Thursday, January 24, 2008

Is There or Isn't There?

I've been wondering whether there is any objective reality at all. This isn't a new line of thought for me. My mother studied philosophy and she was fond of conversations that went as follows:

Her (pointing to my blue sweater): What color would you say that was?
Me: Blue.
Her: I agree. But is there any way to be certain that we're seeing the same thing? That there exists an essential, indisputable blueness? Isn't it possible that you could be seeing what I would call red?
Me (giving her a look): Whatever.

But she had a point and I've been thinking about it on and off ever since I was a teenager. Both the existence and, even assuming its existence, the verifiability of objective reality are leaps of faith. There's no guarantee that anything is objectively the case. It could all be what we see, what we've made unconscious social contracts to agree on, what we expect and what we'd like to think we're seeing. It's certainly possible that there's no underlying truth at all and instead, Rashomon-like, nothing but individual perceptions, sometimes in concert, sometimes wildly divergent.

The reason I've been revisiting this question lately is the current political campaign. I have several political-junkie friends, all very knowledgeable, smart, open-minded, thoughtful and honest. Nevertheless, whenever we watch a debate or listen to a speech, we all come away with markedly different takes on who seemed sleazy, who seemed well- or ill-prepared, who carried the day. And our different takes are totally in alignment with what we already think of the various candidates. The arena of political campaigning and personal reactions thereto may be too easy a target where objective reality and underlying truth are concerned, but there doesn't seem to be much of either anywhere in sight.

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