Object and Subject: How We Participate In Creating Our Experience

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Our current way of thinking may influence the action we take, but we may change our way of thinking. The arrangement of a space may affect the relationships that happen within it, but the organisation can be altered.

I feel my experience as being an experience of something. This ‘something’ may be a thought, feeling, object, relationship or something else. My experience seems to me to be made up of me (sometimes called “the subjective”) and something (sometimes called “the objective”).

It seems to me that the “subjective” and “objective” are quite real. It seems to me that the “subjective” and “objective” relate to each other in a quite complex way — or ways.

The Importance of the Subjective

Two friends of mine were attempting to sort out one of their tax affairs. After hours of frustration they were feeling tired and fed up. Then one of them figured out how to do what they wanted to do. For the next hour they flew through the tax affairs and finished feeling elated. Nothing “objective” had changed; it was the “subjective” insight that made the difference.

Even in the most extreme situations, the “subjective” remains a factor. Viktor Frankl, who lived through a Nazi death-camp, pointed out that we always retain the freedom to choose our attitude to suffering. He observed that people who had something to live for were more likely to live through even a situation as extreme as a death-camp. (The story is told in his book Man’s Search for Meaning [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].)

Our thoughts and feelings shape our lives in more humble ways too. Many of us live in accordance with what we learned as children. There is much that we take for granted and haven’t examined as adults: greeting rituals, our ideas about luck and our capabilities, the correct ways to relate to others and much else besides. The beliefs we had or decisions we made often prescribe the boundaries of the world we live in.

When we discover the potency of our ‘subjective’ world we will often feel we have made a huge discovery or breakthrough (which I think is true). We can also become grandiose, feeling “I can do anything!”.

The Importance of the Objective

To walk into a beautiful building — like one of the great cathedrals — can be an uplifting experience. A discussion will be helped by having the chairs arranged in a circle rather than in rows. The objective world affects us.

The objective can make a big difference. We could have traffic lights so that people turned on to freeways instead of on-ramps where traffic merges. This would be likely to lead to more deaths.

Once we understand the difference that changing the objective world makes, we can experience exhilaration. We want to improve people’s lives by designing a better world and finding solutions to problems. We can feel that achieving utopia is just a matter of getting the design right.

Accepting What is Real

To change something we need to accept that it is real. We won’t find a solution to a problem that we don’t think exists, whether we see the problem as being “subjective” or “objective”.

However, the current reality only partly determines what is possible. Our current way of thinking may influence the action we take, but we may change our way of thinking. The arrangement of a space may affect the relationships that happen within it, but the organisation can be altered.

Experimentation and Curiosity

Seeing that the “subjective” and “objective” can both be altered means we don’t know what is possible. We needn’t be grandiose (“I can do anything” or “utopia is just a good design”) to make worthwhile innovations and improvements. It may be that things can be very much better than we suspect; we won’t know what is possible until we try.

Awareness

We can gain a sense of what is possible for ourselves and our world by becoming aware of how we create our experience, that we participate in creating our experience.

We can become aware of how our thoughts affect our behaviour and experiment by adopting different thoughts. We can become aware of how our environment affects us and start moving stuff around.

What do you think would improve your life more, a change in the “subjective” or the “objective”? What have you experimented with altering? How did this turn out for you? Let me know in the comments.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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