Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Objectively Subjective? Subjectively Objective? The Confusing State of Myth, Fact, and Truth in General

I've been discussing Metaphorical vs. Literal Truth on Sabio's blog. It's been quite a discussion! These are the types of conversations that I live for! They are heated yet generous, loaded with concepts yet open to new views, and most of all, you leave wanting a drink and some advil only to go at it again! These are the hard questions I love asking and exploring.

Sabio states that "sure, a made-up story obviously can have subjective truth — gee, that sounds like a truism." My question then would be... can a story also have an objective truth? Something that can't be expressed any other way? What about Sociology? Can there be a zeitgeist event where a subjective truth some how become objective in a sense? Or at least in a given group, say like Gen-Xers and the Millennials?

What this conversation is about is trying to answer what humans have been trying to do since we developed the frontal lobe; namely to answer the question: "What is true?" I like trying to get at an answer to this question through multiple means. The Socratic method, though, is my favorite and which is what we on Sabio's blog are engaged in now. I will attempt to further that dialog now.

Ian mentioned two types of truth, a subjective and objective: 1. Objective truth – ‘facts’ as Alice called them.
2. Subjective truth – things that ‘chime with’ or ’speak to’ an individual.This is very helpful as it is part of the method. Even the most universally recognized and used concept, like Truth for example when subjected to scrutiny, might reveal not only that there is NOT universal agreement but that every single person has a somewhat different take on each and every concept under the sun. i don't think this is necessarily a bad thing.

I have really tried to tackle this question time and time again in the labels "Truth NOT Fact" the biggest discussion being found in "Absolute Truth." Largely i find myself holding to the main thesis put forth by Parker Palmer in To Know as We are Known is that truth is relational. Parker makes the case that education is at it’s best when it reflects this model. The quest for truth, by this definition, is a quest for self and for community with each other, with all creation. We cannot be removed from the equation and viewed as entities observing truth. We must be a part of it and be willing to be transformed by it. This way of life is only as secure as your relationships, and relationships are a lot of work. Parker’s truth is not to be found in our various doctrines or theologies (as these are partial, impersonal), but in the quality of our relationships. There can be groups of people who just want the easy, impersonal relationships. I see these in extreme fundamentalist religions and even atheist stances. These are a threat to community as a rigid adherence to doctrine takes an objectivist stance that reduces everyone to mere objects for conversion. Just holding things in binary tension and thinking things like: "it is either this way, or it isn't" is too simplistic for my blood.

going back to how myths can have objective truths, i present my fave tv show Battlestar Galactica as an example. There's a whole book written about the philosophy found within the show. i like it as it presents questions and situations, as does philosophy and theology, that won't pop up on a dradis screen or will be observable through Dr. Baltar's microscope.

things like "heroic figures have personal failings" or that some people "have overpowering egos and split personalities yet their selfish actions may lead to the salvation of many." In myth of a rag-tag fleet of survivors on the run we find objective truths about our post-9/11 reality. things like "we don't know who is with us or for us" our enemy is within our midst. stuff like that. we see how technology can both be a great compliment to our society and our downfall.

all of this to say that we need to be IN RELATION to the variety of ways to get to Truth (whatever that is). the objective and the subjective are in operation simultaneously and one should not be focused on to the detriment of the other. i may find some objective claim but my subjective feelings may color how i explain it to others. what we are left with in this quest for truth are not answers, but more questions and questions within questions. there are many methods and a great method is the Scientific one. it is ordered and rational and repeatable. yet when turned on humans, there is little that science can really tell us about personality or how a person will react in any given situation. sure it can tell us wonderful things about our mechanics (chemistry, biology, anatomical construction) but in terms of psychology or sociology, we can only lay out suggestions and points of reference that we must hold in tention with other contradictory points of reference (all of which can exist inside one single person).

27 comments:

Tit for Tat said...

Luke

I left this question over at Sabio's site before I had a chance to read your post. Thanks for answering my question ahead of time lmao. :)

"Correct me if Im wrong, but seeing as no one human being has all the answers, wouldnt that make every idea somewhat subjective at all times?"




Great post by the way!

Yael said...

The connections of conversations...

I decided to read Neil Gillman's "The Death of Death" since I have no interest in any life after death and thought it might be interesting to find out the progression in Judaism from death as final to death as not final. So, what does he begin with? A discussion of myth, truth, community!

Anglican Boy said...

This is a good conversation. I like your perspective on things. This type of discussion is usually over my head. I do not think too deeply about what I read and see on the History Channel. I just think that history is what happened as far as we can tell. It is good to bring other considerations as well.

Boz said...

op said: "Largely i find myself holding to the main thesis put forth by Parker Palmer in (To Know as We are Known) is that truth is relational. Parker makes the case that education is at it’s best when it reflects this model. The quest for truth, by this definition, is a quest for self and for community with each other, with all creation. We cannot be removed from the equation and viewed as entities observing truth. We must be a part of it and be willing to be transformed by it."

This description of truth is very strange to me.

The way I look at truth is:
some things are almost certainly true,
some things are almost certainly false,
some things are probably true,
some things are probably false,
for some things a judgement cannot be made yet.

The idea that "Truth" is some nebulous force floating around in the ether, and can be found when on a mysterious quest for 'self', and binds communities together, and we are all part of this strange ethereal cloud, sounds to me like postmodern mental masturbation.

Luke said...

Boz,

"The way I look at truth is:
some things are almost certainly true,
some things are almost certainly false,
some things are probably true,
some things are probably false,
for some things a judgement cannot be made yet."

same here... i like this view of truth and it is a good rubric.

what i am argue'n is that you can't figure out where anything fits or whether something is true or not unless it's in relation to something else. the fact i have black hair and that is true is because i can compare it and be in relation to people who have brown, red, blonde, or grey hair. not "postmodern mental masturbation" when you actually consider it. thanks for your opinion though, it helps and informs my own and thus prove'n my relational truth stance even more ;-).

Sabio Lantz said...


"can a story also have an objective truth?"
--Luke


Sure, but then since it is objective, we should have some way of measuring and testing it.

Yeah, I agree, relationship is important and social skills are important.

In this essay again you dropped back into talking about "truth" without any adjectives thus you ignore our attempt to show that "truth" is a word that has many definitions and nuances and that to facilitate conversation between people that are seeking understanding, it is important to be more specific and to not be vague and to further define terms. So by just using the term "Truth" by itself I feel you propagate the confusion we are trying to untangle.

My site is called "Triangulations" for exactly the principle you illustrate. Checking something out from many angles and many observers is the way to arrive at truth. This is otherwise know as the scientific methods. And scientists who ignore this are devotees of scientism which is a great heresy ! Smile. We agree.





"yet when turned on humans, there is little that science can really tell us about personality or how a person will react in any given situation"
--Luke


I think you are very wrong here. Report cards are a good example.

Anglican Gurl said...

"I think you are very wrong here. Report cards are a good example."

Are you kidding? You are kidding right? Are you a Republican? My husband used to think this until we have a very smart child who does awful in school. Could tell you about photosynthesis and flunk the biology test about it. So what did we do, hold him back? NO! We moved him forward a grade and now that he is challenged he is doing much better. The problem is though, the report cards show improvement but the standardized testing does not. As a former teacher, I can tell you that testing does not measure all the ways of knowing or takes into account all the different learning styles. Reports cards only tell us so much. I hope one day that we figure out a better, more 'objective' way to do it, but our current model is just awful. This only seems to take into affect "Sensing" kids and it leaves the "iNtuitive" kids to rot on the vine, to speak in the Myers-Briggs terms that Luke talks about. We also have friends who are social workers who will tell you that humanity is very sick and very unpredictable. They seem to do best when clear boundaries and structure are given when they are growing up but after a certain age, all bets are off. It is good to have models and filters and ways to measure but that is not all there is in life.

Sabio Lantz said...

At Anglican Girl,

Sorry, I was tired and being playful in the last paragraph but it didn't come across that way.
Actually, my school tried to fail me in 2 elementary grades and my mother pushed for them to pass me. I graduated 2nd in advanced Science and Math tests in Senior High School. It seems my language skills were lagging and they hurt everything else. There are many examples of that.

But I think human personality can be measured, but it takes many angles, many triangulations to start approximating truths.

BTW, I loved the Republican cut -- no, I am not Republican, I am much worse.

Also, I think the Myer-Brigg, though many are fond of it has been found lacking except by those that are pro-Meyer-Brigg -- I looked into it about 15 years ago when our Dean was trying to push it down our throats. But hell, if a horoscope (as false as they are) or Biblical Myths (as false as they are) help you understand yourself, then what the hell, right?

Yael said...

OK, Sabio, in good fun I will bite. What can be worse than a Republican?

Sabio Lantz said...

I try not to talk politics on religious sites. Religion divides us far enough. Black and White worlds in religion and politics are abundant.

Yael said...

Oooo. Forgive me for making a joke. Religion and politics must be serious, very serious, oh so serious. Yes siree. How could I forget. Let me guess, you're a former evangelical?

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Yael,

In my town we have had families stop associating with our over both politic and religion. My kids stop seeing their friends (the kids of those people) because those people tell them to stop associating.

And after telling Jewish friends that I did not think Jews were chosen in ANY sense, they also get cold and stop associating.

But my world is "civil" compared to my previous experiences. In Pakistan, where I used to live, friends got tortured for their political views, and I saw riots where people died for their political ones.

Yeah, you are right, what the hell, what is the big deal? Glad you live in such an open community.

Luke said...

Sabio,

I see you raising two objections if i read you correctly (and that's always a big if ;-))

1. there should be some way to distill the objective in a myth.

there is! hermeneutics and exegesis! "Intro to Biblical Studies" by Steve Moyise is a concise intro. Short but does the job... i think i may need to re-read it myself!

2. Truth without modifier.

you are correct, forgive me. i was trying to write concise (a new thing for me) and failed. let me explain the core of my argument:

i view truth and reality as experienced in the following ways:
1. Personally (subjective truth)
2. Theoretically: measured, categorized, and deconstructed for reproducible universal facts (objective truth)
3. the way it actually is (Absolute Truth or big "T" truth).

this stems from my existentialist leanings, particularly the rubric set forth by Martin Buber in his book I/Thou. Buber states we view the world primarily as I/It. this view deals with utility and binary results. something is either useful to me or it is not. While this method is dependable, i find it lacking.

I/Thou is experiencing the totality of something that is beyond words. This the experience of the difference and the interconnectedness of you and something/one else that is beyond space and time. much like you seeing your mother in the garden or your transcendental sneeze episode.

that's where i'm coming from in terms of story, reality, and truth. there are other rubrics but i find this one the most full and beautiful.

Yael said...

Sabio,
I just figured you would come back with a snappy retort so I could laugh and say 'good one'.

I hear you about people's responses, lost a best friend when she became a 'born again' conservative and could no longer tolerate having a 'lib' for a friend. Even though I was always careful to not talk politics with her my lack of reverence for God, the American flag and apple pie were too much for her to bear it seems.

People are people, everyone wants to think they're special. Our book says we're chosen, Christian's book says they're chosen. If you wrote a book, you too could claim to be chosen. It wouldn't be so bad if everyone claiming to be chosen would follow it up with chosen to contribute something actually useful to society.

As far as open community, I'm going to read that as coming laced with a good bit of sarcasm.

dreadpiratescetis said...

I be pondering that discussion for a few days now and stumbled across this here scrawling by Augustine:

Before experiencing God you thought you could talk about God: when you begin to experience God you realize that what you are experiencing you cannot put into words.

Fer ye nonbelievers out there, if ye not like the term God, substitute with a term like "truth" "existence" or "the vast and endless sea." Or Rum. Rum works well on all counts. Yar!

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Pirate & Luke

Your comment gets at the heart of a major interest of mine. And it makes me wonder if we agree. Or if Luke agrees. So let me fumble and see if I can write it. I will take your liberty and substitute "Existence" in your saint's sentence.

"Before experiencing Existence you thought you could talk about Existence:
-Augustine"


But hmmm, how would that work? Instead, I would say:

"After experiencing Existence I thought I could talk about Existence:"
-- Sabio



Then your saint says,
"when you begin to experience Existence you realize that what you are experiencing you cannot put into words."
- Augustine


But I would say:

"when I begin to experience Existence I realize that what I am experiencing takes great effort to put into words but I am compelled."
-- Sabio


So here are the questions:
(1) Do you think I could know "Existence" as well as you without your doctrine?
(2) (I am going to assume that both you and Luke reply "Yes" to number 1 -- and are an exception in the average Christian community) Then if YES to number 1, do you think that we can tweek systems of others whose systems are radically different than ourselves to bring them closer to truly understanding and participating in Existence by tweeking within their own system?

I, of course, think affirmative for both. But if you also agree, then come question 3:

(3) Is it not more important to understand the system of the other and make appropriate tweeks, if you have that special connection with that person than to try and convert them to your system? (alluding to the pirate's call for plank walking for those that do on his site)

If we agree on 1, 2 & 3, then what should we call such a set of beliefs?
But that could be a big if -- I await your replies.

Hope I was clear -- this is a difficult subject -- especially for one as swashed in Rum as I.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Yael
I must confess, to teach a people that they are "called" or "special" always implicitly implies that others aren't no matter how noble the cause or calling to which one feels it motivates them. I think it is a dangerous and bad meme.
I know it can be a sensitive issue, for it is a favorite mechanism for tribes to hold themselves together and to avoid inter-tribal marriage.

Curious Yael -- I forgot if you support inter-tribal marriage or would you encourage your children first and foremost to stay in the tribe because such a marriage is "easier"?

Sabio Lantz said...

(1) Obviously I am not talking about just Bible myths, I am talking about any myths. Heck I am talking about any literature. For I treat the all the same. It sounds like your book will only work for the Bible. But I shall look at it.
All myths have messages or morals, to test that if a moral is true is tough. No exegesis method or hermeneutics will help. Reality is the test.

(2) Let me rephrase you to see if I get what you are saying.

"I view TRUTH as having three definitions:
1. Subjective Truth
2. Objective Truth
3. Absolute Truth"


Number three is the slippery thing. People speak of Absolute truth using their Subjective Truth and implying Objective Truth but run from testing when caught and scream, "Everything is Subjective". That is how I see this played out time and again.

I too, like you:
a) value relationship
b) see the limits of arrogant claims of encompassing knowledge
c) see the limits of reductionist thinking which ignores relationship and function
d) see the value in virtues
e) understand the feeling of awe and inspiration
f) know that understanding interconnectedness is crucial to wisdom

Yet I can do all that without the need to think of something "beyond space and time" -- that is your myth. I get that but see it as totally unnecessary for what we agree on. But I don't hold it against you. I only object when that view re-inforces the centuries old sacred hypocrisies and theologies of separation and snobbish specialness, "called-ness".

See my mother in the garden and the transcendental sneeze were interesting mind phenomena but they spoke more of me and nothing of a reality beyond time and space. Here we disagree in our models.

So I don't want to think we both don't value the same. You just have a very different preference for how you express it and what type of clubs you form around your expressions.

I understand that you find your myths most full and beautiful. I contend that if you were raised Hindu or Muslim you'd be spouting their myths too. Or if you had been raised by loving Atheists and found fruitful ways of capturing their realities, you'd be an Atheist too. I think you are an accidental Christian. Yes, you may quote me. It is a compliment.

I know is sounds condescending, but it isn't. I think I am describing the human condition. I am just trying to limit to habits and memes that reinforce exclusivism -- intentional or incidentally.

Hope that made sense.
I don't expect you do agree, but I wanted to be clear on our overlaps and differences. Do you think I have them right? (man, this was verbose, sorry)

Yael said...

Hi Sabio,
It is a simplified view of chosen that makes people grab onto it as a source of pride. There is the idea that we were chosen to be the canary in the mine shaft. When we die, it is a sign for others not to think twice about the direction they're headed. Is that some great thing? I don't think so. History certainly doesn't support this,

We all have roles in life we fulfill for which we can also make the claim we were chosen. It's only a matter of chosen for what purpose. Anyway, I don't get the resentment about this concept. That some people distort it, what is new? People are good at distorting pretty much everything but that doesn't mean we throw it all out the window.

As far as intermarrying goes. Statistics would have one of my sons intermarrying. I guess time will tell. It might or might not be easier for my sons to marry Jews. It depends on the person. I just hope that I will always be the most religious person in my family.

My ex isn't Jewish; nor is he religious, I think he considers himself agnostic, many of my friends have non-Jewish partners, some of them have non-Jewish kids. All of them are good people and we have a lot of fun hanging out together. The Orthodox of all religions would shudder in horror at the 'godless' lot of us, but who cares?

Sabio Lantz said...

Hey Yael,

Well, it looks like we disagree on a few things, but correct me if I am wrong:

(1)"We all have roles in life" -- I don't belief in life being a play with a director. So if you mean we all have roles just like a bacteria has a role then you said nothing profound. If you mean it in a fate kind of way, I strongly disagree. Which did you mean?

(2) There is NO sense in which the Jews are chosen. It was used to justify kingdoms in the past -- that was its purpose. People are not distorting it now, they are just repeating it. Time to shed the lie. Liberals, like yourself, try to put a nice coat on it and want to keep it because, well, it was used so long, it is part of the tribe's identity. But sometimes it is time to grow up and stop the foolishness and just leave the old bad symbols behind. Sort of like the American myth of our great Destiny is such an animal.

But I find it very interesting that you said, "I just hope that I will always be the most religious person in my family."

That made me smile. And I generally love your tone in your notes here on Lukes blog -- you sound fascinating. I will take the last comment to say you see the quirkiness behind your religiosity. That , I get ! But perhaps you did not mean that. Did you?

You, like Luke, seem extremely inclusive and universal. I wish all the religious folks of the world were like you all.

dreadpiratescetis said...

Sabio, ye scrawled "I must confess, to teach a people that they are "called" or "special" always implicitly implies that others aren't no matter how noble the cause or calling to which one feels it motivates them. I think it is a dangerous and bad meme."

Even me parrot squawked at that one! It shows a really poor understanding as to what it means to be called. Ye have it because Christians (and other 'called' folk) misunderstand it.

The verb used "to call" is the Heb. qara and the Greek Kaleo used to described naming (Gen. 3:20, Luke 1:60). In addition there be a call or calling in a sense of divine commission or vocation as seen in the prophets (Isa 6:1-13, Jer 1:1-10, Ezek 1:1-28, Exod. 3-4:17). A consistent feature of a call be the reluctance of the person in the OT whereas the NT people just up and go when called by Christ.

Calls are also extended to the entire community, like Israel being a nation of priests (Exod 19:6). Gar! Paul in the epistles takes this concept and states that to be a member of the Christian community is to have received a divine call and enter into the "gathered community" which be the church!

Here be the shot from the monkey. The call is to be a servant to others. We are called not to be over or under, but in service seeking the healing and reconciliation of the world. Yer correct in saying that religion does a lot to divide us but can that really be religion? If religion is here to unite what be it when it divides?

Luke said...

Sabio,

"1) Do you think I could know "Existence" as well as you without your doctrine?

yes.


"(2) (I am going to assume that both you and Luke reply "Yes" to number 1 -- and are an exception in the average Christian community)

we are?! how would you know this? sounds like this is based on subjective experience. my latest post seems to counter that claim, but i'll go along.

Then if YES to number 1, do you think that we can tweek systems of others whose systems are radically different than ourselves to bring them closer to truly understanding and participating in Existence by tweeking within their own system?"

yes. my Jesuit religion teacher from elementary school was brought into a PTA and was yelled at by the parents for teaching other religions. he stated that "the best way to know your own religion is be looking at others." I think that's a correct claim! we see another way of looking at the world, notice the similarities, the differences, and let it inform our view.

"(3) Is it not more important to understand the system of the other and make appropriate tweeks, if you have that special connection with that person than to try and convert them to your system? (alluding to the pirate's call for plank "

no. you don't make the appropriate tweeks to their system, you make it to your own. my wife always says "you can't change other people, you can't only change how you react to them." i can only hope to get my view right and my interactions true. they may follow my example through our relationship, see how my actions and thoughts inform their own, but there's no need for unity of belief, only of relationships.

take you for instance. i feel no need to try to convert you to my way of thinking or to "accept Jesus into your heart." i find you interesting and your thoughts sharpen my own and make me re-examine my tradition and not take things for granted. it makes me be a "Christian on Purpose" not an accidental one ;-)

i think you maybe right in that claim, but we'll never know. i would like to think i'd be a philosopher and artist where or whatever culture and context i find myself in. we'll never know.

Luke said...

Yael,

beautiful way to articulate "the call."

DPS,

AHOY! yeah dawg, i think you're right. we miss understand our call... i wrote about that in my doctrine paper on the church, which is on this blog part one of my ordination paper... i changed it in real time and didn't post up the new part one... check it out sometime!

Yael said...

Sabio,
I wrote out a response to you in a bit of a hurry but alas, it is too long for the comment section here and I just don't have time to cut it down to size. I copied and pasted it to my own blog so it can still be viewed.

A bit of a pain I know and my apologies to Luke for doing this.

I'm probably off the computer now until Saturday evening. So much to do with my ex returning from a year in Iraq this evening.

The short response, yes, Sabio, you read my comment about desiring to always be the most religious person in my family correctly. :)

Anglican Gurl said...

"BTW, I loved the Republican cut -- no, I am not Republican, I am much worse."

Oh no, it was not a cut. My husband is a Republican and very involved in the local chapter. I am not. Like you, I am much worse ;). Thank you for providing your story, it seems many children like my son and how you were seem to slip through the cracks if a good parent is not there to speak up on their behalf. I did not catch the humor in your response and misread you. Please accept my apology.

Sabio Lantz said...

I must say, all your defenses for the word "Called" are not convincing to me. For still, you feel you are different from those not called. And you feel you are specially called by the creator of the universe, as opposed to all the rest of us. This is silliness to me. But then your scriptures predict (cleverly) that it would be silliness to me.

I continue to find this reasoning as well as the sanctification cloak highly dangerous.

I guess we all just disagree on this one.

Luke said...

Sabio,

I feel different just as a miner would feel different from a mechanic who feels different from an accountant. now i'm confusing call and vocation on purpose here, i think there is a difference. vocation is like your job, a call is something else, something inherent in you that you will do anyway. like my mom is called to be a subversive and non anxious presence in her context. subversive as she was a mechanic in a small town and non anxious as she doesn't fret and worry about being "different" she just gets the job done, does what she has to do. this is a calming effect on those around her and she seems to attract anxious people as friends.

there are instances of those out there whose vocation and call are integrated as i've met nurses and doctors who are called just as I feel called to do this. i've met mechanics who were called as well. from hearing you talk, i feel you have a call too. we all have calls and they are all different. not over and above... as for the sanctification cloak... dude... it's all sanctified! no separation of the secular and sacred, everything is illuminated! needs no cloak over it! in fact, i think we agree here, that any cloak we put on it will be the wrong one (wrong fit, bad color, i'm an autumn, or reeking of hypocrisy).

this is how i understand call. has it be used as a weapon to beat others down? you bet! but what hasn't? humans are wonderfully equipped to make anything into a weapon.. that's how we evolved. the problem is when our urban life doesn't match up with the current context.. our evolution is still stone age even though we're living in the space age. i've been watching a great PBS show called "This Emotional Life" which shows the science of emotion and supports this claim (at least the evolution claim, not the called claim).

I guess that's my own belief, you aren't required to believe it. i guess i am not a behaviorist in this respect as i believe we all have something that we're born with that we're really good at. something inherent in our personality. what can i say, I like Carl Jung!