Do we believe that the Earth is round because most people believe it is? Is this reasoning not logically sound? Thus, we use emotions to make the distinction. I remember when I was first told about the Flat Earth Society, my friends and I had a hearty laugh about it, without even waiting to research the evidence behind that claim. We did not want to be considered “stupid” by our peers by acknowledging the contradictory view. I believe that the Earth is round, but that belief is not based only on my perception of the evidence but also on my emotional reaction to the beliefs of the people around me.
From the above two examples, it can be seen that irrespective of whether something is tangible or intangible, our emotions and our sense perception play a major role in shaping reality. If we choose to be traditional empiricists, and accept that we perceive reality through our senses, then we have to evaluate the effectiveness of our senses as a way of knowing. Do we perceive things through our senses or do we filter that which we perceive through our minds? Consider a collage with more than a hundred tiny pictures.
If the collage is shown to a group of people for a minute and then they are asked to note down what they saw, some of them will recollect certain images that other had not even seen. This shows that even though the eyes may have seen the entire picture, the mind chose only those images that held some significance to the observer. The senses are able to observe everything in the environment, but the brain perceives only that which it has the ability to. In the movie “What the Bleep Do We Know?
” when Christopher Columbus’ ship arrived on the shores of America, the Red Indians did not see it at first because their minds were not used to seeing something new. If this claim is true then it is also true that we see much less than is actually there. This proves that even though our senses are effective in the day to day processes of our lives, they are not a credible or reliable source of information. Thus, if we as human beings all observe the same things, yet perceive different things, there has to be a sort of filter in our minds that causes this difference.
This filter is formed by our past experiences, our culture, our background, and so on. It is these past personal experiences which define us as the people were are today. We define our own reality, a reality formed by our perception and emotions. Our sensory organs are also unreliable when it comes to mirages or other such optical illusions. The mind cannot prevent illusions caused due to the refraction of light and hence perceive a pencil as being fatter and bent under water or perceives a presence of an oasis when it is actually not there.
We sometimes see dynamic, moving features in inanimate pictures; we imagine a person moving across the room even though we know it is empty. People have even questioned the presence of ghosts and other supernatural powers. Here, it is our emotions that over rides our sense perception to give us truth. Thus, it is not really possible for us to differentiate that which is true from that which is not, using only our senses. We rely greatly on our emotion, reason and background knowledge. However, our emotions are not very reliable either.
Are you more likely to believe your best friend if she told you she won seven gold medals at the school races, or any other classmate with the same story? Our perception of reality is also bound to the emotions created by our expectations. While watching a horror movie, I automatically shut my eyes when the screen gets dark and the music gets eerie. Even though I have not seen the scary seen yet, I still get scared because I expect it to come soon. Can emotions be rational, or are rational emotions just another oxymoron? Some people think that emotions are an obstacle rather than a way of pursuing knowledge.
Yet, there can be no creativity without emotions. So, to what extent should we allow our emotions to guide our perception of reality? In the movie, ‘What the bleep do we know? ‘, reality, or truth, is defined as that which is most self-serving to the individual, after bits of it have been filtered by the mind. Knowing that our perception is subjective to past experiences, social and cultural conditioning, biological limitations, language and other such factors, is it logical for us to believe that our senses give us truth?
However, it is impossible not to rely on our senses in everyday life. I know that fire is hot; I know that chocolate is sweet to taste; I know that the fan is on if it is moving, i know that dead animals smell bad. Pragmatists believe in a truth that “works”. We have to rely on our senses to live normal lives and progress. In conclusion, even if our senses are unreliable, it is necessary to form some inference of what truth is. In order to live normal lives, it is necessary to take some truths for granted.
However, we should keep in mind that truth is not absolute. And hence, we have to question our sensory perception when it is comes fundamental beliefs and consider its limitations and the roles emotions and reason play in giving us truth. It is important for the individual to decide when his senses give him truth and should be able to distinguish between the senses in order to form his fundamental faith and beliefs which in turns forms his perception of reality and truth.