On Sensory Perception

On Sensory Perception——————————– There is an expression Everyone sees the world in a different light. but for the most part we see the world in the same way as everyone else. When we see a fire truck go by we can reasonably assume that the person standing next to us is looking at a red fire truck. This idea of a common perception is reasonable because according to geneticists, we share 99.9% of our DNA with every other human on this planet and we share about 98% with every other living organism that has ever existed. This raises a problem because mathematically 99.9 is equivalent to 100. So why do people look and act so differently? A more significant question would be how it is if we share so much in common, why are there no two identical people? Mothers in this country often tell their children that they are as beautiful and unique as a snowflake. This is an apt analogy because while we are as unique as snowflakes, we are all still made of snow from the same cloud.——————————————————————- It is reasonable to assume that humans have a common perception of the world because of our shared genetic material and evolution. This is not perception in a general sense, but only the process by which we convert physical stimuli into something we recognize and understand. Our sensory perception is, to put it simply, the seemingly objective projection of our five basic senses as the human brain processes them.———————————– Driving down a crowded Newbury street, a friend remarked excitedly on a bright pink Volvo he saw out the window. Naturally we all turned to look at the car.————————————————————————————————— Ben, that car is blue.———————————————————– Oh, well I suppose its not that interesting then, he replied, turning his gaze back to the street.—————————————————————- This short episode raised all kinds of questions in my mind about color blindness and following from that, questions about the general reliability of my senses. I tried to imagine what the world would look like if I had Bens eyes and the closest thing I could come up with was along the lines of a color negative. This idea of the world with all the colors reversed was not accurate because of course pink is not the opposite of blue. This only made the issue more complicated because how can you say that what I perceive is right or in synch with objective reality? Unfortunately the term objective reality is indefinable to me. How can you prove that what I see is an accurate portrayal of the world?—————————————————————————– But surely with all the technology and knowledge of the natural world, one would think we have found some objective truths. The problem is that any technology that exists to measure the world is created and calibrated by us. Scientific measurement can record change but not the full nature of what is changing. Take a spectrometer for example, a machine that measures color; It can tell when something is red only because we told it beforehand what red looks like to us. ————————————————————————- How we perceive color is very similar to how one would correctly color match a gallon of paint. When customers want paint they usually choose a color sample and using the ID number on the sample we find a formula to make the paint. The formula is the amount of different tint (concentrated colorant) that is to be added to a gallon of pure white paint. Customers can also bring in a color and the computer can look at it and create a formula. Before this color matching can happen, however, the computer has to be calibrated. Calibration gives the computer two constants, black and white, and it creates the formula based on the established color spectrum in between black and white. This is not an exact science because pitch black is hard to find and as a result, colors generally come out lighter than the originals.—————————————————- A significant observation is that people have faith in their senses above all other faith. A pilgrim may believe that God will not allow him to die while practicing his religion but the pilgrim still looks both ways before crossing the street. A common part of a definition of faith is the belief in something that can not be proven. Most people would say that they trust their senses because they believe what is sensed can be proven. I do not believe that sense can be proven to be a reflection of reality. To prove that, we would have to know how the brain processes the impulses it receives, a topic about which the most intelligent neuroscientists in the world wouldnt venture to debate.—————- What we know is that electrical impulses relay information about the world around us to our brain, which converts these impulses into something we understand. The process of understanding these senses is not understood. We also know that language plays a large role in cognitive recognition. According to the Sapir-Wharf Hypothesis: language, in addition to reflecting the values and experiences of a culture, is necessary and instrumental in shaping our perception of reality. If a culture does not have experience of something, they do not have a word for it and it is impossible to completely comprehend. In Chinese, for example, there is only one word for red in all shades. A native Chinese does not fully comprehend the difference between maroon and pink even if both colors were presented. A more concrete example is the impossibility of explaining snow to native people located in the tropics. These groups of people can not comprehend the concept, no matter how long a description of snow may be.———————————————————– Another import question to consider is what cant we sense? Plato believed our world is but a shadow of a greater one, the place where objective truth can be found. Any truth we find here in this realm is a reflection of a universal truth that we can not perceive fully. It is difficult to think about what we can not observe through our senses because of the inherent problems with comprehending anything that is not a part of our reality. ————————– This problem is similar to the astronomical problem, Paradox of the Night Sky, which tries to answer the question of why the night sky is not bright white. There are an infinite number of stars in the sky extending in all directions with an infinite number of ages so if the universe is mostly empty space then we should be able to see all these stars and the night sky would be lit up like the face of the sun. The currently accepted explanation is the existence of dark matter, which is unobservable yet blocks our line of sight to most of the universe. This is a concept that while difficult to understand, is not unreasonably applicable to the earth. There could be things that we cannot perceive because our brain does not acknowledge their existence and therefore does not present them to our conscious mind.————————————— Hallucinations are often described as an alternate reality by those who are experiencing them and delusions by most people. I do not believe that hallucinations, drug induced or otherwise, show people a glimpse of an existing alternate reality or even a comparative one to a sober view of reality. What is significant about tripping is that senses are often crossed or heightened. People describe hearing colors or watching sound while some senses are heightened to where you might be able to hear a dog whistle. This shows how easily the sensorial brain activity can be disrupted. If our sensory perception can be altered so easily how can we begin to believe our senses?—————– A persons faith in god is demonstrated by their actions and is not questioned because the maxim is It is a matter of faith. The existence of god, however, is questioned constantly through innumerable points of view and lines of reasoning. Yet most people trust their senses almost completely. In such a debate, one could counter the question of the existence of god with the question of the existence of a blue sky and still never prove anything.———————-


I have faith that there is no such thing as objective reality. I think the only reality that exists is the one constructed inside our own heads. The reality I construct is the one I understand and the one that provides the basis for my own bias.

            People seem to feel that mankind has a pretty good idea of how the world works, and that it will work the same when seen from different perspectives. This is a natural conclusion to draw, because human beings view reality in very similar ways. There is a general consensus that the sky is blue, for example. There is a consensus on what defines the color blue. The problem with the “fact” of a blue sky is that color is a concept we invented and blue is an arbitrary measurement of color.

            But surely with all the technology and knowledge of the natural world, one would think we would have found some objective truths.  The problem there is that any technology that exists to measure the world is created and calibrated by us. Scientific measurement can record change, but not the full nature of what is changing.  Take a spectrometer for example, a simple machine that measures color; it can tell when something is blue only because we told it beforehand what blue looks like.

A common part of a definition of faith is the belief in something that can not be proved.  Most people would say they trust their senses because they believe that what is sensed can be proved. I do not believe that sense can be proven to be a reflection of reality.  To prove that, we would have to know exactly how the brain processes the impulses it receives.

The subjective nature of sensory perception is a metaphor for how we think about the world. What is good, bad, true or untrue is really a matter of our own faith in ourselves and a construct of our own individual minds. I believe that everyone views, interprets, and represents reality in a unique way, and presenting a truly objective point of view is impossible. We are also biased and under the influence of an infinite number of impulses. Trying to understand one’s own bias can be helpful is presenting a comprehensive, if not objective, world view.

This idea of a questionable reality seems most evident in memory; we have a strong ability to recall things but also a strong disconnect between the conscious and unconscious.  Without evidence, it is often difficult to distinguish between the memory of a vivid dream and the memory of something that actually happened. The answer to “if a tree falls and no one hears, does it make a sound?” is, not only is there no sound, but if no one remembers it, it doesn’t exist.  This means that the truth we present to others is really something we have created but it is also the only truth there is.