Seeing and knowing as a science topic

Not only in philosophy or literature, social science has been interesting with this topic for a long time. There are lots oft theories and discussions try to deconstruct vision and knowledge with regard to psychology, linguistic and sociology. Besides the evolution hypothesis rose by Peter in today’s seminar, I would like to offer two more theories that might be inspiring.

Evolution is a general approach and the more specific one is operant conditioning, which is a basic concept in behaviorist psychology. The core idea for behaviorism is that, reward reinforces behavior and punishment compresses it. Think about how your parents teach you being polite to others. Every time you behave in the way they require, you can get a candy or a toy as reward. The rewards reinforce your behavior then gradually you get used to being polite. Let’s apply this model in vision and knowledge. We receive information via sight and respond to it, when the acts are correct they become a kind of “reward” as we can smoothly turn to next action without any troubles. However, senses like hearing, touching and smelling are less effective. Especially in the tale of blind and elephant, they all guess wrong. They might even refuse to touch if they can see that is an elephant, as it could be dangerous. A wrong respond is a kind of “punishment”, which makes other senses less trustable. We privilege and trust vision due to our long-term experiences.

Apparently seeing is biased and limited, but other senses are limited as well. None of them is perfect otherwise five senses would not be developed to cooperate each other. In fact seeing is neutral as an action, but individual’s seeing is biased. “My” visual experience is too personal to connect with truth. So what should be questioned is not seeing but knowing. And that’s the crucial point of Plato’s cave allegory. The visual experience in the cave is always associated with noble lie. When the prisoners believe in the shadow and never question it, seeing fits knowing. It happens because they don’t realize the limitation of vision. In Republic, a few genius are unblocked and step out from the cave, they have the chance to reach reality. However, when he brings back the outside world to the cave, everyone thinks that he is mad.

The relationship between seeing and knowing usually depends on how we treat the flaw of vision. Here is another sociology theory called Glass of self. We determine who we are by putting our selves into other’s shoe. We detect small details in our social interaction and spontaneously modify our behaviors, as we can perceive how people think of us through observation. However, when we “perceive” from what we see, it’s actually a subjective imagination. Now, think about this question: how would you describe yourself? Do you believe in your answer?

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