Subjectivity, Confidence and Self-Determinism
My previous Rethinking Complexity posts have primarily dealt with subjects of organizational development, evolution, complexity and management. In this blog entry, I address a more basic topic, that of subjectivity. I firmly believe that we construct our own reality as we make meaning of life and as meaning changes with our life experiences. Subjectivity, therefore, is at the root of who we are and of our relationship with all.
There are numerous cosmologies each providing an explanation of our universal reality. The Big Bang is the prevailing scientific explanation of our cosmological origin. Georges Lemaitre, Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the University of Louvain, was the first to introduce this theory. In 1925, Lemaitre shared his hypothesis of the primeval atom which gave way to the Big Bang theory along with his later definition of Hubble’s Law, which presented the concept of the expanding universe.
Regardless of our own cosmological beliefs and differences, it is perhaps easier to agree that there are three distinct realities or universes: yours, mine and a physical shared one. The first two, yours and mine, are totally subjective. These realities correspond to our personal interpretations of our experience. Yes, we could have been culturally and academically inculcated along similar lines but in the end, we are meaning makers of our internal reality. In contrast, the physical reality we share eventually becomes objectified. It follows physical laws, such as the law of gravity but it also evolves with our shared understanding.
To illustrate the three realities that are at play at all times, let’s consider the example of a tree. We can have agreement that we have a tree in front of us. In fact we can touch it, inspected and validate its existence. On the other hand, you may consider this tree beautiful and inspiring. I may think of it as ordinary and unimpressive. We agree on the objective reality but disagree subjectively.
The model of the three realities is more complex than the simple example of the tree. These three realities are interconnected and interdependent. Think of a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles. The intersection of our subjective realities constitutes the fundamental component of inter-subjectivity. Inter-subjectivity is essential to human relationships and to the co-creative process. We cannot bring anything into fruition, into objective reality, unless inter-subjectivity is constructed first. Consider Galileo Galilei when he introduced his heliocentric theory in opposition to the prevailing geocentric reality. In this example, there was an agreed inter-subjective reality that the Earth was the center of the universe, the geocentric view. Galileo challenged this perspective with a new subjective reality. This challenge resulted in his trial and a sentence of lifelong house arrest which included reading the seven penitential psalms once a week for three years. Today, our inter-subjectivity on celestial bodies is in strong agreement and we know the Earth orbits around the Sun, Galileo’s heliocentric premise.
Objective reality is born from inter-subjectivity. This is a challenging concept since we believe that physical reality is unchangeable, after all, Earth’s orbit did not get established just because Galileo said so. What changes over time is our interpretation of objective reality through the formation of inter-subjectivity on anyone subject. The nineteenth amendment giving women the right to vote emerged from the growing inter-subjectivity that women were equal human beings to men and as such should vote. Eventually the US Congress made this an objective reality through the passage of the amendment.
Confidence is generally defined as the state of being certain. It is an attribute of self and as such it is a subjective experience. People can speak to our state of confidence but ultimately only we can have it. Personally, I have zero confidence in my ability to play basketball but I have significant confidence about presenting a topic I understand to a group of people. In a scale of zero to a hundred, my basketball confidence would be zero and my public speaking confidence could be as high as a hundred depending on the situation.
If you agree that confidence is a subjective reality, then how do someone else’s subjectivity, our common inter-subjectivity and our shared objective reality affect it? We commonly accept these external realities as influential and even deterministic of our own level of confidence. This, I believe, is a severe human flaw. Galileo was attacked by his peers, the church and the politicians of his time. However, this did not change his subjective reality even to the detriment of losing his physical freedom. Unlike Galileo, more often than not, we let feedback, even well-intended affect what we believe to be certain.
How much confidence is enough to remain unwavering to external realities? The examples I gave use a scale of zero to a hundred. Is a hundred enough confidence? Someone that I highly respect told me that a level of confidence approaching infinity would be ideal. The fact is that any level of confidence than the absolute highest could be challenged and affected externally. If we are eighty percent confident on a given matter, there are plenty of opportunities for someone’s subjectivity to have impact on what we are thinking, feeling and doing. If, on the other hand, our confidence is infinite or quite large, realities external to our own will have inconsequential impact on what we hold as certain.
Confidence itself is neutral. It is the state of certainty within our subjective reality. We can be certain that we are a failure as much as we can be confident that we bring great value into the world. Since it is our reality, we have all authorship rights to establish our desired level of confidence in the areas that matter to us. As an exercise, look at the areas where you are experiencing frustration and non-fulfillment. Then, examine the nature and the level of your confidence in these areas.
Self-determination as a philosophy originated with Aristotle and Aquinas. It defines the idea of personal choice, free will. American philosopher Robert Kane calls it the “ultimate reality.” In practice, self-determinism is being able to fulfill our dreams and ambitions, to manifest that which we care about. It is not about money or possessions. It is about having the experiences that give the greatest meaning to our existence.
I submit that in order to live a self-deterministic life, we must have confidence in ourselves in the areas we most care about. The level of this confidence should be very high to withstand adversity and criticism. Our subjective reality needs to be the foundation for our confidence filtering out the external realities that can affect our certainty. This is different than being egocentric or selfish. It is about listening to the purity of our internal messages. We cannot be strong inter-subjective co-creators if we are coming from a point of uncertainty.
External realities inform us and connect us to others but our clear and certain subjectivity should drive our ultimate reality.