In order to find out how things really are, one must understand the filters through which one perceives the world
The history of human thought has been dominated by two fundamental questions: “What is the nature of whatever it is that exits? ” and “How, if at all, can we know? ” (Magee 1998 pp. 7-8) The claim made in the topic offers a framework of sorts within which those two questions may be explored. The topic states that to know the true nature of things, understanding what affects one’s perception of those things is absolutely necessary. Central to the topic is the assertion that there is an objective reality, an order of existence that is somehow identifiable as “how things really are”.
In addition, there is a concern with the mechanics of perception, the process through which we come to apprehend this objective reality and the “filters”, the various entities that affect our perception and interpretation of that reality. In this essay I will discuss and evaluate to what extent the given claim might guide us in the pursuit of knowledge in different areas. Ordinarily, most men suppose that they are able to know things and justify the knowledge claim by means of the senses, namely through sight, smell, hearing, feeling and taste.
For example, an ordinary man does not doubt that he knows of the existence and some sensible characteristics of a pen in his sight, simply because he can see it and feel it. However, skeptics typically abandon such knowledge claims considering the verification and justification as insufficient and improper. They argue that “sure knowledge of how things really are may be sought, but cannot be found” (A Dictionary of Philosophy 1979, p. 278), because our sense experience is not reliable.
Plato is usually thought of as arguing that we constantly misperceive and hallucinate and what we find by our senses are nothing but “shadows of the reality of intelligible forms” (Cornman & Lehrer 1974, p. 58). However, while refuted by skeptics, our commonsense view is reaffirmed by realists, who support the view that “physical objects exist independently of being perceived” (A Dictionary of Philosophy 1979, p. 278), though direct and representative realism have different opinions on how perceptual knowledge is formed from perceiving them. perception webpage)
When attacked by idealists such as Berkeley who consider the physical objects to be mind-dependent, “their being consists in being perceived” (A Dictionary of Philosophy 1979, p. 278), realists have replied, as in G. E. Moore’s famous ‘Refutation of Idealism’, that “they (the idealists) confuse, for example, the act of seeing a colour, which is necessarily mind-dependent, with its object, the colour itself, which is not” (A Dictionary of Philosophy 1979, p. 278). I will not explore further about this perennial debate, as the given topic has presumed the existence of a mind-independent objective reality.
Instead, based on what Moore said, I will focus on the process of perception lying in between the perceived and the perceiver. When we perceive the external world, it is difficult for us to justifiably claim that what we have perceived is exactly the reality or “how things really are”, because the existence of certain filters has created uncertainties and distortions. The “filter” here is actually a term coined to represent everything that impacts upon the process of perception; it can be either physically existent, distorting the appearance of the original objects, or mentally existent as another cause of our knowledge claim.
For example, a stick that is placed in water appears to bend; a colour appears to be different when put against different backgrounds; dishes in a dark restaurant seem to be more delicious because attention is diverted from looking to tasting. “When we see, the mind actively organizes the visual world into meaningful shapes” (Visual Expert 2003), so expectation and emotion can act as filters. An ancient Chinese fable tells such a story that after a man found that his neighbour got a new axe on the same day he lost his, every action of his neighbour seemed like that of a thief in his eyes.
He held the belief until he found his axe back in the forest, and from then on his neighbour’s behaviour was no longer like that of a thief. The man’s expectations formed his biases and hindered him from seeing the objective reality. As Emerson observed, “People only see what they are prepared to see. ” (Woolman 2000, p40) Culture is another filter that can affect one’s perception of realities and this can become an acute experience for those residing in a foreign country.
For example, in any Chinese food market, there are sellers who would like to kill the animals such as chickens, dogs, and fish in front of the consumers. Considering it the freshest food, most of the Chinese like it, and this way of selling hardly invokes any emotional reaction. In contrast, there are no such things in Australia; people view killing animals openly as cruel and inhuman. However, it is hard to be certain whether it is too cruel or not because emotion, which is the major way of knowing in this case, grows out of one’s cultural background.
In my home country of China I was raised by a conservative mother who was shocked to discover that I had a taste for Rock music, specifically Guns ‘n Roses. Her almost inescapable view was that such interest could only lead to corruption of the youthful me, plus a slide into Western decadence and immorality. Her association of Western Rock music with undesirable values is still part of her filters, her perception, but at least I have had the opportunity to experience Western education.
Since our perception, as it might seem from the above examples, is always distorted by filters, understanding the filters becomes a necessary part of understanding what we have perceived. If an individual were able to identify that one or more filters exist, such identification would be an important first step in a process that might lead to an acceptable knowledge claim. There is, of course, an assumption here that identification of a filter, knowing that it exists, will lead to an understanding of its operation and impact upon the process of perception.
Such understanding might well lead an individual to adjust or make allowance for the existence of the filter, or perhaps to remove it. Further knowledge can enable one to identify and understand and hence overcome one’s individual filters. There is such an example in history of mathematics, when Bernhard Riemann first built a completely artificial geometry in which no two lines can be parallel, people considered it totally useless or impossible, because the standard geometry from the Greek mathematician Euclid has an ingrained influence on people’s thinking.
However, after studies on the universe, Albert Einstein finally proved that Riemann’s strange curved space is the true shape of the Universe. Though people can only see a tiny part of the whole Universe, Einstein used reason and logic to overcome this limitation, and consequently, he helped people to realise their limitations of knowledge and changed their perception on Reimann’s theory.
On the hand, we can see that sure knowledge needs sufficient and convincing justification and verification; though it was Reimann who first found out the truth, he didn’t adequately prove it which was a problem of his knowledge. However, development of an area of knowledge is to identify the filter which alters correct perception and then remove it or overcome it to better one’s knowledge. (Useless Mathematics 2002) However true, it is only one side of the story, sometimes, even the perception through filters can see how the world really is, which is hard to detect in other ways.
Alamdar Bukhtiyari, a 15-year-old boy who has spent three years living in detention in Australia, now have seen how cruel the world can be through his experience. As the most controversial asylum seekers in Australia, this boy’s family was detained in Baxter detention camp in Port Augusta, but later torn apart. What Alamdar has experienced, the turmoil among detainees, the so-called help from strangers that led him to isolation punishment, and the competing forces in Australia’s immigration debate, has greatly shaped his perception of the world.
He hates Australia, he fears of the outside world, and he has such a strong desire of “freedom” that he gouged the word into his forearm. (Skelton 2003) He is not allowed to have any education, he has no ability to think logically or understand what others are really saying to him, so emotion is the only way he uses to have knowledge of the world, and that’s how he knows that the world is a trap and fearful. Although it seems extreme, and prejudiced, it is true; at least to some extent, such perception reveals how a society really is.
While some people may argue his perception is limited and distorted, they should also keep in mind that their own perception is limited or even distorted also. In fact, the different perception of people with different experience as filters compose the whole truth of how things really. This boy’s experience is quite contrary to that proposed by Rousseau for his natural child in Emile. Here the attempt to remove all civilising influences, to in effect exclude the possibility of many of what we would normally accept as filters, was doomed to failure.
When I look back over the above examples, I am immediately forced to speculate as to not only whether or not identification of filters would necessarily lead to an understanding of ‘how things really are’. In addition, I do not consider that any particular individual, even given such identification, would see things differently in the future. My own observation suggests that many people are inclined to prefer to see their world through rose coloured glasses or some other type of filter.