One individual on my facebook often liked to assert a subjectivist’s view point. Essentially being that each one of us is subject to limitations and biases that ultimately result in each of us having only a relative view of truth on any one subject.
I made a couple of assertions in response to this, first addressing the causes of his alleged biases and limits. Our creativity and intelligence lends us to discovery and invention. If our senses are limited (such as our eyes not being able to see in the ultra violet spectrum), we still have the ability through experimentation not only to understand that things outside our senses exist (such as ultra violet light) but to invent and build devices to allow us to observe and measure such things (such as an ultra violet camera or light meter).
The second assertion I made is that even if a viewer is subject to biases and limitations, that by itself does not preclude the existence of underlying absolutes in the universe. Just because we don’t fully understand (yet) how the universe works in totality, does not mean there are not specific, absolute rules that govern it’s behavior.
Today while pondering this subject I pictured a game of tic-tac-toe. Consider that a tic-tac-toe board can be rotated or ‘flipped over’. Any of us that have played it enough know that with sufficient strategy on the part of both players, it is possible to never have a winner and for every game to end in a stalemate. So I imagined the first two moves of any tic-tac-toe game.
In reality (based on the fact you can rotate or flip the board) there are only 3 opening moves: the center square, a corner or the middle of a side. Picture if you will starting in the bottom left corner. Even if someone starts in one of the other 3 corners, you can then rotate the board until that square is again in the lower left to see what I mean. So only three moves: center, corner, side.
For the second move there are 2, 5 or 5 moves respectively. For someone going in the center, you can either go in a corner or the middle of a side. For a corner, you can go to the opposite corner, the center, an adjacent corner, adjacent side or an opposite side. For a side, you can go adjacent corner, opposite corner, center, opposite side middle or near side middle.
This means that there are 6, 15 or 15 total combinations by the second play. By the third move, the moves of the players can already become ‘set’ with the second player constantly blocking moves by the first until all possible moves are exhausted and you are only filling in remaining squares. With a strategic ‘second’ move, and blocking each subsequent turn of the second player, the game will always be capable of ending in stalemate – absolutely. The number of variations are reduced based on changing the perspective (rotating or flipping) the board.
As another example, consider the first move from a purely statistical viewpoint. Based on the number of possible ‘rows’ that can be filled, one might first think the center is the ‘best’ statistical first move. In fact it is not when you use the rotate/flip scenario above. A center would seem to have 4 possible ways to complete a row: diagonal lower left to upper right, diagonal lower right to upper left, horizontal middle and vertical middle. The side (if rotated so it is the middle box on the left hand side of the board) only has vertical side or horizontal middle. The corner (if in the bottom left corner) can have vertical side, horizontal side or bottom left to upper right diagonal. But add the rotation and flipping and in reality all three have only two combinations of winning rows. Center: diagonal or middle, Side; side or middle, Corner: side or diagonal rows respective.
Now, anyone that has played with a child can know that their limited understanding makes the game still interesting. Some of us might even intentionally make mistakes so they can figure out strategies to actually win a game or two. The limitations of the child don’t make them see the futility of the game as they do not yet understand all the strategies. They can’t see the absolutes. But that does not mean such strategies, the combinations of moves, the manner of blocking after move 3 until a stalemate is reached, do not exist.
Finally ponder one thought. It doesn’t take a great deal of deductive ability to realize tic-tac-toe is a futile game with knowledgeable players. (recall the movie War Games) Even if you haven’t done the analysis of counting the moves and flipping/rotating the board as I have, you can still arrive at this conclusion. i.e. without a higher understanding of the methods of statistics, you can arrive at the same absolute. Therefore, it is possible through limitations and biases to still achieve at least the concept of the existence of an absolute even if you cannot yet fully describe it scientifically or measure it mathematically. As long as this possibility exists, the assertions of subjectivists that “we cannot know absolutes” is irrelevant.