“Reality is quite subjective…”

That’s a line from a song I once wrote: “Reality is quite subjective.”

I hadn’t yet gotten all actively metaphysical at the time, but even then, I understood on some level the notion that there’s a very subjective element to this Universe of ours.  Now, it’s true that in large part, we all share the same area bounded within time and space, and we will greatly agree on the way that it maintains itself in terms of physical laws and such.  Some people call this shared experience of the world our “consensus reality,” which is a pretty great and accurate term…because we sort of come to a tacit agreement as to how the Universe seems to function.  We assume our agreement is so sweeping, in fact, that sometimes we lose sight of that wild, subjective element.  We’ll say with mad confidence, for example, that when solid objects are dropped, they’ll fall downward rather than up, and we’ll hold that the boiling point of water is 100 degrees Centigrade…that sort of thing.  And virtually 100 times out of 100, such things seem to hold true…

A boiling lake in Yellowstone National Park, USA.  It's a pretty safe bet that the temperature of the water here has exceeded 100 degrees Centigrade...*pretty* safe...
A boiling lake in Yellowstone National Park, USA. It’s a pretty safe bet that the temperature of the water here has exceeded 100 degrees Centigrade…a *pretty* safe bet…

But remember that old adage about how if you get a crowd together, it’ll always be the lowest common denominator among the individuals making up that crowd which will prevail.  Like water tending to seek the lowest ground, the overall intelligence level or maturity level or whatever level of the crowd will sink to that of its member with the lowest individual helping of such attribute.  So similarly, since reality itself is in some respects a “crowd” of which we are a part, wouldn’t reality then be obliged to offer itself up in whatever way would be comprehensible for all of us who are present?  Reality would have to adhere to the lowest common “understandability level” among those on hand.

However…what if we then consider isolated people, cut off from the world at large?  Could reality do some really weird things if the only observer on hand happened to be a huge believer in the supernatural (or maybe it would be helpful to refer to it here as the “trans-natural” — but you probably get the point)…?  What if there was a lone woman wandering in the desert…and she happened to be the type who held a deep, abiding belief in UFOs and extraterrestrial lifeforms?  And what if, after a day or two of perilous wandering, that woman stumbled into the nearest town, babbling about having been scooped up by a flying saucer, and probed, and communed with — generally laying down all manner of other Area 51 kinds of verbiage?  Would her rambling stories necessarily be nothing more than the fancies of a presumably more-or-less rational mind that had succumbed to things like hunger, thirst, fear, exposure, and heatstroke?  Or could it be that since she was the only one around for a great distance in any direction, the only one observing anything going down in that blasted stretch of desert…could it be that a flying saucer maybe really had appeared and interacted with her?

Can UFO sightings actually be as real for the people sighting them as non-sightings are for the non-believers who don't sight them??
Can UFO sightings actually be as real for the people sighting them, as non-sightings are for the non-believers who don’t sight them??

We’ve all heard that timeless question about whether a tree falling in a forest actually makes any sound if there’s no one there to witness the event (and we might even further question whether such a tree can fall at all…)…  Here’s another one: if the tree falls, and there’s only one witness present…could the tree fall but still not make a sound?  Or could the tree not fall, yet somehow still make the sound of a tree falling??  The person would have no one else with whom to reality-check at the time, so would she or he know for sure what had just happened in any objective/absolute way?  It’s likely that upon returning to civilization, the person’s story and/or belief in the events of that story might morph, becoming more in line with what the general human consensus could get behind (“No, I know I must have just been tired, and dreaming it or something, because a tree can’t fall silently…although it sure seemed like it did for a while there…”).  But that doesn’t negate the possible unique and bizarre nature of the occurrence — maybe the events really did happen in exactly the improbable manner that the observer witnessed, and because that observer made up a consensus of one in that moment of observation, maybe there was no need for the event to render itself in the more “realistic” kind of fashion that would have been necessary if beheld by a large crowd.  Maybe local reality has more chance to be truly weird than does more global reality…

Reality is quite subjective.  And never more so than when you’re alone…

5 thoughts on ““Reality is quite subjective…”

  1. Thanks for the kind words, Julianne, and for sharing your feedback! I’m thrilled to hear that my post stirred up some positive thoughts for you. I’ve long been a believer in the idea that reality does have that subjective factor, but it hadn’t occurred to me to write about it until now. Not sure why it took so long, but I guess it was time… Thanks again for the nice comments!

  2. I think are really on to something here, Steve. It really calls into question what we term subjective and objective. What I think many skeptics and mainstream thinkers call “objective” is that consensus experience you speak of. They see the one-off “subjective” experience as an anomaly and move on. The more spirited ones feel a need to spend their lives debunking such experiences.

    For those of us who have had “subjective” experiences like that – ones we can’t ignore – it is enough to put a crack in the whole “objective” reality that everyone agrees upon.

    These are two extreme ways of dealing with these experiences. Many people I know fall somewhere in the middle. They have had experiences like this, but unless you put them in a safe environment to discuss them – and gently pull it out of them – they won’t share for fear of ridicule by the consensus.

    What all this gets to is what is “real”? I think both experiences of reality are equally real. The consensus eases our interaction in this three-dimensional incarnation. The unusual “subjective” experiences are clues that there is more, if only we will dig for it.

    Wonderful article!


    1. Hi, Ray — thanks for the great contribution here! I appreciate the input a lot. I also agree with you that both experiences of “reality” — both the consensus/”objective” and the more individual/”subjective” — are equally “real.” In fact, they can probably manage to be equally real simultaneously, even though that sounds fairly impossible on the face of things. I kind of like the idea, though, that, for example, that UFO encounter I wrote about in the post, is both absolutely real for the lone woman out in the desert, while also being absolutely unreal to “civilization” and its individual members that weren’t on hand at the time of the incident. Both things are equally true…because of that wild subjective element at work in our existence here. Most of us probably spend so much time in the consensus, that we slant our value systems way over toward giving credit to the objective stuff as the sole Gospel, even though we’re not doing that on purpose. Maybe it would do us all some good to build occasional Thoreau/Walden-style retreats into our lives, so we can embrace the subjective, too!

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