EcoTrain QotW: Observation and Judgement: Do You Know the Difference?

in ecoTrain4 months ago (edited)

I've judged this particular QOTW question as a difficult one to answer.


My first thoughts on this are that the difference between the two are as follows:

  • An observation is a dispassionate 'noting' or 'commenting' on the way things are. Just a plain statement of fact.

In the original 'question posing post'@exo-alex gives the following example:

Apple is Red.
Sky is blue.
This is an observation.
I hope you noticed it too.

  • A judgement involves an evaluation of something, another layer of analytical input where one ranks something as better than something else.

@eco-alex gives the following example show how a judgement (below) contrasts with an observation (above)...

I like red apples.
Red is the best.
This is a judgement.
No, this wasn't a test.

He also provides a nice meme to clarify that a judgement involves evaluation, whereas observation does not:

not judgement.jpg

This got me to thinking where the boundary between observation and judgement is?

For example, I could argue that noting that the apple is red, just that, is in fact a judgement - as it involves me doing something other than just observing the object - in order to state that the apple is red, I have to 'judge' that there is a discrete thing called an 'apple' and that it has a 'red quality', and then if I am going to go on and make a statement, I'm judging that statement is worth making - implying it has some value because I want someone to hear it.

There is possibly a lot of judgement going on here, when at the level of 'pure observation' I am literally just observing the object - the apple is like the candle or the breath in classic meditation terms, it may be something we label 'apple' and 'red' but these are of no concern if I am just observing, the labels are extras, human constructs, designed to differentiate the apple and the red from the pear (or sky) and the blue, or whatever other colour, and labeling things involves discrimination, or judgement.

So maybe any noted observation of difference could also automatically be a judgement?

NB - this may sound like luxurious philosophizing - I am fully aware that identifying 'categorical differences' (red/blue) is, in ordinary daily life, different to making value judgments (red is better than blue).

I know for example there is a world of difference between 'I Identify a bull in a field' (observation) and then 'I shouldn't go into the field' (the probable judgement). All I'm trying to say is that what we think of as observations might have already involved a lot of 'prior' judgement - in the above case a whole load of inherited 'judgement' about the characteristics of the Bull, so the judgement bit is effectively already done when we make the 'observation', if you get what I'm saying?

Anyway, hopefully all of this is making the point that pure observation can be tough to do, and it may not be possible to even make an observational statement about something without at the same time making a judgement.

Having said that, getting back to the 'ordinary' usage of how most of us probably think of the terms 'observation' and 'judgement' - there are, I think (judge?) (I did say this was a difficult one!) certainly statements that can more observational as compared to judgmental.

Different types of judgement?

It might also be useful to differentiate (judge?) between different types of judgmental statement: namely the aesthetic, the utilitarian/ effective and the ethical:

  • I prefer to drive my car rather than ride my push-bike, is an aesthetic judgement.
  • I think driving my car is a more speed-efficient means of my reaching my destination than riding my bike - that's an evaluative judgement, but to me it almost sounds like an observation - it's just obvious, given the conditions I've specified, that a car is quicker than a push-bike. However you might argue it involves an element of judgement because I've already decided 'speed' is the criteria I should use to select my method of travel, and that is judgmental, rather than observational.
  • Even though my car is quicker, I choose to ride my bike because I think that's a less harmful means of travelling - now that's an ethical judgement and is different in quality to both of the above, and involves a lot more reasoning and analytical endeavor, and opens one up to much more potential disagreement with others.

Is shared reality purely judgmental?

I'm not sure it's possible to communicate a 'pure observation' to anyone else - that was maybe why we have that classic Buddhist tale of the dude preaching by just holding up the flower - apparently one person in the 'congregation' understood it!

Once we try put 'an observational experience' into words then we have to categorize it and thus we get into the realm of distinction and thus judgement, and this can lead to disagreements over how we describe and distinguish between what we experience internally - when does turquoise become green or blue for example? A simple enough question, but even something so simple has plenty of scope for disagreement and mis-understanding.

Any attempt to communicate 'aesthetic/ moral judgments' is going to be fraught with even more potential for misunderstanding.

Final thoughts....

At this particular point in human history, sitting around navel gazing or holding up flowers to 'communicate non verbally' isn't going to help us lead a good life - I mean IF meditation (which is pure observation) is good, and IF we want all of humanity to benefit from it, then we need to first figure out how to build the kind of society which is going to allow people the freedom to individually sit and 'meditate on observations' - and that, ironically, requires communication about the best way to get there - which involves a lot of judgement!

Anyway, that's my judgement, but at least I know I'm judging!

What's above may have been less coherent than I'd hoped (that's an observation based on a lot of judgments).

Now I'm really looking forward to having a few beers tomorrow, and if I drink enough I won't care about the difference between observation and judgement because I won't be capable of doing either!


i always like a bit of philosophy! sometimes it revels a jewel!.. its interesting what you say about everything being a judgement.. in a way i agree.. because we very easily start labelling things.. putting them in a box.. and then judging them on things that may not even be true..

is an apple actually an apple.. or have we just labelled everything to simplify our lives?

hopefully that make some sense! nice to see you taking part again this week <3 x

It's a really hefty topic to think about, given that as soon as you think, you stop observing.

So difficult to put into words, but then again if we all agree that reality is difficult to pin down and open to interpretation, that alone should help prevent conflict and disagreement.

I find myself qualifying sometimes that I am observing rather than criticising (judging), so I guess it is often hard to distinguish between the two. And as I wrote that, I thought, hmm, perhaps I am criticising (judging), otherwise why would I be making the observation? You're right, that's a hard question!

It isn't it! I've had enough of thinking about it for a couple of days TBH!

Different types of judgement make a lot of sense to me, especially with the examples you shared.

As someone who's quiet and doesn't talk too much, especially when meeting new people or in big groups, I tend to observe/listen a lot more just to get a sense of how people are so I guess with that comes some kind of judgement as well... The more I think about this, the more confusing it gets so maybe I should also just have a beer (or two).

I know the feeling on all of those accounts - I tend to avoid large groups as much as possible, this particular topic is most definitely confusing the more you think about it, as to beer, I'm counting the hours until tomorrow afternoon!


Thanks for the virtual beer, cheers! :)

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