When Descartes wrote “Je pense donc je suis” (later Cogito ergo sum), he may have used language which lacks precision by 21st century standards. Is it true that the self which we experience must exist objectively just because there is an experience of the self thinking, or could it be the other way around and the self is a thought which thinks it is a thinker?
Regardless, I think that in spite of the more modern philosophical deconstructions* which try to challenge the incorrigibility of consciousness, the critical point that Descartes made which still stands is this: Subjectivity is an objective fact.
In fact, subjectivity can be seen as the only objective fact that we can ever have access to, since all of our knowledge about the world comes to us entirely through our subjective experience. Even when we conspire with others to synchronize our subjective experiences and come to a consensus which is unbiased, we are all still conspiring as a function of human socialization. While we subjectively experience that our personal blind spots have been illuminated by the inter-subjective consensus of science of philosophy, that illumination is still purely subjective, and can be generated spontaneously in a dream, delusion, or external alteration of brain function. In this sense, it is tempting to say that objectivity is a subjective fiction.
There is a trick to this, however, in my view. While it is objectively true that subjectivity is the only objective truth that we can have access to, that does not necessarily mean that subjectivity is the whole truth. Because subjectivity is an objective fact, that means that it may be linked to larger objective facts, which would lead to the possibility of relative objectivity. Our own private sense cannot be doubted as our only reality, but the contents of our sense experience can and do reflect the transparency of sense…the connectedness between any given private appearance and larger facts about all appearances.
Take for example the first person view of the Earth as flat. If all that we had was the third person view of the Earth as a planet orbiting around a star, it would be very difficult to imagine how there could be parts of the surface of that planet which could develop a “perception” of the planet surface as flat with the star traveling across a blue sky in an arc.
Our modern view takes for granted this first person perspective and sees it as “wrong”…an “illusion” of our misperception and naive understanding. In seeing things this way, we suffer from a failure of negative imagination. We forget that by seeing things only from a third person perspective, we have biased ourselves not only against the first person perspective, but we have blinded ourselves to that bias and given physics a preferred frame of reference which it cannot have. Physics, as a study of nature, cannot use first person subjectivity to exclude first person subjectivity without amputating the basis for its entire epistemology. When we seek to eliminate subjectivity from our consideration of nature, we have to do a better job than we have done so far in assessing the extent of what it is that we are seeking to eliminate. By default, the Western, mechanistic mind takes the more mechanistic aspects of its own subjectivity for objects…it fails to imagine what the universe would be like without the sense of touch or sight.
As we have seen in quantum mechanics as well as general and special relativity, there is no way to get past the link between the frame of reference or measurement and the measurement itself. Physics has spoken. There is no physics without first person framing and perception, and the difference between first person and third person perception can only be conceived of in a frame of reference which is perceptive. Physics cannot have tensed time or fundamental space, rather it is a product of those metaphysical capacities to tense and relax spatial and temporal dimensions. It is through such tensions and relaxations that the subject-object dichotomy appears…from the subjective perspective only. Objects cannot contain perspectives or dichotomies or they could not be meaningfully described as objects.
*Such as Sellars Myth of the Given
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