We as humans rely on our senses in order to effectively communicate with our environment. It is possible that one often neglects these powers completely, oblivious of the fact that it may be the sole means by which we have obtained all our knowledge. For example, with our sight we are able to appreciate nature’s beauty, with our hearing and touch we are able to converse with others; our senses equip us to deal with and also to appreciate our environment.
In visual art for example, one enjoys a piece of painting when the viewer’s senses are aroused or triggered. There may not be proper reasoning involved while observing a particular piece of artwork. However, it is difficult much harder to gain mathematical knowledge if one was to only use their senses. Before we discuss whether we should trust our senses to give us the truth, how can truth be defined?
According to Aristotle “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” is one way to describe the Correspondence In other words truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world, and whether it accurately describes that world. In Buddhism for example we believe in karma. In this case Karma refers to good or bad actions a person takes during her lifetime. Karma also plays out in the Buddhism cycle of rebirth.
Buddhists, people who have accepted Buddhism as their religion and therefore have to conform to its rules and beliefs, believe this to be factual. If we were to define “the truth” as the way in which, society in which we live in, perceives and interprets what others or we say or do as genuine or believable; then we could say that for Buddhists, theses statements are the truth. However some one else from another religion may not necessarily believe this statement to be the truth. Now that we know what truth is, can we really rely on our senses to tell us the truth?
In my opinion there are a number of reasons why our senses cannot always be trusted. The most obvious reason is that often one’s senses will conflict with another. One example where this conflict between senses is evident is when meeting new people. I have had countless experiences where someone I had just met looks unfriendly, but turnouts to be a rather kind, friendly person after getting to know them. Food is yet another good example. Something that smells delicious has often turned out to be unpalatable.
Considering that our senses often contradict with each other, it can be said that we should not rely exclusively on our senses for truth. Not only do the five senses provide contradicting feedback to one individual; but senses can be sharply varying among people. It is possible for two people to view the same artwork at the same time in the same environment but interpret it in completely differently ways. This is because phenomena picked up by our senses is interpreted by our brains, and each of us may interpret our observations differently.
This also shows how our brains do not record everything detected by our senses; thus there must be some kind of subconscious filtration system in which the brain determines what to hold onto and what to forget, and surely this system works differently for different individuals. Of course there the question of, how can we trust our senses where there can be factors that impede our ability to use utilize senses to their maximum potential. Often illnesses will deprive one from using their senses to its optimum potential. For example a cold will reduce our ability to smell or taste something.