Does objective reality exist?

Phi uc.png Subject classification: this is an Philosophy resource.

Most people assume that there's an objective reality in which all of us exist, with facts that are universally true and more than just a matter of opinion. However, others argue that there is no such thing as objective reality, that everything is subjective and that anything can be questioned or legitimately disagreed with, even facts that used to have near-universal agreement.

So who is right about the nature of reality? Is there an objective reality that we are all a part of? Does objective reality truly exist?

DefinitionsEdit

  • Subjective reality means that something is actual depending on the mind. For example: someone walks by a flower and experiences the beauty of the flower. Would you say that the experience of beauty is dependent or independent of the mind? Would the experience of the form in general of the flower be dependent on the mind?
  • Objective reality means that something is actual (so it exists) independent of the mind. For example: while no one is nearby, a meteor crashes into a car, putting it on flames, leaving only a pile of ashes. Are any of these events depending on some mind? It is actually hard to state a purely objective reality example, as one needs to describe it in concepts that are interpreted by the mind. You see the difficulty? Anything related to experience, like form, weight, heat, color, beauty, etc, etc is dependent on a mind. So we could say, that objective reality is formless. Only when observed by a mind, there is form. This has lots of similarities with a computer rendered game. The scenario is there, but unless it is rendered on the screen, it is formless. So objective reality is here, but unless it is 'rendered' on consciousness, it is formless.

Objective reality existsEdit

Arguments forEdit

  •   Argument for We humans share a physical brain structure and neural receptors which give rise to a shared interpretation of a physical existence, which does indeed exist independently but is a subset of a larger reality of which we are unaware. This is verified through hallucinations, mental illness, cognitive diseases in which reality of those under such conditions differs from a 'normal' cognitive process. When returned to 'healthy' state, the re-emergence of the shared 'everyday' reality returns as well. We humans interpret reality in a similar fashion which is why we all agree, for the most part, as to the physical world around us. We are not, however, experiencing the 'whole' of reality as we have no capacity for measuring it (light frequencies beyond our visual limits, etc.).
    •   Objection Does agreement of perspective necessarily imply objectivity? Consider an experiment in which half of humankind was rewired to see the color "green" as the color "red" and that all their memories swap the two colors (as in, what originally looked like "red" now looks like "green", and vice versa, and people assumed that this was always how it has been). Regardless of how possible this experiment is, note that there is now a clear subjectivity of how we view the environment - half the population sees a different color than the other half, and maybe let's also assume that their children have the same condition. Now, we no longer agree, and cannot agree. Additionally, is it necessarily true that we share a physical brain structure? Certainly, according to science, this is very true, but that says nothing about the existence of an objective reality, because where science comes from is perceived, whether directly by us or through the measurements and assumptions we make, which is an inherently subjective process. This argument takes subjective ideas to be objective, and draws assumptions from them.
  •   Argument for There is no evidence that objective reality doesn't exist, so Occam's razor suggests we ought to accept it as the simplest possible explanation for reality.
    •   Objection If a particle or set of particles in quantum physics can be in 2 different contradictory states at the same time, as in the Schrödinger's cat paradox, that could be considered evidence to the contrary.
      •   Objection Quantum physics might seem contradictory, and in fact it is with traditional logic, but if one uses quantum logic, which theoretical physicists have developed and which is the same as traditional logic other than abandoning the law of commutativity, there are not any contradictions in it at all.
    •   Objection Occam's Razor is not necessarily true, it is just a general guideline to help people guess the most likely answer to a question. It's still wrong sometimes.
      •   Objection Yes, but Occam's Razor is true more often than not, and there is no evidence of Occam's Razor being incorrect in this specific instance regarding objective reality being true.
        •   Objection That isn't definitive proof of the existence of an objective reality, only that it is "more likely" to exist than not, whatever that means (probability has no part in proving the existence of something, only how easy it would be to perceive it). Additionally, the concept of "simple" is subjective due to the subjectivity of the construction of definitions, so it cannot be used to prove the existence of objectivity, which requires the definitions to be true regardless of perspective/lack of perspective.
  •   Argument for The theory that we all exist in an objective reality is the best theory anyone has ever come up with to describe the conditions in which we appear to exist, so unless anyone comes up with a better theory we should stick with it.
    •   Objection We don't necessarily need to assume anything at all regarding reality and whether or not an objective reality exists... we can remain agnostic on the subject until there is sufficient evidence to prove things one way or the other.
      •   Objection Being agnostic on the subject is not a position against the existence of objective reality, but instead a neutral position that doesn't take either side in the argument. I have not entirely made up my mind 100% sure either way on objective reality myself, but I am about 99% sure that objective reality exists. I could call myself agnostic on the subject too, but those of us who are agnostic on the subject ought to lean in favor of whatever seems to be the most probable explanation.
    •   Objection This just assumes that it exists for the sake of ease (similar to the Occam's Razor proof above). As with that one, I point out that "best" is subjective in nature, and what you consider "best" may be different from what I consider "best". I too, think that there exists an objective reality, but to assume it just exists is just circumventing the purpose of debating this. That is not to say that you cannot have your own opinion on this matter, only that your opinion is not sufficient for a proof.
  •   Argument for All realities exist, including both objective and subjective realities, which exist as parallel realities as a kind of multiverse. In other words, the philosophy of modal realism is correct.
    •   Objection Modal realism is too radical of a multiverse theory to take seriously. It proposes that all proposed fictional worlds (not just proposed real worlds) actually exist.
      •   Objection This is an attempt to shame people into not believing the argument. Sometimes radical viewpoints turn out to be true.
    •   Objection Before I begin refutation, I want to make the point that it isn't necessary for objective and subjective realities to exist in a multiverse, they can simply exist in parallel. That being said, this isn't any sort of proof on the existence of an objective reality, as there was no proof that all realities exist. Certainly, if all realities existed, then yes, there exists an objective reality, but it isn't necessarily true that all realities exist.
  •   Argument for If objective truth doesn't exist, that fact would be in and of itself an objective truth, disproving itself.
    •   Objection Why is it important that an objective truth exists? In what way is this related to the definition of an objective reality? What if I just had the objective truth that stated "only subjective realities exist"? This argument assumes that just because there exists an objective truth, then there must exist an objective reality. However, there's no argument that states that an objective truth is sufficient to describe an objective reality. That must be proven.
  •   Argument for Some facts have no non-objective interpretation, and are universally accepted as objectively true. Example: The Statue of Liberty exists in Upper New York Bay. There is no alternative, subjective interpretation possible.
    •   Objection The statue and location are known by other names in other languages. There are no universally agreed names for anything.
      •   Objection Changing the name of the statue or location does not change the fact that every human being can perceive that the statue does indeed exist in objective reality.
        •   Objection Blind people can not see the statue in the same way. Nor can people who have lost their sense of touch feel the statue in the same way. Our perception depends on our available biological configuration as it were.

Arguments againstEdit

  •   Argument against Starting from an objective perspective, the objective world exists and the subjective one does not. „Feelings", for instance, exist only as neuron firing patterns and not as they are felt subjectively, because that would not fit into the objective world view. Similarly, starting from a subjective perspective, the objective reality does not exist. Objects exist only as their perceptions and affects on subjective reality, not as a Ding-an-Sich. Because I surely perceive from a subjective perspective, I assert the denial of an objective reality.
    •   Objection Why can't both realities exist in parallel?
      •   Objection As explained above, both realities are mutually exclusive. Any starting perception would deny the other reality's existence.
  •   Argument against The existence of an objective reality has never been proven, and all of what we think of reality could just be something similar to the Matrix or a computer simulation or we could all just be characters in someone's dream.
    •   Objection Those are all unlikely scenarios which are similarly unproven, and the most likely scenario that makes the most sense is that there is an objective reality.
      •   Objection There are multiple possible scenarios in which objective reality is wrong, and only one in which it is correct. If we assign an equal level of probability to each one, objective reality is actually highly unlikely.
        •   Objection There is no rational basis for assigning an equal level of probability to the idea that we are all living in the Matrix just like in that movie and the idea that we all actually exist in one single objective reality. Furthermore, in the Matrix, the Matrix itself exists within a larger reality that actually is objective, and in that reality, the people who exist in the Matrix all have physical bodies hooked up to the Matrix, so even if the Matrix turned out to be real, we would still be living in an objective reality.
          •   Objection Yes but the Matrix is a work of fiction, so actually, people living in the Matrix, even if they have physical bodies outside of the Matrix, have those in a fictional world, not the real world.
            •   Objection That doesn't change the fact that there still is no rational basis for assigning an equal level of probability. As a matter of fact, probability shouldn't really be assigned here; this is to prove whether or not an objective reality exists, not if we can ever find such an objective reality. The two arguments are different (though one directly proves the other). Additionally, the objection above states that if the Matrix turned out to be our reality, then there would still be an objective reality. Regardless of whether or not the Matrix is fictional, it still remains that if something similar were to be true, then there could still exist an objective reality.
      •   Objection Simply because a scenario makes "the most sense" does not mean that it is correct (see refutations to "Occam's Razor" above). Similarly, just because a scenario is unlikely/unproven, does not mean that it is false (just look to the numerous unproven conjectures in mathematics as an example - both the ones that are currently unproven but seem to be true, and the ones that used to seem true but are now proven to be false).
    •   Objection That proves nothing about the nonexistence of objective reality, only that our perception of reality may be subjective. In those circumstances, wouldn't the objective reality be outside the matrix, or the existence of that "someone" we are the characters of a dream of?
  •   Argument against Reality nowadays is just too ridiculous to be true. Too many practically unbelievable things keep being reported as factual.
    •   Objection This reflects a failure of imagination on the part of the human mind to understand and accept objective reality. It does not disprove objective reality. As the saying goes, "Truth is stranger than fiction." This would seem to indicate that, if reality seems incredibly ridiculous and weird, it probably really is real, since it is many times weirder than anything the limited capacity of the human imagination could possibly think up using only the creativity of a single finite mortal human mind.
      •   Objection Multiple people can work together to create a very intricate and detailed narrative that runs counter to reality. Who is to say that the most popular narrative used to describe what people call "objective reality" is not similarly false, with its elaborate complexity and absurdity the result of the cooperation of many people?
        •   Objection There is a major qualitative difference between double-blind peer-reviewed scientific studies with reproducible results and conspiracy theories or tall tales that are simply made up. Your argument deliberately ignores this in order to equate the two and dismiss both of them.
  •   Argument against We all live in our own subjective realities. The human mind is not capable of being truly objective. Therefore, the entire idea of a single objective reality is purely speculative, an assumption that, while popular, is not necessary.
    •   Objection Since our realities all interact and we are able to independently observe the same things and do experiments that have reproducible results, clearly we are all part of the same reality.
      •   Objection Not necessarily, you could be a figment of my imagination, or we could both be figments of somebody else's imagination, or maybe nobody exists at all and everything is imaginary.
        •   Objection The human mind is not creative enough to imagine the reality we find ourselves in. Furthermore, as far as everything being imaginary, as Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am."
          •   Objection "I think, therefore I am" is a logical fallacy because fictional characters in a story can say that, but it doesn't turn them into real people.
            •   Objection That a fictional character can "say" "I think, therefore I am" while ostensibly being not part of an underlying physical existence it does not render the dictum a logical fallacy. In the context of the literary reality in which the work of fiction exists, the character represents a human in our shared reality, in which Descartes assertion still stands: Simply because a fictional representation of an actual phenomena is presented to the reader does not negate it as a logical paradigm.
    •   Objection Firstly, why must there exist only one objective reality? This has not been proven (though it is not particularly relevant to the point of the argument). More importantly, this isn't about the necessity of believing whether or not an objective reality exists, this is about whether or not an objective reality exists. I don't care whether or not it is necessary to believe in an objective reality, what I want to know is if there actually exists one. To take inspiration from another refutation, there are numerous conjectures in mathematics that are not proven but appear to be true (and similarly ones that appear to be true but are as a matter of fact false).
  •   Argument against Postmodernism is one of many philosophies that does not believe in any objective reality and successfully undermines the idea of objective reality.
    •   Objection Postmodernism is rather absurd, either sheer nihilism or some form of relativism, disbelieving in things that are obvious facts.
      •   Objection "Obvious" is subjective - though saying that doesn't take much away from the argument. I will preface my objection by stating that I have not personally researched postmodernism in depth, so I do not know what facts are exactly disbelieved by postmodernism. That said, postmodernism is built upon skepticism of facts in general, which is understandable, considering that our facts come from what we observe, and our perspectives are subjective. Thus, disbelief of facts in general is not particularly absurd. As an example, flat-earth was assumed to be fact for an incredibly long time (and by some people, it still is assumed to be true), but was eventually disproved. There's no reason that any of our present facts won't have the same thing happen to them either.
    •   Objection Postmodernism has not been proven.
      •   Objection Postmodernism doesn't have to be 'proven'.
        •   Objection In the context of this debate, postmodernism, as a matter of fact, does need to be proven. The argument is assuming that postmodernism is true, but does not prove that the ideas and beliefs expressed by postmodernism are factual. As of right now, there is no particular reason for me to believe that postmodernism is "true" - that is, the concepts that form postmodernism are objectively true.
  •   Argument against Again one must consider using which parameters is objective reality to be understood. How is it perceived or measured. To be truly objective, objective reality must be perceived and measured without any limits or filters. Because any such limitations arise from a subjective viewpoint. For example, humans perceive 0.0035% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. But the entire electromagnetic spectrum must be included in an understanding of objective reality. Any scientific instrument is likewise circumscribed in its ability to measure everything. Therefore what is objective must be unlimited - everything that is possible. And that means the whole universe without limits. All of it including dark matter, dark energy etc. And such an understanding is only theoretically possible for the whole universe itself to have. We humans are permanently in subjective reality, as are all conscious life forms.
    •   Objection Objective reality must exist independent of subjective reality. Just because we do not or cannot perceive it, does not mean it does not exist.
  •   Argument against As it is impossible to see the world, that is the eyes are like cameras only receiving light, they supposedly get two images, somehow these images get merged as one and then projected as "the world around us". The same can be said of all the senses. And, this sense of world includes the body which is external to that which sees it.
    •   Objection What does this say about the existence of an objective reality? Is an objective reality necessarily perceived? It certainly isn't by the definition above, and it certainly isn't by my definition.
  •   Argument against The fact that objective reality is a debatable concept makes objective reality subjective.
    •   Objection What we are currently debating is not objective reality itself (you may debate the definition if you wish, but that would still not be debating objective reality), but its existence. Debating its existence does not make its existence subjective, it just means that we do not have enough evidence (and may never have the evidence) to prove that it exists. For instance, debating if the twin prime conjecture is true does not disprove it, only shows that we do not have enough information to currently prove it (and, as far as we can tell, it seems to be true so far).
    •   Objection Debatability does not imply subjectivity. A debate could be caused by a mistaken interlocutor, with the debated subject nevertheless being objective.

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