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When should we trust our senses to give us truth?

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Theory Of Knowledge Essay 1 Question #2: When should we trust our senses to give us the truth? Our senses are the primary linkage we have between our minds and the environment around us, the "faculty by which outside stimuli are perceived" (Newman); we rely on them for tactical, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and visual acquisition of knowledge. Our daily dependence on our five senses makes it even more fundamental for one to critically assess the information they convey - attempting to differentiate the truth from what is false. Truth is "a medium to express actuality" (Marian), and by assuming that reality can be known directly and certainly, the correspondence theory of truth suggests that truth is "when terms of true propositions map to elements of reality in a way that validates the proposition." (Marian) Discovering "truth" is based on the constant feeding of propositions to us through sense perception - and the ability to compare one's sensory perceptions to pre-existing knowledge and ascertain whether the information is congruent. In this essay, I shall attempt to show that sense perception cannot be trusted as an independent entity to give us truth, that only by striking a balance between trusting our senses and evaluating their congruence with pre-existing knowledge can a knower achieve perceptive yet insightful procurement of knowledge. ...read more.


However, occasions when sensory perceptions contradict a knower's expectations exist due to the unreliability of our senses. In the First Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes writes:"Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. I observed, however, that these sometimes misled us; and it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived." (Descartes) Not placing absolute confidence in our senses does not mean questioning every single proposition derived from sensory perception, but instead considering them carefully. When a contradictory proposition is exposed to a knower, an intuitive response would be to critically evaluate this using his past experiences and knowledge. For example, the case of spatial disorientation, "A state characterized by an erroneous sense of one's position and motion relative to the plane of the earth's surface" (Shaw) whereby pilots are unable to accurately interpret aircraft altitude, altitude or airspeed in relation to the Earth, having to completely disregard sensory information and place full confidence on reference instruments. Our sense of balance is regulated by our inner ear's fluid, and pilots are often exposed to 10 to 20 seconds of constant angular acceleration while flying, rendering the sensation of motion transmitted to the brain false. ...read more.


Charles Wysocki, a neuroscientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia claims that this derives from the nasal epithelium, and when the ability to smell a specific substance is missing, so is the response in the brain. This can be traced back to the receptor - when you can't smell a substance, the most likely explanation is that the receptor for it is not expressed well. (McKernan) The smell of freesias is a classic example, an estimated 10 per cent of the British population is unable to detect this flower's scent. Since our senses are variated from person to person, others would have a wider spectrum of information to work with and may come up with other hypotheses on the same environment, rendering it hard to trust our senses to give us truth in the objective sense. In most cases, sense perception is essential for us to gain some evidence to support our knowledge claims, whether this evidence may be trusted or not, corroborating with our past personal experiences. However at times, our senses may deceive, warp and disfigure in the form of sensory perception, affecting our judgement of truth. One must involve other ways of knowledge to accurately achieve perceptive yet insightful procurement of knowledge, and senses cannot function as an independent entity to provide us with truth. ...read more.

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