We see and understand things not as they are but as we are. Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways of knowing.
“We see and understand things not as they are but as we are.” Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways of knowing.
Because of our different upbringings, prejudices, and viewpoints, the way we perceive or understand certain things may be different from how they are in reality. The prescribed title implies that instead of perceiving or understanding things for the way they truly are in reality, there are things that get in the way of our doing so. This essay will examine three such things that get in the way: our sense perception, emotions and language as knowers. In order to examine how these three ways of knowing affect reality or truth, the following knowledge issue will be used:
To what extent does a knower’s sense perception, language, emotion, or reason shape reality?
Firstly, Sense Perception, in this case, is simply what the eyes see, ears hear, nose smells, or body feels. It is what the knower is experiencing through his or her sense perceptions. Secondly, Emotion refers to the emotions that a knower may feel or experience at any given point. In other words, it is the emotional state of the knower. Lastly, what reality refers to is the world of objective knowledge or truth. Furthermore, the reality of something is not subjective, but rather objective. What this essay examines is how sense perception, language, and emotion interact with reality and how, in certain cases, they shape it into something that is not reality.
To begin with, Sense Perception and its role in the area of knowledge, Natural Sciences, will be examined. In the field of natural sciences, sense perception often alters the way a knower perceives things. For example, when a straight stick is placed under water, a knower would see that it looks as if it is bent. However, in reality, a stick does not bend by simply placing it under water. It is due to refraction of light that this illusion is created and more specifically, the bending of light rays as they move from water to the air. What this example implies is that our senses can play tricks on us. Even though a knower might see with his own eyes that the stick appears to be bent, in reality it is not. In this sense, sense perception is not always a reliable source for obtaining truth and in certain situations, shapes reality significantly. In addition, this example reinforces the fact that we, as knowers, see and understand things as “we are” and not as they are.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Similarly, if the role of Language in the area of knowledge, History, is considered, a similar phenomenon may occur. For example, sometimes propaganda, through the use of persuasive language, is used to influence people and distort the truth. This distortion creates the illusion that something is true, when in fact it is not. Case in point, in Nazi Germany, hundreds of propaganda posters, and other forms of media, condemning Jewish people were created by the Nazi Party. Of course, the entire Jewish population cannot be defined by a single party’s opinion of it, or any single person for that matter. However, surprisingly enough, a great portion of German civilians began to believe the lies that were being told. For example, The Eternal Jew, a 1940 feature and documentary film created by the Nazi Party, portrayed the Jewish people as rats and claimed that they were responsible for the decline in standards of living in Germany. The film was met with wide public support and even an anonymous author at that time claimed that the film provides “the best treatment of this parasitic race” (The Eternal Jew: The Film of a 2000-Year Rat Migration). In addition, posters claiming Jewish people to be “Warmongers” and “War Prolongers” were also created in order to fuel further anti-Semitism and were met with support (Politics Unspun – The Ghost of Bigotry Past). Considering this, persuasive language was used to not only turn German civilians against the Jewish people but to make them seem evil. This example illustrates how persuasive language, in propaganda, can manipulate people into thinking something is true when in fact it is not. Once again, this is an example of seeing things as “we are” and not as they are in reality.
Emotion, as well, often alters reality from what it truly is. For example, the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 11, 2001 provide evidence for emotion shaping reality. Ever since it was revealed that the attacks were carried out by Al-Qaeda, the Islamic extremist group, there has been a change in the way many Americans and other people around the world perceive the people of Islam. Case in point, the term “islamaphobia” became very popular in the United States after the attacks (Terrorism and Political Violence: Islamaphobia in America?). Many Americans became Islamaphobic and, as a result, protests were carried out and several Muslims - such as the Iranian American nail salon owner, Zohreh Assemi - were discriminated against and beaten (The New York Post – Muslim Biz Gal Beaten). This is an example of emotional prejudice. Families and friends of victims of the September 11th attacks were emotionally affected, and in search of someone to blame, they ended up pointing the finger at all Muslims instead of the few people who actually carried out the attack. Obviously, not all Muslims are Jihad extremists, but because families and friends of victims were so distraught over the death of their loved ones, their anger caused them to blame the entire Muslim population. Considering this, emotion shaped the reality of these people into something it was, and still, is not. In this sense, certain people after the attacks understood things as they themselves were, and not as reality was.
As for a counterclaim, regardless of these situations, humans have been blessed with the gift of Reason. What reason allows us to do is determine whether certain information is true or false having considered the effects emotion, sense perception and language have on it. That is, of course, if our reason is not flawed or shaped into perceiving only subjectivity. However, once we’ve reached a stage where our reason allows us to see and understand things objectively, truthful knowledge can be obtained.
From personal experience, I know that with the use of reason, I can obtain the truth in several situations. For example, in my IB History class, we studied a book called Mao – The Unknown Story by Jung Chang. This book focuses on Jung’s life in Mao’s China and how she went from a follower of Mao to a criticizer. Regardless of the fact that a great deal of what she writes is factual information, a portion of it is highly subjective and not completely accurate. The fact that she is passionately anti-Mao and against his regime, some of what she says is either exaggerated or blown out-of-proportion. Considering this, I know not to believe every single thing Jung says about Mao and Mao’s China. Through reason, I know that perhaps certain aspects of Mao's China are not as bad as they are described by the Jung’s writing. Perhaps due to emotional appeal and passionate language, this is a situation where I was initially inclined to believe what the author claims to be true. However, by using reason, I was able to prevent emotions and persuasive language from shaping reality. In this sense, reason provided me with undistorted reality and allowed me to see things for the way they truly are.
In conclusion, I personally believe that ways of knowing such as emotion, sense perception or language shape our reality greatly. Whether it is our own senses that betray us, the media that influences us, or emotions that affect our reasoning, reality is altered everyday to a certain extent. However, we as humans have come to a point in our existence where we cannot afford to let these things get in the way of truth or objective knowledge. We've become intelligent enough to understand this idea over the decades and decades of the mistakes we have made and knowledge we have gained. That is why, we use reason and logic to put aside our emotions, our sense perceptions, or the thousands of languages of this world, and try to see things for the way they are and not as we are.
- "The Eternal Jew:The Film of a 2000-Year Rat Migration." Rev. of The Eternal Jew. Unser Wille und Weg 1940: 54-55. Print.
- Felton, Greg. "Memo to The Lobby’s media tyrants: defamation is not protected speech, The Ghost of Bigotry Past." Politics Unspun. Greg Felton - Politics Unspun, 10 July 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2010. <http://www.gregfelton.com/media/2008_07_08.htm>.
- Kaplan, Jeffrey. "Islamophobia in America?: September 11 and Islamophobic Hate Crime." Terrorism and Political Violence 18.1 (2006): 1-33. Print.
- Fanelli, James. "Muslim Biz Gal Beaten." The New York Post. The New York Post, 6 Sept. 2007. Web. 17 Feb. 2010. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/regional/item_WHbJaoFjYrsEoH2jzSmveP;jsessionid=FFB846C146B69763D227B6F05D312EE6>.