33. Objectivity

     The objective totality of a situation is an imaginary, subjective construct. There is no circumventing such constructs, which are images in the human cognitive domain. Evaluating the adequacy of a cognitive model cannot be a question of holding it up alongside the world-in-itself for an inspection of the fit. Our intuitive understanding of the adequacy of cognition is therefore tacitly based on the assumption that the world really is as we personally see it. This permits us to compare the cognitive domains of other minds to our own standard. When we attempt to evaluate the human cognitive domain, we question the adequacy of the standard itself. This does not imply, however, that adequacy has no meaning.

     A creature can get along quite well without what a human would regard as a global or objective image of the world, because its response to the environment happens to work, in the sense that the life of the species is ensured even if that of the individual is not. The species possesses a knowledge that is tuned to particular conditions in relation to which this knowledge is viable. It wastes no effort on a program more sophisticated than required. Were these conditions different, the knowledge might be different.

     A creature's representation of the world that is thus locally adapted may appear to us sparse and selective-- like a digitized image that only indicates selective rough features-- for example, large areas of light and dark, sudden movement, straight lines, etc. This is far from what appears to the human eye as an image of the scene. However, such an impoverished representation might be sufficient for the creature's situation. By human standards, its world would be a simple propositional system based upon a few axioms.

     The downside of locally adapted systems is that the conditions, on which the rules of the game are based, might change. The constancy of the system depends on the equilibrium of the environment. This general arrangement works well for species that have massive numbers of progeny (the species, if not the individual, survives) in a stable environment, whereas to be globally adapted is more important for species that place heavier reliance on the individual's survival in a variable environment. For instance, mammals maintain an internal temperature in spite of ambient changes, and so are more globally adapted than cold-blooded creatures.

     Relative adequacy means that the cognitive model takes more into account; the creature's knowledge is tuned to a wider variety of contingencies. It employs greater sensitivity and flexibility in its dealings with the world in order to preserve the constancy of its own identity. It places greater importance on the individual creature's cognition, which is more a product of learning and less of instinct. The simpler and more rigid the cognitive program, the more efficient and foolproof it is, but the more the organism is at the mercy of the environment. The more complex and adaptable the program, the more freedom the organism has from external contingencies, while internal consistency is a greater challenge.

     The adequacy of a model is a function of how much the model encompasses, since its range of actions depends on the variety of contingencies it is equipped to deal with. Perfect adequacy would mean a model that mapped every possible contingency to effective responses. Apart from the neurological unfeasibility of such a brain, this creature would still not be impartial. Adequacy is a measure of how a mind responds to the complexity and subtlety of the world. Impartiality is a measure of a mind's ability to engage multiple viewpoints, to transcend its own models or programs. The former addresses possible states of external reality, the latter possible states of mental organization.

     A cognitive system can be viewed as an abstract propositional structure, based on arbitrary premises. The main constraint on natural cognitive systems is viability in a selective environment. This considerably narrows the possibilities and creates a common denominator for living systems. It also greatly restricts the objectivity of organisms. This does not of itself prevent them from conceiving objectivity, nor preclude the possibility that impartiality, like adequacy, may have utility. After all, impartialness confers a freedom complementary to that of adequacy: freedom from one's particular biases.

     Linear thinking is a matter of connecting one point to another through the rules of logic. We move through mental space step by step, unable to see where we are going and sure only of the next foothold-- like blind mountain climbers with the faith that, if each step takes us further "up", we will eventually reach the top. If many ascents are made by different paths, we finish with a global knowledge of the mountain. Linear or propositional thinking may be a strategy pursued in the absence of a global picture-- or knowledge abstracted from such a picture-- but it is also the beginning of a new picture. And what is asserted at one level of cognition must be abandoned in order to create the next higher level. Individual pictels cannot retain their significance as isolated propositions if an image is to emerge from their collective ensemble. The opposing propositions that are the horns of a dilemma cannot stand as independent assertions if the paradox is to be resolved. Thesis and antithesis give way eventually to synthesis. What is required for this to happen is a shift away from the given level, in which attention vacillates between two contradictory propositions or impulses, to a meta level in which the contradiction disappears in an emerging larger picture.

     The conflicts of life force the mind painfully to higher levels of understanding, revising its models to become more encompassing, adequate, and even impartial. The more widespread holistic thinking becomes, the more individual minds are bound to converge on a commonly conceived reality-- just as differences of visual perspective tend to diminish with distance from a scene, or are better understood to arise from incidental orientation with regard to a commonly perceived real object. Throughout life the maturing consciousness recapitulates the young child's development of an objective perception of space. The drift of the evolution of consciousness-- for the human species as for the individual-- is toward a more objective representation of the world. The key to this process, ironically, is the development of the inner space of subjective consciousness, the antithesis to the primary world-creating mind. The purpose of subjective consciousness is to create a pure subject-object relationship with experience. The dynamical affective component of experience is denatured by bracketing its contents as mere objects of consciousness. For example, one becomes conscious of fear, no longer as a possessing compulsion toward a certain behavior or a belief in impending events, but rather as a configuration of sensations within the body.

     Objective consciousness is not at all the same as the naive pre-subjective awareness of the world, which it resembles and recapitulates on a higher level. Both face external reality, but the objective consciousness is a dialectical synthesis of the pre-subjective state with the skepticism of subjectivity. Objectivity and subjectivity are not opposites but partners in the evolution of mind. Objectivity is never final, but always a relative state emerging in a cycle of learning, and the adequacy of any system of thought is relative and temporary. Mind cannot finally attain to the truth-- the absolute reality of the territory-- in the singular ultimate sense it is so fond of imagining. Though it may be indefinitely refined, the map is never finished.

     Objective knowledge must be independent of the path through which it is acquired. The objective mind does not confuse map with territory. While it may rely on particular perceptions, experiences, memories or states in order to access its knowledge, it does not commit idolatry by worshipping these. Such experiences are the referents for the knowledge, merely signs for the signified, which itself remains transcendent. The mind depends on them to know that it knows what it knows, but must not mistake them for the knowledge itself. Mystical experiences and states are the concrete symbols that allow us to focus upon the ineffable, the invisible, the abstract-- the Absolute. Fingers pointing to the moon.