Blog Entry For 15/8/2013

Objectivity, Subjectivity and Mushrooms!

A curious brain dump today...

I'm surprised I have not encountered the work of Dr Peter Boghossian before today. He is an instructor of Philosophy at Portland State University (PSU) specialising in the teaching of moral and critical thinking to a range of audiences from schools to prisons. Today I had the unexpected pleasure of listening to a presentation he gave at the Freethinkers association at PSU. It fascinated me, though undoubtedly not to everyone's taste.

Not in the slightest as 'controversial' as the title would indicate, and neither should it be given we are now in the 21st century. Rather, it is a fascinating exploration of the tools we employ to reason about the world around us. Of particular interest is the discussion of objective versus subjective experience. I'm far from perfect, and no stranger to falling foul of drawing on subjective belief in order to counter objective problems. Peter himself refers to the "subjective turn in our society" wherein he states the growing risk that "we priveledge subjectivity over an objectively knowable world."

Therein, for me, encapsulates an intreguing problem for us as a species. We are thrust into this objective universe with nothing but our own personal, subjective observations of it. For me, the attraction of science is the fact it empowers us to develop tools that abstract our personal, biased, objective viewpoint to a fact based, empirical framework that maps to our objective surroundings. Why is this important? Peter describes this best in describing a trend in modern society; "[this] move towards subjectivity has allowed alternative truths to enter into the discourse". Alternative truths? I'm amazed at the number of times I've heard the phrase 'personal truth'. Personal is of course subjective, and a truth is objective. Personal truths are, by their very nature, oxymoronic by design. We can't redefine the very definition of the word 'truth' for the selfish purposes of reinforcing our personal beliefs.

One of my little joys in life, call me sad if you will, is the fortnightly dinners with my sister. We have many opposing views and love to debate and discuss topics covering everything and anything. We can get heated, but it is never personal and our relationship remains just as loving and friendly post-conversation as it has always been. We share a passion for the truth and a passion for ideas. Critically, we never draw subjective opinions into a discussion on an objective matter, it's almost like a test of will, to see who will make that fallacial mistake first! For the latter, evidence is required. For the former, well, I can't think how I could even begin a process of providing evidence of my hatred of mushrooms!

After watching the video above, I was struck by how often we witness seemingly intelligent debates and discussions that are hijacked by the intervention of personal belief, usually delivered by thematic and spontaneous emotion. It can often be seen that such discussions will also resort to one or more parties delivering posioned ad hominem/populum arguments that hold no critical value in and of themselves. A cheap parlour trick if you will. The key to debate, and the key to reasoning itself, is the disassociation of subjective opinions from issues that are inherently objective.

Is there a point to this? Perhaps nothing more than thoughts banging around inside my head wanting to be set free. Perhaps it's my hope that society won't regress to the dark ages, and embrace the wonderful skills of reasoning we have developed as a species. I may be naive, but I strongly believe that education is key, as it equips people with the skills to determine truth in the strict sense and, through that process, find a common understanding, a universally accepted truth and create a solid platform of mutual respect. Just my subjective hope I suppose. Thoughts and views, as always, are very welcome...provided conversation stears clear of mushrooms :-p

"Cristicisms of ideas are not criticisms of people. People demand dignity, ideas don't demand dignity." - Dr Peter Boghossian.

8/15/2013 Tags: dr peter boghossian objectivity subjectivity mushrooms

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