Subject–object problem

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The subject–object problem, a longstanding philosophical issue, is concerned with the analysis of human experience, and arises from the premise that the world consists of objects (entities) which are perceived or otherwise presumed to exist as entities, by subjects (observers). This division of experience results in questions regarding how subjects relate to objects. An important sub-topic is the question of how our own mind relates to other minds, and how to treat the "radical difference that holds between our access to our own experience and our access to the experience of all other human beings", known as the epistemological problem of other minds.[1]

The subject–object problem has two primary aspects. First is the question of "what" is known. The field of ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences. The second standpoint is that of "how" does one know what one knows. The field of epistemology questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and to what extent it is possible for a given entity to be known. It includes both subjects and objects.

Subjective-objective dichotomy[edit]

The world "out there" is perceived by the mind, and so also is the interior world of conscious events. The relation between the two is much debated:

"We consciously experience many different things, and we can think about the things that we experience. But it is not so easy to experience or think about consciousness itself...Does the world have an observer-independent existence (realism) or does its existence depend in some way on the operation of our own minds (idealism)? Is knowledge of the world ‘public’ and ‘objective’, and knowledge of our own experience ‘private’ and ‘subjective’?"[2]

—Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness p. 3

"There is a common philosophical tendency...to conceive of the realm of belief and attitude as clearly distinct from the world of objects and events. This separation is typically presented in terms of a distinction between subjective and objective ..."[3]

—J. E. Malpas, Donald Davidson and the Mirror of Meaning: Holism, Truth, Interpretation p. 192

The objective aspects of experience often are considered to lie within the domain of science. Science has practical impact upon technology and our understanding of interconnections. However, there are areas where science so far has had little impact. So there exists a difference in optimism about science, with one view opining that science will gradually extend to everything,[4] and the opposite view opining that won't happen. For example, the statement is found in many books:

"...consciousness is a biological process that will eventually be explained in terms of molecular signaling pathways used by interacting populations of nerve cells.."[5]

—Eric R. Kandel,  In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind

This approach is the foundation of the 'blue brain' project, an effort to create a synthetic brain by reverse-engineering the mammalian brain. On the other hand, a contrary view is that aspects of mind are inherently subjective, and lie outside the reach of a scientific approach based upon objective observation by a detached observer:

"Epistemically, the mind is determined by mental states, which are accessible in First-Person Perspective. In contrast, the brain, as characterized by neuronal states, can be accessed in Third-Person Perspective. The Third-Person Perspective focuses on other persons and thus on the neuronal states of others' brain while excluding the own brain. In contrast, the First-Person Perspective could potentially provide epistemic access to own brain...However, the First-Person Perspective provides access only to the own mental states but not to the own brain and its neuronal states." [6]

—Georg Northoff, Philosophy of the Brain: The Brain Problem, p. 5

One set of difficulties facing an objective study of subjective phenomena are summed up in the easy problem of consciousness and the hard problem of consciousness:

"What we do not understand is the hard problem of consciousness—the mystery of how neural activity gives rise to subjective experience. Crick and Koch have argued that once we solve the easy problem of consciousness, the unity of consciousness, we will be able to manipulate those neural systems experimentally to solve the hard problem."[7]

—Eric Kandel, In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, p. 382

Some philosophers argue that there is no likelihood of success here:

"I argue that the bond between the mind and the brain is a deep mystery. Moreover, it is an ultimate mystery, a mystery that human intelligence will never unravel. Consciousness indubitably exists, and is connected to the brain in some intelligible way, but the nature of this connection necessarily eludes us."[8]

—Colin McGinn, The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World, p. 5

The subjective aspects of science extend beyond the "hard problem", however. The formulation of a scientific theory is a mental process, not simply a matter of observation, although observation is involved. This realization takes the subjective-objective distinction to a more general level than arguments over the prospects of success in bringing certain areas of experience within the grasp of science.[9]

For example, a statement of a scientific theory could take the form: All events p are determined by other events P . In order to be consistent with science today, and avoid oversimplification, one has to be very clear about how the events (p, P) are defined. One also has to replace "determined" by something like "logically imply".

"a theory is deterministic if, and only if, given its state variables for some initial period, the theory logically determines a unique set of values for those variables for any other period."[10]

—Ernest Nagel, Alternative descriptions of physical state

This quote indicates the need for great care in defining "events" and what is meant by "determined". Their meaning involves detailed descriptions of what constitutes an "event" and how one is said to "determine" another. A Popper-like view emerges with an "event" as some kind of formalized "state" and the relationship "determines" phrased as a "logical implication" of connection between states, all combined as parts of one or another abstract theory.[11] From the stance of a Duhem, or Popper, the use of an intermediary, elaborate mental construction is a meld of the subjective and objective. It is used to determine connections about objective events, but the form of the theoretical construct is a product of subjective activities, and its particular form may well be more about the brain than anything else. Perhaps some aspects of the universe's operation can be expressed in terms of mental constructs in an analogy with the expression of a computer algorithm in terms of assembly language instructions peculiar to a particular computer, a translation by a compiler of the general statement of an algorithm into specific tiny steps that particular computer can handle.[12]

Lest this apparatus be thought of as an entirely formal understanding, some among us actually do have an intuitive grasp of these creative abstractions, perhaps analogous to the fact that some among us hear music in ambient sounds. Quoting Feynman about his creative process:

"It is impossible to differentiate the symbols from the thing; but it is very visual. It is hard to believe it, but I see these things not as mathematical expressions but a mixture of a mathematical expression wrapped into and around, in a vague way, around the object. So I see all the time visual things associated with what I am trying to do."[13]

—Richard P. Feynman, As quoted by Schweber: QED and the men who made it: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga

This comment could be paralleled by others about the intuitions of musicians and mathematicians.[14] The point is that the creation of scientific theories is subjective, and the very concepts of determinism are themselves subjective and mutable creations of the human mind. What is in charge here: the intuition conceiving the theory, or the theory that results; or is it an unending back-and-forth spiral from one to the other?

"When stated at a general level, the subjective/objective dichotomy is recognized by most social scientists as one of the enduring metatheoretical dilemmas in the social sciences..."[15]

—David Swartz, Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, p. 55

Our theories about the world are mental constructions, so we have a hen-and-egg problem trying to figure out if our theories work for describing our mental life:

"It is not possible to resolve which of the subjective or physical universes ultimately contains the other."[16]

—Alec Rogers, Cognitive Set Theory, p.85

The development of a theory is something of a bootstrapping process that might never converge.[17]

A rather different aspect of the subjective-objective divide is the role of social inhibition, a factor at work from the times of the Roman Inquisition and Galileo to the Scopes trial and Kennewick Man. A more recent concern is the structure of the educational system and the control over financing of research.[18][19] There is a concern about the intrusion of societal elements into what is supposed to be an objective matter.[20]

Subjective-objective correlations[edit]

Some subjective personal experiences have aspects that fall squarely into the realm of objective fact, and have implications that can be objectively verified.

An example is the experience of pain, an entirely subjective matter,[21] but one that sometimes (but not invariably) can be related to the objectively observable operation of receptors, communication channels and brain activity. The consequence is that the subjective sense of pain is sometimes empirically connected to observable events, but the fundamental experience of pain itself is subjective. Other examples are addiction and psychological disorders. Besides the subjective and objective aspects, one may discuss the mechanisms connecting subjective experiences and objective observables, and the role of programming upon these connections, such as psychiatric treatment, conditioning, and evolutionary limits.

In some instances, it is debatable as to which is the epiphenomenon, the subjective event or its observable correlate. For example, there is debate over whether the placebo effect indicates a mental influence over the body.[22]

As technology advances, the ability of humans to detect what is happening around them advances. This progress in observational technique extends to the brain and possibly the mind, and to our perceptive abilities. An example is the use of the PET scan in observing correlations between addiction and dopamine activity in the brain.[23]

"Most PET (Positron Emission Tomography) studies of drug addiction have concentrated on the brain dopamine (DA) system, since this is considered to be the neurotransmitter system through which most drugs of abuse exert their reinforcing effects. A reinforcer is operationally defined as an event that increases the probability of a subsequent response, and drugs of abuse are considered to be much stronger reinforcers than natural reinforcers (e.g. sex and food). The brain DA system also regulates motivation and drive for everyday activities. These imaging studies have revealed that acute and chronic drug consumption have different effects on proteins involved involved in DA synaptic transmission. ... chronic drug consumption results in marked decrease in DA activity which persists months after detoxification and which is associated with deregulation of frontal brain regions."[24]

—Nora D Volkow, Joanna S Fowler, and Gene-Jack Wang, The addicted human brain: insights from imaging studies, p. 1061

These advances in observational technique require associated interpretation and theoretical models that explain what the observations mean. For example, when Galileo advanced the use of the telescope to observe the moons of Jupiter, skeptics doubted that the telescope actually showed reality.[25] This old example only scratches the surface of relating scientific instruments to reality. After all, one could extrapolate from mundane terrestrial uses of the telescope, where its veracity could be directly examined, to more distant objects like Jupiter. The introduction of the microscope had a similar struggle for acceptance.[26] Today however, only a few among us can understand the complexity of observations made with a hadron collider, and we rely upon certification by carefully selected experts. The importance of extremely technical theory in the experts' interpretation is obvious to all, and these theories, while supported by experimental observation, are products of the human subjective imagination.

To what extent our mental creations are limited by the innate functioning of our brain/nervous system (what might be called our "factory settings") and to what extent they mirror the real world is discussed in the field of psychological nativism, and is connected with the philosophers Kant, Schopenhauer, Popper, Chomsky, Pinker, Hawking and others.[27]

The subjective aspect of scientific theories has led to a need to assess theories, to be able to choose one theory as preferable to another without introducing cognitive bias.[28] Over the years, a variety of criteria have been proposed, among them the following:[29][30]

  1. It is elegant (Formal elegance; no ad hoc modifications)
  2. Contains few arbitrary or adjustable elements (Simplicity/Parsimony)
  3. Agrees with and explains all existing observations (Unificatory/Explanatory power)
  4. Makes detailed predictions about future observations that can disprove or falsify the model if they are not borne out.
  5. Boldness/fruitfulness: a theory's seminality in suggesting future work.

About his choice of criteria, Kuhn says: "What, I ask to begin with, are the characteristics of a good scientific theory? Among a number of quite usual answers I select five, not because they are exhaustive, but because they are individually important and collectively sufficiently varied to indicate what is at stake."[31] Colyvan says of his choices: "I do not claim that this list is comprehensive nor do I claim that it is minimal."[29]

The goal of these criteria is to make the choice between theories less arbitrary. Nonetheless, these criteria contain subjective elements, and are heuristics rather than part of scientific method. Such criteria may not prove definitive in selecting a theory because the criteria sometimes conflict and different people will weight them differently.[32] It also is debatable whether existing scientific theories satisfy all these criteria, and they may represent goals not yet achieved, a set of "New Year's resolutions", if you like. For example, Item 3: explanatory power over all existing observations, is satisfied by no one theory at the moment.[33]

Whatever might be the ultimate goals of some scientists, science, as it is currently practiced, depends on multiple overlapping descriptions of the world, each of which has a domain of applicability. In some cases this domain is very large, but in others quite small.[34]

—E.B. Davies, Epistemological pluralism, p. 4

The desiderata of a "good" theory have been debated for centuries, going back perhaps even earlier than Occam's razor,[35] which often is taken as an attribute of a good theory. Occam's razor might fall under the heading of "elegance", the first item on the list, but too zealous an application was cautioned by Einstein: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."[36] The falsifiability item on the list is related to the criterion proposed by Popper as demarcating a scientific theory from a theory like astrology: both "explain" observations, but the scientific theory takes the risk of making predictions that decide whether it is right or wrong:[37][38]

"It must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be refuted by experience."

"Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the game of science."

—Karl Popper, The logic of scientific discovery, p. 18 and p. 280

Thomas Kuhn argued that changes in scientists' views of reality not only contain subjective elements, but result from group dynamics, "revolutions" in scientific practice and changes in "paradigms".[39] As an example, Kuhn suggested that the Sun-centric Copernican "revolution" replaced the Earth-centric views of Ptolemy not because of empirical failures, but because of a new "paradigm" that exerted control over what scientists felt to be the more fruitful way to pursue their goals (Colyvan's requirement of "fruitfulness").

"But paradigm debates are not really about relative problem-solving ability, though for good reasons they are usually couched in those terms. Instead, the issue is which paradigm should in future guide research on problems many of which neither competitor can yet claim to resolve completely. [A decision is called for] and in the circumstances that decision must be based less on past achievement than on future promise."

—Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions . p. 157

Whatever criteria one adopts for a 'good' theory, Worrall says the question of an objective algorithm for theory choice at the moment leaves open the question of what exactly it is rational or irrational to do. "One reason is that these criteria do not supply a choice algorithm is that in live cases of theory choice, and particularly during scientific revolutions, these different criteria seldom, if ever, tell in the same direction."[40] In other words, although these criteria assist in identifying a 'good' theory, the selection among theories still is a subjective matter that will lead to different choices depending upon who is the judge.

Complementary descriptions[edit]

The subjective and objective correlates of some phenomena (like addiction or mental disorder) actually might describe the same phenomena from distinct perspectives; in other words, they might be complementary views:

...for each individual there is one 'mental life' but two ways of knowing it: first-person knowledge and third-person knowledge. From a first-person perspective conscious experiences appear causally effective. From a third person perspective the same causal sequence can be explained in neural terms. It is not the case that the view from one perspective is right and the other wrong. These perspectives are complementary. The differences between how things appear from a first-person versus a third-person perspective has to do with differences in the observational arrangements (the means by which a subject and an external observer access the subject's mental processes)."[41]

—Max Velmans, How could conscious experiences affect brains?, p. 11

Niels Bohr also believed there were differences between first-person and third-person perspectives, an outgrowth of his experience in atomic physics. However, in his view the two descriptions are irreconcilable because of the disturbance of the subject's first-person mental state by the third-person act of observation itself:

"...On the contrary, the recognition of the limitation of mechanical concepts in atomic physics would rather seem suited to conciliate the apparently contrasting viewpoints of physiology [that is, neuroscience] and psychology [mental phenomena]. Indeed, the necessity of considering the interaction between the measuring instruments and the object under investigation in atomic mechanics exhibits a close analogy to the peculiar difficulties in psychological analysis arising from the fact that the mental content is invariably altered when the attention is concentrated on any special feature of it."[42]

—Niels Bohr, Light and Life

Some indirect support for this analogy is found in observations of the neural correlates of mental states, in particular, the connection between objectively observable bodily movements and subjective initiation and control of these movements:

"...it is important to be clear about exactly what experience one wants one's subjects to introspect. Of course, explaining to subjects exactly what the experimenter wants them to experience can bring its own problems–...instructions to attend to a particular internally generated experience can easily alter both the timing and the content of that experience and even whether or not it is consciously experienced at all."[43]

—Susan Pockett, The neuroscience of movement, p. 19

In early philosophy[edit]

The question of what is objective and what is subjective, and whether one or the other is more "real" has been a topic of philosophy since its earliest days. In Western philosophy it can be found in Plato, who considered our perceptions to be mere approximations to the world of ideal Forms, in the way that circles we encounter in nature are mere approximations to the ideal circle. The world of Forms was accessible only by the mind, not the senses. Contrary views were held by Aristotle, who would hold the "ideal" circle is only an abstraction from its many real-world examples, and without those examples the ideal circle simply would not exist. See this discussion about "instantiation". These two views of how the concepts of the mind relate to the perception of the world resurface again and again in later centuries, rephrased in novel terminologies.

Some of these later treatments of the subject-object relationship were tied to theological issues. A not-so-serious example is the formulation of George Berkeley (1685-1753), who posed the famous question: "Does a tree fall in the forest when no-one can hear it?" He proposed that objects exist only when perceived by a conscious being, and to avoid the absurdities of this view posited that because God was omnipresent, things existed because they were in His consciousness.[44]

There once was a man who said 'God

Must think it exceedingly odd

If he finds that this tree
Continues to be

When there's no one about in the Quad.'

Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd:

I am always about in the Quad.

And that's why the tree
Will continue to be
Since observed by yours faithfully, God.[44]
—Twentieth century limerick quoted by Nigel Warburton, A Little History of Philosophy, p. 91

According to a famous anecdote, Samuel Johnson responded to Berkeley's views by kicking a stone and saying 'I refute it thus.'.[45]

In 18th- and 19th-century philosophy[edit]

To put it simply, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) argued that we all shape our experience of things through the filter of our mind. All people share the same filter, whose properties Kant calls "objective"; yet, a solipsist interpretation of this line of thought when taken to the extreme has also been suggested, and is called epistemological solipsism.[46] The mind shapes our experience, and among other things, Kant believed the concepts of space and time were inherent in the human mind, as was the notion of cause and effect,[47] an idea also proposed - with a different interpretation - by David Hume.[48] In a modern cognitive psychological version of these thoughts, we would say these concepts are programmed into the human brain. We never have direct experience of things, the noumenal world, and what we do experience is the phenomenal world as conveyed by our senses, this conveyance processed by the means of perception of the mind. Kant focused upon this processing. Kant believed in a priori knowledge arrived at independent of the subject matter of experience, so-called synthetic a priori knowledge, and that this knowledge originates from the filtering mechanism of the mind. In particular, he thought that by introspection some aspects of this mechanism could be discovered.[47] The following observations summarize Kant's views upon the subject-object problem, called Kant's Copernican revolution:

"It has hitherto been assumed that our cognition must conform to the objects; but all attempts to ascertain anything about these objects a priori, by means of conceptions, and thus to extend the range of our knowledge, have been rendered abortive by this assumption. Let us then make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition. This appears, at all events, to accord better with the possibility of our gaining the end we have in view, that is to say, of arriving at the cognition of objects a priori, of determining something with respect to these objects, before they are given to us. We here propose to do just what Copernicus did in attempting to explain the celestial movements. When he found that he could make no progress by assuming that all the heavenly bodies revolved round the spectator, he reversed the process, and tried the experiment of assuming that the spectator revolved, while the stars remained at rest. We may make the same experiment with regard to the intuition of objects."[49]

—Immanuel Kant, Preface to the Second Edition, B xvi, English translation by J. M. D. Meiklejohn of The Critique of Pure Reason (1787)

Kant's successors Fichte (1762-1814), Schelling ( 1775-1854) and Hegel (1770-1831) also raised the issue of the relationship between the subject and the object, or what perceives and what is perceived, and stressed the importance of the subject as paramount. The subject for these thinkers was by no means limited to a single person, but solipsist interpretation of this line of thought at its extreme can be found,[50] and is called metaphysical solipsism. Fichte placed the demands of the individual self or ego as the starting point of all philosophical reflection. He transformed Kant's view, that the laws of rationality are set by forms of human understanding, instead into demands of the individual will.[51] Hegel also rejected Kant's view that there was a noumenal world causing our experiences and instead proposed that the mind-shaped phenomenal world is the world. Hegel proposed that 'truth' was approached by a dialectical method, that is, a clash of an idea and its opposite, a succession of thesis and antithesis, followed by a synthesis of the two, and on, and on, a picture he felt described the evolution of history in an ever-upward spiral to 'truth'.[52] Although a popular figure, many analytic philosophers found Hegel unintelligible, with Bertrand Russell suggesting Hegel's work as a model of the imprecise use of language, and A.J. Ayer declaring that most of Hegel's sentences said nothing at all.[52]

Schopenhauer (1788-1860) claimed that “everything that exists for knowledge, and hence the whole of this world, is only object in relation to the subject, perception of the perceiver, in a word, representation.”[53] According to him there can be "No object without subject" because "everything objective is already conditioned as such in manifold ways by the knowing subject with the forms of its knowing, and presupposes these forms; consequently it wholly disappears when the subject is thought away.".[54] Schopenhauer also asserted that the 'principle of sufficient reason' does not apply between subject and object, but only between objects. Therefore, Fichte was mistaken when he posited that the subject produces or causes the object.[54] Realism and Materialism also are wrong when they assert that the object causes the subject.[55]

In 20th- and 21st-century philosophy[edit]

In his lecture "Mind and Matter," Erwin Schrödinger stressed the distancing of the knowing subject from its 'objective' formulation of the world around us:

"By this I mean the thing that is so frequently called the 'hypothesis of the real world' around us. I maintain that it amounts to certain simplifications which we adopt in order to master the infinitely intricate problem of nature. Without being aware of it... we exclude the Subject of Cognizance [knowing subject] from the domain of nature that we endeavor to understand. We step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world."[56]

—Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter

He claimed that we are unaware "of the fact that a moderately satisfying picture of the world has only been reached at the high price of taking ourselves out of the picture, stepping back into the role of a non-concerned observer."[57] As a result, in formulating the concept of the object, the subject is not considered at all. Schrödinger continues:

"So we are faced with the following remarkable situation. While the stuff from which our world picture is built is yielded exclusively from the sense organs as organs [that is, agents] of the mind, so that every man's world picture is and always remains a construct of the mind and cannot be proved to have any other existence, yet the conscious mind itself remains a stranger within that construct, it has no living space in it, you can spot it nowhere in space...To learn that it [the personality of a human being] cannot really be found there [in the interior of a human body] is so amazing that it meets with doubts and hesitation, we are very loath to admit it."[56]

—Erwin Schrödinger, Mind and Matter

These observations are supplemented by those of Northoff mentioned above.[6]

The need to consider the knowing subject was advanced by Merleau-Ponty and others.

"Merleau-Ponty argues that...our subjective embodiment, our sensory and cognitive apparatus and our practical purposes inescapably structure the way the world strikes us. It follows on Merleau-Ponty's view that if we wish to understand the world it is not enough to study the world. We have to study ourselves."[58]

—Stephen Priest, Merleau-Ponty (Arguments of the Philosophers) p. 6

The knowing subject can be brought into the discussion by considering how it colors its own observations. As stated by Schopenhauer:

" ‘ The world is my representation: ’ — this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness. If he really does this, he has attained to philosophical wisdom. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world which surrounds him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, the consciousness, which is himself."[59]

—Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, p. 3

The role of the 'knowing subject' involves its limitations. Of course, language is indispensable in the formulation and communication of our perceptions of the objective world, as was pointed out by Wittengenstein:

"The main point is the theory of what can be expressed (gesagt) by propositions — i.e. by language (and, what comes to the same, what can be thought) — and what cannot be expressed by propositions, but only shown (gezeigt); which, I believe, is the cardinal problem of philosophy."[60]

—Ludwig Wittgenstein, quoted by Russell Nieli

Chomsky and Pinker have taken this idea further back than languages that are actually in use, to a question of how the brain itself functions:

"People do not think in English or Chinese or Apache; they think in a language of thought. This language of thought probably looks a bit like all these languages;...But compared with any given language, mentalese must be richer in some ways and simpler in others."[61]

—Steven Pinker, The Language Instinct, p. 72

The notion of a language of thought has an extensive philosophical history,[62] and also is studied in psychology.

Like Kant, Chomsky and Pinker raise the issue of the mind's inherent programming. Chomsky selected as a particular example the acquiring of language by children.[27] This study supplements Wittgenstein's use of an idealized model of 'examples and practice' to explain how a child learns language.[63] Chomsky marshaled evidence that a child's rapid mastery of the complexity of language indicated an innate ability programmed into the development of the human mind from birth that could not be explained by the "blank slate" view of the infant mind. Rather, the mind has a built-in propensity to process symbolic representations. The origins of this ability were sought by Pinker in a Darwinian struggle that established the survival value of the ability to communicate.[64] According to Pinker, Charles Darwin himself "concluded that language ability is 'an instinctive tendency to acquire an art', a design that is not peculiar to humans but seen in other species such as song-learning birds." This observation is strongly supported by research on crows.[65]

These ideas still are under examination. Among the modern essays into the subject-object problem are the fields of cognitive psychology, behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology.

In science[edit]

In physics[edit]

There are related concerns in philosophy of physics where observers are sometimes claimed to affect a result, e.g. in certain interpretations of quantum mechanics, in a way which defies the conventional assignment of an object role to experimenter, with everything else as a subject. Otherwise, physics is uncontroversially agreed upon as describing a reality that exists independent of observation.

In mathematics[edit]

Cognitive science of mathematics raises some similar concerns with philosophy of mathematics. Among them, the assignment of subjective status to mathematical objects as in Platonism, although they are formalisms used in a linguistic fashion for communications between living beings, and thus subject to the same subject–object problems as other forms of such communication. This raises some concerns, dating back as far as Eugene Wigner's 1960 observations on the matter, that what we call foundations of mathematics and cosmology may be not observable or discoverable absolutes, but rather, aspects of humanity and its cognition. Nick Bostrom in 2002 addressed this concern with a theory of anthropic bias.

In clinical trials[edit]

One of the purposes of blinding clinical trials is to avoid the introduction of bias caused by investigators beliefs about the therapy being tested influencing perceptions, measurements, and actions. Making effective decisions and ensuring patient care while investigators remain unaware of what treatment particular patients receive has been a continuing problem in the design of clinical trials.

The phenomenon of adaptive designs - designs whose characteristics can change mid-trial based on the information obtained so far—has created further problems in avoiding bias. Using data monitoring committees to alter the parameters of a clinical trial through an adaptive design could introduce bias into the trial if investigators speculated about the reasons for change.[66] Increasing the sample size mid-trial, for example, could signal to investigators that the product under trial was proving to be less efficacious than originally hoped. The authors expressed concern that participant-observer bias would need to be assessed and addressed in order to ensure the reliability of adaptive designs.[66]

In psychology[edit]

A cognitive bias, as studied in experimental psychology, demonstrates how human judgment deviates in particular situations. For example, the confirmation bias is the tendency of an individual to perceive an event such that it coheres with his previous views.

Other approaches[edit]

  • Analytic philosophy discusses various aspects of the problem of subject and object such as the mind body problem, first-person versus third-person perspective and also issues of non-referential use of I presented by G. E. M. Anscombe.
  • Robert M. Pirsig's philosophy of the Metaphysics of Quality is largely concerned with the subject–object problem.
  • Sun Myung Moon's philosophy, Unification Thought, treats subject and object in a way different from classical ideas of Hegel and Marx.
  • Philosopher Ken Wilber has written extensively on this, calling the omniscient view (or subject–object distinction) the fundamental modernist paradigm, and cataloging its effects on society, and in the way many subjects have been compressed into a "flat" view by this perspective

In Vedas[edit]

The subject–object problem was also discussed in several sections of the Vedas, the earliest sacred texts of Hinduism, and in several schools of Indian philosophy such as Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. According to the Vedas, subject is transcendental, while object is either different (material) or of same category - spiritual: "The Absolute Truth is both subject and object, and there is no qualitative difference there. .. In the relative world the knower is different from the known, but in the Absolute Truth both the knower and the known are one and the same thing."[67]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hyslop, Alec (Nov 23, 2009). "Other Minds". In Edward N. Zalta (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition). Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  2. ^ Max Velmans (2009). Understanding Consciousness (2nd ed.). Taylor & Francis. p. 3. ISBN 0415425158. 
  3. ^ J. E. Malpas (1992). Donald Davidson and the Mirror of Meaning: Holism, Truth, Interpretation. Cambridge University Press Archive. pp. 191 ff. ISBN 052141721X. 
  4. ^ This idea is a generalization of the claim of completeness of physical theory, the notion that the physical sciences provide sufficient causes for all events. See for example, Jens Harbecke (2008). Mental Causation: Investigating the Mind's Powers in a Natural World. Ontos Verlag. p. 214. ISBN 3938793945. 
  5. ^ This quote is from: Eric R. Kandel (2007). In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. WW Norton. p. 9. ISBN 0393329372.  However, the same language can be found in dozens of sources. Some philosophers object to the unsupported statement of such conjectures, for example, observing that consciousness has yet to be shown to be a process at all, never mind a biological process. See Oswald Hanfling (2002). Wittgenstein and the Human Form of Life. Psychology Press. pp. 108–109. ISBN 0415256453. 
  6. ^ a b A rather extended discussion is provided in Georg Northoff (2004). Philosophy of the Brain: The Brain Problem (Volume 52 of Advances in Consciousness Research ed.). John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 1588114171. 
  7. ^ Eric R. Kandel (2007). In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. WW Norton. p. 382. ISBN 0393329372. 
  8. ^ Colin McGinn (2000). The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds In A Material World. Basic Books. p. 5. ISBN 0465014232. 
  9. ^ A branch of philosophy called scientific constructivism claims a scientific representation, like DNA, is not dictated by an underlying structure of reality, but is the "result of many interrelated scientific practices". See Stephen M Downes (2000). "Constructivism". Concise Routledge encyclopedia of philosophy. Psychology Press. p. 172. ISBN 0415223644.  These constructivist views are related to, but not the same as, Intuitionism.
  10. ^ Ernest Nagel (1999). "§V: Alternative descriptions of physical state". The Structure of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation (2nd ed.). Hackett. pp. 285–292. ISBN 0915144719. 
  11. ^ For example, see the article Popper's three worlds and Three Worlds by Karl Popper - The Tanner Lecture on Human Values - Delivered by Karl Popper at The University of Michigan on April 7, 1978.
  12. ^ A proponent of this analogy is Shimon Edelman (2008). Computing the Mind: How the Mind Really Works. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195320670.  Google books link.
  13. ^ Silvan S. Schweber (1994). QED and the men who made it: Dyson, Feynman, Schwinger, and Tomonaga. Princeton University Press. p. 465. ISBN 0691033277.  A more technical description is provided by Adrian Wüthrich (2010). The Genesis of Feynman Diagrams. Springer. p. 9. ISBN 9048192277. 
  14. ^ Aaron Copland (1980). "The Charles Elliot Norton lectures, 1951-52". Music and Imagination. Harvard University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0674589157. "It [music] is at the same time outside and away from us and inside and part of us." 
  15. ^ David Swartz (1998). "The subjective/objective antimony". Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 55. ISBN 0226785955. 
  16. ^ Alec Rogers (2012). "The division between subjective and objective defines life". Cognitive Set Theory. ArborRhythms. p. 85. ISBN 0983037604. 
  17. ^ Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow (2010). The Grand Design. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 0553907077. "Will this sequence eventually reach an end point, an ultimate theory of the universe, that will include all forces and predict every observation we can make, or will we continue forever finding better theories, but never one that cannot be improved upon? We do not yet have a definitive answer to this question..." 
  18. ^ Lee Smolin (2006). "Chapter 16: How do you fight sociology?". The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 261 ff. ISBN 061891868X. 
  19. ^ Peter Woit (2006). "Chapter 16: The only game in town: the power and the glory of string theory". Not even wrong: the failure of string theory and the search for unity in physical law. Basic Books. pp. 221 ff. ISBN 0465092756. 
  20. ^ Ralph Eugene Lapp (1965). The new priesthood;: The scientific elite and the uses of power. Harper & Row.  and Spencer Klaw (1968). The new brahmins; scientific life in America. William Morrow. ISBN 0688021611. 
  21. ^ David R Soderquist (2002). Sensory Processes. SAGE. p. 110. ISBN 0761923330. "Pain is always subjective" 
  22. ^ Ted J Kaptchuk (2002). "The placebo effect in alternative medicine: can the performance of a healing ritual have clinical significance?". Annals of Internal Medicine 136 (11): 817–825. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-136-11-200206040-00011. PMID 12044130. 
  23. ^ Christopher A. Cavacuiti (2012). Principles of Addiction Medicine: The Essentials. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 1451153600. "The landmark positron emission tomography (PET) scan findings of Volkow et al., obtained from cocaine-addicted human volunteers, have shown that dopamine in the dorsal striatum is involved in cocaine craving and addiction...the dorsal striatum, therefore, is a high-interest area for studies of possible transitions from cravings to revulsion." 
  24. ^ Nora D Volkow, Joanna S Fowler, and Gene-Jack Wang (2007). "The addicted human brain: insights from imaging studies". In Andrew R Marks and Ushma S Neill, eds. Science In Medicine: The JCI Textbook Of Molecular Medicine. Jones & Bartlett Learning. pp. 1061 ff. ISBN 0763750832. 
  25. ^ Initially, many refused to believe the results of the telescope. Kepler wrote to Galileo that such persons were "stuck in a world of paper", blind not by force of circumstance but of their own foolish will. Dan Hofstadter (2009). "Chapter 2: The telescope; or seeing". The Earth Moves: Galileo and the Roman Inquisition. W W Norton & Co. pp. 53 ff. ISBN 978-0-393-06650-0. 
  26. ^ There is an entire literature on how to interpret observations with the microscope, and even in the 19th century doubts remained. See, for example, Oliver Goldsmith (1828). A History of the Earth & Animated Nature: In Three Volumes ..., Volume 1. J. F. Dove. p. 229. "These, and many other objections, have been made to this system; which, instead of enlightening the mind, serve only to shew, that too close a pursuit of nature very often leads to uncertainty." 
  27. ^ a b For a review of recent developments, see for example Samet, Jerry and Zaitchik, Deborah (Oct 1, 2012). "Innateness and Contemporary Theories of Cognition". In Edward N. Zalta ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition). 
  28. ^ Thomas Kuhn formally stated this need for the "norms for rational theory choice". One of his discussions is reprinted in Thomas S Kuhn. "Chapter 9: Rationality and Theory Choice". In James Conant, John Haugeland, eds. The Road since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, (2nd ed.). University of Chicago Press. pp. 208 ff. ISBN 0226457990. 
  29. ^ a b Mark Colyvan (2001). The Indispensability of Mathematics. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0195166612. 
  30. ^ Bird, Alexander (Aug 11, 2011). "Thomas Kuhn". In Edward N. Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition). "Despite the possibility of divergence, there is nonetheless widespread agreement on the desirable features of a new puzzle-solution or theory. Kuhn (1977, 321–2) identifies five characteristics that provide the shared basis for a choice of theory: 1. accuracy; 2. consistency (both internal and with other relevant currently accepted theories); 3. scope (its consequences should extend beyond the data it is required to explain); 4. simplicity (organizing otherwise confused and isolated phenomena); 5. fruitfulness (for further research)."  Bird's reference is to Thomas S Kuhn (1977). The Essential Tension. Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change (7th ed.). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226458067. 
  31. ^ "Objectivity, value judgment and theory choice". The Essential Tension: Selected Studies in Scientific Tradition and Change. University of Chicago Press. 1979. p. 321. ISBN 0226458067. 
  32. ^ Bird, Alexander (Aug 11, 2011). "§4.1 Methodological Incommensurability". In Edward N. Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition). "They [such criteria] cannot determine scientific choice. First, which features of a theory satisfy these criteria may be disputable (e.g. does simplicity concern the ontological commitments of a theory or its mathematical form?). Secondly, these criteria are imprecise, and so there is room for disagreement about the degree to which they hold. Thirdly, there can be disagreement about how they are to be weighted relative to one another, especially when they conflict." 
  33. ^ See Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow (2010). The Grand Design. Random House Digital, Inc. p. 8. ISBN 0553907077. "It is a whole family of different theories, each of which is a good description of observations only in some range of physical situations...But just as there is no map that is a good representation of the earth's entire surface, there is no single theory that is a good representation of observations in all situations." 
  34. ^ E Brian Davies (2006). "Epistemological pluralism". PhilSci Archive. 
  35. ^ Occam's razor, sometimes referred to as "ontological parsimony", is roughly stated as: Given a choice between two theories, the simplest is the best. This suggestion commonly is attributed to William of Ockham in the 14th-century, although it probably predates him. See Baker, Alan (February 25, 2010). "Simplicity; §2: Ontological parsimony". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition). Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  36. ^ This quote may be a paraphrase. See MobileReference (2011). Famous Quotes from 100 Great People. MobileReference. ISBN 1611980763.  MobilReference is a Boston-based e-book publisher.
  37. ^ Karl Popper. "Science: Conjectures and refutations". Texas A&M University The motivation & cognition interface lab. Retrieved 2013-01-22.  This lecture by Popper was first published as part of the book Conjectures and Refutations and is linked here.
  38. ^ Karl Raimund Popper (2002). The logic of scientific discovery (Reprint of translation of 1935 Logik der Forchung ed.). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 18, 280. ISBN 0415278430. 
  39. ^ Thomas S Kuhn (1966). The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.). University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226458121. "A paradigm governs, in the first instance, not a subject matter but rather a group of practitioners. Any study...must begin by locating the responsible group or groups." 
  40. ^ John Worrall (1990). "Scientific revolutions and scientific rationality: the case of the "elderly holdout"". In C Wade Savage, ed. Scientific theories, Volume 14. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 332–333. ISBN 0816618011. 
  41. ^ Max Velmans (2002). "How Could Conscious Experiences Affect Brains?". Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (11): 2–29. 
  42. ^ Niels Bohr (April 1, 1933). "Light and Life". Nature: 457 ff.  Full text on line at us.archive.org.
  43. ^ Susan Pockett (2009). "The neuroscience of movement". In Susan Pockett, WP Banks, Shaun Gallagher, eds. Does Consciousness Cause Behavior?. MIT Press. p. 19. ISBN 0262512572. 
  44. ^ a b Nigel Warburton (2011). "Chapter 15: The elephant in the room: George Berkeley (and John Locke)". A Little History of Philosophy. Yale University Press. pp. 87 ff. ISBN 9780300152081. 
  45. ^ Boswell, James (1859). The Life of Samuel Johnson, Volume 1. Routledge, Warne, and Routledge. p. 273. 
  46. ^ Epistemological solipsism argues that all you can know of reality is your personal perceptions. Kant argued that an object depends upon subjectivity, it is an appearance shaped by the mind, but did not deny the objective world. See Tom Rockmore (1986). "Realism, idealism and speculative philosophy". In George R. Lucas, ed. Hegel and Whitehead: Contemporary Perspectives on Systematic Philosophy. SUNY Press. p. 35. ISBN 1438411375.  Thus, Kant did not himself endorse epistemological solipsism, but aspects of his thought have been interpreted this way. See Otfried Höffe (2010). Kant's Critique of Pure Reason: The Foundation of Modern Philosophy. Springer. p. 4. ISBN 904812722X. 
  47. ^ a b Nigel Warburton (2011). "Chapter 19: Rose-tinted reality: Immanuel Kant". A little history of philosophy. Yale University Press. pp. 111 ff. ISBN 0300152086. 
  48. ^ According to Vasilyev, Hume argued that cause and effect is simply an instinct to transfer past experience to the future. Vadim Vasilyev (2006). "Brain and consciousness: exits from the labyrinth". Russian Academy of Sciences: Social Sciences 37 (2): 56. 
  49. ^ An on-line translation is found at Immanuel Kant. "Critique of Pure Reason". Philosophy on the EServer, Iowa State University(eserver.org). Retrieved 2013-01-16.  This and other web resources for Kant are posted by Steve Palmquist, Hong Kong Baptist University.
  50. ^ Metaphysical solipsism, that the self is the only existent thing, is often associated with the work of Fichte. See for example, Kitarō Nishida, Masao Abe, Christopher Ives (1992). "Preface; footnote 3". An Inquiry Into the Good. Yale University Press. p. xxx. ISBN 0300052332.  and Wilhelm Lütterfields (2008). "Solipsism". In Erwin Fahlbusch, ed. The Encyclopedia of Christianity; Vol. 5 Si-Z. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 112. ISBN 080282417X. 
  51. ^ Henry D Aiken (1957). "Egoism in German Philosophy: Johann Gottlieb Fichte". The Age of Ideology, volume 5 of The Great Ages of Western Philosophy. George Braziller, Inc. pp. 51 ff. 
  52. ^ a b Nigel Warburton (2011). "Chapter 22: The owl of Minerva:: Georg W.F. Hegel". A Little History of Philosophy. Yale University Press. pp. 126 ff. ISBN 9780300152081. 
  53. ^ Arthur Schopenhauer (1958). The World as Will and Representation, vol. I ( E.F.J. Payne translation of Die Welt als Wille und Vorsetellung 1819 ed.). Courier Dover Publications. p. 3. ISBN 0486217612.  The version translated by Haldane and Kemp is available on line at "The world as will and idea". The Internet Archive. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  54. ^ a b ….The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, p. 13
  55. ^ ….The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, p. 34
  56. ^ a b Reprinted in Erwin Schrödinger (2012). "Mind and Matter". In Forward by Roger Penrose. What is Life?: With Mind and Matter and Autobiographical Sketches. Cambridge University Press. pp. 93 ff. ISBN 1107604664. 
  57. ^ "Mind and Matter" in What is Life & Mind and Matter, Ch. 3
  58. ^ Stephen Priest (1998). Merleau-Ponty (Arguments of the Philosophers). Routledge. p. 6. ISBN 0415062632. 
  59. ^ ….The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, p. 3
  60. ^ Russell Nieli (1987). Wittgenstein: From Mysticism to Ordinary Language; A study of Viennese positivism & the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein. State University of New York Press. p. 113. ISBN 0887063985.  Quote can be read using Amazon's Look inside feature.
  61. ^ Steven Pinker. The Language Instinct: How the mind creates language (Updated reprint of William Morrow and Company 1994 ed.). Harper Collins. p. 72. ISBN 0061336467.  This observation by Pinker is close to what is called The Language of Thought Hypothesis: Aydede, Murat (September 17, 2010). "The Language of Thought Hypothesis". In Edward N. Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition). 
  62. ^ Murat Aydede (September 17, 2010). "The language of thought hypothesis". In Edward N. Zalta, ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition). 
  63. ^ See the discussion of Wittgenstein in David G Stern (1996). Wittgenstein on mind and language. Oxford University Press. p. 184. ISBN 0195111478. 
  64. ^ Steven Pinker. The Language Instinct: How the mind creates language (Updated reprint of William Morrow and Company 1994 ed.). Harper Collins. p. 7. ISBN 0061336467. 
  65. ^ See a Nature video describing crows as having a vocabulary of over 250 calls and an ability to learn calls from their parents: "A murder of crows". PBS in association with The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Oct 24, 2010. Retrieved 2013-01-15.  Credits are found here.
  66. ^ a b Susan S. Ellenberg, Thomas R. Fleming, David L. DeMets (2002). Data Monitoring Committees in Clinical Trials: A Practical Perspective. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0470854154. 
  67. ^ Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.11 In the relative world the knower is the living spirit or superior energy, whereas the known is inert matter or inferior energy. Therefore, there is a duality of inferior and superior energy, whereas in the absolute realm both the knower and the known are of the same superior energy. There are three kinds of energies of the supreme energetic. There is no difference between the energy and energetic, but there is a difference of quality of energies. The absolute realm and the living entities are of the same superior energy, but the material world is inferior energy. The living being in contact with the inferior energy is illusioned, thinking he belongs to the inferior energy. Therefore there is the sense of relativity in the material world. In the Absolute there is no such sense of difference between the knower and the known, and therefore everything there is absolute.

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