Knowledge of the world

To what extent do our senses give us knowledge of the world as it really is? At a first thought, anyone would argue that what we experience is actual reality – there are no illusions, or misinterpretations. It is just information that we receive from the world. The question is: What do we make of this information? And how do we know that what we perceive is all there is? Senses, knowledge, perception; all of them are born in our brains. Since every Earth being – not only humans – is unique, as Biology and the DNA imply, can we really trust that our brains work in identical ways, without being dogmatic? So is there only one universal reality?

The first, most obvious and most significant piece of evidence is our senses. We are all aware of the fact that senses are not the same for, let’s say, humans and animals (although they vary between human beings as well). Some of our senses are not as evolved as those of animals; for instance, our hearing ability is bleak compared to that of bats, which can orient their flying according to sound signals that we could never even hear. Or, consider our smell – we use our smell to barely identify some distinct odours, while dogs can track a person by simply smelling the places where he stepped. So, apparently our reality is quite different from the reality that a bat or a dog experiences. In fact, our reality seems to be rather limited in some areas, which answers to a question posed above: what we perceive is not all there is.

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It seems that our senses can be also misguided by what our brain wants to see or is inclined to recognise. One outstanding example is our prejudices. Imagine that you see a very tall and massive man, wearing a leather jacket, having an unshaven face and riding a Harley-Davidson; you immediately picture him as violent and dangerous. But this may not reflect the truth. Past experiences can also affect our perception. For example, if you eat something that you enjoy, but then causes you illness you are highly unlikely to eat it again. Your senses, that might tell you that it is tasty, are overpowered by the strength of your unfortunate experience.

Optical illusions and our tendency to identify familiar patterns in what we perceive fall under the same category. If you try to sing along with a song you hear for the first time, you find yourself following rhythm patterns of songs that you have previously heard. As a result in many points you fail to follow the melody of the song, but you trust your own one. Or when you see this picture: you vainly try to see an ordinary elephant with its four legs, but you cannot. Optical illusions are inexplicable; however, they work exactly in the same way. We see what we want to see or, even better, what we believe that should be there.

The power of expectations is another major factor in this case. Expectations have long been a topic of psychological research, and it’s well known that they affect how we react to events, or even how we respond to medication. People seem to experience reality not as it is, but as they expect to be. And the truth is, that no human being can escape his or her expectations and the effect they have on their perception of the world.

Many experiments have been conducted, in order to investigate this phenomenon, and all of them have turned out to confirm it. In one of them some expert wine testers were given white wine, and characterised it as having the taste of lemon, peaches and honey. The next day, they were offered the exact same white wine, only this time dyed with red colour. The wine now tasted, according to them, like black currants.

The experts were convinced that it was a red wine, so they subconsciously forced their senses to believe so, too. You can easily observe the power of expectations on yourselves, as well. Think of yourselves when you are shopping. People are always disposed to consider products that are expensive more qualitative. When you buy a cheap object, you usually tend to notice its flaws, while when you have something expensive, of an exalted brand, in your possession you keep on admiring it and praising it, although it might not bear a single difference to a less expensive one.

It seems like our brain doesn’t passively take in perceptions. Most of the time, it distorts our senses and provides us with a mere subjective print of the reality. But what is reality? Who can define reality? Everyone can. Or no-one. Reality is different for each and every one. But if there is no objective observer of the reality, then there is no reality! We live our lives relying on our perceptions – we build our existence and our knowledge based on them. Our perception is reality. Reality is perception.

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