The conflict between objective and subjective thought, and the values attributed to both, is explored in the second chapter of David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous. It was Galileo who set the premise for this conflict with his assertion that the world and universe at large “is written in the language of mathematics” and can only be understood by objective or scientific thought. He maintained that the senses such as sight and taste are inherently illusionary and therefore subjective. Descartes publishing Meditations on First Philosophy detailed the need to apply a method to validate existence and emphasized the separation of the subjective thinking mind from objects or the material world. Meditations was instrumental in the construction of objective thought which produced the technologies and modern world as we know it. Objectivity is defined as “based on facts rather than feelings or opinions: not influenced by feelings.”1 The crux of objective thinking is unbiased thought without interference. In the sciences, accurate data requires an unbiased view. A scientist’s results cannot be skewed to fit their particular perspective, to do so would render the results inauthentic. The personal experience and preference is removed from objectivity in favor of transparency, reliance on evidence, and testability. This implies that subjectivity is open to distortion and misrepresentation.
Abram views the disconnection from nature as a consequence of objective thinking. However, objective thinking, particularly in science and technology, has contributed immensely to improving the human experience and compelling us to question and examine the world around us. It is the likely answer to the major environmental issues we are currently facing. Physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss encompassed this point with his statement, “The facts of science force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species and our planet.” Abram challenges objective thinking and what he sees as the loss of “the ordinary, everyday experience of the world around us.” He makes the distinction that our experience is direct. Our senses, perceptions and emotions are all subjective as a result of this direct experience. In his view, objectivity and subjectivity are interwoven and that the landscape, the reality we are living in, is one that we receive from and respond to. He contends that even the scientist with no attachment still exists in the natural world and has subjective experiences. In essence, he is concluding that pure objectivity is not possible due conscious existence itself.
Daniel B. Smith’s article “Is There an Ecological Unconscious?” echoes sentiments made by Abram. Smith’s article explores the idea of an ecological consciousness and the primal connection between man and nature. It is argued that detachment of the mind from the natural world may be a contributing factor to the degradation of the planet.
Even mental and emotional stresses such as anxiety and depression may be a result, Smith argues. Ecopsychology, is the disciple that has grown as a response to this disconnect. Abram critiques modern psychology as “a science wherein the psyche has itself be reified into an ‛object,’ a thing to be studied like any other thing in the determinate, objective world.” An Ecopsychological perspective fundamentally counters objectification of the psyche, instead maintaining that perception is deeply affected by nature and the health of both are intertwined and codependent.
Gregory Bateson supported the notion of mind/nature interconnectedness and described what he saw as an “epistemological fallacy.” A flaw in the process of thinking about the natural world in turn allowed us to destroy it. Like Abram, he contends that mankind has constricted its viewpoint to objectification, maintaining utilitarian values, much to our detriment. Humankind must take into consideration its role in what he terms the…