I wrote, Troythulu blogged that “it is often claimed by those who seek to misrepresent science…that science is no more epistemically valid than religion, because both rely on prior assumptions as the basis for their arguments and conclusions.” He also says that supernaturalistic religion is based on faith, dogma, and people and books that claim to be ultimate authorities without giving arguments or evidence, etc. (the entire post is HERE). Rather than responding directly to this, I launched into a Process Panegyric. I posted it here because I think it’s interesting to see that a more subtle and informed metaphysical point of view can produce a more robust and satisfying scientific view, as well as a more satisfying religious view:
If you’re into the philosophy of science (specifically quantum) you’ll want to look at this. Otherwise, well, don’t.
Re. the post “Atheism” (below), Samuel said:
1) If you read Dawkin’s book he states that his argument applies against “all supernatural creators, no matter their number or attributes”.
Troythulu put up a nice post on “Skeptics, Science, and the Fallacy of Consensual Reality.” I Commented:
Troythulu—Great stuff! You mention, “…giving all the evidence a fair shake,” and having “…the will to discover the truth by way of logic and evidence.” (And I’d add “coherence” and “adequacy” as Whitehead does, because every element of our experience has to be explained, not just the ones we pick and choose).
Also, you’re right to point out, “…400 years of history has shown that science works as well as it does…because the Universe ultimately makes sense, and is not arbitrarily or capriciously supernatural in its workings.” I certainly agree, as long as you mean “universe” in the wider sense–i.e. prehension and concrescence, and not just our cosmic epoch (big bang until now). And I agree as long as you’re taking into account that science is based on physical law which in turn is based on the contingent nature of current configurations of actual entities. (By “current” I mean Planck Time until now.) (Actually…I’m editing later…Science isn’t based on physical law. Science is a methodology used to discern physical law. What I’m saying is that law is contingent upon the configurations of actual entites.) And I agree as long as you’re not saying that somehow our current set of interpretations are ultimately the only ones.
(Aristotle thought that; so did the neoplatonists and renaissance scientists; so did the moderns and Newton; so did Maxwell; and so did Einstein. In fact, as you probably know, Einstein’s vehement questioning (mostly directed at Bohr) of the Copenhagen Interpretation spurred Bohr (and Heisenberg and the rest of them) to seriously refine the Copenhagen Interpretation.)
The point is, that many people would probably read what you wrote, and having a very narrow view, and not understanding the history of paradigm shifts in science, and not understanding, really, what physical law is, draw the conclusion that you’re somehow closing the books on reality…we’ve figured it all out and got it all down pat.
Moving onto Supernaturalism: Of course, it’s pointless to entertain the idea of the supernatural. How can something “be” “supernatural?” The scare quotes are to show the idea is an utter contradiction. For something to be supernatural, it would have to take place outside of reality! Since there’s no such thing as being “outside of reality” it follows that the concept of supernatural is nonsense. Oh, God exists, and so do other things that seem supernatural and seem to defy logic (e.g., certain elements in the quantum realm), but they are all perfectly logical and perfectly natural and part of reality. What most people call “supernatural” can really be subsumed under “natural.”
I have a bit of an issue about the parochial nature of your statement that reality is “made up of…atoms, energy, and multidimensional space-time.” These are all high level abstractions as opposed to fundamental and concrete entities. (I think you agree, when you start talking about what reality is “made up” of, and start talking about ultimate structures and fundamental structures, you have to be specific and concrete and necessary, not abstract and contingent.) Atoms and energy are high level abstractions–even from the scientific point of view, subatomic particles are more fundamental, moreso are virtual particles and moreso are quarks other structures. Further, from a metaphysical point of view, even the quantum realm is an abstraction. The only thing we can say for certain about reality “really” being “made up” of is actual entities or actual occasions (that which concreses and prehends).
And multidimensional space-time is another abstraction—another contingency. Space and time are (or spacetime is) created by concrescence, and multidimensionality is contingent upon particular conditions at a singularity which are highly variable (as far as we can tell). By “particular conditions” I mean primarily velocity, but not only velocity. Further, logic dictates that extending out from this electromagnetic epoch we have a context that simply exhibits geometrical axioms, then outside of that four-dimensionality, then outside of that “mere” dimensionality, then the logical limit is what Whitehead calls “mere extensiveness” or the Extensive Continuum. Hubble is looking back into “spaces” that border on dimensionality and extensiveness about which we don’t know the particular contingent workings of for sure… Even if we assume spacetime exists there, there’s no logical necessity that the behavior of entities are exactly the same as those in our current epoch. That the behavior is exactly the same remains to be seen. (I use the word “seen” loosely, because if things are significantly different, observation may not be possible—if wave functions don’t collapse in the sense that we understand, then those dimensions are utterly removed from us. (This is a corollary to the nonsensical nature of supernatural—why even begin to talk about supernatural when there are logically possible worlds that make what we call supernatural phenomena seem fairly straight forward. (OK, sorry… looking over the last several sentences I see each one would need about 5 pages of text to put into context and argue correctly……….))
Enough….it’s almost 2am already. Aloha.
Written by Richard Lubbock, this intro. is fun:
“…..Once you have allowed Whitehead’s powerful engine of hope to transform your attitude to life you will never again need to consult another philosopher. Those sinister philosophical miseries of the 20th century–you know who I mean: malignant Heidegger, disjointed Wittgenstein, cross-eyed Husserl, sour Sartre–you can consign their jeremiads to the fire. They failed to salute the quantum and relativistic earthquakes of our century and so they’re dust, history, trash. Forget ’em…..”
Are electrons matter or waves? The upshot is: whether or not we OBSERVE! (5 mins.)