3. The shroud of Perception
I am reading a book about 50 basics of philosophy. I wouldn’t be me if I wouldn’t try and think further on the things I’m learning, and I intend to use this platform to do so. These posts will be easily recognizable as they are numbered and categorized under ‘Abstract Thought’, so you can ignore them accordingly.
Within the chapter ‘problems with knowledge’, the author of the book goes to explain the same problem with skepticism from a different angle. He brings up several comparisons philosophers like John Locke and René Descartes thought up, and then goes to explain why most of them are largely irrelevant because they aren’t perfect analogues. In their attempt to make a thought experiment easier to understand, they all made the same mistake of oversimplifying, making their argument easy to shoot from the sky.
It’s like saying a scale model of a building isn’t representative of the real thing because it’s not the right size.
Well, duh. A scale model of the right size is called a building. An idea explained as-is is just an observation.
There was a lot of discussion among skeptics about the nature of our observation and its relation with reality. But the general consensus is the same: We aren’t actually seeing things that exist in reality, but instead facing our interpretation of it, that happens subconsciously in our brain. None of the things we see are actually real, we are just seeing our own thoughts.
An example of a tomato is made, for some reason that I haven’t found out yet. It is mentioned that we can determine its size, but some things about this tomato don’t exist outside our own ideas, fir instance that it is red.
A terribly frustrating example, if you ask me, because it is dead wrong.
A tomato reflects light. Not all of it, but certain frequencies of it. We decided to call those ‘red’ and probably even have charts somewhere exactly which wavelengths of light fall within the concept “red”.
Yes, we give it that name “red”, but if we were to measure the tomato’s size, we would also use a standard we invented, namely the meter, to compare it with that. “20 centimeters” is no more than “twenty times this standard I invented here”.
The thing about these names, standards, concepts and ideas is that they don’t change reality. A different word or measuring standard wouldn’t change the reflected light or size of a tomato, only our calling card for it. One might argue about a number after measuring it, but the tomato only has one size.
This, to me, proves the skeptics’ fundamental flaw of seeing their own identity as the center of the universe. They even go as far as to claim that reality doesn’t exist outside their own ideas projected in the inside of their mind. But they’re all dead now, and I’m still here to write about it. Within reason, that proves them wrong.
The ideas in our head are not what blocks us from seeing reality: It’s our way of understanding what we perceive. Like the model of the building, it’s not a perfect representation, but it will have to do.
Skeptics claim that we could re-connect with reality by seeing it in a perfectly clear way, without bias or thought. They seem to forget you’d also have to ditch knowledge and intelligence.
This has actually happened: When an adult blind man sees for the first time, he sees without bias. He fails to make heads or tails from what he sees and freaks out, not understanding the input into his brain.
If we were to throw our ideas overboard, we would cease to understand what we perceive. But our brain analyzes and synthesizes constantly, making our perceptions possible to understand.
Our ideas don’t shroud reality from us, god damn it. They make it so that we can function within it. It is not a handicap, it’s our mechanism of building scale models inside our head, for us stupid humans to work with.
Since there is no way for us to tell how closely these ideas resemble reality, it would be unfair of us to assume that they’re fundamentally wrong. This way of understanding that the skeptics so patronizingly call ‘the naïve perception’, might be closer to the absolute truth (if there is such a thing) than their knee-jerk reaction of “Stop the press, nothing really exists”.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that is the case.