You can’t measure subjective experiences objectively

In his book ‘The Singularity is Near‘, Ray Kurzweil has this excellent discussion about ‘consciousness’ as a subjective experience, of which we can only assert knowledge of our own. There are signs and indications of other people’s and other animal’s consciousness that let us assume or make inferences from, but there can never be ‘objective’ proof. He makes this argument not to bolster Socratic argumentation and cynicism but as part of a larger discussion on what happens when we can literally transfer our memories, our feelings, the contents of our brains into a hard drive and reconstitute ourselves in a machine (you can say this will never happen, but you would only be lying to yourself). The question he raises is, will that machine be ‘me’?

I think its a fascinating philosophical discussion, but one that ultimately surfaces the issues of ‘objective’ measurements of subjective experiences. There is no measurement of ‘me’. The only ‘proof’ I have of ‘me’ is my own consciousness which does not mean I can prove you have ‘consciousness’. If I apply this same principle to ‘learning’ and I accept that learning is in fact a subjective experience, I am obligated to accept that there is no objective measurement of learning. This is a point I try to make in my book and one that I am constantly battling with other people on in general.

We need to stop trying to measure ‘learning’. Instead we need to pick and choose what triggers best represent our desired outcomes. This applies to our education system for youth as well as corporate learning. Percentages, pass/fail, complete/ incomplete are total nonsense. Measuring against learning objectives is nonsense. Setting real objectives, designing experiences that have purposely built data triggers that feed into those objectives and constantly monitoring and adjusting makes sense.

 

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