Read this post at your own risk – I revisit the open wound of objective/subjective…
Words and concepts (knowledge and knowing, meaning and wisdom) are not static in their conception in the minds of individuals. The does not directly lead to notions of an abstract (or worse, subjective) nature of the entities or concepts considered. Instead, it states that the capacity of comprehension is relative in the minds of the individuals only. Most thinkers mistake the subjective nature of interpretation and instead, reflect the inadequacy of interpretation in aligning with the “what is” aspect of objective entities. I’ll define “what is” as the element, notion, concept, or occurrence that possesses objective attributes external of what I/we may think of it…and out thinking is only relevant to the degree that it aligns with the nature of the objective entity. Many interactions with objective elements result in subjective entities (which do not in themselves possess “what is” attributes) – my feelings looking at a situation may be different from yours…subjectivity happens on this level.
When we deal with issues like learning (or teaching), we are attempting to move individuals toward some type of target or goal. Perhaps we wish to foster creative/critical thinking. Or the steps in operating a forklift, or flambéing an entrée. Whether the task is physical, mental, metaphysical or emotional, we have an intended target to which we desire our learners to aspire or achieve. In a similar sense, we generally have certain values to which we would assign “objective status”: tolerance, value and dignity of all people, honesty, etc. These elements become subjective only when applied by an individual in light of personal thoughts/considerations (i.e. an individual’s view of honesty may change when they find the wallet of a very wealthy person – which still retains the objective nature of the element (honesty), but becomes subjective in the application). The question that then follows is “what is the value of an objective element if it becomes subjective in application? The simple answer relates to it’s capacity to form connections in a network (a concept I’ll discuss a bit latter in this post).
Learners don’t enter our learning spaces devoid of logic or experience. They enter with a plethora of understandings that can be nurtured, connected, or de-constructed through the learning. To amplify the challenge of learning, learners bring emotions, learning approaches, preferences, and beliefs based on previous experiences or information acquired indirectly through reading or comments from others. The complexity of the learner and the learning process results in many defining it as an unknowable concept, and instead state that the process is subjective.
I will be direct (okay, rude) in stating that seeing the world as subjective is inadequate in today’s society. Complexity requires simplicity…or as some would say, simplicity is the ultimate complexity (simplicity involves removing the elements that aren’t directly relevant (and in Einstein’s logic – no more than only those). While that may sound insane, I believe our tendency to misappropriate comprehension and misapply logic based on the derivative of an element, not the core element, is the source of substantial confusion. Calling something subjective says “okay, thinking about this hurts…I’ll abandon thought and appeal to the objective ideal of subjectivity…in this manner, I don’t have to see the broad rich array of the painting, and instead can focus on simply the element I choose to perceive as valuable.”. In this manner, the thinker is largely saying, “the concept of objective elements possesses too many implications; I am more comfortable choosing only one objective concept (namely subjectivity) and use that to minimize the mental anguish of seeing elements as objective and then tackling the hard task of capturing the meaning of objectivity”.
If I’m part of a group that witnesses an accident, I will describe it in a certain manner (based partly on what I saw, what’s going on in my head at the time (i.e. the existing flow of thought and the manner in which the accident disrupts my thought flow and how quickly I am able to juxtapose the shape of the new occurrences external to myself and exit my thought flow), and where I’m standing). Each individual who views the accident has a different version of what happened. This is called perspective and, while often confused with, it has no relation to subjectivity in this instance. In essence the “what is” is the combined views of all of our insights (though in certain instances, as in node connections in network-formation, the by-product created is itself subjective by being comprised of individual objective nodes. We are now getting into the complexity of exploring an event through our senses versus an element itself…and thus we enter the logic loop of is it an actual event if we cannot explore it via our senses…etc. That is a discussion for another day). The accident happened; it was someone’s fault (or the weather perhaps). An investigation may not turn up all of the reasons (or adequately create the reality “that is/was”. Some certainly feel this is the case with the JFK assassination.
Why do I care if elements are objective or subjective? Why do I keep referring to this simple, yet age-old philosophical discussion? In order to move to a networked view of learning, we need to see learning nodes (people, software, concepts, or ideas) as possessing some consistent state (note, I didn’t say static) that has less malleability than is typically ascribed to subjective entities. Connections, and neuroscience support this strongly, are enabled when certain nodes connect with others based on the unique attributes of each node (i.e. each node “is” something that is not directly influenced by the attempted connection – in fact the connection can only happen because the node “is”…and meaning is derived from the connection (or recombination) of certain key nodes).
If something can’t possess “what is” attributes, then it cannot be of value in the process of connection forming. A node can form connections based mainly on its intrinsic (objective) attributes. The related by product of connecting several different nodes may create an entirely different entity. The combined objective elements of each node amplify and create something new. But the core attributes of each node do not change. They retain their “what is” attributes. In the same sense, a node may play different roles in the formation of different networks. Again, the capacity of a node to favor key attributes in certain relationships is not an indication of subjectivity, but rather an expression of its ability to adapt and play varying roles as an indication of its holistic makeup. If a node were subjective, in a network sense, it would cease to have substantial meaning and value. To muddy the waters even more: the recombination (and thereby creation of different networks that mean different things to different people) of (objective) nodes is the basis for subjectivity. A network cannot provide subjective interpretation unless it first possesses objectivity (i.e. the “what is” state).