Sunday, September 25, 2011

Objective reality

Some of the more serious minded are getting irritated by this.  Someone called Dr. Pamela Gerloff, who claims to hold a "doctorate in Human Development" from Harvard University tells us that it is possible to cure yourself of cancer, heal other people, fix broken TVs simply by the power of the human mind (or awareness), by "seeing them as perfect".  She quotes, with apparent approval, one practitioner saying "If a nuclear bomb were to go off right now next to you, you wouldn't have to be affected by it."

The comments, both from the ones who find it a little unconvincing, and from others who are more sympathetic, are worth reading.  Philosopher Stephen Law writes "Are you actually suggesting that if we really, really believe we can fly by flapping our arms, and jump of the roof, then we will fly? Surely this takes the "power of positive thinking" too far?!".  Gerloff's reply included this gem:
From my point of view, and in my ongoing experience of life, I do not make the kind of judgments, decisions, and conclusions that you do about what is "objectively real" and what is not. When I say "anything is possible" I mean that in my operative framework of reality, I find it useful to approach the world *as if* anything is possible. It is possible/potentially not possible all at once.
I generally recommend people not to get upset about this sort of thing,  because in nearly all cases, and I think in this one, the problem is a simple logical confusion.  Clearly Gerloff does make the same judgments about what is 'objectively real' as we all do. I am sure she looks carefully when she crosses a busy street, and turns the gas burner off after she finishes cooking, and all those things.

Also, it's clear that even to disagree that there is such a thing as objective reality requires the existence of an objective.  Suppose Gerloff says "there is no objective reality".  Perhaps she means by that, that all reality is personal, or subjective, or constitutes her "operative framework of reality", or something like that.

But then she is saying that it is true that there is no objective reality.  And if I disagree with her (as I do), I have to say that this is false.  And to do that, I have to deny what she is saying.  I.e. whatever it was that she is saying is true, I am saying is false.  So that same thing - the thing she is asserting, and the thing I am denying - has to be common to both of  us.  We both have to get hold of the same proposition or thought or statement in order for her to assert it, and for me to deny it.

So, in order for me to disagree with Gerloff, there has to be an objective reality.   And I do disagree with her. Hence there is an objective reality.


William M. Connolley said...

No-one else has bitten, so I will.

Your argument for the existence of objective reality sounds very much like the ontological argument for God, and about as plausible.

Imagine a "universe" with no objective reality - say, a virtual one inside a computer. The entities floating around in it can nonetheless speak of one, but that doesn't conjure it into existence.

Yes, I know, I've been forced to postulate a surrounding "real" environment for the virtual one. But the characters inside, when talking of "objective", will be talking about their own inside-universe which (by construction) has no objective reality.

Edward Ockham said...

But there will be truth makers for the propositions expressed in Matrix-world. For example, a character in the world says "snow is white". This could be true because, for instance, the programmer who developed this virtual reality had a set of codes for colours, and a set of codes for weather conditions, and mapped the 'white' code to the 'snow' code.

Of course what makes the propositions true is different from how the characters imagine it. But that is no different from the real 'snow is white'. Snow is a complex physical phenomenon, as is whiteness.

And the argument in no way resembles the logical form of the ontological argument.

AC said...

It seems to me that any argument that alleges to show that there is an objective reality begs the question.

And, any argument that alleges to show that there is no objective reality presupposes that which it denies.

Even the argument that our "world" is just an ancestor simulation by an advanced civilization presupposes an objective reality.

Thus, it seems to me, objective reality is axiomatic.