Trust our Senses Paper
The world is a big place, filled with people full of curiosity and with their own individual quests. People are constantly talking, looking, hearing, smelling, and gaining knowledge from things and people from their environment. The scope of knowledge gained on a day to day basis is therefore vast. To what extent though, is this knowledge we acquire true? People are constantly seeking for answers to their questions or solutions to their problems; in a way, they seek a pathway to truth. The quote: “rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness…
give me truth” (Thoreau) justifies that truth is a necessity of life and every man seeks it to distinguish between reality and fantasy. To understand truth, we need to know its three basic theories. The correspondence theory states that a statement is true if it corresponds to a fact. The Coherence theory says that a proposition is true if it fits in with our overall sets of belief. Finally, the pragmatic theory states that a proposition is true if it is useful or works in practice. We will use these three theories to understand when our senses can be trusted to give us the truth.
The human species are said to have the weakest of all senses in terms of potency because they can be easily deceived. Perception is a very sophisticated issue because not everything we perceive is real. Optical illusion for sight, not hearing low and high frequency sounds, knowing what a thing tastes like because of its label or the fact we know what it is, not being able to differentiate between different smells, and the reflex reaction for the sense of touch are vivid examples of how things we perceive through our senses sometimes differs from objective reality.
We can simplify this by saying that senses just provide the raw information which is then processed through knowledge in the brain to give us a clear and bigger meaning of that information that we believe is true. Therefore, our senses themselves cannot be relied upon to give us the truth. Ultimately, we can never know the absolute truth but only get relatively close to it by combining our senses along with the ways of knowledge- this is the only time we should trust our senses to give us truth. Before getting into details of when we should trust our senses to give us truth, let us look at a classic example of Helen Heller.
Even though she was not born blind and deaf, a disease led her to the pit of blackness at a very young age. She was the first deaf blind person to graduate from college. Sight and hearing are considered to be the most important of all senses because it is these that shed light on the outside world and help us stay in touch with our surroundings and communicate with the society around us. Helen proved that her senses were not the only requirements to know the events and survive in the bustling world around her, but language, emotions, perception, and reason- the ways of knowing are equally crucial in order to perceive the truth.
Language is a human mode of communication that is not limited to verbal speech only; but also includes visual, auditory, or symbols that can be easily manipulated. Language is constantly surrounding us: when we describe something, express our feelings, write, point out at something, make a sad droopy face, or even when we touch someone or something. Language is one of the main ways by which we acquire knowledge from the world around us and is one of the many pathways that leads to truth because it is through language that we can express our beliefs.
Language can also be seen in plants (chemically) and animals (special gestures or sounds through positive reinforcement) furthermore proving how involved it is in our day to day basis. A person like Helen Keller came to communicate by the sense of touch when she realized that motions her teacher was making on her palm, while running cool water over her hand, symbolized the idea of “water”. Because she was blind and deaf, she had no idea of the concept of language, words, or how to express herself. She found a way around this complication by the means of language through her sense of touch.
She used the Tadoma method of touching the lips and throat of others as they speak, combined with fingerspelling letters on the palm. Therefore, she made the sense of touch her mode of communication (her language) and used it in her day to day life to acquire knowledge from the world of underlying facts around her. Over her years of experience and practice, she obtained a set of beliefs that unveiled the blackness and shed light on the world of facts around her, thus applying to the theories of truth.
The Eskimo-Aleut language has a hundred words for the word snow; therefore they see the truth in much more detail because of the deeper meaning than other people who do not speak the language. Words can also mean different things in other languages and expressions (body language) can be easily misinterpreted. This is why in order to get the truth, one needs experience with language; this might take a long time but would take us closer to the ultimate truth. Emotions are often deceiving and can seem as an obstacle to the truth we seek.
According to the James Lange theory, emotions are generally physical in nature and it is these that trick our senses. This suggests the weak property of emotions because it can be easily hindered due to our physical nature. For instance, if we are deserted on an island and have not eaten or drank anything for quite some time, our emotions kick in causing us to hallucinate and even the slightest sound would cause us to be suspicious. However, if the source of the problem was dealt to (hunger and thirst), then no such thing would happen. It is also because of emotions that our reasoning skills weaken.
This also suggests that emotions can be controlled. Emotions however, can give us truth- for instance, if we see a dead mean and smell his rotting body, we would instantaneously feel sad and have a sick feeling. The fact is that the man has died, and believing that triggers the emotions, thus we know it is true the man has died. Emotions are very dodgy in terms of giving us truth. Thus, it is of great importance that reasoning (another way of knowledge) is introduced into the whole spectra in order to separate the hindrance of emotions from the truth we seek through our senses.
“Seeing that the Senses cannot decide our dispute, being themselves full of uncertainty, we must have recourse to Reason; there is no reason but must be built upon another reason: so here we are retreating backwards to infinity. ” – Michel de Montaigne. This bias quote towards reasoning greatly implies the use of reasoning and logic in order to give us the truth, because senses by themselves are full of uncertainty. It is this that causes us to think about the validity of day to day arguments and knowledge we acquire and think of its greater implications in the world.
It makes us question about things we already know and the new things we are told. For instance, when we think we see a dead man walking, we reason out that if a man is dead, his heart his not beating and there is no blood being pumped through his body, thus no electrical impulses are being send to his brain and therefore he cannot be walking, or in fact, he cannot be alive. Thus, we apply the basic facts of how the human body works and come to a conclusion that the dead man walking was not the truth because it fits in with our overall sets of belief.
In order to get close to the absolute truth, we need to set apart our emotions just like Helen Keller did and think logically, or simply reason out. The final way of knowing- perception, is also vital for achieving the truth. Everything we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch, is not necessarily what we expect it to be. As said before, we know what something tastes like only because of its label or we can see what it is. If we were to blindfold a person and make him describe the texture of a rock and a pebble, he might not be very accurate in describing it unless he actually sees the size of the rock and the pebble.
Usually, in perception, the confirmation by another sense is required in order to fully believe in what we see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. Helen Keller must have perceived the world in a very different way as compared to us. Losing two of her most important senses that help us perceive the world, her certainty of knowledge would be questioned. Certainty depends on perception, and perception depends on senses working together, and senses working together depends on reason and language, all of this combined is what gets us closest to quest of pathway of absolute truth we intend to seek.