Subjectivity; Inwards and Outwards

A subject experiences the universe from a specific point of view. So we have an inwards direction towards the subject and an outwards direction in the opposite direction. In other words we have a from-the-inside-perspective and a from-the-outside-perspective. A subject can never achieve the latter, but let’s start with the insider-view.

When I use my brain to think of something that’s from the inside and when we describe what’s happening in someone else’s brain that’s from the outside. To be more specific let’s think of the description we have of an electron. Electrons orbit a nucleus of protons and neutrons, each about 2000 times the mass on an electron. Although sometimes portrayed as a spherical particle, it also behaves as a wave and its specific location might be better understood as a cloud covering the entire orbit. We can model how electrons spin, move and interact with other particles and forces, taking part in chemical reactions to form all kinds of molecular structures. An electrical current can be described as electrons moving from atom to another in a chain reaction. This also happens in the nervous system as e.g. something touches your skin or tongue and sends an electrochemical chain reactions to the brain.

The difference between this description and “It tastes like strawberries” is quite significant. In fact, the actual sensation is so different that we can at best hint to what it’s like with a sentence full of symbols like “It tastes like strawberries.” This symbolic description might be closer to the experience than the description of an electrical current, but both are far from the subjective reality of actually tasting. It should be noted that the electron model is also conceived by subjects and contained within the symbolic framework of the language of math, and in this case English, which are also concocted by subjects. (Mathematical sentences like 1+1=2 might appear to be eternal truths, but without the specific context of the subjectively imagined concepts of 1, 2, + and = it would simply be a meaningless statement.)

Descartes famously wrote “cogito ergo sum” meaning “I think therefore I am.” I argue that I = think = I = am or in other words that these four things are one and the same. The self is not a separate entity distinct from the activity of thinking. The chemical process we call thinking is me. From the inside it is labelled “I” and from the outside it is labelled “electrochemical chain reaction” but it’s the same thing. My experience of it, by the fact that it’s a unique, subjective insider point of view, can never be identical to the description of it from the outside. I do not have thoughts, I don’t have a body, I don’t want things, rather I am these things. I am the activity, differently described depending on the point of view.

Furthermore I am not a thing, I am movement, just like the electron is a wave, and indeed if everything is a vibration, then there is no such thing as solid matter. Things may appear more or less solid, but everything fluctuates at a small-enough level. The movement, or activity, is not inside me, it is me. It’s not that there are two things in this equation, it’s just that we’re describing the same process from two different directions. The activity is not in me, I am the activity, it just appears as activity from the outside while I experience it as something else; as emotions, as sensations, as being. (Being is, not entirely by coincidence, both a verb and a noun.)

How can there be two descriptions then? Well, there has to be at least one point of view and unless this is an omniscient beholder there must be “the rest” of the perspective. Most probable there are several points of view, none of which is omniscient. As a result nobody has access to the full rest required for an objective description of things.

This leaves us with the proposition that we can’t know anything for certain, including whether we can or can’t know anything for certain. That might seem troublesome, but if it’s true then we have no alternative but to accept that we don’t know whether it’s true or not.

Let’s nonetheless assume that I am not a thing, but a process, and furthermore that I am part of a larger process and that this process is the Big Bang, or the universe, which is also not a thing but a movement. In a way I am the same as the universe, I am the universe in some sense, but what makes me a me is not the similarities between me and the whole, but the fact that I have a specific point of view within the whole. I am not identical to the whole, I am me because my distinguishing feature is that I have a point of view. This is not a difference in substance or essence, it is a difference in direction. Or rather, the universe as a whole has no direction, it expands from nowhere into nothing, so the difference is that I have a direction, a context-bound relative position and motion within the totality. This distinct feature might also be purely semantic.

This “point” might not be an atomic point with a border distinguishing the subject-part of the universe and the rest of the universe. In geometry a point has 0 dimensions, and thus only exists as an abstract symbol. The same can be said for any symbol, word, sentence; they’re all ultimately limited to the subjective perspective and subjective definitions. The point is only real within the context of geometry, indeed any abstraction is only real within its specific framework. To ask whether there is a ghost in the machine is to miss the point, we arrive at the ghost and the machine from different conceptual frameworks. It’d be like trying to fit a cube into a triangular hole. Similarly, the mind-body problem and the soul-body duality might not be meaningful. To distinguish between emotions and sensations neither. The discrepancy between the model we use to describe something and how we directly experience the same thing becomes the ineffable mystery. Neurologically, thinking of yourself and thinking of God activates the same networks, so even in that sense these perceived mysteries are one and the same.

Our models are limited and so while the real answer to a question might forever evade us, it is possible that the reason why we struggle with defining our own true being and everything linked to our essence is because of the conflict between the opposing perspectives, with the subjective “point” being the focal point of the problem of perspectives. Calling it a point, indeed, trying to label it in any way at all, is ultimately futile and meaningless. Whether it’s a thing in space or a movement in time is contextual and we can never replace the contextual descriptions with an objective truth, but we are not objective.

What about will? Did you make the choice or was it predetermined and if it was predetermined, was it predetermined by you? Did you choose the words you spoke in advance, think them before you choose them? Did you decide earlier that you would think of these words and then choose to say them or did they pop into your thoughts then and there? And before that, did you devise a plan to at some point think about saying them and decide on when to think about the words you would choose among? When you thoughts of any of the thoughts in this process, where did these thoughts come from, out of what did they appear? Everything is connected to something. Or do you imagine that when you suddenly remember something, that was your will? If so, then is will really a meaningful word? Is this will in any way different from the neurochemical chain reactions that led to the choices, to the words appearing, to the memories suddenly being recalled?

A spider has a different neural network and a different perception of being? Does it then have a smaller soul? Not if a soul is indivisible. Models to describe beings that include souls don’t seem to work for describing spiders. On the other hand, the neurological models don’t seem to answer the metaphysical questions about the spider’s experience. Maybe neither model is fit for the task. You can’t answer how big a lake is by saying it tastes like strawberries. We also can’t tell where in three-dimensional space is God. Then again, maybe we’re only asking these questions because we try to look at things objectively even though we are limited to a subjective perspective.

We can’t answer what the spider is feeling. You might be able to imagine how it is similar to a subjective feeling of your own and within the framework of each model we can describe relationships, or similarities, which are true relative to the perspective of that description-context, be it mathematics, morality, the sensation of being comfortable or whatever. The spider has legs, although more than you do. It can see, although differently than you. It can hear, but it does not hear what you hear. However, fundamentally, the problem of subjectivity is the same whether we compare a spider™ and a human™ or a human™ and another human™. I can see what you see, but from a different angle. The shape and colour of the thing becomes a part of me and yet this subjective experience is still different from when I touch the same thing and it becomes a part of my experience through other means and by different qualities. A detailed description of the experiences of a subject relies on the specifics of that subject, including every atom involved in its specific life. A comparison generalizes and leaves out details, meaning there can be no detailed comparison with another being. To reduce subjective experiences to one general description simply won’t do.

I am not unique because I receive unique information flowing inside my unique senses. No, this information has meaning because it is contextually embedded. I am unique because I am this information and it is unique partly by itself and partly by its environment. This is the meaning of dependent-arising.

Post Scriptum

Just watched a video on information, which included the formula ∆f x ∆t = 1. This means that the shorter the time, the more frequencies are needed to produce one of something. In addition, the uncertainty principle says that we can only approximate the two values involved. If the universe is a spectrum, a multitude of vibrating one-dimensional strings, it might be 1 in its totality in some sense, but, regardless, anything within it is an approximation of 1, and the answer to “1 of what?” depends on which factor you look more closely at. Now, one does not simply translate mathematics into English, but it’s interesting to ponder nonetheless and once again we might end up with the realization of the limitations of symbolic representation intrinsic in language per se; the wave as code, as information; the universe as representation.



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