“We see and understand things not as they are but as we are.” Discuss this claim in at least two ways of knowing.
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When the theory of knowledge teacher asked a student in the class to examine and describe a paper flower, he boldly described it as soft, weak and small. I also examined the same paper flower and came up with an understanding that the flower is small, weak and soft. This was because we both were observing the same thing. This observation leads to a hypothesis that the existence of knowledge without human minds is not possible. If in that instant of time one of us would unfold the paper flower and make a paper boat to run it on the water surface in a bucket, we both would have mentioned the differences. This assertion points out our ways of acquiring knowledge. Is it worth saying that human mind understands the world and its phenomenon according to the knowledge being saved in to it earlier. Does culture has impacts in the way humans see and understand? Do people of different religions experience the same reality? Through this essay I shall try to look at the above mentioned problems of knowing and come up with an argument that humans do see and understand things not as they (things) are but as we (humans) are. Famously quoted by N. R. Hanson
“Two third of what we see is behind our eyes.”
I myself agree with the title of the essay that I see and understand things not as they are but as I am. But why? We wouldn’t have any knowledge of the outside world without our perception. For example a person from a different culture than ours would misunderstand the purpose of a finger bowl with a flower petal at a dining table and perceive it as a bowl of soup. The main issue here is that a same thing is perceived differently by different observers due to various aspects in their lives. These perceptions are often strongly influenced by our experiences and memories, religion, personality, culture and even gender. Plato defined knowledge as “Justified True Belief”. According to the definition, the more justification we can provide for a particular belief, the knowledge constructed from the fact will be easier to understand. Mostly the knowledge human value primarily is based on cultural backgrounds and past knowledge. For example dogs will always scare a man if he has been bitten by dog in the childhood while some people on the other hand have dogs as pets and loves them as their own children.
One of the main issues of knowledge in this context would be to explore the question that states that do emotions affect the way we see and understand things? First of all, I must mention that the ways of getting knowledge from emotions are facial expressions, tone of voice or tears. For example if I drag literature into the essay and take a look at the “Slumdog Millionaire”. There comes a point in the story when the character Jamal witnesses his girlfriend getting rapped. Jamal finds this act of violence more hurtful to himself instead of finding it hurting to his friend. Jamal sees himself as the victim because of the pain he is getting just by hearing the voices and runs from the scene. But in reality his refusal to help his friend makes him as accused of the crime as the perpetrator. The point of interest in this example is that Jamal saw the situation through his mind and his emotions did not let him see the actual reality. So he saw the whole situation as he was, not as the reality was.
Another example in this context could be a student who is very intelligent but is held down in the class because he is deemed to be selfish. In his point of view he is strong and independent and has great integrity that is why he never bows to altruism. But other students criticize him because of this attitude. Sacrifice of self is highly appreciated in some cultures but in others self reliance is honored the most. This also points me back to the question of the essay and concludes that culture plays a significant role in what we see and how we perceive it. Religion also plays a part in the perception of people. For example Muslims are not allowed to eat pork and they have religious justifications to prove their belief but for the rest of the world it is quite normal to eat pork and they serve it both at their national and holy events. Therefore a same event in time and space cannot be perceived by same point of view by particular group of people. These three examples led me to conclude that perception is so strongly influenced by emotions, culture and religion that people see the reality as they are not as the reality is.
Sometimes one comes across knowledge that seems authentic but that is not true. I will quote the 4th century BCconcept that the earth is flat. Lack of equipment and modern technology lead ancient scientists to claim this hypothesis. The scientists justified this hypothesis by saying that if earth was not flat; rather sphere then the things on the curved surface of the earth would slide and fall down. Moreover they also justified that the earth appears to be flat even viewed from a high altitude. Since their conclusion (justifications) made sense to the people of that era, so they considered this knowledge valuable. But with the passage of time, scientists realized that earth is spherical instead of flat. “They justified this belief by showing the fact that if earth was flat then all the bodies in the sky should be visible at the same time for all parts of the surface”. Also when a ship disappears in the horizon justifies that the earth is sphere. These justifications were not enough for old believers of flat earth. Advancement in science and technology made humans land on moon. When astronauts showed pictures of earth taken from the surface of moon, people started believing the new knowledge. Pictures served as proof for the belief. Even in the presence of these strong reasoning some old religious scientists deny the fact and are still proving their old knowledge. They believe that in such cases pictures can serve as propaganda. Knowledge based on photographs could be biased or subjective. Thus this example shows that the knowledge that people value the most is the one with their own concrete justifications based on the circumstances or the previous knowledge. But how can we know what could be close to reality? Photographs are a ladder to reach knowledge, they don’t serve knowledge. They can be manipulated for various purposes as in this example; photographs taken from moon can be a source of propaganda for the country first reached at moon.
There also exists knowledge that has similar outcomes yet people do not agree with it. I will take ghosts as example. Spiritual scholars have played a key role in showing existence of ghosts. They showed religious references, pictures, videos and people who can approve their existence but majority of the people do not believe this because they are not able to show their justification to the rest of the world. If I consider myself, I personally believe in ghosts because my religion has strong justifications for that. But those justifications are very weak for the non believers. So when I see a person screaming at night or walking in sleep I consider it as influence of some ghost because this is what my religion and culture taught me. On the other hand modern science has showed evidence to many sicknesses in which a sleeping person might walk and even go to graveyard to remember the dead ones. So a doctor will see this situation completely differently than anyone from old South Asian society. This is also an example of different perception of the same event.
The whole discussion in this essay leads me to conclude than more the justifications, more reliable the belief is. But sometimes even justifications and proofs fail to convince people. Forexample we see a toothpick is embedded in chocolate dipped strawberries. A person with good socio economic background knows the purpose of this toothpick that is lifting the strawberry without getting hands dirty. On the other hand a person with less social status might see the toothpick as a cleaning tool that is used right after one has eaten the strawberries. So this whole discussion can be concluded by saying that knowledge that is most valuable depends on person to person. The knowledge that satisfies ones belief, emotions and actions is valued to him. Thus for him that particular knowledge is most valuable. But if we think logically, then there is no doubt that strong justifications (as in science) make the argument more valuable. As said by David Hume (1711-76)
“Reason is always and everywhere the slave of the passions“