Monday, October 7, 2013

Our Collective Subjective: Or, There's No Such Thing as Objective Truth

From the universe's point of view, we are of no more concern than any other atom, planet or speck of dust. The universe does not distinguish the violent ending of a human life from the snapping of a tulip's stem. There is no Universe or God of Tulips who is going to prevent you from clipping those buds in late spring. Because the universe doesn't care. It is indifferent.

In Secular Wholeness, David Cortesi observes: 
This universe regards the murder of one human by another exactly the way it regards an avalanche falling on a human, or a virus infecting one: with sublime indifference. Avalanches fall; viruses infect; mammals prey on one another-- it's what they do
Because the Universe is not a conscious, all-encompassing being--at least there's no indication of this so far--it negates the possibility of an objective reality or truth. As humans, we can only know truth from our own individual and collective perspectives. But as insignificant beings in a vast universe without (so far) other conscious life, there is no objective, fixed and ultimate, truth. 

Even if another conscious species were to come along, that species would be subjected to their own collective subjective. Objective reality, or truth, cannot exist because there is no One who can see every view point. There is no One who is omnipotent, though it would be vastly convenient if there were. 

Does this negate human morality? Far from it. Cortesi continues:
Now, this absolutely does not mean that we should be indifferent! On the contrary, desiring to be moral, trying to be compassionate, and urging other people to be moral and compassionate are also things that we do quite as naturally and with better outcomes for our own survival.
What it means is that there is no objective morality; there is no right and wrong beyond what humanity ascribes as right and wrong. However, the morality invented by humanity will only be from humanity's subjective viewpoint. Because you are human and I am human, This Means You!, we are accountable to our species' definition of morality. In fact, it is this very collective subjective which creates our morality, a code for living.

Religion will tell you that there is only one right way to to be and do. Which we know to be completely false as religion has failed, and continues to fail, at it's own morality as well as the collective morality. 

Additionally, as Cortesi points out, it is the refinement of this collective morality which increases our chances of survival as a species, though not necessarily as individuals. Another excuse to be immoral? Possibly. But consider your probable chances of a happy life if you choose an illegal occupation over a legal one. Consider the quality of your close relationships if you continuously lie and manipulate, instead of treating others with compassion. Yes, bad things do happen to good people, but morality substantially increases your chances of happiness.
What does the subjective collective mean for you? First, it means you cannot view the world in black and white, good and evil. Those are concepts we have created. The same way we have created countless gods, civilizations, and poetry. You will have to look at the evidence and you will have to think. You will have to use all of the tools at your disposal to come up with what you should do, how you should behave, how you can help others. You will have to make the decision. 

Second, it means you cannot judge other humans based on an objective moral code. Judging and convicting criminals is part of our society, but the rules by which we pass judgement cannot be set in stone. In every case, it is the betterment of the species that has to be considered, the collective subjective. As we grow and access more knowledge of the physical universe, our understanding of right and wrong changes. Our collective subjective changes. 

It is by coming together and facing the indifferent universe united as a species that we will progress.