Brian Knutson, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University:
Thanks to accelerating technological advances, however, the gap between the objective and the subjective is closing fast. Scientists are beginning to objectively study subjectivity. By “subjectivity,” I refer here not only to the more traditional topics involving awareness of input (as in the case of perception) or output (as in the case of action), but also intermediate processes related to emotion and thought. Beyond simple input and output, these flexible and dynamic forces interpret and animate, transforming perception to action.
The end product will be maps of subjective experience. Because prediction inevitably implies modification, the maps insinuate plans—ways of changing the flow of activity to alter behavior. Inevitably, scientists will crack the neural code of subjectivity—it’s only a matter of technology and time.
What might these developments mean for the academy? Many disciplines purport to study human behavior at different levels. Yet these disciplines are fractionated and operate largely independently. Dynamic maps of subjectivity and their implications for behavior might provide a conceptual spark that could meld disparate realms.
There is a distinction between maps of the neural correlates of subjectivity and actual objective measurement of subjectivity. Arguably, the only thing that can actually observe subjectivity is… our own subjectivity.
Certain kinds of meditation, in which we take our own subjectivity as the object of our awareness, will prove useful.