“For he who has but one tool, the hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.”
Since the time of Copernicus, natural philosophers have commonly assumed there is a real, physical world that exists prior to and independent of the human mind, and they have set themselves the task of penetrating “beyond the veil” of subjective impressions to that external “objective” world. Thus, the real world is viewed as something devoid of subjective experience. On the other hand, though the causes of experiences are thought to be objective and available to everyone, the experiences themselves are only available to the person experiencing them. This makes it almost impossible to draw a clear boundary between what constitutes objective or subjective experience.
Paulson, in his article “The Nearing Death Process and Pastoral Counseling,” proposes the acknowledgement of multiple domains for humans. He argues that reducing everything into one domain, either into the objective or subjective domain, causes problems: “This situation was illustrated by Viktor Frank through the aid of a three-dimensional model. In three-dimensional space, a cylinder is a cylinder, containing both rectangular and spherical components. But, when presented in two-dimensional space, the cylinder provides two conflicting views: it is either a sphere or a rectangle. One must be right and the other wrong (Fig. 1). In life, when a subject is reduced to the objective domain, consciousness, thoughts, feelings, and perceptions are viewed merely as biochemical reactions. That is, under the laws of science (physics, biology, and biochemistry), conscious thoughts, feelings, and perceptions cannot exist, whereas they do. Conversely, many postmodern philosophers reduce both subjective and objective domains into the cultural domain of shared meaning. In this view, the world we live in is completely relative.”
Attaining empirical knowledge through one’s sense-based experiences, one frames an individual view of the colorful face of creation. The constant flow of views and perceptions maps the external world in the human mind on two axes, one subjective and the other objective. This mapping process causes every individual living under the same sky to have a world of their own. For example, a despairing, lamenting, weeping person sees beings as weeping and in despair, while a cheerful, optimistic, merry person sees the universe as joyful and smiling.
This brings subjectivity to our attention. One can use this subjective point of view with the aim of strengthening faith in God’s existence and regarding every creature as part of the great fellowship of this faith, worshipping God. For a reflective person who is engaged in solemn worship and glorification discovers and sees to a degree the certain, truly existent and worship and glorification performed by all beings, while a person who abandons worship through neglect or denial sees beings in a state of idleness, as playthings in the hands of coincidence and mere accidents.
One should sometimes take the side of subjectivity to be able to feel joy and happiness in this worldly life. Although there is seemingly a dark and ugly face of existence, everything, stemming from Divine beauty, will eventually return to the same source. Although not everyone can fully understand this reality, everybody should always look at the brightest side of existence. As the famous scholar, Said Nursi, points out, “Those who attend to the good side of everything contemplate the good. Those who contemplate the good enjoy life.”
There is no doubt that all of us should view the created with an educated look. Eyes are the windows through which the soul sees outer space. One should be selective when it comes to where one opens those windows to. The thinking mechanism generates outputs depending on the inputs it receives. Everything is beautiful in itself or in its outcomes, thus the explorer of the universe should always beam his censors towards this beautiful side of the existence. One should support this subjective perception of the universe by every possible means, tolerating his ignorance and shortcomings in seeing the objective beauty of the universe.
As we all are human beings, we all have our own weaknesses in our personal realms. We can categorize the weaknesses embedded in our natures as follows: worldly ambition (that can result in forgetting about the Creator), greed, fear (which can make us sacrifice even our honor and integrity), racism and negative nationalism (which can mean one only feels satisfied at swallowing the rights of other nations), and selfishness. The main source feeding these weaknesses is thinking that one will live forever in this worldly life. This thought or feeling is completely subjective. None of us applies the concept of “death” to ourselves; everyone thinks it only applies to others. We see the mountains as stable, our surroundings as unchanging, and this observation leads us to think we will also remain unchanged. This deceptive subjectivity paralyzes sincerity and opens ways to the corruption and moral suicide of society. Explorers of the universe should spoil the poisonous sweetness of this subjectivity with the bitter taste of the contemplation of death itself. The reality of death is so vivid that it cannot be denied.
The example of a man in a small room of which four walls are mirrors can demonstrate this fact further. The man thinks that the small room is an infinitely large space, looking at its reflections in the mirrors. When the man stretches out his hand, touches the surface of the mirror and breaks it, he understands the inevitable reality. There is death, an end to unlimited wants and wishes for eternity on the earth. This objective fact exists regardless of what human minds think about it.
Human beings exist in impotence on this earth. It is as foolish to say that nature obeys our will or command as to say that a baby’s parents serve him due to his own power. Whenever delusions cause humans to think that they have a godly existence, they should remember Pharaoh’s fate and never forget that even a tiny microbe can defeat and force them to lie down for weeks. Hospitals, prisons and graveyards tear off this subjective mask of power and show the objective pure face of human beings’ underlying impotence.
Another important drawback of subjectivity is “familiarity.” Our lack of information and knowledge about a particular topic is our ignorance on that topic. However, if we do not even know that we lack that knowledge, this is called “compound ignorance.” For example, the rising and setting of the sun every day and spring’s appearing with bouquets of flowers at our doorsteps every year are not understood or appreciated by most people, as these natural events happen continuously without any interruption. People become blinded by a veil of “subjective familiarity.” They do not see the true value of events which appear to be usual and ordinary but in fact are extraordinary.
Another misuse of subjectivity is seen in the ways that people put a distance between each other and build a solid wall of enmity that blocks the way to peace and harmony in society. The reasons for putting up these barriers are far from being objective; they are only the dark shadows of our subjective caprices. Let us say that there is a ship carrying ten people out of whom nine are murderers and one is innocent. No one with right thinking would try to sink that ship in order to get rid of the nine murderers at the expense of the life of the one innocent. A judge looking at the incident through the lens of objectivity would demand the securing of the rights of the innocent.
Similarly, every human being on this earth is a spectacular ship built by the Creator. Everybody has good and bad sides. Nobody has the right to hate another person just because that person has some bad qualities. Hatred means sinking that hated ship of the individual in the eyes of the one committing the deed of hatred. Most of the arguments people use to support turning their backs on one another are as small as a pebble compared to arguments that are as great as mountains and that would bring apparently opposing sides together. All of us were created by the same God. This is a reason –for most- for fellowship stronger by far than the relation between the children of the same father. All of us are sharing the same slice of time out of thousands of years, a very small probability if one thinks of the millions of years since the beginning of creation. We all have a longing for love, tenderness, warmth, openness, honesty, and integrity. We are all afraid of clashes, tears, fears, the unpredictability of darkness, and sorrows. We, as fellow human beings, have so much in common.
The human being’s objective and subjective view of the universe should be a perspective illuminating both the soul and body. That perspective adds a third dimension to the two-dimensional picture in most of our minds. It highlights the wonders of this universe and the depth and richness hidden under the flat, quiet, calm ocean of creation.
- Wallace, B.Alan, , “The Intersubjective Worlds of Science and Religion,” from Science, Religion and Human Experience, Oxford University Press, 2005.
- Frankl, V. E. (1959). The will to meaning, New York: New American Library
- Paulson, Daryl S, “The Nearing Death Process and Pastoral Counseling,” Pastoral Psychology, Vol. 52, No. 4, March 2004.
- Nursi, Said, The Letters, NJ: Tughra Books, 2007, p. 450.
- For more discussion on human weakness see Nursi, 2007, pp. 399–413.
- See Nursi, 2007, p. 282.