Archive for April, 2013

The spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity

Posted in Faith & Science, Psychology on April 21, 2013 by daviddiel

I recently listened to this talk on world views and the spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity by Deepak Chopra. This is my response:

There is a parking garage that I can see from my window. I see that there are vehicles inside the garage, but I have not explored the interior of the garage. I believe that I could walk through the garage and count the exact number of vehicles inside. I also believe that you could walk through the garage and count the number of vehicles, and that your count would be the same as mine, assuming that we have a shared language that describes our past experiences of vehicles and numbers. It is critically important that we have enough shared experience for the answer to be identical. Otherwise, if we instead try to count blue vehicles, then our experience and perception of the color blue might differ enough to yield different results.

In my opinion, subjectivity arises because your experiences and language associations are unique to you. Other people may have had similar experiences, and may use similar language to describe their experiences. However, each person starts from a different reference point naturally. It takes effort for groups of people to create shared experiences and language.

When a group of people verify that they agree about something through communication, then they will take the mental shortcut called objectivity. Unlike Deepak Chopra, I claim that we all must believe in objectivity to communicate with others.

Using the example of counting vehicles, I cannot continuously question whether trees are vehicles, or whether the number 3 means 5 to other people. At some point in life, I accepted that other people’s experiences of 3 and 5 are pretty much the same as my own. However, through my experiences, I have observed that other people have slightly different concepts of the color blue. Therefore, I would say that there is room for subjectivity in the definition of blue.

Deepak Chopra might say that you create all of the colors of the rainbow in your imagination. However, I disagree with his completely subjective stance. That is because we probably have had a shared experience of a meter stick, and the wavelength of light can be measured in terms of meters. Even if I were color blind, I could use a tool to measure a beam of light. And, if the tool were to read about 700 nanometers, then I would be objectively incorrect to call it blue because that is clearly outside of the range that people have agreed to label as blue.

In summary, even though I agree with Deepak Chopra that science begins with subjectivity, I do believe in an objective reality that exists outside of any individual person.