"Observe the Candle..." Page 3

"You're right about that (you stupid philosopher!). Besides, we objectivists are one step ahead of Kuhn. We know that beliefs affect observations. That's the whole point. That's why we advocate blind testing and ABX tests—precisely to keep reviews objective. If a turntable reminds a reviewer of ice-cream castles or beloved Uncle Ralph, or if the designer drops by and proves to be an all-around nice (or nasty) guy, the review may be skewed one way or another and the poor reader won't know what's going on."

Au contraire, mes frèeres. The whole point is what you objectivists always trip over. We agree that reviewers' observations, just like scientists', interact with beliefs. But the ideal reviewer you envision cannot be one from whom all beliefs and preconceptions have been stripped away. For then you're not left with pure or objective observations of audio equipment—you're left with no useful observations at all.

Like an endless list of miscellaneous facts about a burning candle, a completely unbiased and unprejudiced review of an audio component could devote pages to its knobs, its packing material, its performance as a doorstop, yet never stray from the objectivist principle of "just the facts." The truth is that a good reviewer, like a good scientist, needs to have the right beliefs and prejudices—not none at all. And as long as reviewers are up-front about their tastes and idiosyncrasies, readers do know what's going on.

Besides, even arch-objectivists like subjective reviews. Here's proof: Suppose God magically transformed Stereophile into the ideal objectivist magazine. Not only would reviews include a complete and accurate set of measurements, the magazine would actually let you hear the component under review. You could just hold the magazine to your ears—kind of like a conch shell with "the sound of the ocean" inside—and hear exactly what you would hear if you were sitting in the reviewer's listening chair.

Would subjective reviewing be doomed? Would reviews consist henceforth simply of a photo spread of the component in question, some technical information, and two pages to hold up against your ears?

No, and no. Even though many readers would spend hours with their heads wrapped in the magazine ("Hon...? Are you okay?"), subjectivists and objectivists alike would still want lots of commentary. They'd want to know what the reviewer thought about the sounds being heard; what he or she found especially appealing or annoying or new or different about the component.

It makes good sense: If scientists can look at the same thing but see it differently, then audiophiles can listen to the same component and hear it differently. By exchanging thoughts and impressions, therefore, we can learn to hear components (or systems, or recordings) in new ways that we might not discover on our own.

No audiophile is an island.

Theories and observations. Little did I know, back in chemistry class, that things were much more complicated than I thought. All those unscientific "observations" I made up about that candle were indeed sophomoric and stupid—but they weren't necessarily unscientific. At the time, I just didn't see it.