Eye view philosophy

by Neil Rickert

I recently made a blog comment where I mentioned “God’s eye view philosophy,” which I contrasted with “Organism’s eye view philosophy.”  Here, I want to expand on that comment.

Roughly speaking, the idea of a God’s eye view philosophy, is that we should attempt to look at the world as we might presume that a God might see it.  It is important to note that one need not be religious to hold a God’s eye view philosophy.  It suffices to think of a metaphorical all-seeing God.  There need be no commitment as to whether such a God is possible.  One could be an atheist, and still hold to a God’s eye view philosophy.

With an organism’s eye view, we instead try to look at the world as it might appear to a biological organism.  So what we call “a bird’s eye view” would be a particular case of that, where the organism is a bird.  We humans are, of course, biological organisms.  So, in some sense, it must be that we really are taking an organism’s eye view.

The main aim here is to discuss the differences between these ways of understanding our viewpoint.

God’s eye view philosophy

When we look at the world in terms of a God’s eye view, we think of ourselves as describing the world as we believe it must look to God, though perhaps to a non-existent metaphorical God.

In my assessment, God’s eye view philosophy is the dominant way that people look at their world.  Some may deny that they hold such a view, yet they act as if they do.  It is pretty much the traditional way of thinking about the world.

We usually attempt to provide objective accounts of the world.  To a first approximation, people take an objective description as being an approximation of how the world must look to God.  It is taken to be a description where we have attempted to remove everything that could be considered an individual bias.  We assume that Martians or other aliens from outer space, if they visited our world, would see something rather similar to what our objective descriptions portray.

From this perspective, when we talk of “the way the world really is”, we are talking about how we presume that our metaphorical God might perceive the world.  And we take that to be the ideal, to which our scientific accounts should aim.

From a God’s eye view perspective, we take scientific laws and scientific theories to be part of the structural design of our world.  We might sometimes get these wrong, and need to revise our science.  But, the general view is of science providing the fundamental structure of the world.  In a Deist view, a God might have started by creating those laws (often called laws of nature), and then allowing the world to unroll in accordance with those laws.  There’s a lot of talk from scientists which express that way of looking at the importance of laws of nature.

Under a God’s eye view philosophy, subjectivity is something of an anomaly.  We each experience the world a little differently from one another, and we use the term “subjective” to point to those differences.  So our tastes in food, music, art, drama may all have a subjective component.  The “hard problem” of consciousness is, roughly speaking, the problem of giving an objective account of the subjective.

An organism’s eye philosophy

I prefer to look at philosophy from an organism’s perspective, for we ourselves are biological organisms.

From an organism’s perspective, the subjective view of the world seems the appropriate one.  For a newly born child, much of the information coming into the infant’s brain is self-information.  That is, it is proprioceptive information, or information about arms, legs, surface irritations, hunger pangs, etc.  We might expect an infant’s early life to be full of feelings or sensations about self, and have rather less in the way of information about the external world.  In terms of organism’s eye philosophy, the subjective is primary.

The organism is interested in the external world.  It is interested, because its survival depends on finding food, water, air, and other biological necessities.  So the organism explores its world by interacting with that world.  And the organism’s experience of that interaction provides it input about the nature of the world.

We humans are social organisms.  As we begin to explore the external world, we attempt to communicate what we find with others in our society.  And, as we attempt to communicate, we find aspects of the world that we can share.  From the perspective of an organism’s eye view, then, our objective accounts of reality are derived from our subjective view.  Our objective accounts are of those aspects of reality where we can reach some sort of agreement or shared understanding with others in our social group.

As we explore our world, we attempt to expand our knowledge of that world.  Our scientific laws are, in effect, a kind of scaffolding that we build out to allow us to extend our reach further into the world.  And as such, they have arisen from our subjective viewpoints.  They unavoidably reflect our interests and concerns.  Our scientific laws can only ever be an outgrowth of our subjective views.  They could not hope to describe a fundamental design structure of the world.

My personal take

My philosophical views are non-standard, precisely because I have adopted an organism’s eye view.  I adopt that view, for I see that as what must have driven the evolution of our cognitive abilities.

From this perspective, there is no hard problem of consciousness.  We do not need to provide an objective account of the subjective.  Rather, it is the subjective that is primary, and the objective consists of that part of the subjective that we are able to share with others in our society.

We do still need to give an account of how science works.  And that is why I have been posting on conventions.  We explore the world, and develop ways of expanding our knowledge into that world.  We share our methods, and that sharing often become the establishing of a convention.

Perception

Marr’s theory of vision appears to be based on a God’s eye view philosophy.  J.J. Gibsons perceptual theory appears to be based on an organism’s eye view.  I prefer Gibson’s theory, since it seems closer to what I would expect to have evolved.

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2 Comments to “Eye view philosophy”

  1. Interesting post. I like this line, “As we explore our world, we attempt to expand our knowledge of that world. Our scientific laws are, in effect, a kind of scaffolding that we build out to allow us to extend our reach further into the world.”

    From a “god’s eye view” we’re assuming that there is a deity who is judging and watching. If we’re atheist, we are assuming the universe has an awareness. Regardless, “god’s eye view” is an extension or projection of ourselves.

    From an organism’s perspective, I would think that the organism would first see the world as hostile, as a threat to its safety and security.

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    • Regardless, “god’s eye view” is an extension or projection of ourselves.

      Yes, that’s an important point. A theist’s God is really derived from their conception of themselves, though they often deny this. They create their god in their own image.

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