Reality Inferred: A Subjective View of Objectivity
As far as human awareness goes, reality contains two vantage points: subjective reality and objective reality. Subjective reality is the perceived reality of an individual. That which one can fathom, perceive, or experience is what is believed to be real. From this vantage point, a multitude of realities can exist simultaneously. Since no two individuals can experience reality from the same perspective, there are as many subjective realities as there are sentient beings. In the realm of subjective reality, real can be anything that has a real effect on the person who perceives it. This is due to the fact that subjective reality is a totally personal experience.
Subjective reality, in its totality, is a matter of perspective. No one has been able to prove whether or not God exists as an actuality, but, God is a reality to billions of people, nonetheless. Even if there is not an omnipotent deity sitting in its chambers guiding and judging us, billions of people behave in a way that would suggest there is one. They live their lives according to the way they believe God wants them to live, they attend religious ceremonies to praise and honor God, and they instill these beliefs in their children to pass on to future generations of God worshippers. Some of the bloodiest wars in history have been fought, and entire empires have risen and fallen, in the name of God. Although one may question the actual existence of this entity, there is no denying the impact that God has had upon the world. There are more people concerned with how God views them than how the President views them. Although the President’s existence is an actuality, and can be proven, God still has a much greater influence on the world than he does. Even if scientists were able one day to disprove God’s existence, God has left an irremovable mark upon the world. The reality of God’s existence is: there is a God even if there is no actual deity. So, by this logic, I assert that an entity, such as God, that may or may not exist as an actuality, is real, nonetheless, because it has a real effect on the world.
Once we move out of the realm of subjective reality, we then move into the realm of objective reality. Objective reality is that which transcends subjectivity. There is, seemingly, no room for interpretation in objective reality. In this realm either something is, or it is not. This is a more concrete realm. Hallucinations, fantasy-based entities, and other constructs of the mind, conventionally, cannot be considered real in this realm because we cannot all experience them, and there is no way to measure them, except through subjective accounts. However, the problem with objective reality is that it is being deciphered from a collection of subjective points of view. How do we agree on the objectivity of something when we can only see it from a subjective vantage point? When two people cannot mathematically experience something from the same perspective, how do they accurately say, “it is definitely this,” or “it is definitely that?”
What a psychiatrist may call a hallucination, is, in fact, a very real phenomenon to a person suffering from schizophrenia. In fact, until a person with a “normal” psychological profile steps in and tells the patient that there is nothing there, the hallucination is just as real as he or she is in his or her subjective world. The psychiatrist may be able to argue that the hallucination is simply a product of over-activity in the patient’s frontal lobe, and since no one else can perceive what he or she may be perceiving, it is, therefore, not real. However, when making such a dismissing assumption, the psychiatrist is overlooking one crucial fact. Every facet of reality a person perceives is an internal process of that person’s mind. Every phenomenon we experience, from sight, to sound, to feeling, to taste, and hearing, is an internal process of the mind. For example, a person sees an object because light reflects off of said object onto the retina, which sends a signal through the optic nerve, to the occipital lobe in the brain, then the person internalizes the process, and realizes the object has been seen. So since we experience reality through our minds, why do we exclude creations of the mind when we define what is real? In the case of the person experiencing the hallucination, they are experiencing the same phenomenon that a person experiences when seeing an actual object, except there is no external stimulus to initiate the response. However, the hallucination has the same impact on that person’s reality as seeing an actual object would. Though it is not a tangible object, it still has a real effect on that person, and should, therefore, be considered real, at least in a subjective sense.
Most people believe we can agree on what something objectively is, or is not, due to the fact that humans are typically endowed with similar tools of perception, such as color-sensitive eyes with roughly 20/20 vision, and ears that are sensitive to similar sounds. So we often perceive the world in a very similar way. Therefore, when coming up with a consensus as to what something objectively is, or is not, we tend to find little, if any, discrepancies in the way we perceive it. However, we can, in actuality, only come up with approximations of what something objectively is, or is not, based upon a consensus of our subjective conclusions about it. For instance, two people may be standing at relatively similar geographic coordinates, and see a red ball that appears to be one yard away. They can objectively agree on the color and location of the ball, based on their ability to perceive its color and location. To a person born without the ability to see, however, color and depth perception are meaningless concepts. Therefore, when deciding the objective color of the ball, they could never come to a consensus with the observers who say “the ball is red,” and they could not determine how far away the ball is based on their vision. If all humans were born blind, color and depth perception would not even be fathomable concepts, as far as humans are concerned. These two concepts would, therefore, not exist in the agreed upon objective reality of humans. Furthermore, even when people are endowed with similar tools of perception, there still remain some discrepancies in the ways they perceive the world, such as when scientists come to different conclusions about a particular subject matter.
It is not uncommon for scientists to come to very similar conclusions about a subject, but not totally agree with each other. It is also not uncommon for the opinions of scientists to stand in stark contrast to one another. This is due to the fact that, although they have similar tools for perceiving the world, and are using the same equations and theories to reach their conclusions, they can never see the results from each other’s perspectives. They can process the same data, by the same means, get similar results, but interpret them differently, and reach different conclusions on the matter. However, neither will be able to prove the other to be wrong, because they are both essentially right to some degree. Quantum mechanics operates on what are known as uncertainty principles. Uncertainty principles are essentially mathematical inequalities that assert a limit on how precisely certain pairs of physical properties of a particle can be known simultaneously. This means that the more precisely informed we are about one property, the less precisely informed we are about the other. If we cannot precisely know one property, while precisely knowing the other, then we can never say, with certainty, what the precise properties of the particle are, for they will change as you try to determine each property. There are no certainties, only approximations. The only certainties that exist are those which we are subjectively certain of, and since these certainties are subjective, there are no objective certainties, unless we agree that there are. However, most people believe there are objective certainties, even if we are not subjectively aware of them.
The conventional way of thinking would lead one to believe that an event took place a certain way, or an object displayed certain features, regardless of how one may have perceived the object, or event. This is due to the fact that humans have a tendency to overlook the importance of the observer when determining what is real, or what has happened. Thomas Young, an English polymath, revealed to us, through his “double-slit experiment,” that the very act of measuring, or observing, matter changes the way it behaves. In this experiment, which I will only briefly touch on, Young demonstrated that when firing protons, tiny particles of matter, through two parallel slits, they formed what is known as an interference pattern. An interference pattern is the phenomenon in which two waves, such as sound waves, superpose to form a resultant wave of greater, or lower, amplitude. In other words, they interfere with each other. This is the way water waves would behave when pushed through two parallel slits. This outcome stunned Young and his colleagues. They did not understand how particles of matter could behave the way waves do when fired through two parallel slits. So Young and his associates decided to place an instrument near the slits to record how this phenomenon occurred. To their surprise, introducing the measuring instrument changed the way the particles behaved. The particles no longer formed an interference pattern; they instead formed the pattern of the two slits, as would typically be expected of matter.
After performing this experiment several times, Young and his associates determined that before the recording instrument – i.e., the observer, was introduced into the equation, the particles were, in a sense, forming patterns of probability. The interference pattern was a representation of the places where it was probable for the particles to land. Before the particles were monitored, they essentially landed in all the probable places they could have possibly landed. It was not until the recording instrument was introduced that the location upon which the particles actually landed was determined. What this essentially demonstrated is that the particles were everywhere they would have probably been, until an observer sought to determine where they are. Then they were no longer everywhere they would probably have been, rather they were only where the observer located them. The very act of measuring where the protons were changed the outcome of their location. This offers some observable proof that the observer is just as instrumental in determining the outcome of an event, as the event itself. Merely observing a phenomenon fundamentally changes the phenomenon. It goes back to the age old question, “if a tree were to fall in the forest, and no one was around, would it make a sound?” The answer is, no it would not. If there is no ear drum, or sound recording device, to interpret the waves it releases as sound, then no sound has been made. Young’s experiment would eventually give rise to Quantum Mechanics, one of the least understood branches of modern physics.
When proposing my theory to a diehard skeptic, I was once asked, “Does two plus two not equal four to everyone?” He believed he had completely discredited my theory with this one question. It is a valid question, but is does not, however, discredit my theory. As I stated before, I am proposing that objective reality is merely a construct of agreements we make with each other based on our subjective realities, not that there is no objectivity. Subjectively, we all understand the concept of mathematics. In fact, our cosmologic matrices, as entities of our dimension, are based upon the principles of mathematics. We can exist as individuals due to the phenomenon of separation. Because I exist seemingly separate from the world I see around me, I can, in turn, be consciously aware of myself, and the world around me. This phenomenon known as separation, which affords me the ability to exist as a seemingly separate entity from the world around me, also gives rise to numbers. At the point of separation, there is no longer one, there are now two. With the introduction of another separation comes three, then four, and so on. The existence of numerical values, in turn, gives rise to Mathematics.
Once learned, mathematics and the concept of numbers exist as constants amongst our subjective realities as humans. Subjectively, we all know that two is a number, that when added to itself, equals another number, which we have labeled four. So we can, therefore, objectively agree with one another that two plus two equals four. This agreement only remains constant, however, when the consensus of objectivity is being agreed upon by conscious entities that are capable of grasping the concept of numbers and mathematics. There exists entities with “lower” levels of consciousness, such as some animals, that are not able to grasp the concept of numbers. There could even, theoretically, be entities with “higher” levels of consciousness that find the concept of numbers to be a meaningless, and superficial illusion. If we were able to communicate with these entities, we would likely find that two plus two does not equal four to them. In fact, such concepts would not even be relevant. The concept of numbers would no longer be a constant throughout the subjective realities coming to a consensus on what is objectively real. Two plus two is no longer, objectively, equal to four. It is only subjectively equal to four to those with the same level of consciousness that we have as humans. This is why I stressed that mathematics and the concept of numbers exist as constants amongst our subjective realities as humans. To the critical thinker, this argument may seem to be a bit of a “stretch.” It would, understandably, seem as if I am “bending” things to fit my argument. However, what if I were to use the same logic in regards to something less concrete than numbers? If I applied this same logic to something more abstract, such as the term “love,” it may make more sense.
If asked what love means, most people would say there is an objective definition of the word love. But, when asked to define love, how does one actually do it? One may use a list of describing words to give an approximate definition for “love,” such as, “it’s a feeling you get for someone you care about.” When giving such a definition of the word love, what the person does is associates the actual word itself with a host of their memories that coincide with a feeling they have experienced, that they believe to be love. But, does the experience of the actual feeling itself transcend their subjective world? How do we know we are all describing the same feeling? How would we describe love to an alien being, with no similar pool of emotions and experiences to draw from? We can only give approximations of a feeling that we experience, that we believe others experience the same way. The fact of the matter is, love is an abstraction. There is no concrete definition of what “love” is, in the way there is a seemingly concrete definition of what the number two is. When communicating ideas that are abstractions, we understand the concept subjectively, and we have agreed that we can objectively convey our ideas to one another through various human languages. However, human languages cannot communicate all ideas because some ideas are totally subjective to the individual. Until we all agree that the word “water” represents H2O in its liquid state, we cannot use the term to describe it to one another. Until we reach a consensus on an abstraction, and even once we have reached a consensus on it, it still remains a concept that is only precisely understood in a subjective way. No matter how many words one uses to describe what they believe love is, we will only be able to understand what their view of love is approximately, and our understanding of their view will be tainted by our own subjective understandings of what love is. Abstractions are more easily lost in translation amongst humans than more concrete ideas are, which can lead one to believe these concrete ideas are more objective. However, concrete ideas are only more objective when those agreeing on their objectivity have similar tools of analysis, such as a functioning human brain that grasps the concept of numbers.
My theory may lead a skeptic, whom is capable of thinking critically, to ask, “If a video camera records an event, can we not say the event objectively took place?” To an extent, yes we can. However, as Young’s experiment demonstrated, introducing the recording device – that is, the video camera – will change how the particles being recorded behave. Furthermore, the video camera, in itself, is merely another subjective point of view. It is only apparently more objective than our points of views as humans because of our faith in the precision, and objectivity, of technology. Cameras are, however, subject to distorting factors, such as light and resolution, just as we are subject to our own limitations in perceptions. Light would be instrumental in allowing the video camera to record the event, and is, perhaps, the most important constant in the subjective realities of all conscious beings with the ability to perceive it. Light allows us to see, thus allowing us to observe the world around us. For instance, if two people look at a clock they will see a certain time, and they will see that time because light will reflect off of the clock, allowing them to see what time it is. Without light, there is no sight, and sight is one of the most important tools for perception that we humans have.
When considering the importance of light, one must be aware that light has a fixed speed. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meter per second. Being that two people cannot stand in the same spot at the same time, they will always see objects at different time intervals. Even being one nanometer further away will delay the time in which the observer will see the object, relative to the other observer viewing the object. Referring back to the clock, this means that two people can never see the clock synchronously. Although the variation is very miniscule, it is a variation none the less. Even when one sees a person move, it appears he or she sees the person move the instant he or she moves, but there is actually a delay between the times in which the observer’s brain processes the event of the person moving, and the time in which the person actually moved. If our tools for perception were more sensitive to such discrepancies, we would never be able to come to a consensus regarding the frame of time in which an event took place objectively. We could only rely on our subjective perceptions. Since each human’s subjective reality is similar to most other humans’ subjective realities, we can typically agree that we perceive things objectively happening at the same time, even though we are actually all subjectively seeing them happen at slightly different intervals. Imagine if one could see the world from the perspective of a sentient, microscopic organism. Being one nanometer further away from a clock would cause a relatively huge delay in the time it takes to see the clock, because the time it takes light to travel one nanometer would be of much greater significance to the observer. As long as one is discussing objective reality with “sane” humans, there will generally be a consensus as to what is objectively occurring, because the tools used for perception are similar amongst those coming to the consensus. But subjective reality changes more, and more, as the organisms witnessing it change more and more. Therefore, since objective reality can only be determined by the consensus of our subjective realities, the more our subjective realities change, the more objective reality changes, and resultantly, the more we change, the more objective reality changes.
There are several scientific concepts that I am sure could discredit my hypothesis, but there also exists several that I believe support it as well. None of them, however, support it as well as Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Special relativity is, essentially, a theory of the structure of space-time. The theory of special relativity introduces several concepts that seem to suggest that apparent space-time is relative to the observer. Some of those concepts include: relativity of simultaneity, time dilation, relativistic mass, and length contraction. I will briefly touch on each of these, although it would require an essay much longer than the one I am writing to truly do any one of them justice. Relativity of simultaneity states that one cannot say, absolutely, that separated events, that are believed to have occurred at the same time, actually occurred at the same time. The relative simultaneity of the two events is not absolute, rather it depends upon the reference frame of the observer. This means that if an event occurred in one place, and another event occurred in another, the question of whether or not the events occurred simultaneously is relative to the observers of the events. It cannot be said with absolute certainty that said events occurred simultaneously. Time dilation is another interesting phenomenon. It is a difference in elapsed time between two events, as measured by different observers, who are either moving relative to one another, or who are situated differently from gravitational masses. This essentially means that the tick of a clock at rest with respect to one observer, may be measured to be ticking at a different rate when compared to another observer’s clock. In this scenario, both clocks are synchronic, there is no mechanical error, and the difference does not stem from the fact that signals need time to propagate. It is, simply, the nature of space-time. The closer to the speed of light one is traveling, the greater the resulting time dilation will be. The principle of relativistic mass states that the measurement of an object’s mass is relative to, or dependent upon, the velocity of the observer. The relativistic mass of an object incorporates its kinetic energy, and gets larger the faster the object moves. Therefore, relativistic mass is dependent on the observer’s reference frame. The principle of length contractions states that objects are measured to be shortened in respect to the direction that they are moving relative to the observer. Length contraction only becomes relevant at near-light speeds, however. Each of the concepts I just summarized seem to suggest that objects and events actually change as the observer’s reference frame changes, and the objects and events change relative to each observer that is present. This suggests that each observer is observing a slightly different, yet accurate, reality than the other observers. In each of these cases, observable reality is relative to the observer, hence the theory of relativity. The theory of relativity could just as easily be coined the theory of subjectivity. In which case, observable reality would be subjective to the observer.
Most people believe objective reality is definite, fixed, and exists external to themselves. They believe, with unwavering certainty, that the observers are contained within the objective world, and our subjective views do not determine objectivity. I am not totally dismissing this view. I am, however, offering a modified version of this view. What I am proposing is a means of viewing objective reality in the way astrophysicists view the expanse of the universe. Astrophysicists assert that the universe may, or may not, be infinitely big. However, it is so big, that we cannot fathom how big it is, so it might as well be infinite. They even use this theoretical infinity in their mathematical equations. I am asserting, as I stated before, that objective reality, as far as we can tell, is the sum of our subjective experiences, and exists as a consensus of our subjective realities. I am, also, proposing that there may, or may not, be an objective world other than the one that we collectively agree is there, but since we can only determine what is there based on our subjective perspectives, that we should operate as if the only objective reality that exists is merely a construct of the consensus of our subjective realities. Objective reality is a collection of agreements about what transcends us all, based upon what is within us all.
I believe the model for which I have proposed viewing reality would have a positive effect on the egotism that is rampant amongst humans. This view inherently allows people to hold on to their own perspectives, while still acknowledging the validity of views that differ from their own. It would truly allow us to agree to disagree. My view of reality has no place for people who frown upon those with different beliefs than their own, because everyone’s beliefs hold to be true on a subjective level. No one can discredit the views of another until they are able to view the world through that person’s eyes, which none of us are currently able to do. With this view of reality, I believe all religions would be viewed as valid paths to salvation, science would no longer stand in contrast to spirituality, and people’s superstitions and fears would no longer be viewed as trivialities. Racism, classism, and other forms of prejudice would cease to exist as all humans become increasingly aware of how the views of all others effect their own objective reality. They would be aware of how important everyone else’s perspective is relative to themselves. I am aware that my hypothesis initially seems absurd, and that it would require a dramatic paradigm shift to be considered legitimate. However, before my theory is written off as another “crackpot idea,” keep in mind that if one were to have told 15th century Europeans that the Earth rotated around the Sun, they would have thought the idea to be an absurdity as well.
Many people will continue seeing the world as a realm existing outside of themselves. They will never entertain the notion that what they are seeing may be an outward projection of what is actually inside of them. This challenges their faith in a concrete world. However, consider what happens when we dream. When we dream, we navigate through worlds that seemingly exist outside of us, and we perceive phenomena that seem to exist independently from ourselves. It is not until we wake up, and realize that we were dreaming, that we become aware that these seemingly external things were actually manifestations of our minds. What if the same could be said about the world we perceive when we are “awake?” What if the world we thought to be external to us was actually just another projection of our minds, like a sort of dream outside of our dreams? We do not realize that we are in a dream until we regain conscious awareness of the world we believe is external. Once we wake up, it becomes so apparent that we were actually dreaming. We begin to realize how bizarre certain things that occurred within the dream were, such as being able to fly. Although it becomes so clear that we were dreaming, during the dream everything seemed so logical. We did not second guess our ability to fly. Although we were never able to fly before, we behaved as if we had been doing it for years. Nothing seems absurd, until we become aware that it is.
What about reality can we say is not absurd? Can we not say that objects floating through an infinite space-time expanse is not an absurdity? Can we not say that time, which is perceivably linear, but has no apparent beginning or end is not absurd? Is it not absurd that we live on the only planet known to harness life in the universe? What is not absurd about the phenomenon of existence itself? Is believing some all-knowing, anthropomorphic deity designed us in its image any more absurd than the notion of unconscious matter arbitrarily evolving into complex, conscious organisms? What is not absurd about the fact that I am able to write this essay, and that someone else is able to read it? Are not all of our beliefs about the world absurd, at least to some degree? Things such as linear time, objective reality, and free thinking organisms do not seem absurd to most because they are the perceived norm. That which we are accustom to seeing, or thinking, does not seem out of place. However, the very nature of existence is, in essence, an absurdity to a degree. The fact that space, time, and conscious beings exist is an absurdity in itself. What makes sense about conscious organisms spontaneously manifesting from unconscious matter? What makes sense about an omnipotent, benevolent deity creating humans, and leaving them to their own devices with only a few scriptures for guidance on how they should conduct themselves? What makes sense about beings incarnating as lower life forms, and then reincarnating as higher life forms as a reward for good karma in a past life? None of it makes sense when it is looked at objectively, but subjectively all of these beliefs make sense. Which view is right? Which is wrong? Maybe only God knows. Maybe no one knows. Maybe we all know. Maybe the answer is objective, and it is up to us to find it. Maybe it is subjective, and it is up to us to decide it. Who knows? Do you?