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Bo-Rin Kim's picture

How is "shared subjectivity" created?

Our discussion last class about defining objectivity as “shared subjectivity” took me some time to process even after class ended because I couldn’t wrap my head around how this shared subjectivity is created. How is that everyone’s unique brains constructs reality in such a way that we can agree on things? When we looked at the rubik’s cube illusion, it demonstrated that we perceived two squares on different sides of the cube with different colors when they were actually the same color. I don’t know what colors everyone else saw so I can’t say that we saw the same exact colors, but I do know that we filled in one square with a darker color and the other square with a lighter shade of a different color. More interestingly, I believe that everyone filled in the square on the darker face of the cube with the lighter color and the square on the lighter face of the square with the darker color. It seems counterintuitive to have filled in the square on the lighter face with a darker color than the square on the darker face of the cube because it doesn’t fit the pattern. However, we all filled in the colors of the squares in this way. How did our different brains know to use edges to fill in the squares in the same way? Not only is the ability to “fill in” innate, but it also seems that what we fill in is also somewhat innately determined. Are we just programmed to perceive things similarly enough to agree on them?

This is not to say that culture and the environments we grow up in do not affect the way we perceive things—they definitely do. For example, experiments done in support of the Whorfian Hypothesis, which argues that language affects how people perceive their world, have shown that Spanish speakers and German speakers, who attribute different genders to different nouns perceive these gendered objects differently. To describe one instance, the word “key” is feminine in Spanish and masculine in German. Spanish speakers described keys to be small, golden and smooth, while Germans described keys as being jagged, heavy, and metal. While Spanish and German speakers may have focused on different aspects of keys, I would argue that they visually processed the same thing: a small piece of metal with a rough and smooth edge. Thus, perhaps culture affects not what we see, but how we see it. Maybe this is why people can agree on “what is out there”—because our brains largely perceive the same things, it’s just that our cultures shape us to have different opinions and thoughts about them.

This is why I am so interested to see how people fill in the missing dot in an array of randomly colored dots—because here, there is no clear answer as to what color to fill in the dot with, and culture and individual perspective would play a large role. If people from different cultures fill in the dot with different colors, it will show that culture not only shapes how we see things, but what we actually see. This would mean that we all have different interpretations of “what is out there” and would bring me back to my original question of how we then all agree on reality.


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