Friday, May 24, 2013

Objectivity about physical things

I said previously:
“When I think of objectivity, I think of ... The dictionary sense - “of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers“ ... It's real for you, me and the next person, and is not subject to different interpretations.”
... But I let my mouth out-pace my mind. Upon further review, there's a better dictionary definition right there on the same page :
3a : expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations <objective art> <an objective history of the war> <an objective judgment>
I think THAT is a more accurate description of what I think about the adjective "objective".

Still, when we talk about a "fact or condition", there are some aspects of that fact or condition that we have to be very careful about while claiming to be objective about it.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett speaks of physical, design and intentional stances as the levels of abstraction at which we view the properties and behaviors of a thing.

Wikipedia sez:
"when explaining and predicting the behavior of an object, we can choose to view it at varying levels of abstraction. The more concrete the level, the more accurate in principle our predictions are."
Notice that this refers to a real entity, not a conceptual one.

This indicates that claims made about physical attributes such as height, width, depth, weight, color and composition, for instance, can be made accurately and repeated by all potential observers accurately, and are subject to little or no misinterpretation of the meaning and value of the attributes used to describe it. It really is just a description of what the thing is, without imbuing it with deeper meaning. It doesn't require judgement to apprehend these values because those values will be the same no matter who measures them.

We can describe what the universe is, when we stick to these physical attributes.

What we don't have to do, if we exercise some self-control, is make further claims about what those values were prior to today, or what they will be after today, nor what they mean. I might bring those aspects up later, but it's not central to my train of thought in this post.

All of this is to say that we can describe our world as it is here and now, and be correct about it. Taken one moment at a time, we can probably claim to be objective about the physical description of the world, to within a reasonable doubt.

When we start looking at meaning and purpose is where the fun really starts. I'll give THAT a go next time.

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