I want to talk about subjectivism.
Subjectivism is the idea that our perspective is not pure—it’s biased by our experiences, our ideas, the opinions that we hold, and how we construct what we think is reality.
I start from the philosophical place of an existentialist. I can’t really prove that this world exists to 100% certainty. I know there’s some entity that’s experiencing what seems to be a chronological reality. I call that entity “the observer.” The observer seems to participate in what seems to be logical thought.
There’s a difference between what’s in my head and the observer because my brain chemistry affects the kinds of thoughts that I have. If I drink caffeine my thoughts accelerate. If I drink alcohol, my thoughts slow down. But, there is something else beyond those changes of pace that observes the changes. The observer experiences what seems to be reality through the filter of my brain but that’s probably not the totality of what I am as an entity.
After consciousness is established, I ask, does this world exist or doesn’t it? I don’t know for certain. But, I choose to believe that it does exist. From that arbitrary choice, a lot of other truths naturally follow: I’m probably sitting and typing on my laptop; my parents are probably real; my history is probably real; all of history and science are probably real.
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I was in a writing class with some amazing ladies who basically taught me how to write. One of the ladies asked what exactly a story is. I can use all the storytelling techniques at my disposal and attempt to create an amazing experience. But I don’t get to control the life of the audience. I don’t get to control you. I can’t change the biases you bring to your experience of watching a movie or a show.
An example of this is, I haven’t been raped. But, quite a few people have experienced sexual abuse or rape. When those people see a scene in a movie that involves sexual violence, that scene may trigger a visceral response, a flashback or a reliving of the event, complete with all the emotional trauma that brings with it.
Some of those people ask that when those types of scenes are shown, that the be prefaced with a “trigger warning,” so that they can either set up emotional coping buffers or avoid the show altogether because the experience and trauma are still too powerful.
I don’t have those biases.
Like I mentioned above, when I come to an experience, I come with the biases of an existentialist. Others might come as right-wing Christians, or Muslims, or Buddhists or atheists. Because of all those constructs, they’re going to experience the movie differently that I would. They will see metaphors and underlying plots that I may not have even intended.
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There’s a really fascinating tool in film where the editor can cut scenes together in such a way as to make the average audience unaware of the edit. That technique is called “the invisible cut” and there’s a whole book on the subject.
The Invisible cut is a very useful technique because if people are noticing the edit, it means they’re not in the story, which means they’re not in the moment emotionally. We have another term for that, “They don’t care.” That’s what it means to be engaged intellectually but not emotionally. It’s usually a very bad thing.
But, sometimes it’s useful to break the rules. I do that a few times in ALGORITHM, but I do it very intentionally. One place I do that is the scene when Will approaches the cell phone tower’s base-station controller. He has to walk a few hundred feet, but Will is ADD and so he’s not always paying close attention to where he is. His attention will jump from thing to thing. Since ALGORITHM is Will’s story, it’s shot from his perspective, only showing things that he sees, often as he sees them.
As I read people’s comments on the ending, many people complained about it; they thought it sucked that Will was eventually coopted by the government.
For a while I thought people didn’t like the ending, until I realized something: those commenters were at the same emotional place as Will. He thought he was being coopted by his enemy. He felt like he’d lost, like he’d been betrayed.
Those commenters told me I had succeeded in bringing the audience into the emotions of someone who was emotionally disconnected and largely unsympathetic.
* * *
Acknowledging that we are subjective creatures can be very useful, that acknowledgement can have some radical and profound effects on us, mostly because by knowing our faults (assuming subjectivism is a fault) we can compensate for them. The best example of this is how subjectivism essentially brought philosophy and science to a halt in the mid 1700’s. Everyone wondered, if everything I know is limited and biased by my own experiences, how then can I know anything for certain.
Immanuel Kant came along and introduced a term which made it into the U.S. Declaration of Independence, “self evident.” Self evident means that while I can’t say for certain that my biases are telling me the truth, it stands to reason that if you and I sit around a table and talk about the table and agree on aspects of the table, that those aspects of the table probably are real. Those aspects are “self evident.” They will probably be the same or very similar to anyone who examines it.
That logic quickly became the basis for the scientific method, which systematized the conversation about reality so we can talk about reality as a group of individuals who have similar experiences.
Of course, attempting to compensate for subjectivism does have its flaws as well, since it invalidates, or at best doesn’t take into account events that only happen once to one person. Are such experiences real? We can’t say for certain.
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My current project is Intelligent Design and so for me, everything right now it comes back to a question of government and freedom of speech with the idea of subjectivism versus objectivism (meaning that we can somehow abstract ourselves from reality and view reality as it is, in itself).
As I progress in the development of Intelligent Design, I find out more and more what it’s about. A pattern or story seems to be emerging, that it’s about identity, both corporate (meaning group) and individual. And so it’s natural that ideas of subjectivism and objectivism play a large role in ideas of identity and how they differ from person to person, culture to culture, experience to experience.