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

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Candidate Name: Teng, Eva Yi-Chun

Candidate Number: 001407-038

“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

The acquisition of knowledge involves the interaction between the outside world and our minds. The “things” provide the stimuli for our senses– most notably perception. They subsequently undergo a complex manipulation in our mind, after which they become our new knowledge. This statement suggests that reality and knowledge do not exist if the human consciousness is not present. So the questions that arise with this assumption is this: to what extent can two individuals experience the same reality? How much does the external world control the reality we “see and understand”, or do we impose ourselves in it thoroughly? One must also question the values and limitations of seeing things as they are (objectively) and as we are (subjectively), as well as the extent to which these two views are actually possible, for seeing is a construct of our mind influenced by many factors such as our expectations and experiences.

  Arguably we construct reality by interacting information perceived by our senses with our ways of knowing such as reasoning, and its basis is fundamentally on empirical data. This is because without any stimulus from the real world, we cannot assemble reality in our minds. However, our input in processing the reality can be affected by factors ranging from our objective and subjective beliefs to the culture we are most influenced by, and this results in difference in our understanding. Although one may attempt to be objective in his view of reality, it can be argued that subjectivity fundamentally exists in all our understanding of things. What we “see and understand” can also be affected by the context in which we view the subject.

Take hearing for example: imagine a random note being played on the piano. Most people (or statistically, 9 999 out of 10 000) would hear a piano-sounding noise. However I possess Absolute Pitch, the ability to distinguish a note’s pitch without a reference note, and what I would hear is a piano-sounding noise which “sings” its own note, for example Fa. This example illustrates the difference that can occur between individuals’ perception of the same thing. The cause of this dissimilarity can be traced down to one’s background, such as genetics and language. Our genetic component determines the structure of our organs – in this case, our ear and brain, which are vital processors of the world’s stimuli. Since no two individuals (with identical twins as exceptions) may have the same DNA, it is highly unlikely that they would have the same perceptions due to different brain structures. The nature of the language we speak may affect our perception as well – for example, studies have suggested that speakers of tonal languages are more likely to have absolute pitch. This suggests that we may subconsciously process empirical data in relation to the language we are exposed to. In fact, researches show that absolute pitch is more prevalent amongst tonal language speakers. It seems that we perceive differently due to our varied personal experiences – in this case, the language we have learned. This example demonstrates the vital role we human beings play in imposing ourselves on reality – our different perspectives largely renders our experience of empirical data subjective. As a result it seems unlikely that two individuals can ever perceive something the same way.

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The context in which we view our subjects may affect how we understand and reason as well because it can cause us to predetermine the kind of knowledge we need, and this leads to subjective understanding. The context may be influenced by our beliefs and values and our perspective of the subject. As a result we employ different but usually legitimate, reasoning to reach our knowledge goals. Historians supplied with the same evidence impose their own beliefs and unavoidably preconceptions in their reasoning and source selection. As a result, they often conclude with different, often opposing yet at the ...

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