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When should we trust our senses to give us the truth?


For example, a sheet of aluminum is composed of a mesh of molecules, but these molecules are too close together to allow any light to pass through them, therefore the truth is that light is reflecting off the structure of molecules as if it were a consistent sheet of matter rather than a mesh, which is what our eyes tell us. Therefore, it is sensible to conclude that the acquisition of sensory information by a healthy person will be true, despite the fact that it does not give us the truth of the object we perceive.

However, perception does not end at this point, it is impossible to perceive without interpreting. When we look at a rectangular wooden table, most people will agree that they are looking at a brown, rectangular object. However, an artist knows that this is not what our senses are telling us, this is what our mind is telling us. When an artist paints a wooden table, he must recognize the various colour changes on the table, where it is lighter due to the way light falls on it, and even where the table appears white due to the reflection of this light.

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He must also notice that the shape of the table is only rectangular when looking at it from directly above, that there are always two obtuse and two acute angles when looking at the table from any other point of view. By noticing these details, an artist may reproduce what he sees and fool the mind into thinking that he has painted a brown rectangle.

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Thus, the role of the mind in acquiring sensory knowledge is to simplify what we perceive so as to be able to relate it to other experiences with an object that has been simplified to a similar thought in our mind.

In relating these ideas, the mind is able to acquire knowledge of the object at hand without any more sensory testing. If this interpretation is gone about correctly, then it can be a great tool which allows at first induction and following this, the ability of deduction. If one notices that all roses that they have perceived, without exception, have green stems with thorns and coloured petals and that when smelled, are pleasant, then one is able to induce that all roses will have these characteristics.

Therefore when one sees a plant growing with a green stem with thorns and red petals, one is able to deduce that this is a rose and therefore will smell good when sniffed. This reasoning can be used to help overcome instances when our senses tell us that something is true when it isn’t. For example, when a pencil protrudes from a cup filled with water, it appears to bend and thin as it exits the water. The pencil is, however, a completely normal pencil and is in reality straight and of one thickness.

One is able to deduce that the pencil is straight by using reason and observing that nearly all other pencils are straight and therefore the one in the water must also be straight. In this case, our senses contradict reason, and we know that what we perceive is only an illusion. When an individual cuts themselves with a pin, they know that the sensation they are feeling is real. One deduces this by observing that pins are sharp and that sharp things may break the skin, therefore after having pressed the pin against a finger, it is reasonable that the pin broke the skin on that finger.

Therefore, our senses can be trusted to give us the truth when the sensation perceived coheres with reason. Reasoning is a developed skill, a toddler cannot reason as well as a grown adult, who again may not be able to reason as well as someone far more educated. As we mature, we experience more and thus our arguments used to reason are more likely to be sound as they are based off of consistent evidence. This is similar to the scientific method, as an observation is tested more and more, it becomes more and more valid and evolves from a hypothesis to a theory to a law.

Unfortunately, reason can be used incorrectly. A sound argument is one in which the previous knowledge is true. A valid argument is one in which the previous knowledge guarantees that the new conclusion is true. Therefore, for an argument of reason to prove a truth, it must be both valid and sound. The human mind will naturally only draw a conclusion if it believes that this is the case. However, emotion may cause one to assume that an argument is sound whether it truthfully is or not. David Hume described reason as the slave of our emotions.

He argued that it was always controlled by the subconscious, allowing us to pretend to reason our way to our desires. Although Hume’s view may have been extreme, as reason can and has been executed to contradict our emotions, he is correct in saying that emotion plays a large role in our reasoning and thus in our sense perception. Strong emotions may cause one to interpret a sensation in an incorrect manner. A man who hasn’t drunk in a day, wandering through the desert may see heat waves rising off of the sand and interpret this as water evaporating form the surface of an oasis, a misinterpretation called a mirage.

This man sees something that resembles the water that he craves desperately and due to his state is unable to reason properly, causing his emotions to convince him that what he sees is water despite this assumption being unreasonable. Another example is the traditional saying that he “is blinded by love”. This phrase signifies that someone is unable to reason properly and interpret the actions of anther due to their overwhelming desire to love someone. To conclude, our senses cannot give us the truth of an object or event due to their imperfection. However, they do no not lie to us and are able to give us a certain truth, a partial truth.

Once this sensation is recorded, we must be able to interpret this and though this may never be completely certain, it will be much more likely to be true if the perception corresponds with reason and that this reasoning is not blinded by emotion. As said by Descartes, the only thing I know for certain is “I think therefore I am. “

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Essay on Knowledge

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When should we trust our senses to give us the truth?. (2020, Jun 03). Retrieved from

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