In order to find out how things really are, one must understand the filters through which one perceives the world”. Discuss and evaluate this claim. For the only world man can truly know is the world created for him by his senses. -Lincoln Barnett- The term thing can be applied to an entity, an idea, or a quality perceived, known or thought to have its own existence. Things are all the objects that our senses meet in everyday life processes, emotions, everything that can not be referred to as a living system. I see something, I feel something, I do something…we are surrounded by things.
When an image of a thing reaches our perceptive senses continues its journey through many “filters” or “membranes”, where it gets its shape and cognition, and finally settles down in our memory. This process is called perceiving. We say that through perceiving we gain knowledge, but what is knowledge, then? It is the awareness of reality, a reality that is identified and understood in our mind. I know (therefore I identify and understand) that the Earth is round. Perceiving is the first step on the way to knowledge.
However, before we make any conclusion all the data gained through perceiving is altered in our mind, so a picture about the world or a particular thing will be drawn into ones head. And through objectivity one can check the validity of his conclusion. But not all men are the same, thus not all conclusions about the world are the same either. These filters I mentioned, earlier, are actually the means used for identification and cognition of reality: senses, mind, emotion, experiences, reason… Obviously these filters have main role in understanding real world. So a question emerges.
Whether they allow us to see how things really are, or just restrain us from reality? Almost everything we know comes from four basic sources. The first one are our senses, then reasoning and intuition, and authority. I myself have placed them in three groups: senses, mind (reasoning, intuition, emotions, beliefs, experiences) and authority. Outside these four sources are also others, but their reliance is questionable. The senses are the first obstacle that emerges when talking about perceiving. The eyes, foe example, are often regarded as windows of the world and so they are.
But as filters they block out most of reality. One example is that the human eye sees only a small portion of the frequency spectrum of light. We see nuances of red, blue, green white, but we cannot see ultraviolet or infrared. We operate with drastic sensory limitations. If we divide the range of all electromagnetic waves into sixty octaves, then visually we perceive only a single octave. Animals, for example, have far more developed perceiving senses than us. They see the world in totally different way, a way we cannot even imagine: more intensified colors, sounds that our ears cannot pick up, strong smells.
It is very wrong to rely only upon our senses. What is out there, cannot be always seen, or smelled, or touched by human. Most people deny the existence of things that cannot be perceived. A very simple example is the “blind spot” in the eye. If a reflection of a thing lands upon this spot the human mind will not see it. But the thing is out there, it exists. After going through the senses, an image continues further in our mind. The mind is a complex matter. Therefore it will be easier if we extract few filters taking place in the mind. One of them is reasoning.
The process of reasoning includes using known facts to come up with new. For example, I know that the distance from my home to school is 1. 5 km, and I need 15 min to get to school. From this I can conclude my walking speed, which is 0. 1 km/h. The reasoning always yields new facts. Reasoning can objectively show how thins really are. On the other hand not so reliable filter of knowing is the human’s intuition. Intuition can be described as a “voice” from the subconscious mind. I sometimes have a feeling when a person does not like me. I then see that person with reserves.
It may not be like that in reality. Or, when someone’s intuition tells him that something bad is going to happen he begins to act very precautious and see a thread in everything, when in fact, reality is very different. Intuition is, also, related with emotions. Emotions can distort reality. More emotional people feel things with greater intensity. Some people cry at movies, some don’t. So is the movie sad or not? What people believe soon becomes their reality. It is needles to mention all the different beliefs and religions who preach their own picture of how things really are.
Protestants think that diseases are sent from God, and that any attempt to cure them will be punished. The Aborigines think that if you paint your own picture, your soul will get trapped in it. In the modern world diseases are being cured and pictures are being taken. Still, these people stick to their beliefs, considering them as reality. Experience is a great factor in determining reality. When one tribe from the Amazon forest first saw a camera (or other technical object) they saw nothing, just an empty space. It was until they touched the camera that their mind started to perceive it.
Strange, indeed. But this is true example of how people’s mind organizes its own reality. Their mind decided that the camera is too weird to interpret and edit it out. They had no previous experience with a camera. Maybe the best example is the movie “Vanilla sky”, where the main character lives in a dream. There are a lot of people in his dream: his girlfriend, his psychologist, his friend. The thing is that all this persons are created by his previous experiences (from his real life). For example, he ones saw a girl on a commercial that he liked, so his girlfriend was the same as the one from TV.
He saw a movie as a child, in which he especially liked the father figure, so in his life-dream this figure represents his psychologist. The same thing is happening in our minds. Our previous experiences determine what kind of picture of the world we will see. Apart from our mind, arises another filter- authority. Or just, looking at reality from others people’s point of view. All the knowledge of history is derived from authority. Since history does not exist in present and can not be put through empirical observatory, we trust those who witnessed events in the past and have recorded them. It is same with the sciences.
Of course, fact can be checked, but, most of that we take for granted. By authority, we also receive knowledge from society. Every society carries culture with different common knowledge and common sense. In Saudi Arabia the hands of the thieves are being cut off. In Europe thieves go to jail. Both societies see their way of dealing with thieves as ethical. Society tells us that something is ethical and non ethical. In different ages epistemologists used different filters for understanding things. At the beginning Plato discussed that real knowledge comes from the mind itself (abstract reasoning), while sense perception gives false picture f the world. Aristotle supported this but he also added that genuine knowledge comes from experience. The philosophers of the Middle Age used the dogma as filter, but this was a very thick filter allowing seeing things from the church’s point of view. From the 17th century up to late 19th philosophers argued between empirical and rational filters. David Hume, being a rationalist himself, concluded that all the natural laws may not be true, since the cause and effect cannot be proven as consequently. German philosopher Edmund Husserl developed a way for distinguishing the way things appear to be from the way one thinks they really are.
Today empirical way has a priority, since it can be proven by experiments. “Things which we see are not by themselves what we see…”says Kant. “It remains completely unknown to us what the objects may be by themselves and apart from the receptivity of our senses”?. The senses, as filters, block out majority of the reality. They let through a tiny part of what is called reality. Things get their shape in our mind, which is the greatest filter. The mind data filtered through reasoning gives facts. This is a reliable way of seeing how things really are.
But intuition and emotion can usually lead to wrong conclusions. These conclusions are wrong because of their subjectivity. Beliefs also yield subjective reality. Experience also shape reality by creating stereotypes from things previously seen. Authority is a good way of knowing things that happened in the past, or scientific things, but its reliance should be always questioned before accepted, since it is second hand knowledge. Authority dictates the common senses in one society. Epistemologists mostly argued between rational and empirical filters of knowing how things really are.
However, one should always question his knowledge and the paths that this knowledge was gained. It is only after we have considered all our perceiving weaknesses that we can see how things really are. BIBLIOGRAPHY James L. Christian, Philosophy: An Introduction to the Art of Wondering, San Francisco, Rinehart Press, 1973 Abel, Reuben, Man is the measure, New York, The Free Press, Inc. 1976 Roderick M. Chisholm, Theory of knowledge, 3rd Ed. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1966 www. worldtrans. org/TP/TP1/TP1-47. html www. connect. net/ron/epistemology. html