Article > Perceiving the flaws of perception?
Description :: Postmodernism, subjectivity, and relativism are hardly well understood, and with reason!
It seems a great injustice has been done to the philosophical arguments for postmodernism and other forms of relativism in thought, and very little can be done to remedy the problem.

To not re-use examples given by Ensis, we can instead look at a friend's response to the suggestion that reality, on some level, may be subjective: "gravity doesn't stop affecting me just because I don't want it to anymore!" It should not be difficult for the discerning reader to find equivalent examples in Ensis' articles.

The misconception here (by outsiders) is that proponents of relative truth are making statements that are absolutely true, which is absolutely untrue. (Perhaps Ensis should learn to recognize a joke? In any case, you might consider the word 'absolute' to here mean 'global', if such a thing can be talked about. I am making a global statement about the localization of a relativists' declarations. Yes, it's irony. Yes, it's a joke. And yes, it's also necessary to state this way, if it's to be stated at all.) When a relativist says "reality is in the eye of the beholder," he or she is not stating that anyone can mold reality into whatever they like, whenever they like, on a global scale; nor are they declaring that their view of reality should (or even could!) affect yours directly ("view of reality" also meaning "local reality" or simply "truths which they will assume/believe, realizing their potential for untruth".) Believing this to be the case can be best explained as falling for a straw-man argument.

Indeed, how will you prove to a postmodernist that your vision of absolute truth is true? How will you penetrate their world, their mind, to make your meaning apparent? Can you, in fact, bridge the gap by sheer force of will? Perhaps if you believed you could, you could -- but you won't, unless their local reality makes it so, and they simply give in.

Postmodernism is simply an evolution of modernism, not a revolution: rather than believing solely that our rational minds are capable of understanding all concepts, of pinning down the root causes of every event, and able to peer into the mind of the great watchmaker in the sky, postmodernists simply extend our understanding of our own selves to account for our intrinsic weaknesses. We cannot know everything fully, yet we must find a way to function with what we have; we cannot be sure we have totally verified our senses, our facts: we are easily deceived.

Our minds are logic machines. We input and store observations about the world around us, even about our own mental processes. (Can you not hear yourself thinking, in some language you could record?) We collect predicates upon which we reason by deduction or induction. Taking the concept of a Von Neumann machine, the very data we collect forms part of the process that analyzes the data: our perceptions influence our future perceptions and methodologies. What we know, what we believe, are just as much a part of who we are as how we think through problems, how we critique, how we decide. The feed-back loop is one way through which we can account for our possibly flawed perceptions: we adapt to be how and what we perceive, to become an efficient human being.

Are our perceptions flawed? Can we know for sure that our eyes are not, in fact, calibrated perfectly or our social senses honed as best possible? Can we trust the very systems we use to sense, when it comes to testing ourselves? We have an inherent conflict of interests, of sorts. We have no guaranteed outside calibration device: we might be crazy, with no way of finding out what's normal. Perhaps your deity is your plumb line, or maybe you're just talking to yourself at night confusing yourself further. How can you tell? Does the voice disagree with you, or are you just trying to prove that it's not you by faking a disjoint thought?

Relativists are not arguing that there is no 'true' world, no true facts. A postmodern is not telling you that you can both have your own points of view in a clean, sanitized environment in which our imperfections won't cause strife. Wars happen; we disagree, and we feel the need to resolve our differences. Our society, as a whole, is attempting to self-calibrate by interactions between individual, imperfect, partially-blind entities. An emergent property of our system is a view of the true world: fractured, nuanced, but attempting to reflect that which is outside of us.

Each in our own mind(s), we take what facts and reasoning we have available to us, and form a hopefully self-consistent worldview within which we can work. We may be tempted to ignore the effects of gravity, but falling flat on our backs will likely cure us of our temporary misconception. We know there was pain, and we react to it. Our worldview changes to be more comfortable to us, until we're at ease with our environment. Little more is required: some people will go further, being ill at ease with the rules of physics as written so far, seeking simpler, more elegant rules. We cannot seek truth, for how will we know it? We seek comfort in our knowledge, ease in our sense of the world. We have found truth when we are at peace with what we see in our mind's eye, false as it might be.

Is the world then blue, because I imagine it to be so? Of course not! But no more can you prove to me that your view is perfect than I can the reverse. Postmodernism isn't about universal truth: it's about pragmatic local truths, truths that are comfortable to us, truths that help us get through our day-to-day lives.

Is postmodernism universally true? Can I prove that your perceptions are flawed and that you should accept the inevitability of your misconceptions? Or are some of you perfectly in-touch with the "real" world, sensing every predicate, seeing every conclusion in true light? I cannot prove this. I can, however, sense on a very visceral level the elusiveness of truth in my mind. I can, from what I sense, decide to accept this form of truth. I can, from my own, flawed understanding, extend what I sense to others and accept that they too may be confused, misled, or simply comfortable with a truth other than my own (assuming I even understand what they see as truth!)

Postmodernism is not about stating that there are self-molded realities floating around in each of us. Not exactly, at least. It is simply the realization that we cannot guarantee that we have direct, clean access to the "real world" upon which our perceptions are based. Is it the Matrix? Is it God? Am I God? It doesn't matter -- pragmatically, we work through each day based on our view of reality, our predicates, our axioms, our assumptions about the world. Does seeing these as fragile change much of anything? Effectively, no. We'll still rely on what we have, out of instinct and necessity. Does it change the fact that we still can't convince people that our truth is better than theirs? In any worldview, this is a problem: even the most logical dissertation can be shrugged off by a simple "I still don't believe that." Does it change the fact (locally, of course) that each of us is obstinately opinionated? Of course not! But perhaps this perception of our own perception better models the reality (global) of our situation. In that sense, it is no more harmful to accept this view than not to, and it is perhaps more accurate, globally (if you care about such things.)

And now for the seemingly crazy-talk (in case you've not been getting that feeling already, that is):
Postmodernism is a self-consistent system for self-consistent, localized truth systems in individual entities believing themselves to be possibly out of synchronization with universal truth. But in a sense, all of this is true, one way or another. We form reality, we are part of it. Our truths, our lies, our confusion fuse together to form the fabric of our universe.

Our political debates are a beautiful process: taking individuals and attempting to solve a set of universal logical puzzles: "what is the ideal healthcare system?", "is there an ideal organization of powers?", "is there one true god?"

The universal truth, in a way, is determined by our own beliefs. On a global scale, the universe will answer these questions by finding the stability point in our constantly shifting sea of answers. Stick around for another eternity, and perhaps you'll find the answers you're looking for. Maybe you are the answer?

(Naturally, we don't expect non-postmodernists to agree with this article, and perhaps not even to understand it as anything but gibberish: to do so might imply the truth of postmodernism, and the harmonics resulting from such a discovery could be terribly destructive to their existing self-consistent worldviews, whatever those might be.)

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Owned by Unordained - Created on 10/08/2003 - Last edited on 10/17/2003