The Objectivist/Empricist Confusion Between Perception and Interpretation

I get it.  I really do.  Of course we want to be sure that reality can be objectively defined…that it is not open to whimsical opinion about its nature and operation; that there is an absolutely objective essence to it, because this is quite clearly necessary to the formulation of truth.  And truth is to man what divides life from death, both physically and spritually.

What I don’t get is the relentless devotion so many otherwise brilliant men and women have to ideas about the nature of reality and how that nature is accessed and described which are so clearly irrational.  I don’t understand how it is felt that the key to objective reality is appealing to subjectivity.  That is, appealing to a rejection of the ONLY thing which can render an objective definition of anything:  human consciousness.

I will tell you what I mean.

The other day I heard an Objectivist on YouTube explain that the key to epistemology (truth) was understanding and accepting that reality existed separately from man’s perception of it.  Now, this sounds similar to the way other Objectivists I have heard and known explain it, and I assume that this person would certainly know, given his (apparent) depth of knowledge on the subject.  I, myself, am no expert on the intricases of Objectivism so I will accept that this is an accurate distillation of its metaphysics.

In my mind I stammer.  I am uncertain as to how to reply to such a facile and, no insult intended, imbecilic description of reality relative to man’s consciousness.  It’s like when your six year-old angrily asks why she cannot stay up late like mommy and daddy do.  If mommy and daddy can stay up late then why can’t she?  And you just stare at her stupidly and blinking for a few moments as your mind searches through its collection of arguments and finds that it possesses no readily available resource to deal with a question so infinitely obvious.  You would no more expect to be asked a question that stupid as you would to be asked how to drink a glass of water.

And that is how I felt when I heard that objectively understanding reality was to make a distinction between it and one’s perception.  It punched me in the face with its arrant nonsense, and yet the conviction and, er…the forgone conclusion-ness with which it was spoke froze my brain.  Immediately I knew it was madness, but it took me a few moments to manufacture a response in my mind.  Ask me how to drink a glass of water, and I promise I will look at you as though I’M the total idiot for a minute.

Reality is independent of one’s perception of reality?  I mean, as though that were somehow possible, even though the very fact that we are naturally self-aware means that a frame of reference for such a distinction cannot be had.  For if one’s perception is exclusive of reality, as is implied, then “perception of reality” is a contradiction in terms.  If perception isn’t real, then it doesn’t exist to perceive anything, including reality. So the notion of a distinction between perception and reality is ludicrous, especially when it is ALREADY implicitly conceded that perceiving reality IS REAL.

So, what are we dealing with here?  Well, clearly this is an attack on consciousness.  We all undersand that perception qua perception is nothing.  To perceive something, to sense it, yet to be unaware of it, is utterly redundant.  Perception itself thus must mean consciousness.  The efficacy of perception is awareness, period.  We all know this.  And from consciousness we get interpretation, and this is what the whole thing is all about. The fear of subjectively interpreting reality is what leads objectivists and empiricists to declare that reality is not actually open to interpretation.  (This is ironic in that Christians do the same thing with the Bible.)  It simply is.  It’s prima facie.  It’s de facto.  It is what it is and it does what it does.  And I understand the fear…of course we need reality to be objective.  To let everyone define reality as they choose is to make truth itself subjective, which makes it impossible for truth to ever actually be true.  And history has shown us, most recently in the form Marxist political revolution, that such ideology does nothing but turn mass murder into a virtue, and makes monsters of all men.  But you cannot protect reality by making a boogey man out of consciousness.  Consciousness is nothing more than man’s natural ability to conceptualize his environment; to make a conceptual distinction between “Self” and “Not Self”, and to act in service to Self as such an ability necessarily implies.  This is the root of man’s very identity…it is WHO HE IS.  To banish consciousness in the name of “Objective Reality” to the realm of absolute illusion is to strip from man everything that makes him what he is.  To claim that consciousness is subjective and reality objective is to dig an impassable chasm between man and his existence, which necessarily destroys man.  Thus, the Objectivist/Empiricist solution it seems is to eliminate humanity in the interest of protecting reality.  But then, who shall be left to declare the victory?  If there is no one left to experience reality, then is reality actually real?  If there is no one left to know anything objective, then is there really anything objective to know?

The fact is that whether we like it or not reality IS indeed subject to interpretation.  Man’s ONLY means of ascertaining truth is through his consciousness…his powers of conceptualization.  He pairs concepts to create meaning, and from this we get language, and language is how reality is declared as BEING REAL in the first place.  Period.  Reality and man’s ability to describe it through conceptualization, which is the foundation of consciousness, are utterly inseparable.  In order to perceive reality, you see, perception MUST BE REAL.

The only way then to arrive at an objective definition of reality is to make sure that its interpretation is rationally consistent…that is, organized and described via concepts (in language) that do not contradict.  The difference between objective and subjective reality is not perception, but IS INDEED INTERPRETATION.  Having the right—that is, absolutely reasonable—interpretation is what makes reality objective, not disparaging consciousness as a mere fluke of natural law (i.e. scientific determinism, which is a nonsense rooted in a philosophy that predates the nonsense of most of the religions it pretends to depose).

You show me a rationally consistent, non-abstract (i.e. non-mathematical) description of reality and I will give you a mirror and show you what a TRUE Objectivist looks like.  A true Objectivist uses his consciousness OBJECTIVELY—that is, rationally—he does not pretend it is a figment.  After all, a seeker of the truth doesn’t throw away the only tool by which the truth is found.



5 thoughts on “The Objectivist/Empricist Confusion Between Perception and Interpretation

  1. CORrect me if I read this wrong but isn’t the Objectivist making the same basic argument the Calvinist does? We cannot know reality?

  2. Yes, it is that in essence. Reality qua reality exists beyond our perception is the implicit point of the objectivist metaphysic of Existence.. In which case, no, we can never really know what it is, since “ perception” really means “consciousness”, and our consciousness is the means by which ALL human understanding is generated. Reality (as a function of Existence) is not subject to interpretation from consciousness. It simply Is. Whatever conclusions we draw from perceiving it are bound to be tainted by the fundamental subjectivity of our conscious frame of reference. Thus the contradiction of claiming the existence of “objective reality” whilst simultaneously being exclusive of it.

    The Christians do the same thing, except instead of “existence” the objective reality is “God’s Word”…they mean the Protestant or Catholic Bibles, respectively. But in the same way, God’s Word” is not subject to mere human interpretation. In both the Christian and Objectivist cases, man’s consciousness is fundamentally insufficient for knowing, and is exclusive of, the “reality” which just “Is”. Whatever you think or do will never change the course of “objective reality outside of us”.

    I’m starting to think this is why so many atheists used to be Christians. They really don’t have to change their metaphysics, which is the hardest part of adopting a new root belief. They only have to change labels, It’s really a lateral move, not a shift in poles.

  3. “I’m starting to think this is why so many atheists used to be Christians.”

    I had not thought of that. My experience with atheists as former Christians is that most were from the deterministic side of Christianity. Especially Neo Calvinism. One was a former pastor who was a rabid water carrier for Mohler. He just became a rabid Atheist.

    I have not met many from the free will side. Maybe it’s a lack of anger at God because of choice and freedom of conscience?

    Anyway, I thought most of them did not have far to walk since atheism is also deterministic.

  4. Yep. Exactly. The shift from Christianity to Atheism is more like a denominational change rather than a metaphysical one. Both make the observer (conscious man) a deterministic function of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Power outside of him. The (orthodox) Christians call it God, Atheists call it Natural Law. The only difference is semantic. Effectively, they both mean and do the same thing.

  5. The “free will” side of Christianity? Hmm…I’m not familiar with that. Lol. :-). Unless a denomination jettisons the Total Depravity/Original Sin bit, they are determinists, whether they know it or not.

    But I know what you mean. Some Christians at least acknowledge the necessity of will and choice to morality. Even if it sits as a sort of cognitive dissonance to their overall doctrinal paradigm.

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