Understanding Velmans: Subjective/Objective

Chapter 9 of Max Velmans’s ‘Understanding Consciousness’ takes a few pages to make the case that subjective (first-person) experience should not be treated as inferior to ‘objective’ (third person) experience, with the aid of 2 diagrams of people looking at lightbulbs.

A third diagram would have helped enormously (and will be even better when not just sketched)…

Velmans on Subjectivity vs Objectivity

A candle (1) is observed by the Subject (12) via his eyes (10) and visual processing (11).
The candle can also be observed by the Observer (22) who can also take in verbal reports (13) from the Subject or even look at brain scans of the Subject via a scanner (5) and display (6).

From the diagram it is obvious that:

  • The Observer does not have any privileged position, with any direct access to the source (in this case, the candle). He too must see through (potentially fallible) eyes and visual processing.
  • The Observer’s and Subject’s roles can be interchanged.
  • Objectivity relies upon our perspectives (3 and 4), eyes (10 and 20) and visual processing (11 and 21) being sufficiently similar between ‘normal’ people. (No observations are ‘objective’ in the sense of being observer-free).
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