What is Objectivity?

  • April 14, 2014 · 7:00 PM
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What is Objectivity?

The December 5, 2011, issue of Scientific American ran an article titled "New Theory Explains How Objective Reality Emerges from the Strange Underlying Quantum World". In it the author describes how the classical world arises from the quantum world, how he and his research colleagues at the Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore conducted experiments to measure the fabric of reality by applying quantum correlations and found that "Whatever quantumness is present can never be strong enough to contradict local realism [objective, mind-independent reality in the macroscopic world]. It is, after all, reassuring to know that the moon is there when you don’t look at it." [Berkeley notwithstanding] 



Physics is not philosophy, to be sure; although physics offers philosophers a window into the mysteries of the universe. But how are we to interpret the empirical data of science? How do we know what we know? Indeed, what is knowledge? And can we know anything at all about the real world in which we live? These are the central questions of epistemology. 



Is there an objective reality behind what we see and experience? Was Einstein right when he wrote in a letter to Langevin on December 16, 1924, that Louie de Broglie had "lifted a corner of the great veil" in his PhD thesis on the discovery of matter waves? Or when he said during an intellectually riveting discussion he had with the Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore in July 1930, in his home on the outskirts of Berlin: "I cannot prove scientifically that Truth must be conceived as a Truth that is valid independent of humanity; but I believe it firmly. I believe, for instance, that the Pythagorean theorem in geometry states something that is approximately true, independent of the existence of man"? 



Is there such a thing as "objective truth", i.e. the belief that truth is objective, independent of us, of our beliefs, and of the operations of our minds? The notion that regardless of what we believe, some things will always be true and others will always be false? If not, then Nietzsche must have been right when he said there are no facts, only interpretations. 



But if there is, can the human mind ever grasp it? Or is there an impenetrable Kantian barrier between what reason can comprehend in the phenomenal world of appearances and the world in itself, the world of objective reality not immediately accessible to our senses? 



In practical terms, is there an objective reality behind our interpretations of experience? Do we experience the objective world in which we live? When we claim to be "objective", what exactly do we mean? 



In short, what is objectivity? 





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  • A former member
    A former member

    since global warming was mentioned quite a few time during our meetup, I thought it appropriate to forward this link that I received today:
    http://www.iflscience.com/environment/what-are-chances-climate-change-natural
    Enjoy & I look forward to meeting you again soon

    1 · April 15, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Good discussion. Some persons didn't know how to stop. The format is a bit restrictive for give and take talking. I like to interrupt the speaker from time to time.

    April 15, 2014

  • Julianna O.

    Apologies. Not feeling well and will have to join you next time.

    April 14, 2014

  • alice g.

    Oh, agreed. You'll notice that the article from which I was quoting referenced the views of "philosophers"; in playing the 'devil's advocate' for a moment, I obscured my own view that sensory experience is one of the 'crucibles' of knowledge and is, in fact, the very foundation upon which 'higher' forms of knowledge are constructed. It is my contention that, unequivocally, the 'falling tree' makes a 'sound' be someone present to hear it or record it remotely or what have you. Egocentric impurities in philosophical 'thinking' create debate where there are not, I contend, grounds for such. The fact of there being or not being a human witness does not alter reality (although quantum theorists make claim to witness alterations in substance).

    April 13, 2014

  • Julianna O.

    I liked your thought-provoking comments, Alice. I think it is difficult, however, to accept the idea that all sensory experience is suspect, in terms of objectivity. Analytically, at least two things happen in the example of a tree falling : the physical act of falling, which today can be recorded remotely and objectively by a camera/microphone, and the possibility of someone hearing/seeing the fall. The only way we actually know about the tree falling is if someone, a witness, tells that story. As for our sense being "secondary qualities", I think that as part of nature and the animal world, we rely on them first and foremost for survival which perhaps suggests they might not be secondary after all...???

    April 13, 2014

  • alice g.

    Yes, Julianna, and since one might well posit objectivity as a premise of truth, one might apply the fact that, as for truth, objectivity which is "...independent of the existence of man..." IS and needs to be that for which the exercise of such strives; case in point: "If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound?"

    1 · April 13, 2014

    • alice g.

      continued: "Now, to a large extent, we can interpret the actions of human sense organs in much the same way we interpret mechanical measuring devices. The human auditory apparatus simply translates one set of physical phenomena into another, leading eventually to stimulation of those parts of the brain cortex responsible for the perception of sound. It is here that the distinction comes. Everything to this point is explicable in terms of physics and chemistry, but the process by which we turn electrical signals in the brain into human perception and experience in the mind remains, at present, unfathomable...." (TBC)

      April 13, 2014

    • alice g.

      Philosophers have long argued that sound, colour, taste, smell and touch are all secondary qualities which exist only in our minds. We have no basis for our common-sense assumption that these secondary qualities reflect or represent reality as it really is. So, if we interpret the word ‘sound’ to mean a human experience rather than a physical phenomenon, then when there is nobody around there is a sense in which the falling tree makes no sound at all.

      April 13, 2014

  • Julianna O.

    I think that Tagore and those who proclaim the importance of establishing truth that is" ... independent of the existence of man" is fine in terms of establishing the true, scientific existence of certain "facts" that exist separately from human observation/ control. However, I think one of the important reasons we gather to discuss ideas is the Value we set on them --we value objectivity, and we set a high value on truth. Indeed,our society's key institutions are based on this value. For example, the "rule of law" in democracies is based on a social contract,founded on valuing truth/ objectivity) and laws are really rules governing behaviour and truth-telling, that is, rules for actions/ facts that can be confirmed by sworn witnesses , all to be determined ( whether truthful--objective or not) by judges/juries( peers). The ultimate function of courts in democracies is to determine, as much as human effort can achieve, what is objective and true and what is not.

    1 · April 13, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Ahh, I thought this was on Tuesday, I must have misread the date when I RSVP'd... I have an exam on Monday at 7pm so unfortunately I can't make it.

    April 12, 2014

  • Julianna O.

    I think we live in an age of cynicism where many are overloaded with info, but perhaps underloaded with judgement. The term "objective" is difficult- the beautiful Japanese film "Rashomon" is a case in point: it relates several apparently different stories by people who all observed the same, violent event. Apparently we do not just observe with our eyes, but with the whole history of our learnings, the effects on us of our surroundings etc..
    I think objectivity is at the core of science: it lies in what can be measured, tested etc..by different people who will all reach similar or even identical results/answers which others anywhere in the world can verify.

    1 · April 3, 2014

    • Rafi

      You raise a number of interesting points Julianna. Very much appreciated. BTW, does anyone know who's hosting/chairing this event?

      April 4, 2014

    • Mila

      We are working on this right now, Rafi.

      April 4, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I always thought of objective being related to act of observation not also the judgement part, that part is the domain of the analysis used, say logic, etc. aka an observation is objective if it doesn't have any influences or biases applied to it by the observer...

    March 21, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      I would also add that that doesn't mean you shouldn't strive to be objective or at least to identify the limitations of your attempt at being objective...

      March 22, 2014

    • Rafi

      Erik, would identifying your own limitations sort of be like the famous "unknown unknowns" of a recent statesman? and if that's a fair characterization, how would one even do that?

      April 3, 2014

  • Rafi

    Another huge subject, and one that will take me away from doing work. But, I would suggest a book, if you can get your hand's on it - "Physics as Metaphor" by Roger Jones. Basically, it takes the most 'hard-core' of the physical sciences and suggests that there are huge limits to its pretensions to objectivity - this dovetails with some of late Wittgenstein's musings on language games. Of course if you take this too far you wind up with the extremes associated with deconstruction (but the other extreme are the equivalent of Fukuyama's 'End of History').

    March 21, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Gerhard Gentzen in 1936 used transfinite induction which is the extention of mathematical induction to well ordered sets, aka an example of a well ordered set is the cardinal numbers, etc. Aka He used induction on infinite sets and a proof by contradiction... if you read German you can read his 1936 paper on-line. I really don't know much more than that he proved it and that the proof hasn't been discreditied, as the technique he used is now called proof theoretical ordinal analysis if that helps.

      March 22, 2014

    • Rafi

      Awesome. Thanks!

      March 22, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    I would argue Todd's definition is on what it is to try to be objective but not on what objectivity is. Eli's point is well taken.

    March 20, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    To Todd: your definition does not appear to require consideration of physical facts. Would such facts constitute your external influence?

    March 20, 2014

  • Todd

    Here's a first attempt at at definition:
    The ability in any context to judge fairly, without bias or external influence.

    March 20, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Only a baby just born is free from external influence or conditioning, or bias. The rest of us are never free .....

      March 20, 2014

  • Judy

    Must be what Fox News is aiming at Rafi!

    March 19, 2014

    • Rafi

      That's exactly what I was afraid of, Judy.

      March 20, 2014

  • Todd

    I think the real challenge is not defining what it is but identifying how can it be achieved?

    March 20, 2014

  • Todd

    Unfortunately I will not likely be able to make this discussion so I hope much of the discussion is reflected here.

    March 20, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Is entrance into this bar 19+?

    March 18, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      No. Its a restaurant .

      March 19, 2014

  • Rafi

    Is this related to Ayn Rand, or is it to do with what Fox news is aiming at?

    March 18, 2014

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