Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. In Defense of Subjective Reality

 

Mrs. iWe lives in a much more colorful world than I do. She sees thousands of shades of every color, filled with rich chromatic consonance and dissonance – whereas I, as a normal male with normal eyeballs, am clearly impoverished by comparison. I would go so far as to say that our relative color sensitivity gives her life meaning (such as through her museum-quality quilts) that I can only understand by feeling the joy that quilting brings her.

Pick any two people, and you will find different realities. Twins raised in the same home can have wildly divergent ideas about the nature of their home or their parents’ marriage. 2+2 might equal 4 in arithmetic, but humans are rationalizing animals, and we have no problem making all of our perceptions match what we have decided is our own reality.

I think this is not a bug – it is one of life’s features. And it is one that is divinely approved! The Torah tells us what happened in Egypt and the wilderness – and then the final book, Deuteronomy, is Moshe’s summation of those events. His summation is not merely Cliff’s Notes, and his words do not, in all cases, leave the reader with an identical impression about what happened.

The lesson is simple enough: G-d approves of different versions of reality. The Jewish people heard things one way at Sinai – and then, years later, they heard a different version from Moshe’s perspective. Both are interesting and useful and valid (think of different aspects of the same elephant).

As you may know, I consider the idea of an Objective Reality to be part of Plato’s religious faith, since it is impervious to empirical data: it cannot be proven or disproven.

The Torah endorses, by contrast, each person’s own thoughts and perceptions and sense of what is “real.” To the extent that two or more people agree, then shared perceptions are useful. But the fact that different people have different perceptions is a celebration that each person has value, and, to at least some extent, is capable of creating, in their minds, their own reality.

 

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  1. Arahant Member

    iWe: But the fact that different people have different perceptions is a celebration that each person has value, and, to at least some extent, is capable of creating, in their minds, their own reality.

    People who focus on the positive take chances and often beat the odds. People who focus on the negatives don’t take chances and also beat the odds, but in the other direction. If growth averages 5% and someone is growing by 10%, then somebody is also not growing at all.

    • #1
    • September 4, 2019, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Arguments over objective reality are fascinating. From one standpoint, who cares if we see things differently–it makes our world so interesting! On the other hand, the biggest arguments that I’ve ever seen (including some I’ve been part of!) are over who has the truth, or who has the most accurate recollection; these arguments are really about who must be right and who must be wrong. And no one likes to be wrong!

    On the other hand (a kind of morbid story), my husband and his brother, accompanied by me and my sister-in-law, were picking out a coffin for their mother who had just passed. They both had settled on an ugly olive green. SOL and I didn’t want to say anything, but we couldn’t help ourselves. So we asked them what attracted them to an olive green coffin. They both protested that it wasn’t green at all! The funeral home director assured them it was green, and that that particular coffin was usually purchased for former military. Oops. The guys settled on another coffin. And whenever my husband and I have to make a color choice and he picks ugly green, I check to see what he’s seeing. It saves us both a lot of problems.

    • #2
    • September 4, 2019, at 12:41 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  3. David Foster Member
    David Foster Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    There are huge differences in the subjective experience of people with different personality types, and they don’t always follow race/ethnicity or gender patters.

    Years ago, I was at a company management training course at which we had several outside speakers, one of whom was a Jungian psychologist. He made the point that: You will be automatically inclined to hire and promote people who have a personality similar to your own. If you do that, you will all have the same blind spots and will all happily walk off the cliff together.

     

    • #3
    • September 4, 2019, at 12:45 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  4. Arahant Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    And whenever my husband and I have to make a color choice and he picks ugly green, I check to see what he’s seeing. It saves us both a lot of problems.

    Apparently my father had some limitations on his color perception, at least according to my mother. It’s kind of funny considering he was a visual artist.

    • #4
    • September 4, 2019, at 1:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    And whenever my husband and I have to make a color choice and he picks ugly green, I check to see what he’s seeing. It saves us both a lot of problems.

    Apparently my father had some limitations on his color perception, at least according to my mother. It’s kind of funny considering he was a visual artist.

    Some of the most amazing artists have a mental state where they associate colors with smells or tastes.

    • #5
    • September 4, 2019, at 1:17 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. Arahant Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    Some of the most amazing artists have a mental state where they associate colors with smells or tastes.

    Synesthesia and In art.

    • #6
    • September 4, 2019, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Henry Castaigne Member

    Men are much more often colorblind than women because the colorblind gene is on the X Chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes so they need two X chromosomes with the colorblind allele. Men only need one X chromosome with the allele. Are you sure that the husbands aren’t colorblind? 

    • #7
    • September 4, 2019, at 2:49 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Apparently my father had some limitations on his color perception, at least according to my mother. It’s kind of funny considering he was a visual artist.

    I spent about 5 years of my career doing color science for a company which made color scanners. I went to several national conferences on color science and wrote several programs to validate the color performance of the scanners. My wife never agrees with my description of a color – and I suspect she is right.

    • #8
    • September 4, 2019, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  9. Henry Racette Contributor

    Regarding color and the sexes: A long time ago, shortly after I was married, my dear spouse and I went to the store to pick up “white” paint. I, being no more capable of nuance then than I am now, figured the trip would be a quick no-brainer: I thought “white” meant, you know. White.

    Shortly after that educational experience I decided on the title I would give to a how-to manual for new husbands, when and if I ever decided to write one. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, that title I had in mind — Ten Thousand Shades of White — is no longer appropriate.

    • #9
    • September 4, 2019, at 4:03 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Gee, I feel bad. I seem to have gotten us off topic. Does anyone besides me want to talk about objective and subjective reality?

    • #10
    • September 4, 2019, at 4:09 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Micro economics is about little else than subjective views of reality (utility).

    • #11
    • September 4, 2019, at 4:19 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Saint Augustine Member

    • #12
    • September 4, 2019, at 5:01 PM PDT
    • Like
  13. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler (View Comment):

    Micro economics is about little else than subjective views of reality (utility).

    What an excellent insight! I had never thought about it this way before.

    This goes some way toward explaining the differences between economics and the “hard” sciences. The harder the science, the more tethered it is to a quantitative system (which is part of why hard sciences appear to reflect objective reality).

    • #13
    • September 4, 2019, at 5:10 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. Saint Augustine Member

    It’s one thing to say that we have different perceptions–another thing to say that no perceptions are incorrect or incomplete.

    It’s one thing to say that our personal interpretations of reality matter–another thing to say that there is no reality save the interpretation.

    It’s one thing to say there is subjective reality–another thing to say all reality is subjective.

    It’s one thing to say that reality is experienced subjectively–another thing to say that there is nothing objective at all.

    • #14
    • September 4, 2019, at 5:28 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  15. Saint Augustine Member

    So what are you saying?

    Drawing from clues scattered throughout your writings on Ricochet, I think what you’re getting at is something like this:

    We have no knowledge of a mind-independent reality, although there might be one. The reality that matters to us is the one we have access to. And this reality does not exist independently of us, but is shaped by our perceptions and our actions. (As John Dewey says, reality has a practical character.) And the test of what we believe is whether it leads us to act in ways that bring about good results.

    (If that’s all you’re going for, I’m cool with most of it. Most of it seems like pretty responsible metaphysics and epistemology, and reasonable enough interpretation of the Torah; and I like William James.)

    • #15
    • September 4, 2019, at 5:29 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    So what are you saying?

    Drawing from clues scattered throughout your writings on Ricochet, I think what you’re getting at is something like this:

    We have no knowledge of a mind-independent reality, although there might be one. The reality that matters to us is the one we have access to. And this reality does not exist independently of us, but is shaped by our perceptions and our actions. (As John Dewey says, reality has a practical character.) And the test of what we believe is whether it leads us to act in ways that bring about good results.

    (If that’s all you’re going for, I’m pretty cool with that. Most or all of it seems like pretty responsible metaphysics and epistemology, and reasonable enough interpretation of the Torah; and I like William James.)

    That is quite a decent summary!

    • #16
    • September 4, 2019, at 7:41 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. Henry Racette Contributor

    This kind of discussion is way above my pay grade. I’m a practical, engineering kind of guy, a fellow who has to make imperfect, and imperfectly understood, things function in reality-as-I-think-it-is. I accept that I’m dealing with an approximation of the perfect physical truth.

    And it’s that word, approximation, that I think is relevant here, at least for me. If I think of objective reality as just that, and subjective reality as an approximation of objective reality, then it kind of makes sense to me.

    There is an objective reality to \pi , to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. It isn’t 22/7, or 103993/33102, or 245850922/78256779, however useful those approximations might be. That doesn’t deny that \pi exists, merely that we will always have an imperfect knowledge of its precise value.

    My point is that there are more and less correct, yet still imperfect, approximations of \pi . The fact that approximations exist doesn’t mean that the absolute value of \pi does not. Nor does it mean that those approximations are of equal quality or validity. And it certainly doesn’t suggest that those approximations are somehow more truthful, more real, than the reality of \pi itself.

    So we all carry around our approximations of objective reality. That doesn’t seem too philosophically complicated to me.

    But then, I’m a 3.14 kind of guy.

    • #17
    • September 4, 2019, at 7:57 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  18. Barfly Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gee, I feel bad. I seem to have gotten us off topic. Does anyone besides me want to talk about objective and subjective reality?

    I’ll play a little. Since the OP takes a religious perspective, I’ll posit that the 3rd chapter of Genesis is a cautionary tale against taking one’s mental model to be reality. We know the first truth to be that the human mind is a model of reality, because the first lie is that by knowledge one can be as God, whose thought is our reality.

    • #18
    • September 4, 2019, at 10:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Saint Augustine Member

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Gee, I feel bad. I seem to have gotten us off topic. Does anyone besides me want to talk about objective and subjective reality?

    I’ll play a little. Since the OP takes a religious perspective, I’ll posit that the 3rd chapter of Genesis is a cautionary tale against taking one’s mental model to be reality. We know the first truth to be that the human mind is a model of reality, because the first lie is that by knowledge one can be as God, whose thought is our reality.

    Or maybe it depends on what sort of mental model we’re using.

    Genesis 3 involves a bad mental model–a model out to reinterpret man as G-d. So do the 10 spies who went into Canaan–a model zooming in on the dangers and leaving out the G-d who sent them to confront them.

    Joshua and Caleb have another mental model for describing Canaan–a model faithful to their assignment, and faithful to G-d. Of course, Joshua’s and Caleb’s mental model also has this going for it: It’s actually the correct one.

    In other words, William James is right about the beans (# 12 above). To say that reality has a practical character not fully independent of us–and which is affected by our own behavior–is not to say that there is no reality outside of us by which we are constrained.

    Also in the Torah: Aaron lies to Moses, saying (paraphrase) “I threw the gold into the fire, and out came this calf!” It was a lie because he knew well it was an incorrect description of facts then standing in history, no longer alterable by our perceptions or deeds.

    • #19
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:01 AM PDT
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  20. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Also in the Torah: Aaron lies to Moses, saying (paraphrase) “I threw the gold into the fire, and out came this calf!” It was a lie because he knew well it was an incorrect description of facts then standing in history, no longer alterable by our perceptions or deeds.

    Does the restatement show regret?

    After all, Aharon was famous for finding ways to get along with everyone. He tried to please everyone, and that meant he had to bend. Note that lying for the sake of maintaining peace is NOT forbidden by the Torah – quite the contrary.

     

    • #20
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Henry Racette

    This kind of discussion is way above my pay grade. I’m a practical, engineering kind of guy, a fellow who has to make imperfect, and imperfectly understood, things function in reality-as-I-think-it-is. I accept that I’m dealing with an approximation of the perfect physical truth.

    I think this is precisely what I am trying to talk about., Engineers work with what is demonstrably useful. In that realmm, there is no need to have to believe in some underlying objective reality.

    • #21
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:37 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Saint Augustine Member

    iWe (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    Also in the Torah: Aaron lies to Moses, saying (paraphrase) “I threw the gold into the fire, and out came this calf!” It was a lie because he knew well it was an incorrect description of facts then standing in history, no longer alterable by our perceptions or deeds.

    Does the restatement show regret?

    After all, Aharon was famous for finding ways to get along with everyone. He tried to please everyone, and that meant he had to bend. Note that lying for the sake of maintaining peace is NOT forbidden by the Torah – quite the contrary.

    No comment here.

    From me to you, that is.

    But from you to me–almost the same thing. To be precise, I don’t see the relevance.

    • #22
    • September 5, 2019, at 5:52 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Saint Augustine Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    . . . I accept that I’m dealing with an approximation of the perfect physical truth.

    And it’s that word, approximation, that I think is relevant here, at least for me. If I think of objective reality as just that, and subjective reality as an approximation of objective reality, then it kind of makes sense to me.

    . . .

    iWe (View Comment):

    Henry Racette (View Comment):
    Henry Racette

    This kind of discussion is way above my pay grade. I’m a practical, engineering kind of guy, a fellow who has to make imperfect, and imperfectly understood, things function in reality-as-I-think-it-is. I accept that I’m dealing with an approximation of the perfect physical truth.

    I think this is precisely what I am trying to talk about., Engineers work with what is demonstrably useful. In that realmm, there is no need to have to believe in some underlying objective reality.

    And yet Henry R. specifically says that what he is doing is believing in an underlying objective reality.

    • #23
    • September 5, 2019, at 6:13 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    iWe (View Comment):
    I think this is precisely what I am trying to talk about., Engineers work with what is demonstrably useful.

    One of my engineering professors used to say that in school, we learn how to optimize a solution, but in the real world, the engineer had to “satisfize” and move on. I guess our reality in that limited realm is if the solution works or not.

    • #24
    • September 5, 2019, at 6:36 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Michael Brehm Member

    There is too much objective reality for any one person to behold at once, so we must all constantly compare notes on our own subjective realities to get an idea of what we’re experiencing.

    On a physical level, If you and I are observing something (let’s say a sculpture), we are always going to see it differently. Even if every possible variable that would otherwise differentiate us is the same (same height, same curvature to our lenses, same number and configuration of rods and cones in our retinas, etc.) we are going to experience the sculpture slightly differently, for the simple fact that it is impossible for us to occupy the same vantage point simultaneously.

    This carries over to the metaphysical level as well, as our individual life experiences uniquely “position” us in reality; from which we experience the rest of objective reality.

    When we talk to someone else and try to figure out what they see, we get a “rounder” view of objective reality. Just as your left eye and right eye viewing an object in tandem, but from different angles provides you with a “rounder” view of that object. 

    At least, that’s how I see it ;-)

    • #25
    • September 5, 2019, at 6:54 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  26. Doug Watt Moderator

    Don’t try this at home it’s a thought experiment. One can stand on the railroad tracks and when you see the train coming you can decide that the train isn’t real, and decide to stand your ground. Or you can deny the tracks exist so moving would be pointless because the train will find you no matter where you stand.

    You could take a philosophy class on words have no meaning, but at some point you will realize that the class itself is meaningless.

    • #26
    • September 5, 2019, at 7:35 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  27. Henry Racette Contributor

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Don’t try this at home it’s a thought experiment. One can stand on the railroad tracks and when you see the train coming you can decide that the train isn’t real, and decide to stand your ground. Or you can deny the tracks exist so moving would be pointless because the train will find you no matter where you stand.

    You could take a philosophy class on words have no meaning, but at some point you will realize that the class itself is meaningless.

    My formulation of that idea has long been to suggest that, when and if you encounter a college professor who tries to teach that there is no objective reality, you should try reducing his next paycheck by 50% — or by whatever it takes to make things real for him.

    • #27
    • September 5, 2019, at 7:58 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  28. Henry Racette Contributor

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    And yet Henry R. specifically says that what he is doing is believing in an underlying objective reality.

    I accept it as axiomatic, because any alternative would seem to include contradictions. I know smart people think long and hard about this stuff, but I think anyone who concludes that there isn’t an underlying objective reality — unless that conclusion is reached for essentially religious/metaphysical reasons — is being silly.

    • #28
    • September 5, 2019, at 8:05 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):
    There is too much objective reality for any one person to behold at once,

    That is the joke by itself: beholding something changes it, so any so-called objective reality has to be independent of perception!

    By definition what we see is not precisely what is there.

    • #29
    • September 5, 2019, at 8:19 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  30. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    One can stand on the railroad tracks and when you see the train coming you can decide that the train isn’t real, and decide to stand your ground. Or you can deny the tracks exist so moving would be pointless because the train will find you no matter where you stand.

    I do not deny “useful” reality! A moving train is going to hurt if you are in front of it. Whether or not that train has a perfectly (atomically)-precise mass is irrelevant to the pain.

    You could take a philosophy class on words have no meaning, but at some point you will realize that the class itself is meaningless.

    Indeed, words are much more important, in many respects, than anything physical. 
    Words are there to communicate ideas, things with little or no physical component. It is not the vibration that makes a word powerful: it is what they can make us think or feel!

    • #30
    • September 5, 2019, at 8:22 AM PDT
    • 2 likes

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