(There's also a discussion of time in here, lots of physics including philosophical underpinnings, and some preliminaries on consciousness.)
You can look both objective and subjective up in the dictionary, but it won't tell you anything you don't already know.
What you may not know is the unifying concept of objectivity. To say something is objective is to say it exists independently of our consciousness.
To say something is subjective is to say it exists entirely within our consciousness.
Now, science likes to tell you that subjective phenomena are 'not real.' Now, if you stop and think about this at all, you realize it's nonsense. In fact, the whole objection that an observation is 'subjective' is complete bunkum.
To see this, and in fact the whole problem with this dichotomy, consider my consciousness. It is subjective, yes? The things I experience require me to be a subject.
But, does it exist independently of your consciousness, or not?
Similarly, when one of us observes an objective phenomenon, for instance the readout on a thermometer, is the experience of the measurement entirely within your consciousness, or not?
Because of this problem, I have been forced to modify objectivity and subjectivity.
Objectivity: The state of being commonly experienced; a phenomenon which other consciousnesses may share.
Subjectivity: The state of being individually experienced; a phenomenon which is private.
These definitions are extremely dense. For instance, if an experience may be shared by multiple consciousnesses, and is self-consistent, then it must exist when being experienced by no consciousnesses. There are several other conclusions, all of which confirm things you believe, contained non-obviously, but inevitably, in these definitions.
From these definitions, I can actually view objectivity as secondary to subjectivity. (I get into this debate in detail below.) Conceptually, we are not consciousnesses floating in a sea of objects. Rather, subjectivity is the primary principle. Occasionally, some subjective sensations are shared across subjects; this is objectivity.
While we learn from physics that if two things look the same, they are the same, the principle can be difficult to apply correctly, as is common in physics.
Consider the fact that either principle can be considered primary, and also, as I demonstrated above, every objective phenomena can be reduced to a subjective one, and every subjective phenomena can be reduced to an objective one.
What I learn from this is that objectivity and subjectivity are parallel and symmetric.
Because of this, and the physical principle that two things that look the same are the same, is that objectivity and subjectivity are actually two parts of the same principle.
The underlying principle evades me for the moment, but I'll get to it in the end.
Still, due to various reasons that for some reason I find impossible to enumerate, it's important to keep the distinction.
I will make a digression for solipsism. True solipsists are a minority, but their arguments are considered a priori respectable, which they are not. As a result a great deal of unnecessary doubt exists in the mind of far too many non-solipsists.
Solipsists say that only their consciousness is real. The deep reason for this is because of the probable fact that subjectivity is primary. From the point of view of a solipsist subject, their subjectivity can be verified, as can every objective fact. However, other subjects are dubious at best.
Taking the view of logical positivism, the solipsist concludes that their consciousness exists, but no others do.
In reality, the solipsist actually obtains this conclusion not through thought or logic, but through pure association. Scientists usually associate subjective measurements with lies, and so the solipsist associates any non-verifiable subjective claim with a lie.
On the other hand, you can say that Ockham's razor suggests that if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. Other humans do exactly what you'd expect them to do if they really are subjects, and therefore they are.
Both of these demonstrate the error of the solipsist. But neither are the real reason the solipsist is completely wrong. The real reason is that, if you're ever doubting the subjectivity of another subject, there's a test you can do.
Though there is an underlying truth of which both are a part, subjectivity is clearly different than objectivity. As such, subjectivity must have some objective consequences, or else it doesn't exist.
The naive test is to simply describe something intimately related to sensing things as a subject. Discuss the contrast between the emotions associated with different colours, for example. While a full proof of subjectivity will either have to evolve, or await a full understanding of what objects are capable vs subjects, this is starting point good enough that you can use it tomorrow.
There's a problem here, in that scientists, especially professors, have a unified philosophy, but they refuse to name it. 'Atheism' is just the belief that no gods exist, but in practice people describing themselves as atheists, such as Dawkins, have a whole host of even more questionable but never questioned beliefs, such as strong egalitarianism, that make up their whole philosophy. The God Delusion is a proselytizing text for this philosophy, not an attack on theism per se. Skeptic magazine is another. Scientism is derogatory, which is a point against it as a label for this philosophy, but it's convenient enough for this article. So.
The other common, completely wrong, perspective is the idea that subjectivity doesn't really exist.
Now, given Axiom One you don't have to work hard to determine my perspective. I think it's lazy to stop there, however. While I am generally extremely lazy...
The simple fact that science cannot explain with any current tool or any of their foreseeable future evolutions, is that experience is completely different from fact.
Science can, foreseeably, find the exact neurons that light up when you see the colour green. Science can then disrupt those neurons to deprive you of the colour green. Science can redirect the pulse so that you see red instead. Science can recreate those neurons and plug them into a suitable computer and verify that they function to define green.
Given all this, science cannot even describe the sensation of green, let alone explain it. Science cannot even find any plausible mechanism whereby it could determine whether the neurally enhanced computer is now experiencing green. This is the hard problem.
No, the implicit theory is that the indescribable doesn't exist, and that perspective completely insane. You can cure yourself of it by trying to describe, in words, everything in your room right now. Do it in enough detail that someone reading them could photo-realistically model your room from the words alone. AI: science you can do at home!
There are some rather extreme limits on what humans can describe to each other, at least so far.
I think this is because science is as incomplete as a human with no emotion.
Subjectivity: Let's Try This Again
Obviously, current ideas about subjectivity are wildly incomplete, jarring, insane, and all over the place.
Contrarily, we have objectivity pretty much nailed.
So, what is subjectivity?
I always have trouble with this. I'm dancing nervously along the knife edge of the describable. Unfortunately, to think logically, descriptions and therefore definitions are vital.
While I have figured out, to a degree, what subjectivity is, and can talk ad nauseum about the consequences, the words for its actual nature, the general theory, are very slippery.
As such, this passage is probably going to be extremely long and difficult.
Incidentally, your brain is totally a computer. It has almost exactly the same high-level architecture as a computer, and even uses a more interesting version of Google's PageRank to sort memories. In fact, I suspect that PageRank works to the extent that it approximates our actual memory algorithm.
Think about this for a second, because it's really beautiful to see how it all fits together.
The brain also uses Bayesian reasoning and the Scientific Method, and probably Free Market supply and demand as well. (Update: it attempts to minimize an equivalent to free energy.)
The basic facts about subjectivity are thus.
Subjective experiences, qualia, experiences, or sensations, are reactions to other objective or subjective phenomena. The chain of sensation can always be followed to some initial objective input. That is, a physical interaction that chains into physical interactions with subjective representations.
Sensations, despite lots of leeway for individual customizations, adhere remarkably well to faithful representations of whatever they are supposed to represent.
That is, sensations are clearly non-logical. The logical content of the colour blue is zero, while the logical content of the photon-eye-brain system is huge. There is no reason for the sensation of blue be consistent with the sensation of green, and yet the contrast between blue and green is consistent across all instances. Blue always looks blue. Also, encoding is arbitrary. There's no reason why green is represented by green, instead of any other possible sensation. Because we don't know what the sensation of blue is, because we cannot describe it, we have no idea why blue is always blue. We can't see a reason why blue can't change. Despite this, sensations represent logical phenomena extremely faithfully.
We have no idea why such a representation is necessary. While we have to suspect that consciousness evolved, since the platform for consciousness is the brain, which evolved, we have no idea what benefit the evolved organism has gained by doing so.
Actually, I suspect that the perception of consciousness evolved, not consciousness itself.
Are all living brains conscious? Can we remove consciousness and see what the objective drawback is?
In practice, of course, A: we have no idea and B: no. In theory, it's still extremely difficult. To answer A we have to know what consciousness is so we can positively identify it. B is a little more tractable.
When we fall asleep, we are losing consciousness. We can also observe living things that lack a brain.
I will spare you the details, but doing so yields the fact that consciousness is apparently for making choices. This is opposed to the mechanical instincts or Pavlovian associations, which are simply neural equivalents to a protein cascade.
According to Axiom One, we have to conclude that when we make choices, they are real. Indeed, what would be the point of evolving a brain that fooled itself into thinking it was making choices? Wouldn't this just be unnecessary overhead?
In fact, the whole apparatus to create the sensation of choice must be extremely complex. Realize that since the brain doesn't have a hard drive, nor a CPU. It is basically an absolutely freaking enormous field-programmable gate array. As such, every program exists as the processor to run that program.
There is a program to create indecision, decision, action, memory retrieval, the weighing of pros and cons, nearly every distinct process in decision making you can think of. Each of these has to work in near perfect harmony or you don't get the sensation of making a decision.
Now imagine how much harder a simulation of choice would be.
(The idea that consciousness is just a monitor for the actual deterministic processes is supposed to support the idea that consciousness isn't special, to nuke the idea free will, which is obviously outside the purview of modern physics. However, the inevitable conclusion is that sensation is an accident which unfortunately only supports a spiritualist view of things, because of the incredible organization of the subjective mind.)
As such, we can assume that the point of consciousness, in terms of evolutionary success, is choice.
It's primarily what you do. There's only one other thing that's unique to consciousness; non Pavlovian learning or creative induction, and this is tied to choice anyway. (For instance, we can recognize consciousness in other humans even though we can't define its properties. For the link, go to the article I'm referencing and read the third page, which has a list of things consciousness definitely isn't.) There are many variations, combinations, and other interesting interactions with subconsciousness and conscious versions of subconscious processes such as the regular deduction and induction, but those two are the only thing we can definitively label as unique to consciousness. (I'm fairly sure I haven't made this clear, but I'm not sure how exactly to fix it.)
So what's a choice, exactly? This is, apropos to it being the core function of consciousness, pretty well indescribable. Any serious attempt to do so that I've ever seen pretty well just describes a normal transistor gate array; such a thing is deterministic and cannot meaningfully make choices.
(How exactly do we know that, since we can't define choice?)
Nevertheless, I will now define choice.
A choice is when, given alternatives, the consciousness is perfectly capable of choosing any of them. What determines the decisions is nothing other than consciousness itself. Certainly, memories and preferences weigh the various decisions, but you can, as a consciousness, choose any alternative you can come up with, with the minor caveat that it has to be physically possible.
The truth of the perception of choice is unfortunately obscured by the essence of time. This has let many people conclude that your choices are pre-formed by the reasons you come up with for choosing your choice.
The way we experience time is like walking backwards through a dusty cave. We can choose to walk in the centre of the cave or at one side, and we can see our footprints in the dust. In this particular cave, we can't turn around, nor can we stop walking or intentionally change our speed; we can only choose which side we walk on.
We observe that wherever we walk, our footprints appear in front of us. (Remember, walking backward.) If we walk with faster gait, setting our feet down more often, there are more footprints, if we start leaping there are less, etc...
Because we are walking backward, there is no direct evidence that our footprints aren't there before we step into them, like some maniacal fairy is painting them with a duster.
Still, we observe that our footprints always match our footwear. Also, we cannot, no matter how hard we try, trip up this fairy.
Thus, the theory that our choices are somehow made for us in advance is a non-physical theory. It cannot make predictions.
Unfortunately, the idea that we do make our choices is also non-physical. Nevertheless, these theories are extremely important to our emotions.
(I actually think this is by design. It's supposed to be possible to choose the viewpoint that choice is impossible, at least for some value of 'supposed' and 'design.')
This, unfortunately for my credibility, leads me directly into an alternate theory of randomness.
I believe that randomness or stochastic events, are the basic building blocks of consciousness. In a very real sense, when an electron collapses into spin up or spin down, it is choosing spin up or spin down.
Yes, I am proposing that every particle has a minute spark of consciousness, which decides how to collapse.
Now, the electron doesn't have a brain to influence this decision. It is not alive and therefore has no goals. As such, the decisions will appear completely random.
In a conscious brain, this essentially random process is biased. One of the choices is made much more appealing than the others. However, because you are basically conscious, this is as far as the brain can go. It cannot force you to take any particular alternative. Consciousness is the power of choice, and therefore the power of freedom.
Certainly, we will always make our footprint in the dust, and no matter where we make it, some person will say that the unseeable fairy painted it there before you stepped down. They can bring up the fact that people act statistically. We can poll and predict with a fair accuracy that, say, 76% of adults will decide to drive a car this week. We can predict that a study 'proving' that cars are awful and hideous will move that number down by, say, 5%.
However, you can always bring up the fact that these polls are always changing.
Notably, because this is a theory of choice, of consciousness, it is therefore a non-physical theory, and there is no evidence that can force you to believe, one way or the other.
I find this highly suggestive for consciousness as freedom, but this could be simply a direct manifestation of my use of Axiom One.
None of this needs contradict the neural theory of consciousness. Because we live in a physical world, every action must have a physical component. This is what we actually mean when we talk about existence.
To explain this, first of all realize that nothing truly has independent existence. Physics is the study of interactions. It is only through an interaction that anything may be experienced, and it is only through interactions that the so-called 'internal properties' may be investigated.
All actions, physical or otherwise, must follow the laws of logic. Identity or A=A, and non-contradiction. Because of this, through a chain of logic only of interest to physicists, all of physics is interdependent. Every physical fact depends on every other physical fact. Now, because physics is the study of interactions, we can use the term physics to describe any system of interactions, even ones we would recognize as having vastly different assumptions than our world's physics.
Thus, even in other worlds, such as a putative spiritual world, a world of consciousness, must have self-consistent laws of interaction. Thus, they are all in some sense physical.
However, these laws of interaction may or may not allow interaction with our physical world. If they do, then these laws must be consistent with our physical laws. Such interactions would look exactly like normal physical events. There would be nothing in particular to differentiate them; otherwise it would represent a contradiction with the other laws of physics. Such a contradiction would, I am not exaggerating in the slightest, destroy everything. Either an infinite energy explosion going at the speed of light would form, or the infinite energy would in fact accelerate an infinite amount of the infinite mass particles to infinite speed and destroy everything instantly.
Such outside yet consistent laws are, unfortunately, impossible for us to imagine. Our physics-based brains would, when faced with the requirement that the laws be consistent with our own, simply come up with a copy of our laws, and therefore conclude that the putative other world was in fact our own world.
It is no exaggeration to say that given an electron and a perfect computer, it is in all likelihood possible to definitively derive all of the laws of physics. That is how consistent and interdependent they are.
Since the universe still exists, we can assume that the laws of physics have never been contradicted, which means that if indeed consciousness is embedded in each particle, and relies on some process that transcends physics, it's physically consistent for it to do so.
With that in mind, let me reverse the conventional wisdom.
What if Subjectivity is Primary?
Obviously this still has to be consistent with our sensations, and our sensations tell us of a physical universe. Clearly, I can only conclude that the subjects like sharing experiences. This immediately makes sense; sharing experiences is the basis of debate, both in the direct sense and by bringing previously different experiences into alignment with each other.
In other words, when I assume that subjectivity is primary, I come to the conclusion that subjects are in the business of making things objective.
This inevitably, though certainly not trivially, means that the consistency of physics is a primarily subjective world is not surprising at all, but actually inevitable.
This also immediately makes sense. If subjects are to interact, they must follow some consistent set of rules for interaction, which I've previously outlined as a physics.
Even if the individual worlds of the subjects were wildly different internally, they would only be able to interact with each other to the extent that they are the same, which means that if there was a subject that did not like interacting with others, the subjective universe would allow it, but no other subject would ever hear of them, nor would this autistic subject be able spy.
Therefore, even by assuming the most subjective universe possible, logic leads me to the existence of objectivity. Objectivity and subjectivity inevitably imply each other; they are in reality, two facets of the same concept.
We take existence for granted. You cannot prove or disprove existence; any action, any action at all, is a manifestation of existence. To prove it is to create, bring into existence, a proof. To disprove it is to bring into existence a disproof. This isn't just an artifact of linguistics; in all possible representations the proof requires the concept of existence to express.
First, lets take objective existence for granted. Let's say that we investigate using our consciousnesses, but that the things we investigate exist independently, existed before we came, and will exist after we're gone.
Objective truths are always true and for that reason can be verified by independent observers. Subjective truths are beliefs about the world and not guaranteed to be true, however it can be seen that it is objectively true that a subject holds a false belief - it can be verified that a belief is held, and that it is false. Subjectivity is subordinate to objectivity; beliefs cannot exist without being verifiably existent.
For example, atoms existed before anyone believed that they exist; indeed, the minds to believe so were made out of atoms. Unicorns, even though some believe they exist, cannot be verified.
Actually this is a bit of a farce. While it's true as far as it goes, it ignores non-belief subjective phenomena. If you examine the logic in the above paragraphs, you'll find that beliefs are but a small part of subjectivity, and the greater part is ignored. This is not accidental, though it's also not by design. It is adaptive; it is done because it works and reproduces itself. Nevertheless, as I've shown above, my sensations exist independently of you, and thus are in some sense objective. While the logic is incomplete, the general conclusion holds when the argument is repaired.
Now lets take subjective existence for granted. I'm going to call it experience for clarity.
Subjective experiences are always true; only that which is experienced exists. Objective experiences are those that can also be experienced by other subjects, and for that reason must be consistent across subjects. (The opposite is clearly false; two people experiencing something different cannot coherently claim to be sharing the experience.) However, it can be seen that all objective experiences do indeed exist, but not all experiences can be shared. Objectivity is subordinate to subjectivity; an experience that no one shares is not an experience and does not exist.
For example, atoms cannot exist without being experienced. While our knowledge of them is limited to recent times, their effects on our experience has been consistent throughout time. Compare unicorns, which have never been experienced.
Subjective and objective are in fact qualitatively different arenas, but you must either conceive subjectivity as subordinate of objectivity or vice-versa. They can't be quite thought of as equal, nor can you do without either.
However, there is no objective (Ha ha! Hello, irony!) criteria for choosing one over the other. The criteria for decision are entirely meta-physical; they have absolutely no effect on physics. You may pick which one you like best. This is true of all metaphysical claims.
It's still very important to choose, however, for the purposes of clear communication and clear thinking. You cannot form a consistent philosophy without taking a stance, speaking with someone from the opposite camp without making allowances for the necessary logical transformations creates misunderstandings like cellular automata fill cells.
Similarly, anyone trying to force you to take one stance over another doesn't understand the concepts involved, and regardless there's no logical path to success. Such a person is a jerk, although I'm sure they have specific incidents in mind which they'd like society to avoid. Nevertheless, arguing in favor of one side or the other is not an effective method.
And that's why I had to write this essay. Which side have you chosen?