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Stuart W. Mirsky
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Entries in Skepticism (1)


Subjects and Objects

A consideration of the differences between subjects and objects and why awareness of these states seems to exert a conflicting, and seemingly irreconcilable, pull on our thinking.

. . . the world stands before us, those of us with the right systems of course, and it is that world in which we live, in which we find ourselves when we open our eyes. But sometimes some of us take an extra step, especially among the subspecies of primates that we belong to, and then we become aware of this very fact of awareness itself. We think about how the entire world we encounter through our sensory faculties, our remembered experiences and the pictures we build of these, in what we sometimes call our mind’s eye, when we imagine or plan or seek to make sense of the things we recall, is really just our awareness of it. Subtract awareness and we are as inert as a stone, or as a mechanical device which moves through the agency of others and not by its own volition. Nothing is known by a stone and so, for the stone, nothing is.

And now we think here is the truth of it. We are, in the end, subjects and everything else around us is . . . what? Objects only, objects of our experiences. The only reality, it begins to seem to us, is the reality of ourselves, of this moment in which we perceive or remember, or think about the things we perceive or remember. And this now gains a significance for us that has the power to change how we view the world. No longer, we think, are we fellow objects in a world of objects, fellow objects, that is, which are members of a small class of those objects that just happen to have the feature of being aware. Now it seems to us, or to many of us who go down this path, that there is a specialness at work, that the unique trait which our sub-class of objects has and which is denied the others, sets us apart from the rest in some unique and unbridgeable way. We are the observers, they the observed.

Carried to extremes some who think this way may begin to question whether or not even the other members of the small class of objects which give the appearance of a subjective life are, in fact, subjects at all. Can they really be subjects as we are if the only real evidence we have of them is as observed objects? And so the explicit discovery of our own subjectivity leads eventually to the idea that being a subject is outside the world the subject has its subjectivity about, the world of which the subject is aware. We imagine ourselves as a source of light shining on this or that object to illumine it in the glow of our observation and then passing on. . . .

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