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Subjectivity, Aesthetics, and Dreams

October 6, 2009
Mmm, better than the movies

Mmm, better than the movies

After I wrote my post regarding my dream interview with the devil, I actually got quite a few comments of interest.

FireTag started off the comments by suggesting I find the meaning within my dream. I was skeptical, but FireTag persisted. Eventually, he posted a challenge (or…should I say, a prediction) in one of his comments: that I would talk about aesthetics and logic one of these days.

To be certain, I don’t think the issue is between aesthetics and logic, so to speak. Logic is just a series of rules…it isn’t something that “contrasts”…the only thing it possibly contrasts is illogic.

So, logic is not anti-religious. Religious people generally have very coherent logical processes — they just include premises that nonreligious people do not have reason to accept. The religious argument requires the acceptance of certain premises regarding the truth of spiritual experiences or revelation or God or some other thing…but the nonreligious person does not buy these premises.

Similarly, aesthetics are not logical, so I’m not talking about that. Rather, aesthetics are subjective, and subjective experiences do contrast (in implication and application) from objective experiences.

It’s fortuitous that Hawkgrrrl posted A Jungian View of the First Vision on Mormon Matters, because this topic can serve as the springboard of many issues to discuss. The thing I tried to play off of in my dream article was that my dream could seem similar to a vision (whether Joseph Smith’s first vision or Lehi’s dream/vision.) However, I did not and do not view my dream as visionary and revelatory…so I would not, say, start a religion based on the content of the dream. On the other hand, for Lehi and Joseph Smith, the content of dreams was satisfactory to posit external, objective truths in the universe. Their doing this wasn’t necessarily illogical, but rather, it represents differing logical premises.

True story: when searching for a pic of Jung, I looked up Carls Jr. instead.

True story: when searching for a pic of Jung, I looked up Carl's Jr. instead.

Anyway, to Jungian analysis…Hawkgrrrl summarizes:

Jungian dream analysis includes several underlying assumptions:

  • that dreams are subjectively meaningful for the individual
  • that people, objects, animals, and events in the dream are representative of the dreamer’s inner life (and not to be taken at face value or literally)
  • that a proper interpretation of dreams can lead the dreamer to great self-awareness and to understanding the psychological direction of his/her life at a given time
  • that some themes, events or characters in a dream are archetypal or representative of collective spirituality, not just reflective of personal meaning

I think most of these points highlight the point I would like to make. Firstly, dreams are subjectively meaningful for the individual. This subjective quality implies that it is internal to the individual…so a subjectively meaningful trait can be meaningful to one individual but not to another, or it can have one meaning to an individual and a different meaning to a separate individual, and this would be perfectly fine.

The implications are that subjective meanings aren’t necessarily “one-size-fits-all.” Rather, if there are similarities in subjective meaning, this represents similarity in the internal frameworks of individuals (so, for example, pain affects most of us in the same way because our bodies are built that way. So, this is a subjective experience that does seem to have similarity across many individuals. This is why the last point of Jungian analysis could be plausible.)

The same is true of most aspects of aesthetics. Things are beautiful in a subjectively felt way. (So it’s ok if what you find beautiful, I don’t. Neither of us have to be broken). Things are lovely in a subjectively felt way.

So, these subjective experiences are important. Obviously, we would like to find “beauty” and “love” and the various kinds of emotionality to be important. However, these still must be kept in place.

When we look at objective experiences, they are outside of the individual. If an apple exists, it exists regardless of whether I perceive it or not. This leads to different implications and applications, of course. When we have objective information, this is data that can be “distilled” without the noise of all subjective interpretations…we can get to the apple and get to certain qualities of it that hold for everyone and everything.

Subjective and objective experiences play together, of course. For example, an apple may exist objectively. When I eat the apple, I may subjectively feel its tastiness (or, if my framework is different, its disgustingness.) But even these subjective feelings have objective roots…my taste buds objectively exist, my brain objectively exists, and from the working of these (and other) systems, the subjective experience of “tastiness” evolves forth.

But I should not be confused: my experiencing of tastiness does not establish either 1) that “tastiness” exists objectively as its own entity — that is, outside of subjects to experience it…or 2) that apples objectively — that is, outside of subjects to project it — feature the quality “tastiness.” Relating again to point 2: even if all humans are objectively wired to subjectively experience apples are tasty, that doesn’t mean apples are objectively tasty. If there were no human subjects to perceive and project this tastiness, the apples would magically lose its status as tasty. (However, even without human subjects, the apple would exist.)

My comments to FireTag go back to this. So far, I don’t have much reason to believe that dreams tell me about grander, objective truths applicable to everyone. (Lehi disagreed, of course.) I might find personal meaning, I might think that humans are similar enough that my personal meaning exports well to others (the archetypes), and I might leave open the possibility that these dreams could be giving information about objective reality, but I do not feel at this point that the dream objectively of much else other than the handiwork of my neurons working through sense data. And as long as the dream tells of information in the subjective realm, I treat it quite differently.

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9 Comments
  1. FireTag permalink

    This popped up today in New Scientist and is relevant:

    “http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427291.000-are-you-asleep-exploring-the-minds-twilight-zone.html?full=true”

  2. Interesting article…especially the part that notes how some people are now “sleep resistant” and can maintain brain activity levels even when sleep-deprived

  3. Man, I want a sleep resistance gene… have they started any gene therapy on that? Might be more effective than the caffeine IV drip I have been developing…

  4. FireTag permalink

    Yesterday was my wedding anniversary, and for our celebration we watched “The Soloist” on pay-per-view. The soloist is a musician who develops schizophernia while at Julliard and ends up on the streets of LA where is befriended by an LA Times reporter who tries to help him recover his gists and former life.

    At one point, the reporter recognizes that the musician is, during his listening to Beethoven, actually entering a mental state that is neither schizophrenic nor normal sanity, and begins to grasp that this is the state that great musicians (and other artists) can enter that is “mystical” — his estranged wife calls it “grace”.

    My wife has sometimes told me of entering such visionary states. They were very real, with visual elements and deep emotions called forth by the music. In listening to the Alpine symphony, she found herself transported into the experience of a relative who was lost and died alone in a mountain climbing accident. At another symphony, written by a composer giving way to despair, she found herself experiencing being on a dark plain, with only the music to guide her from being overwhelmed by the darkness.

    Music has always been of critical importance to her in getting through some unimaginably difficult childhood times — such that she has been an advocate of using music for therapeutic purposes for quite a while.

    Are these states subjective? Yes. But I continue to wonder how much of our “normal” view of objectivity may be embedded in subjective mental states whose subjectivity is hidden by the fact that we usually share them with each other.

  5. “whose subjectivity is hidden by the fact that we usually share them with each other”

    I don’t understand. How wold this hide the subjectivity at all.

    I am taking this in one of two ways:

    1) we share (e.g., talk about it) with each other as if they were objective, so that hides the subjectivity.

    or

    2) we share (e.g., experience it) concurrently with each other, so it is objective and not merely a product of an individual.

    But I have counters for both.

    1) That we perceive our subjective experiences as objective is normal…but this again does not make them so. If we perceive our dreams as going to an external dream plane that is not a part of our minds, then we may certainly feel dreams are objective…but that does not make them objective unless we can in some other way verify. At best, their objectivity is tied to the chemical and neurological processes of our brains.

    2) Since human beings come from common origin, it is unsurprising that to similar stimuli, we could sometimes independently experience similar experience. That is the case with pain, a subjective experience that really gains its value *from* its subjectivity. If two people put hands in fires, then they BOTH will experience the subjective feeling of pain — because both of their brains are wired to feel that (instead of say, euphoria). But pain *is* subjective. It is whatever the experiencing person says it is, whenever he says it exists.

    So, if someone listens to the particular music your wife has listened to and doesn’t enter such a state of being, there is no big deal. Because it’s a subjective state dependent on the subjective reaction of a person to the stimulus. It is not a quality objectively existent to the music.

  6. FireTag permalink

    I guess what I’m getting at, Andrew, is that as I discover more about brain chemistry, the strange ways brains can be wired, and the nature of computation, I’m having more and more trouble seeing mental experience of humanity in ANY form as “objective”.

    I keep getting drawn to the analogy of relativity: There is no absolute frame of reference; there are only relationships and symmetries which determine possible expressions of underlying laws. If a lot of us respond to a stimulus by entering a given state, we call that state objective. If in the same stimulus others enter a different state, we call it subjective?

    I think we have to allow for the possibility that the rarity of a state says no more about its reality than the emptiness of an orbital in chemistry says that the associated state of an atom is unreal.

    Indeed, I am told by relatives who work as Feds on the reservations, that some of the tribes regard the post-enlightenment world view of us in the West as bizarre.

  7. re FireTag:

    I’m having more and more trouble seeing mental experience of humanity in ANY form as “objective”.

    Perhaps it’s because the mental experience of humanity in ANY form is not objective. Think about what you’re talking about here.

    When we try to say that certain things are objective, we mean to say that they are external to the experience of humans (or related beings). So, whether humans are there to mentally experience it or not, the laws of physics exist. That is why we say they are objective. Whether humans are here to mentally experience it or not, we have an earth, a solar system, planets, etc.,

    There are gray areas. Do we describe sound objectively or subjectively? The age-old question, “If a tree falls in the wood and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” teases out our answer. If we say yes, it is because we believe sound objectively exists. If we say no, it is because we believe that sound only subjectively exists, and in absence of beings to perceive it, it doesn’t exist.

    Then, we can ask further questions. Does the same apply to aesthetics? Whether humans are here to experience it or not, is there an objectively existing thing called “aesthetics”? I would think that most people would say no.

    Yet, when we ask the same question to “divinity,” many want to assert that there is an objectively existing thing called divinity that we also label “God.” Or “Allah,” or whatever else.

    I’m not saying that subjective = unreal and objective = real. Absolutely not! In fact, the subjectivity of some things are more important than the objectivity. If there are no beings to experience it, fire is not objectively painful…but what TRULY matters to us is that subjectively, it is painful. Without humans to experience it, optical illusions aren’t objectively “magical,” but what truly matters to us is that subjectively, we do perceive it as magical. BUT, even though we are very amused by optical illusions, we recognize that optical illusions are a different type of experience because they are subjective.

  8. FireTag permalink

    I’m not explaining this very well. Bear with me.

    In physics there are a great many models in which there exist MULTIPLE objective realities — in the same sense you are using objective. In some of the models, the different realities exist at the same point in space-time, come with their own observers, and may or may not even obey the same laws. The interference between these separate realities has measurable effects on our own. The descriptions of those realities often seem totally contradictory.

    So, I’m “subjectively” biased by my exposure to modern physics to be open to the idea that when one slips into a different mental construct of reality, the reality might not be less objective. And this is not anything I’m connecting with an external divinity, since you know my religious views are pantheistic.

    In modern physics, the nature of the connection between observer and observation is a very deep question.

  9. OK, I think I’m getting what you’re saying, but I don’t have it digested in the slightest yet…so I can’t comment further.

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