Does objective reality exist?

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Subject classification: this is an Philosophy resource.

Most people assume that there's an objective (physical) 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?

Definitions[edit | edit source]

  • Subjective (Individual) 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 (Physical) reality means that something is actual (so it exists) independent of the mind but is established by consensus. 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. Can you see the difficulty? Anything related to experience, like form, weight, heat, color, beauty, 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 exists[edit | edit source]

Pro[edit | edit source]

  • Argument for "Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth." -George Orwell
  • Argument for All humans have physically similar brains and nervous systems, which result in similar interpretations of the same stimuli. The fact that two people, located side by side, and looking in the same direction, describe similarly what they see, reasonably indicates that they are reacting to a single external reality. This fact is reasonably attributable to there being a single external reality, while at the same time multiple various internal realities whose differences are a result of various nervous systems functioning with various experiences.
    • Objection Does agreement of description necessarily imply objectivity? Imagine if half of humankind saw the color "green" as the color "red". Note that there would be a clear subjectivity of how we view the environment. Half the population would see a different color than the other half. We would no longer agree.
      • Objection Yes, agreement of description does necessarily imply objectivity. 
        • Objection Why should this be the case? You haven't refuted the above posters argument. The way an individual's brain "presents" sensory data is unknowable and irrelevant because it remains discrete.The majority will agree when identifying the primary colors. We can confirm that we are processing the same sensory information.
    • Objection Is it necessarily true that we share a similar 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 Particles and organisms don't follow the same rules of physics. Schrödinger came up with this thought experiment to mock quantum physics shortly before he quit.
      • 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. In the case of objective reality, at best it proves that it's "more likely" to exist than not, whatever that means.
      • Objection Occam's Razor is, by definition, not definitive. As said in the objection, it is at best an argument for the preponderance of evidence, so saying it is wrong sometimes is recursive. 
    • Objection 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 (or 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 develops a better theory we should stick with it. In the same way, there is no evidence that objective reality does not exist, thus there is a huge probability that it does actually exists
    • Objection For a reality to be objective - by virtue of its invulnerability to subjective perception - it cannot be qualitatively measured nor compared in superlative descriptions with "lesser" realities. It is stronger than a subjective reality (if we can claim these to exist), for its foundation is universal fact rather than personal projection. Yet it is easy to fall into the trap of giving these comparative qualities for we conceptualise things through relativity and contrast. And so, to follow the pattern of nature, objective and subjective realities cannot exist without one another, together supporting the greater hybrid reality to which we belong; the human application of superlatives to separate the two (i.e one being more accurate than the other) is merely superfluous.
    • Objection This just assumes that it exists for the sake of ease (similar to the Occam's Razor proof above). That is an own opinion on this matter, not a proof.
    • 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. The argument does not affirm that objective reality exists, but that it is very likely that it does. This could be called an agnostic position too, but people who are agnostic on the subject ought to lean in favor of whatever seems to be the most probable explanation.
  • Argument for All realities exist, including both objective and subjective realities, which exist as parallel realities or as a kind of multiverse. In other words, the philosophy of modal realism is correct.
    • Objection Believing makes it so. 
      • Objection So your subjective reality is just your interpretation and understanding of objective reality. 
    • 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 doesn't prove objective reality, because it doesn't prove that all realities exist. If all realities existed, then objective reality could exist too, but it isn't necessarily true that all realities exist.
  • Argument If objective truth doesn't exist, that fact would be in and of itself an objective truth, disproving itself.
    • Objection This only proves the existence of an objective truth, not of an objective reality. No argument is given to prove that an objective truth implies an objective reality.
  • 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 Are (some) objective realities subject to transience? The Statue of Liberty exists in Upper New York Bay may be objective today but, say in the event of a natural disaster it is destroyed, its existence ceases to exist in objective reality. Objectivity itself must then comprise of a hierarchy, with facts manufactured by human contribution to their natural world falling short of those naturally preceding and outliving human innovation. In other words, neither the Statue of Liberty nor New York (Bay) are intrinsic to universal nature and our experience of this harmony, and is thus ephemeral as opposed to a reality such as the sky is blue on a sunny day. Indeed, subjective realities have this ephemeral quality, and so objective realities birthed later by the human mind following the "natural mind" may collapse into the same pool of subjectivity responsible for both material innovation and creative interpretation of the natural world. Just as there is transience to the human form, so are its mental and tangible contributions threatened by time.
    • 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.
    • Objection Outliers do not disprove a general rule. For example the fact that certain people are born without arms does not disprove the general rule that humans have 2 arms. Similarly the fact that the blind person cannot see the statue does not disprove that it is an objective existence.
      • Objection If the majority of people on earth were blind and only a few people were able to see (in this case they would be the outliers) then according to your objection the statue wouldn't exist because it would be a general rule that almost nobody can perceive the statue. That would implicate that objective reality is dependent on the consensus of the majority which is an argumentum ad populum and thus a fallacious argument.
  • Argument for 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 This is not necessarily true, you could be a figment of my imagination, or we could both be figments of somebody else's imagination.
      • Objection The argument is not necessarily true. Imagine a world where each person perceives a colour differently ie: I perceive red as green and maybe you perceive red as yellow. In this case we both might agree that the colour we are seeing is red when actually we are seeing different colours and referring to it with the same name. Since no one can explain how they perceive a colour, no one would know what colour the other person is referring to even if everyone refers to it with the same name. So we would never know if we are independently observing the same things
      • Objection I could be a figment of your imagination, but we can't both be figments. You know that your consciousness exists, because in order to doubt it, something must exist which is capable of experiencing doubt. This is the only thing that you can know to be incontrovertibly true.
        • Objection If we are all imagined by a specific entity, then that entity is part of objective reality.
          • Objection If we are imagined and thus figments of that specific entity's imagination, does this disqualify "that entity" from being imagined by some superior entity? You and I are capable of imagining identities into being; we can create characters out of them, animate them in story and transfer the art of both critical and imaginative thought to their mannerisms. Besides this proposed existence of an endless Russian doll, therein lies a contradiction: imagination and objective reality become inextricable. In effect, the absence of grounded fact gives way to imagination's reign.
  • Argument for We have strong evidence of an objective reallity since we can at least think of it. As Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am."
    • Objection During the Deep Sleep state we don't say I think there I am,  so this claim is not all true.
    • 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 I think there for I am, is the only statement that can't be contradicted.  It is the only objective fact that I can know. Every other thought I have must be subjective because I can't know and can't prove that they are real.
      • Objection Simply because a fictional representation of an actual phenomena is presented to the reader does not invalidate it as an actual phenomena outside the fiction.
    • Objection The idea that "I think therefore I am" is based off of a certain assumption: that the "I" in question really does think. I'm sure that just about anyone will say that they have subjective (though objective can be argued) proof to themselves that they indeed do think, simply by being able to wonder if they do. But in this case, sentience is being questioned, and thus the ability to fulfil the criteria of thinking in the first place is as well.
  • Argument for Objective reality is conditional on what is considered objective; there must be at least one universal truth defining objective reality that encapsulates less universal truths and realities. For example, there is scientific evidence of nonphysical reality and thousands to millions of accounts of consciousness existing outside of physical reality such as near-death experiences and out of body experiences, some involving multiple people learning validated information. Theories such as Panpsychism leverage this type of evidence to suggest that consciousness is more fundamental to reality than matter and therefore support Postmodernism's claims that objectivity is naive since physical reality is inside a larger nonphysical reality. Taking this a step further, there is objective reality but essentially all objectivity experienced by human bodies is relative and limited in scope; some objectivity may be limited to a particular time, universe, dimension, or consensus reality, including physical reality. Only the non-physical universal objective truths encapsulating all realities are not affected by mind, since physical reality may be affected by consciousness. Even where the existence of non-physical reality and the particular metaphysical frameworks are debatable, there must be at least one universal aspect of objective reality.

Con[edit | edit source]

  • Argument against Recent physics experiments [1][2] suggest objective reality isn't real but directly relative to individual perceptions, and is basically a subjectively manifested, consciously perceived, and somewhat mutually agreed upon collective manifestation.
    • Objection The experiment that the article [1] refers to has tested the Wigner's friend thought experiment where the friend's "measurement" seems to not be a proper observation (which would collapse the wavefunction). Instead, is a unitary action on the state being measured, and the results of the experiment (unsurprisingly) reflect that. The result simply means that it doesn't matter which observer collapses the wavefunction as long as they are all entangled. In day-to-day scenarios we deal with situations where (we assume) the quantum system has already collapsed, which is why we don't see most quantum effects in daily life and why things like the Schrodinger's cat never happen. This "subjectivity" in the experiment only holds for unobserved quantum systems.
  • Argument against 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. Similarly, from a subjective perspective, the objective reality does not exist. Objects exist only as their perceptions and affects on subjective reality, not as a thing-in-itself. So, both realities are mutually exclusive.
    • Objection Objective reality exists.  Subjective realities only exist in our minds.                   Our attempts to create, reflect and understand Objective reality results in our Subjective realities.  Our Subjective realities exist in our minds, so there for exist within Objective reality. 
    • Objection That we can't reason about the nature of subjective experience inside an objective frame for reality does not prove that the subjective experience doesn't exist. Neither does the fact that we don't know that objects exist as things-in-themselves when reasoning about reality from a subjective perspective prove that they don't. Absence of proof is not proof of absence.
  • 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, why not, there is a probability that we were just characters in someone's dream.
    • Objection Those are all unlikely scenarios which are similarly unproven.
      • Objection Just because they are unlikely or unproven doesn't mean they are implausible.
      • Objection “Unlikely” is itself a subjective notion. The fact that those theories are unproven certainly does not prove the opposite to be true.
    • Objection Even if the Matrix scenario were real, the Matrix itself exists within a larger reality that actually must be objective, and in that reality, the beings have physical bodies hooked up to the Matrix. Similarly with the other scenarios.
    • Objection 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.
  • 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".
      • 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. This 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 Whether the human mind is capable of being truly objective or not has nothing to do with reality being objective. 
    • Objection 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.
    • Objection Humans do not live in their own subjective reality, but perceive subjectively the objective reality.
  • 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. In line with that, disbelief of facts in general is not particularly absurd. For example, flat-earth was assumed to be fact for an incredibly long time (still assumed to be true by some people), 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 This argument presumes an objective reality. The fact that mankind was wrong about the earth's shape in no way suggests the lack of an objective reality; in fact, it suggests the opposite, that there is instead an existential objective reality, a certain way the earth is and behaves. That we are wrong in any of the 'science' we create to explain our observation does not indicate that objective reality does not exist. The conclusion that we were 'wrong' assumes that there is a 'right,' an objective reality.
    • Objection Postmodernism has not been proven. The argument is assuming that postmodernism is true, but does not prove that the ideas and beliefs expressed by postmodernism are factual.
  • Argument against The fact that objective reality is a debatable concept makes objective reality subjective.
    • Objection To object as verb is to refute in disagreement, and objective as adjective is to transcend debate and personal opinion. The paradox: all that is inherently objective is subject to subjectivity, yet this inheritance seems not to detract from objective reality's unshakeable veracity. We may further claim that subjectivity objects to objectivity's existence (a nod to our tendency to elevate our own subjective truths, particularly when the reality of something conflicts with our personal ideals).
    • Objection Clever. However 'I think there for I am', proves that an objective mind must exist to do the subjective thinking.
      • Objection Perhaps thoughts are influenced or contrived like any other sense and so therefore prove unreliable too. Descartes himself considered this possibility in later writing.
    • Objection 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.

The answer is unknowable[edit | edit source]

  • Argument for Godel's first incompleteness theorem states: "Any consistent formal system F within which a certain amount of elementary arithmetic can be carried out is incomplete; i.e., there are statements of the language of F which can neither be proved nor disproved in F." (Raatikainen 2020)." If sufficiently complex systems of arithmetic contain statements that cannot be proven or disproven, how can any more certainty be conferred to the entirety of reality? No tool of logic, mathematics, or science can overcome this incompleteness. This does not bode well for objectivity. It hints that the universe we exist in is less objectively knowable than would be platonically ideal. If aspects of the universe are forever undiscoverable and untestable, their objectivity cannot be measured or assessed or fully asserted. Nor can any prior experiences or knowledge of humankind prove the objectivity of any reality that is (by its very nature) hidden from our own tools of inquiry.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "A quantum experiment suggests there's no such thing as objective reality". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 2021-10-03.
  2. "New Physics Experiment Indicates There's No Objective Reality". 2021-08-30. Retrieved 2021-10-03.