III Publishing

Objectivity and Complexity
May 6, 2018
by William P. Meyers

Site Search

Also sponsored by Earth Pendant at PeacefulJewelry

Popular pages:

U.S. War Against Asia
Democratic Party
Republican Party
Natural Liberation

Reality is Complex

Human culture is filled with doctrines that assert that the world is not objective, or not real. Some are simplistic, like the Christian doctrine that while people do die, this world is just a god-run experiment where those who test right spend eternity in the real world of heaven. Some are more complex, like Buddhism, which asserts (at least in some sects) that the world is a complicated illusion and the best humans can do is realize that.

Non-religious culture also has schools of thought denying the objectivity of reality, and sometimes reality itself. Nihilism, Idealism, Solipsism, and Deconstruction are just of few examples of the tendency to deny objectivity to the world.

Aside: Once, after conducting a workshop at an activist convention, in response to a question, I said I preferred Materialism to Idealism. The questioner acted horrified and exited. I should never assume that anyone knows the philosophic use of these terms, which is almost opposite to the street use of them. Materialistic, in everyday language, means greedy for material things. In philosophy Materialism simply means that you think the world is real. Thus I was saying the things we were talking about, like forests and frogs and all wildlife, are real. Idealistic in ordinary language tends to be a synonym to Altruistic, willing to make a sacrifice for a greater good. But in philosophy Idealism refers to the belief that mental or spiritual constructs are the true reality, and forests, frogs, even people are basically fictional and therefore expendable.

Most commonly, people buy into the idea that their thoughts, or attitude, creates their experience. The Power of Positive Thinking school is an example. So let us start there.

Positive thinking works sometimes, and sometimes it does not. Or I should say it corresponds to positive results sometimes, and sometimes it does not. Thoughts must result in actions to effect the external world. Failing to act, perhaps because of negative thoughts, means you fail to have a chance of seeing positive results from actions (of course, some actions have negative results. I think I can rob the bank . . . oops.). But if you act on a deluded thought (fill in your own favorite example here), positive thinking and acting on it can be dangerous.

Realizing that action is an intermediary between thoughts (or prayers) and the rest of reality is a key not just to a good life, but to a proper philosophic understanding. The philosophy mistake is thinking that positive thought, or positive imagination, directly affects the reality that existed before humans evolved and that will continue with or without you.

A more encompassing Idealist or subjective philosophy would claim that even the actions a person seems to take are actually in one's mind. You only think you are eating breakfast, pitching a ball, or taking a walk. This makes it a circular argument, one that always denies any outside input or method of being proven wrong. For example, this school asserts that the tree you think you see is only in your mind, it does not have an existence of its own. It is the philosophic equivalent of the religious argument of Faith.

Simply agreeing that there is an objective reality, ranging from distant galaxies to your own immediate surroundings, does not solve all problems. Reality is complicated at all levels. So making choices can be difficult at all levels. It is easy to accept reality and yet be wrong about specific aspects of it. We get most of our information from other human beings. Their reliability varies for a variety of reasons.

One of the arguments against Realism is particularly illuminating as it can help us understand how easy it is to make both real world and philosophic errors.

This particular argument says that believing in an objective world means you believe that reality consists of objects. Then it defines objects to be within the common language use of the word "object." Objects are discrete, physical, things like stones, plants, stars, etc. Then show there are aspects of reality that don't behave like those objects: energy, or complexes that don't behave like conventional objects. The argument concludes the world is not objective. In the 20th century in particular the discovery of quantum physics created a big opening for those who want to deny that reality is objective. Some aspects of quantum physics were interpreted as relying on observers. Require that the observers be minds, and objectivity seeps away. Of course this is an absurd interpretation of both quantum physics and philosophy. The world was around, working according to the rules of quantum physics, before the first human mind made the first flint tool.

By stating there is an objective, real universe I do not mean to imply any particular set of rules must be applied or that objects are all alike in characterl. I trust mainstream modern science, including both quantum and classical physics, chemistry, and biology, to continue to discover rules and facts about the real world.

Before there was science there was ample cause for humans to veer off into a variety of religious, philosophical, and cultural mistakes. Language helps us with reality, but language, lies and storytelling can lead us away from an accurate understanding of reality. Hope keeps us going, it is a good trait overall, but it can also lead to hoping there is life after death, and other nonsense.

Simplifications help us too, until they don't. Many human decisions fall into the Yes or No category. There are other situations where there is a scale that needs to be correct, or multiple variables. For primitive hunters, the decision was not just to throw a stone at prey (or in defense from large carnivores) or not, but when, with what force, and in what direction. Yet in our much more complex modern culture there is a laziness that wants to say Yes or No, rather than It's Complicate. And, often people say It's Complicated as if that were the end, as if it would not benefit us to understand the specifics in order to make good choices.

Complexity is the rule. In order to be objective we humans need to acquire complicated knowledge of objective reality. All human knowledge is too much for any one human being to accumulate in a lifetime. We need to be able to put our heads together so that we can act with collective wisdom.

If the real world has taught us anything in the last century or so, it is that those of us who are realists need to do more to help the deluded escape their delusions. Whether the deluded person is a science-denying elected official or the potential recruit of a militant group, we need to find ways to give them all a reality check.

III Blog list of articles