General Question

Strauss's avatar

Is there such a thing as objective reality?

Asked by Strauss (23277points) April 19th, 2009

One of the basic assumptions of science is the existence of an objective external reality that exists independent of the observer. We learn about our universe by subjectively observing and experiencing, and then interpreting these observations and experiences through a subjective filter based upon previous observations and experiences. Can objective reality be proven?

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42 Answers

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

However it is, whatever it is, if that’s the way it is, then it truly is that way.

The notion of “Subjective Reality” is in, and of itself, an “Objective Reality”.

ragingloli's avatar

yes there is, but it can not be observed. once it is observed, it becomes subjective reality.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@ragingloli True this…

Silly Rabbits, we objectify people and personify objects.

BTW… I get the gist of your comments and agree with them entirely… but, upon our observance… “it” does not “become” anything “subjective”. “It” remains the same regardless of our “observance”. Only our impressed description of a thing is subjective.

I believe that is what you were saying though.

Crusader's avatar

Astral Projection is one way to observe yourself objectively…

Harp's avatar

Ironically, to prove it would require that there be no prover involved, since the prover is himself a subject. The most we can say is that science requires the presumption of an objective reality (although quantum theory calls even that presumption into question).

This whole conundrum goes away, though, if we drop the subject/object dichotomy altogether. Doing so, we leave the realm of science and logic and enter a realm of pure experience, with no experiencer and no “thing” experienced. This is the mainstay of Eastern mysticism.

mattbrowne's avatar

We can apply scientific method. Here’s a good overview (from Wikipedia): The essential elements of a scientific method are iterations, recursions, interleavings, and orderings of the following:

* Characterizations (observations, definitions, and measurements of the subject of inquiry)
* Hypotheses (theoretical, hypothetical explanations of observations and measurements of the subject)
* Predictions (reasoning including logical deduction from the hypothesis or theory)
* Experiments (tests of all of the above)

Each element of a scientific method is subject to peer review for possible mistakes. Scientific method is not a recipe: it requires intelligence, imagination, and creativity.

Some of the findings of quantum mechanics show us the limitations of objective reality. The uncertainty principle states that certain physical quantities, like position and momentum, cannot both have precise values at the same time.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Harp Believe it or not, that is also the mainstay of Christianity and Hinduism. Allowing Christ to live within or attaining Krishna Consciousness… it is the same principal. But all too often, the religious teachings of modernity miss the essence of teaching.

“pure experience”... yes! I call it “Quintessence”.

Crusader's avatar

Only Christians are blessed with True discerment,
From the ‘Helper’ or Holy Spirit always as long as
faith is kept…This is an objective truth
manifested in the success and compassion of
Christian oriented nations..

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Crusader Does the Holy Spirit not enjoy the company of authentic Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists as well?

Shuttle128's avatar

We can reason that reality is objective because there is more than one of us. Through the agreement of many subjective viewpoints we can decide what is objective and what is not.

Crusader's avatar

Theirs is a degree of Truth,
and discernment, However, why are primarily
Christian nations the forerunners of such
ubiquitous prosperity and seemingly successful
in every major historical epoch, (until faith ebbs..)
if this is not objectively true…?

ragingloli's avatar

“if this is not objectively true…?”
No, it is not.
When Christianity ruled supreme in Europe, we got whopped by the plague, whe got whopped by the Huns and we got whopped by the Church in the form of the Inquisition and all the associated merciful witch burnings.
Christianity held back scientific and social development in the west (and continues trying even today, predictably) while the arabic islamic world made big strides in the sciences, which the christian world then stole in the aftermath of the crusades.
The western world only became successful when Christianity began to lose its political power. Only then were we able to rediscover Democracy, establish human rights, regain scientific prowess and become more peaceful altogether.
It is a statistical reality, that the more secular a country is, the lower the crime rate and the higher the average level of prosperity is.

Crusader's avatar

Thanks for the post, Raqinqloli,

Yes, it is true, the plague was a whopper,
So were the Huns before that, Lets not forget the Khans,
and the Inquistion, (well, at least women had Some authority,
unlike virtually everywhere else in the world…women were and are brutilized Everywhere, just less publicized in censored countries…)

The West became a world power during the Reformation
during the Calvanists, the Lutherans, The Protestants…

Still Christian…Also, about the time Science began
supplanting faith in Europe, the LDS church members
were being slaughtered for denouncing slavery in
slave states…

Still Christian…

strangeling's avatar

So, for the poor and uneducated, how do you help them get it? Is truth, objective or subjective or both, for everyman or just for the elite?

Ivan's avatar


Europe did not become a powerhouse until the Renaissance, when science was invented and society was lifted from the Dark Ages caused by centuries of Christian dogma.

Crusader's avatar


‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ JC

For everyone.


The Renaissance was possible Because of the Reformation…

Ivan's avatar


The protestants still favored divine revelation over scientific inquiry.

Crusader's avatar

Thanks for the post, Ivan;

To respond; Divine revelation lead to scientific inquiry.

Crusader's avatar

Most of the most prominent dicoveries were
‘dreamed’ in sleep first…Prophesy…And Diligence…

Ivan's avatar

At this point we are hijacking this thread.

Yes, I believe there is an objective reality. Our goal is to merely learn about that reality as best we can.

Crusader's avatar

Though our knowledge may surge,
Our Ego we much purge,
The questions we ask humble and meek,
To reveal the elusive answers we seek…

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Ivan I’ve heard it claimed that “science was invented” per the orders of the church… to discover and describe the way Gods world works. Conflict arose when those descriptions conflicted with longstanding dogma.

An argument could be made that religion actually invented science.

ragingloli's avatar

@ RealEyesRealizeRealLies
The scientific method (experiment and quantification) was actually invented by a muslim.
The earliest record describing scientific principles is an Egyptian medical textbook, the Edwin Smith papyrus, (circa 1600 BC), so no, science was not invented by the church

Crusader's avatar

…Hmmm..I thought Aristotle was credited as the
Father of the scientific method..He Was the father
of Syllogistic Logic, the forebear of reasoned
analysis, and catogorized and classified
an extraordinary amount of information in
Gardana Botanica…Also, the Chinese and India
had their share of medical science with experimetation
and quantification principles…

strangeling's avatar

And, if that really does date back to an Egyptian papyrus from 1600 BC it wasn’t muslim nor christian, was it.

strangeling's avatar

Fuzzy wuzzy wuzzn’t really fuzzy, wuz he.

wundayatta's avatar

One can wrap one’s mind in knots thinking about this. I think the metaphor of the scientific approach can offer some help. Humans are always percieving things, and then making guesses about what they will perceive next, based on what they’ve perceived in the past under similar circumstances.

I think that for each of us, our perceptions of reality are objective, as long as we keep them to ourselves. It is when we try to share these perceptions that we get into trouble, because someone who sees the same thing from a different perspective, can easily sound like they are seeing something quite different.

Still, we each have our own perceptions, and I think that is as close as we all get to objective reality. We rely on our perceptions, knowing that they can lie. We can have more or less faith in our perceptions, depending on our predilection.

But there are so many confounding factors. There is the uncertainty that we are perceiving what’s out there very accurately. There’s uncertainty about other people’s perceptions being accurate. And worse, there’s the difficulty in communicating our perceptions to each other in a reliable way.

We can create our own reality in a number of ways. First is using our perceptions, and editing them, or biasing them according to our preferences. We can control how we perceive things, and even, to some extent, what we perceive. We may also be able to influence reality just by observing it. Indeed, our minds may influence reality without us perceiving that influence.

People speak of consensual reality. I think of models and the accuracy of the model. The more accurately we can predict what will happen, then the more close we are to an objective reality, I think. Still, none of this is very satisfactory for anyone who wants certainty, or even a little smidge of certainty. As I said, one’s mind can well end up in a huge tangle of yarn, if one isn’t careful.

Strauss's avatar

@daloon It’s almost like objective reality is a mutually agreed upon mass illusion.

strangeling's avatar

Reach out and touch someone.

Strauss's avatar

@daloon @strangeling…huge tangle of yarn…fuzzy…~~Are we talking about a fuzzy string theory here?~~

Ria777's avatar

>Can objective reality be proven?

the subject asks whether objective reality exists. different question altogether. I think that objective reality exists. doubtful that we can prove it in the here-now.

wundayatta's avatar

There’s a theory, new to me, that I read about last night in Discover magazine. It suggests that there may be no universe without humans around to perceive it. They gave some fancy scientific explanation that frankly, I didn’t really understand, but it is different from the philosophical platform that poses the same hypothesis.

It seems to say that the universe and humanity are tied together in some mutually dependent web. The universe can not exist without intelligence to apprehend it, and intelligence can not exist without the universe to make it possible. The explanation has to do with the decay of quantum states into something specific when observed.

So, if there are no observers, then everything remains in some quantum state that contains all possibilities. It is only when observed that these possible states collapse into what we call “reality.” Without some intelligence to observe, the universe never becomes “real.” I don’t think that intelligence has to be human. Although, perhaps we arrived in a universe that already had been observed by an intelligence, and they were the ones that collapsed potential into reality.

There’s some famous experiment about this, and I don’t have the details straight because my memory is like a quantum uncertainty itself, and observing it doesn’t seem to help. In any case, as long as light is unobserved, it is in a wave form, but as soon as it is observed, it collapses into a particle form. Don’t ask me how they know this. Maybe someone else, better versed in physics, can explain.

I’m not sure if I see how this works, because I look back in history, and wonder if the first slime mold’s perceptions are what collapsed the universe, or at least, this portion of the universe, into reality. However, I think that if this is how things work, then it would explain why the universe is ideally designed for life—perceivers would never create a universe in which they couldn’t exist. In fact, I don’t think they could do such a thing.

Harp's avatar

@daloon In Buddhism, this is called “dependent co-arising”. One early Zen text puts it this way: “For things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things. These two are merely relative, and both at source are emptiness (i.e. lack an independent self-nature)”

Shuttle128's avatar

@daloon Schroedinger wave function collapse (or rather more popularly decoherence) is caused by an “observer.” In quantum physics an observation is made by some form of interaction with the waveform. The “observer” does not necessarily need to be an intelligent entity or even have the ability to perceive. It must simply interact with the wave function in a way such that the function appears to favor a single position. The wave function shows a superposition of all possible states until it interacts with it’s environment. The Schroedinger’s Cat paradox is a good example of how that line of thinking is flawed. The state cannot be known until we observe the outcome, however, this does not mean that the cat is both dead and alive.

wundayatta's avatar

How do we know that a waveform shows a superposition of all possible states without interacting with it?

Strauss's avatar

@daloon We know it theoretically. Any interaction with a probability waveform causes it to collapse to the outcome.

I was wondering how long this discussion would go before that darn cat showed up!~

wundayatta's avatar

A theory with no way to test it. Sounds like God, to me.

Shuttle128's avatar

@daloon We know superposition exists because of experiments that observe the passive effects of superposition. The double slot experiment is one of the more famous.

In the double slot experiment a laser is aimed at two parallel slots. A diffraction pattern associated with the interference caused by differing path lengths of the photons in the beam appear on a photodetector placed on the other side of the slots. This seems to simply support that photons behave as waves…...however, when the laser is filtered heavily so that only one photon may pass through at a time, the exact same diffraction pattern appears on the photodetector. This means that somehow single photons that pass through the slots create the diffraction pattern with themselves. To create the diffraction pattern the photon must simultaneously pass through both slots at once.

The Schroedinger equation was derived using the energy equation of a particle, Einstein’s assertion that the energy of a photon is proportional to the frequency of the wave, and de Broglie’s statement that all particles act as waves. From these basic principles it was found, through pure mathematics, that superposition of eigenstates occur within the model. Experimental evidence shows that the measured outcome is random but these measured values follow a probability derived from the superposed eigenstates.

The act of disturbing the superposition state causes the state to collapse and a random outcome to be detected that falls within the probability distribution of expected values. In reality this appears to be the case, however, the mathematics associated with collapse is sketchy. Simply put, the Copenhagen solution is to just no longer consider other eigenstates even though there is no mathematical reason to do this. This is part of the driving force behind the many worlds interpretation of the Universe. Instead of the function collapsing, it is said that all eigenstates continue to propagate, however, we observe only one of these states randomly when the superposition is disturbed.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

@Shuttle128 Question…? About observing “one of these states randomly” via the disturbance of superposition.

Upon two separate disturbances, do we observe two completely different random states, or does every disturbance point to the same random coordinate?

If it points to the same one, then it doesn’t seem random at all… instead perhaps, more like a trigger of sorts.

Shuttle128's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies The many worlds interpretation holds that all possibilities of wave function collapse do happen. However, we can only observe one of these possibilities because only one possibility interacts with our Universe. Disturbing the wave function merely causes one of those possibilities to reveal itself. The probability that we will observe a certain state is the same as the distribution of all states that exist in all worlds. We simply get one of these values when the wave function is disturbed.

Each disturbance reveals a completely different random state. Each wave function collapse generates a random state within the probability distribution that can be calculated from the possible states, but each event is isolated. If random outcomes of separate disturbances were linked it would be obvious when observing the results of statistical analysis.

Hidden variable explanations of quantum mechanics have been proven wrong in just this way.

ratboy's avatar

There is objectionable reality. I detest the way most things are.

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