On the Nature of Objectivity


This essay is an expansion and explanation of the meaning of the term objectivity. It is possible to comprehensively define the term 'objectivity' (and its usage) purely in terms of the concepts of interaction/comparison.

In defining objectivity, this essay specifies a meaning for the phrase 'objective reality'. The following specification is a template that clarifies the 'subjective' to 'objective' split.

The Three Rings of Verification

To consider metaphysics is to consider the question "What is the relation between 'the world out there' and my experience of it?".

A core aspect of the question is "what is required in one's subjective experience for one to regard something as objective, and therefore as being 'real' and external to one's perceptions of it?".

In answering this latter question, (and in this way, providing some clarity about what is considered 'real'), the following three (subjective) metrics (aspects of all experience) are to be considered:.
The degree of the 'intensity': the intensity of one's experience relative to other experiences of the self.

The degree of 'consistency': the degree that aspects of the experience can be formed into 'closed consistent rings'.

The degree of 'novelty': the degree that the experience is potentially surprising, unpredictable, or novel relative to all the subjectively prior experiences of the self.

The first component, intensity, (called the first ring of verification), identifies the necessity of at least some subjective experience and interaction for something to be regarded as objective.

For example, if one were to simply declare that one has an imaginary friend named Fred, others would have very little reason to believe in the 'reality of Fred' because their only interaction and knowledge of Fred is via the claim of only one person. In this example, if one cannot see, hear, touch, smell, or detect Fred using any ordinary senses, then the 'degree of impingement' of 'Fred' upon one's 'total subjective experience' consists of only a statement of claim and an awareness of the claimant (1).

Note that the others perception of Fred is not completely absent, but is very indirect. In effect, the claimant may (apparently) see Fred, and then tell others. In that anyone else would have no direct perception aside from the claim of perception, the perception of Fred is indirect, and dependent on a trust in the assertion of the claimant.

In a similar manner that the perception of Fred is in doubt, the attempt to express something to Fred would also be in doubt. How could one know that Fred was ever aware of anything expressed towards him? In these circumstances, the sum of 'all interactions' of oneself and Fred would have a very low apparent degree of intensity. Low intensity equates to 'not very real'.

For sake of explanation, consider how the situation would be different if one could personally interact (see, touch, smell, hear, and converse) with Fred (i.e., by being in a suggestible state, under hypnosis, taking drugs, etc.). If one were to 'see' Fred often, (i.e., that the frequency of contact was high), or if Fred was somehow especially obvious in ones experience (by being very nearby, yelling loudly, etc., i.e., that the density of contact in sensory channels was high), then the intensity of the experience would be quite large (as compared to the total intensity of all other subjective experiences). As a marked 'hallucination', Fred would be considered more 'real' due to the more direct nature of one's experience.

As may be remarked, this first requirement for something to be considered as objectively real is not enough, by itself. To this degree, Fred as described to this point is still only an illusion, perhaps merely a hallucination, that only one person can see. To have some sense of contact, interaction, or perception is necessary, but it is not sufficient to consider something as objectively real.

In summary, objectivity (the reality of something in a world of experience) is in part defined in terms of the degree of the intensity of interaction. Intensity is a function of the frequency of interaction, (the number of incidences of a perception per unit of subjective time), and the density of interaction, (the number of sensory channels affected, and the subjective degree/completeness to which each channel is affected). An intensity of experience is necessary, but not sufficient, (as the first criterion) for something to be considered objectively real.

The second component, consistency, (called the second ring of verification), identifies the necessity of some type of 'closed rings' through which all interactions are consistent.

In continuation of the example above, to hear Fred say something, and then to ask what someone else heard Fred say, and they described essentially the same statement, then one would feel fairly confident that even though Fred may be a hallucination, at least it was a shared hallucination. There is a ring (triangle) of consistent interactions between Fred and oneself, Fred and another, and that other and oneself. If there were several other people present, and they all reported the same things about Fred, then the 'degree of consensus reality' increases in proportion to the number of closed and consistent rings of interactions that are so formed (one for every active triple of people present).

Furthermore, the 'type' or 'size' of the rings is also important. For example, a photograph of Fred forms a triangle of consistent comparisons of experience between the camera's view of Fred and one's own view of the camera, and one's own view of Fred. A larger degree of 'reality' is conferred upon Fred by a photograph due to the larger amount of information in each visual experience that is consistently matched (which is much larger than the information content found in the simpler linguistic statements that one may hear others make).

The triangle/ring of comparisons formed with a photograph also cross time as much as they cross space. A photograph represents Fred 'as he was' at the time the picture was taken. This can then later be compared to Fred 'as he is now'. In part, the permanence/reality of Fred is in proportion to the amount of subjective time between 'when the photograph was taken' and 'when one presently sees Fred'.

In summary, greater degrees of objectivity are proportional to the size of the closed rings of interaction (in either time or space), the number of component interactions (the amount of information) in each ring, the number of such consistent interaction rings which are formed, and the degree of diversity (the number of different types) of the rings formed (i.e., a set of interaction rings encompassing many levels and channels of perception are preferred over a set that has only a few different types of interaction). Each of these aspects/proportions (singly and together) is also necessary, but not sufficient, to regarding something as objective.

The third component, novelty, (called the third ring of verification), identifies the necessity of some type of inherent unpredictability (surprise) in all that is to be considered objective (a part of the world, and not a part of oneself).

In continuation of the example above, if Fred did nothing that one did not expect, then there would be little reason to suppose that Fred was not something in the direct control of one's own mind. For example, if Fred exhibits no novel behavior, makes no decisions of his own, performs no creative or unpredictable actions, develops no self determined properties (such as personality) that one could not have predicted beforehand, and if one always and already knew what 'Fred was going to do', then there would be no reason to regard Fred as not being some aspect of one's own subjective being. If the state of one's own knowingness of 'Fred' is so complete, how would one know that Fred was not external to oneself at all?

In part, the root meaning of 'to be objective' is to assert "whatever that thing is, it is not a part of oneself". Therefore, it is also a requirement that Fred' must exhibit aspects of being, behavior, and properties (details) that oneself cannot, and could not have predicted, expected, or otherwise known in advance. Fred has to do (and be) things that one did not expect, for one to have a sense of 'otherness' in connection to Fred. Otherwise one would not know Fred as a being not a part of oneself.

Novel and unpredictable behavior is a necessary criterion to distinguish 'reality' from 'a simulation of reality'. To declare that there is something independent of one's own mind is to ascribe to it properties and characteristics that are not of one's self, in order to make it different than the self.

For example, the properties of a rock must be discovered, and not created, if the rock is to be considered a part of 'reality'. If the self determines or specifies (i.e., by decision, choice, creativity, etc) all of the properties and characteristics of a rock (i.e., its color, weight, fine surface details, etc.), then that rock is imagined, a part of a dream, and not objective at all. A real rock must have properties and aspects that are somehow determined by the rock itself, regardless of what one may wish, expect, or choose.

Surprise is a function of the difference of expectation and realization. The degree of surprise is the (multiplicative) product of the degree of expectation and the degree of realization. One must both have an expectation (i.e. as a prediction of a subjective experience anticipated in the 'future' of the self), and some manifest realization in experience (that can be compared to one's former expectations), to determine surprise. Without a degree of expectation and a degree of realization, no comparison of surprise is possible.

If Fred's actions are somewhat unpredictable, exhibiting personality characteristics of his own (characteristics that one cannot see the origins of), then Fred is to be regarded as an 'independent being', inherently separate from self.

Any novel behavior and properties (which are not self determined) contribute to an 'objective external independent reality' of that 'thing'. An objective something will seem more real, exactly because one cannot automatically control or define it. The extent that something is not under one's own personal/subjective control (influence) is proportional to the degree that it is independent of one's own personal existence.

In summary, greater degrees of objectivity are proportional to the number of surprising details, and the degree to which they are surprising/unexpected (as measured with respect to the expectations of a 'self'). The greater the number and diversity in these interactions, and the greater the degree that they seem to be defined by criterion not affected by the choices of the self, the more 'real' that something will be with respect to oneself.

Finally, the total degree to which something is considered 'an objective part of a world' is the product of these three individual measures/degrees (rings of verification). Where any one of these three necessary and sufficient aspects is completely absent, the degree of 'objective reality' of the 'thing' is considered to be completely absent (i.e., as totally subjective or 'not real'). Only the three together are sufficient for the concept of a fundamental objectivity/reality to be defined.

Reality Via Comparisons

As a practical example of the use of the three rings of objectivity, consider the action of reading and writing posts to an Internet email group (a world of interaction) (2). Consider what would be necessary to determine that some other correspondent was in fact a real member of that email community (i.e., an objective part of the email list world).

Under first ring considerations, one may know that they have had some degree of correspondence (subjective interactions) with another member of the list. One can read posts and one can add posts to that list, (and if anyone answers or comments then one can know that one has been heard as well). With respect to the totality of all information that one can perceive using the 'sensory channel' of an Internet email box, the posts from the email list constitute a definite positive nonzero percentage of all sensory input (i.e., as a measure of relative intensity).

Under second ring considerations, one can established closed 'rings of interactions' in the form of email posts and replies. For example, someone can quote a portion of a letter that they also received from the email list and forward it back to the list, or to their own email box, at which point they can compare that 'copy' with the posts that they have received 'directly'. Correlations of this type can be extended in number where such a quoted section passes through many email forwardings before reaching one's own email box, (where several different people all send quoted mail from the list).

One could also use another channel of interaction altogether. For example, one might call another correspondent on the phone. If in listening to their discussion of the email list one finds points of correspondence which are consistent with what one has oneself perceived about that list, there would be strong grounds for believing that the list, (or rather the posts upon it), were/are real.

Under third ring considerations, one cannot (ever, even in principle) totally predict what anyone is going to say, or what type of response one will receive from the email list as a result of one's own posts. One may expect that one will receive posts from the list, and one's expectation may be met in the realization of posts 'actually subjectively perceived (i.e., read), but the potential to be surprised will always persist. The properties and characteristics of the email list are, (in the inability of oneself to know them, or determine them beforehand), therefore considered to be 'external' to oneself. If everyone on the email list wrote only and exactly what one expected them to say, and posted precisely when one felt that they would post, then one would begin to wonder if the computer was somehow reading one's mind, or that one was dreaming, or that one was going crazy and therefore hallucinating all of the posts (i.e. not seeing what is 'actually there'). Absolute and total precognition leads directly to a sense of unreality.

Considering that all three rings of verification are met (to varying but nonzero degrees) one can ascribe a fairly strong degree of reality to all of the readers upon the email list, and to the list itself. One would hope that each of the correspondents, using similar considerations, would also regard one (as the author of posts to the list) as being a real and (to some extent) free and independent personality.

Thus, in conclusion to the above metaphor, one may assert that the three rings of verification do provide a coherent, complete and realistic method of defining 'the external, objective, and independent reality'. Any perceptual experiences which (within systemic comparisons) are consistent with the three rings are necessarily regarded as 'objective' and 'not part of self'.


The definition of 'objective reality' is inherently and fundamentally based upon interaction, in the form of perception and comparisons of perception, and is therefore partially and intrinsically relative to the perceiver/interactive self, even though the definition is itself absolute. This method of consideration makes a strong implicit claim that it is possible to consistently define objectivity in terms of interaction (i.e., as partially subjective), in a manner that is coherent with the conventional assumptions associated with those terms.

Although the above presentation of a definition of objective reality uses the terms 'communication' or 'sensory channel' and 'self' as if these terms were well defined and static, it is not necessary to the definition of objectivity (as presented here) to make these assumptions. If the above definition were posited in terms of a 'self' that 'had' some 'boundary of self across which sensory information flowed' then the boundary of self would be a variable, and not at/in a/some fixed 'position' or locus.

The above definition, although presented in terms of this "world", is really general to all possible communication channels, subjective interactions, domains, realities, etc. In other words, the above three rings of verification can be used to establish the 'reality' of anything, regardless if it is apparently a part of the/this 'normal physical universe' (whatever that means) or not. Thus, this definition, by being 'domain general', is properly a component of a foundational metaphysics, which applies to all domains, and is therefore not just a part of physics per se, as a subject applied to only 'this' domain/world. Note that none of these rings required any specialized definitions of 'time', 'space', 'matter', or 'energy' for example.

Finally, where the above definition of 'objective reality' is defined in terms of the various aspects of subjective interactions with the self, consciousness as the communication/sensory channels themselves cannot be objectively defined (something cannot be defined by that which it defines). The term consciousness cannot be defined in terms of either 'real' or 'not real' (as where one or more of the three degrees have a metric of exactly zero, or the 'absence/negation of reality').

[1] In the example using Fred, the author is not attempting in this essay to discuss 'selves', 'minds', or 'consciousness'. While all of these are concepts that one would naturally associate with 'human people' (Fred), the example is intended only to introduce and describe the deeper metaphysical implications of the concept of objectivity. It is not necessary to consider the concept of objectivity in 'human' or 'personality' terms at all, for the concept of objectivity has a deeper basis than that which would be found in any particular type of self or reality (world). Concepts associated with mind and human consciousness are described in their own terms elsewhere in the Immanent Metaphysics.

[2] Also an important consideration is to recognize that there is an assumption of an absence of 'omniscient capture' when considering closed rings of interaction, all of which occur in connection with a single domain. If, for example, all of ones interactions with the internet were to be mediated through only one single constant agency, such as the computer on your desktop, there is a risk that that agency itself would be systematically distorting the information received so as to shift the meaning and applicability of the term 'objective'. As such, if one is living ones whole life completely embedded in a virtual world, the notion of objectivity would be defined relative to that world only, and would not therefore establish a basis for the assumption that there might ultimately be some independent existence of anything within that world in any context outside of it.