RE: Objective versus subjective reality: which is primary?

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Wed Jul 20 2005 - 11:43:05 MDT


What you're pointing out is basically the (in)famous "hard problem of
consciousness", isn't it?

I addressed this in an essay a while back

but that essay seems to have failed to communicate to almost anyone. I'm
about ready to try to write a fresh formulation of my views on this issue,
but I don't have time today -- hopefully tonight or later in the week ;-)

As I said, I think a proper understanding of the relation between subjective
and objective reality is a prerequisite for a clear understanding of
consciousness (including the "hard problem"), but it's not sufficient...
it's just a prerequisite...

Just one more comment: From a subjective point of view, there are aspects of
reality that cannot be captured by objectivist ideas (e.g. the raw feel of
pain, as you note). On the other hand, from an objective point of view,
there are aspects of reality that cannot be captured by subjective ideas:
for instance, quantum reality, which is totally out of the scope of human
subjective experience....

-- Ben

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf Of Norm
> Wilson
> Sent: Wednesday, July 20, 2005 12:49 PM
> To:
> Subject: RE: Objective versus subjective reality: which is primary?
> This is by no means a rigorous argument, but I feel that it
> contains something important about the relationship between
> subjectivity and objectivity.
> Consider the following experiment: You are told that ten people
> are connected to electrodes and that pressing any of ten buttons
> will administer an electric shock to one of the subjects. Each
> person is also connected to an array of sophisticated monitoring
> equipment, which produces various readouts about the physical
> states of their brains. You start pressing buttons and each
> person receives a shock and reacts in a predictable way. You
> find that the subjects' reactions are dictated by the electrical
> states of their brains, and eventually you even learn how to
> predict each subject's reaction in advance based on data from
> previous readouts. However, one thing you did not predict was
> the painful experience you felt when you pressed the sixth
> button. For some reason, pressing that button was very different
> than pressing any of the others, and none of the readouts could
> have told you that in advance. What is it about person number 6
> that makes him or her so special? As yo!
> u sift through the data you find that each person in the
> experiment has their own life history, personality, genetic
> makeup, memories, self-concept, etc., all of which play a part in
> determining their reaction to the shock. Still, search as you
> may, there's no hidden brain circuitry that fundamentally
> distinguishes person number 6 from the others.
> Of course, the experiment is less interesting when examined
> objectively. Given the prior knowledge that person number 6 is
> the one pressing buttons, it's predictable that after pressing
> the 6th button this person would experience something different.
> However, in offering this explanation, the subject "YOU" has been
> replaced by "person number 6." Objectively, this substitution
> makes sense and does not make any difference, while from your
> perspective it makes all the difference in the world. What is
> this strange connection between "YOU" and person number 6? It
> seems to me that starting from the subjective perspective (and
> from where else can you start?), there are aspects of the
> subjective perspective that cannot be derived objectively.
> Norm Wilson

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