Saturday, March 11, 2006

Subjectivity and Objectivity

Category: Issue 2

This morning, my dad and I were talking about all kinds of stuff.  We do this a lot whenever we’re together.  He explained to me something he had read in an art book; that during the rennaisance, humans started getting the idea that we are noble creatures - the center of the universe, and that we should be exercising our influence over it all.  But then science began to question these ideas and our outlook has become more subdued and humble; that we are just specks in a grand scheme of things, unimportant and largely meaningless points of life drifting through a vast emptiness.

He wanted to say that objectively, one of these views must be more correct.  Our conversation up to that point had led him to believe that I would agree, and that I would choose the older view as the more correct version.  I do choose the older view, but I do not agree that it’s “objectively” more correct.  I suggested that this probably bothered him, and he agreed that it does, so it was a good opening for me to introduce an important perspective of mine.

I accept the fact that I’m the only one who experiences things the way I experience them - my experience is subjective.  I like to think of humans as noble creatures, each the center of his own universe, whose happiness depends on his or her willingness to exercise influence over it.  But to argue that my perspective is objectively more correct requires something I don’t think exists.  I suppose the best term for it is “objectivity”.

So he brought up Litmocracy.  He sees that I am allowing the membership to determine what comes to the forefront of our attention, and asked what I would do if what the group chooses is opposite from what I think.  Would I change myself, or what?  So we found two words to describe that top-choice that was disagreeable to me: “challenge” and “enlighten”.

The top-choice piece might challenge my outlook, but not enlighten me.  In this case, I would simply argue against it.  Some people would read my arguments and, I hope, be enlightened, and possibly switch sides, marking a step of progress (subjective progress, that is - “progress” according to Dave).  Others would read it and perceive it as a challenge, and the argument would go on.

On the other hand, the top-choice piece might enlighten me, and in this case, obviously, I would change.

“You have faith in humanity!” said my dad, after I explained this.

“Yeah, so my website will help me find people that agree with me that humans are noble and we can get together and exercise our influence in order to increase our happiness, but at the same time, it helps people who think we’re just meaningless specks get together and commiserate with each other.”  I was out of breath, so I left out the fact that it will also give both sides access to the best material from each other.

I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe that when presented with two choices, most groups will pick the one I like better.  If there are more than two choices, it is possible that the preferences of the individuals in the group cannot be combined to determine “what the group picks.”