The idea of objectivity gets a lot of criticism. One common complaint is that it’s a fantasy viewpoint, a God’s eye view that doesn’t exist, a view from nowhere that we can never take. This is a common complaint I’ve seen from people who think studying consciousness in a third person manner is misguided. It also ends up being interlaced in Carlos Rovelli’s relational quantum mechanics interpretation, as well as other interpretations of quantum physics like QBism.
But I think this is a fundamentally misguided way of thinking about objective propositions. It isn’t that it’s a view from nowhere, it’s that it’s the collective view from many subjective viewpoints. Both subjective and objective perspectives involve the creation of models. But subjective models are created in one mind with that mind’s unique perspective.
A single person may try to vary their perspective as much as possible, but there are fundamental limitations. They can’t escape the way their unique constitution and experiences color, filter, and skew any perceptions they might have. So the models from any subjective view are unavoidably going to have blind spots and misconceptions.
The way to get around these issues is to collaborate with others, to assess the commonalities between their subjective models, and create a new model, one that can be continually refined and tested against new perspectives. That, I think, is what an objective “view” is. It isn’t a view from nowhere, it’s a model created from many viewpoints, and that ideally allows us to predict what the view might be like from other perspectives.
Of course, objective models can have their own blind spots and illusions. Even in a collaboration, we can’t escape the way our social zeitgeist, our cultural milieu affects our collective perceptions. Even when we broaden the collaboration to multiple cultures, there may be species level blind spots that get in the way. But models at these levels should still be far more robust than the ones in any one individual mind.
And all of this assumes that these models are being tested. Science’s strong philosophy of taking reality checks as much as possible can often act as an additional safeguard. Of course, evaluating evidence has many of the same issues noted above, so nothing will ever be perfect.
What do you think? Is the idea of objective knowledge fundamentally misguided? If so, how do we explain the success of science in the last 500 years?