Author Archives: Selina

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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From Oedipus to Mr.Kane

Before jumping into Arts One, I took a few FIST100 lessons and studied Citizen Kane, one of the greatest productions in the world. After reading Oedipus the King I realize it’s similar with Citizen Kane in story, structure and the way it connects to “seeing and knowing”. Both of them convey that, seeing cannot directly equal to knowing. As it’s incomplete without exploration.

Although Oedipus might disagree, what he sees is fragmentary. For example, the parents he can see are Polybos and Merope, who in fact not belong to him. When he finally finds out the fact he says “I, Oedipus, I am the child of parents who should never been mine.” (P77 Line 1494-1496)* Then he finds the truth of murder, his wife and the plague of his city. The shepherd’s narration reveals the crimes of Oedipus and supplies what he could not see. Actually, supplements provided by different roles gradually disclose actual meaning of the oracles. With these supplements, Oedipus and audience (even they know the storyline previously) are able to approach the truth.

Citizen Kane is also a movie composed by memories from different people. Kane’s guardian records his childhood, the colleagues witness the growth of his business, Susan remembers their marriage and the butler knows how this wealthy and influential man spends rest of his life in loneliness. The unique charm of this movie comes from the complexity of its structure. Audience could easily state that they know enough information about this man at any point. But after a new narration, they realize there could be something more. Various versions of Kane’s life accumulatively draw up his image.

The common part of Mr. Kane and Oedipus is that they used to have everything but finally lose. Tragedies happen because they trying to pursue some unreachable goals. For Oedipus, that goal is to break the oracles and control his own life. For Mr. Kane, that goal is to love and beloved. Another typical case is Great Gatsby, a character immediately jumps  into my mind every time I study the play. The American dream of Gatsby seems so near yet so far and he fails to achieve that as well. Tragedy is a form to present beauty, which is desperate but magnificent. The identical fates and failures of these characters obviously demonstrate the beauty of tragedy.

The way Oedipus the King and Citizen Kane manage to tell a story is analogous. Under the leading of a mystery thread (for the play the thread is Liao’s death, for the movie is Kane’s last word), clues from diverse perspectives are given one by one. However, in this process, audience who can see everything will never “know” the truth until the last moment. Just like Oedipus has never questioned himself until the shepherd finally confirms everything.

This is the myth of seeing and knowing. We could never know whether seeing is enough for us to know. If we make conclusions in the half way and consider that as “knowing”, we lose the opportunities to approach truth. We have to see more, to investigate more from multiple dimensions. It’s journey start with a single clue but probably never end.


*The paginating is base on kindle version


From Selina: Thank you for reading to this line! Please feel free to tell me if there is any unclear expression or inappropriate grammar in the post. As I am still learning English writing, your opinion will be extremely helpful for me. You could either leave a comment or send me an email (especially when you want to discuss the viewpoint) : I really appreciate your kindness and patience.

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