Discussion Question 8

Read: Stoic and Sceptics Selections

Some key notions for our discussion of stoic and sceptic views will be the notions of assent and impressions. While I am not in control of what impressions the world forces on me, I am in control of my ability to assent to that impression, or in the specific case of sensory experience, to accept a sense perception as true and as an accurate representation of the world. For example, I can’t decide to change my sensory impression that the chair is brown to a sensory impression that it is blue by my own will. In some sense that is beyond my power – no matter how hard I try, I cannot change the brown impression to a blue one.

The question will then be: when should I assent to the impressions I experience? We see lots of sort of answers in the reading, but I want you to think about this question on your own as well. Sometimes your experiences accurately represent the world, but sometimes they don’t (e.g. optical illusions, the way food tastes when sick). So for this post: give an example of one case where you couldn’t trust your sensory experience. How does that case differ from your normal sensory experiences, i.e. what sorts of criteria do your experiences have to meet (or do you have to meet while having the experience) in order for you to trust that sensory experience? Or is it that no matter how good the setting and your own health, you can never be confident that your experience is accurate?

If the former, is it always clear to you when you or the situation meet those criteria? If the latter, how do you explain your interactions in daily life where it appears you have to be confident in your impressions to get around most of the time?


10 thoughts on “Discussion Question 8

  1. As the Socrates Paradox states, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing”, following that paradox it is therefore impossible to completely assent to an impression, no matter how real it may appear. An example of this is the artist James Turrell who creates psychedelic optical illusions using lights. His displays, which usually consist of entire rooms, make it appear as though one is walking on nothing or that a room is endless, though intellectually we know that is false. To go through daily interactions and experiences one must make the decision to continue taking their impressions at face value all the while being aware of the possibility that that impression might be wrong. It is simply impossible to refute all impressions on the chance they are false and continue to be a functioning member of society.

  2. I have had many moments in my life, where I have assented my trust into my vision, and was betrayed by my very eyes. A good example that I believe that most people could relate to, is seeing a person you believed to be your friend at first, but then upon coming closer to them and giving them my greeting, it turned out they were not who I believed them to be. I would say that this was both a cognitive impression, and a non-cognitive, since I was in the right mind, and had every right to believe that they were who they were, however it collapsed upon deeper inquiry.
    Speaking in truth, I think that we can trust our senses, as, despite their many failings, they are very well the best that we have. However, a much bigger worry, at least for me isn’t just if the senses fail but our mind that makes logics and forms of them. Our senses only give us information to the best of its abilities; however, it is the duty of the mind to associate them with our experiences, and or memories. However, we can never know if either our senses or our mind have failed us until after It’s been proven that they’ve been fooled. Therefore, while we can be skeptic –in the modern sense- of their validity, we cannot outright write them off as erroneous. Therefore, I believe that the most correct thing to do is to take everything that was not initially intellectual with a grain of salt.

  3. I think an important distinction to make is that impressions are also learned responses. An impression is an opinion, but an opinion also forms an impression allowing you to focus on and disregard aspects that don’t fall in line with learned opinions. A lot of biases, behaviors, and interactions we have with the world around us are taught to us by our parents or guardians which make it difficult to interpret the world from a fresh palate to get a true impression. Our parents or friends reactions to food, clothes, music etc.. all shape our opinions of impressions that the outside world has on us. In this case, can we trust any of our sensory experiences?

    The only time I had an experience where I realized just how objective my sensory experience is to the world around me was when I got contacts for the first time in middle school. I don’t have bad vision, I can see perfectly up close but have difficulty when looking at objects from afar. I always believed that because objects are far away, they’re hard to see and this was the way that everyone experienced life. I always knew that if I wanted to experience something far away, I would have to get up close (a flower across the lawn, a dress in a store on the opposite wall, a movie etc..) the way I lived my life and experienced the world was through up close and intimate contact. It wasn’t until I was given contacts that I realized just how different my experience was from others. For the first time, shopping took me half the time because I didn’t have to walk across the store to see, I could just quickly glance from afar. I didn’t have to sit up close in the classroom because I could see from afar. I could say hi to someone on the playground far away without having to go near them and have a conversation because I could make out who everyone was for the first time. Although my vision isn’t bad, it’s amazing how a small defect can change the way you experience the world and your impression of what it means to interact with the experiences around you.

    Prior to this experience, I was confident in the impressions I had of how to interact in society and daily life and after, I realized that other people didn’t experience life the way I did because they didn’t have to get up close to everything. I distinctly remember having anxiety after getting contacts and saying to my dad “what if the world around me is completely different. what if what I think is blue, you actually see is brown, but what I think is blue is actually brown” (this was my 11 year old self questioning the world around me lol) but it did open my eyes to understanding that everyone’s perception of their world varies and their interaction with the world around them can be greatly impacted by their impressions of it and to be sensitive to that.

  4. In response to this issue, I think the best way to approach it would be with the idea that there is always some area allocated to doubt; a certain grey area in which you can make an assertion based off of your own personal experiences and what you perceive to be ‘true’. In the given example, with the brown chair you cannot convince yourself is blue, while that might be what you yourself see, there’s also no reasonable way of proving its truth.

    To clarify: in two viral cases that we’ve experienced in the past, there is the case of the controversial photo of a dress. Some people believed it to be blue and black, while others adamantly believed that it was white and gold. The dress was later revealed to be, in fact, actually blue and black—yet half of the viewers had been tricked. Another similar example would be the recent viral recording, where there appeared to be an even split between people who hear ‘Laurel’ and people who heard ‘Yanny’. Undoubtedly, there were people in both factions that generally believed their hearing to be healthy, and accurate—and yet, there was still this factor of uncertainty. This is a case by which perception does not equate to reality, and thus, the solution should be that you never truly assent to something.

    While our five senses are often thought to be our most valuable and accurate indicators of what lies before us, it is not difficult to trick our brains into believing something other than truth, as evidenced with illusions and special effects and so forth. As such, the only conclusion we should reach is this: ‘universal truths’ are often personal experiences, and even given things that you believe to be true and are true, you should always go into things understanding that there is a chance that you might be wrong, even if you can, to put it simply, ‘see it with you own eyes’.

  5. I think maybe the best solution is to never reach an ultimate conclusion. This means to make decisions always with doubt in mind. So any assertion you make should have some sort of asterisk/tag/disclaimer being that I am making this assertion based on what I know and I do not know everything, so I could be wrong. In this way, you never fully assent to your experiences, because there is always an if and you know at any time your experience could be wrong.

    One case in which you cannot trust your sensory experience is in a maze of mirrors. You near what your eyes perceive to be an exit. In that moment you might think “I know the exit is in this direction”. But you could be fooled, and the exit is actually in the opposite direction, which you would learn upon colliding with the glass. Which is why you shouldn’t say “I know….” but instead “Based on x, I believe y” or “If x is true, then I know y”

    I don’t think this case differs from normal sensory experiences except in the fact that we would be purposefully going into something to be tricked. It is the same however in that for any experience, there is a possibility that we may be proven wrong. You may be somewhat confident about a decision or experience, but you are never entirely certain about it. Your decisions will always have to come with an “if” tag.

  6. I personally believe the case that no matter how good the setting and one’s health is, one can never be 100% certain that their experience in “accurate”. No one can be 100% sure that something is definite. We choose what we want to categorize our sensory perception as. For example, the majority of people will agree that the sky is blue because that is how it appears to the majority of people on the planet, but what about those who are colorblind. They have a different perception of what color the sky is, but how do we know that the majority of people on the planet that we believe to not be colorblind, aren’t colorblind and that the people who see the color of the sky differently (those who are colorblind), are the ones who are indeed not colorblind. Everything that we perceive in our lives has been defined by the majority of what other people perceive it to be.
    Another example would be the theory that life is a dream and not reality. Very few people demonstrate a case that they think life as we come to know it, is a dream of some sorts rather than reality. Once again, the majority of the people believe that our everyday life is reality. But in this case, the question comes down to what do we perceive to be reality and what do we perceive dreams to be.
    I believe that our sensory perception is dependent on the majority of other people’s perception so that we are able to form a common perception. We as a whole do not question it, but rather except it, but those who are outside the world’s common sensory perception, form their own sensory perception that they can personally agree with. Overall everyone perceives things differently no matter how small or big the difference is. It can be something so large as that the apple is orange instead of red, or something so small such as seeing one difference in the shade of white in a white canvas.

  7. A case where sensory experience cannot be trusted is mistaken identity. Say you are walking across campus and see a friend of yours. You approach this person and realize as you get closer that they are not in fact your friend but a total stranger who bears some superficial resemblance to your friend. Hopefully at this point you have not yet wished them a hearty hello and received a perplexed stare in return. Normally, you would recognize your friend based on physical attributes or appearances–for example, their hair color, height, the way they walk, the bag they are carrying etc. In order to trust your sense perceptions that this is indeed someone known to you from your past experience of them, you seek out traits that you have observed (largely subconsciously), and once certain criteria are met, you are confident that you have made a correct identification.

    However, it is difficult to tell exactly what criteria qualify as valid, and how many are required for us to accurately identify someone we know. In the case of recognizing a person, if they are also sighted, then presumably they will at some point recognize you, and in doing so provide confirmation for your belief that they are known to you (by acknowledging you). Psychological studies suggest that face perception is a key trigger of memory (thus accounting for the phenomenon of being able to remember someone’s face but not their name). But philosophically speaking, while we may think that our inferences from past experience justify our beliefs in the present, this connection is far from being guaranteed. Obviously, to function in daily life we must therefore trust in the probability that our perceptions are (mostly) correct, but cannot rely on these alone for certain knowledge of the world around us.

  8. When I think of the problematic nature of sense perception, one phenomenon comes to my mind immediately: the McGurk Effect. A paragon of empirical fallibility, the McGurk effect uses audiovisual stimulation to trick the mind. First, the subject of the deception will be played a recording of a short word, beginning with a certain consonant. Then, after the subject has had time to discern the sound that is being made, a video will be played in tandem with the sound-clip. In the video, a person will mouth the word in sync with the audio; however, they will mouth a different first consonant, moving their mouth clearly and strongly to appear to be saying a different, distinctively enunciated consonant. The subject will immediately hear the clip as now saying a different word, in accordance with the video.
    When I was first shown the McGurk effect, I was shocked, but I wasn’t thrown into some completely lost and disillusioned aporetic state; I didn’t feel the need to doubt absolutely everything I thought knew. All I really thought was, “huh.” In my mind, the importance of constant evaluation, thoughtfulness, attempting to observe things from different perspectives, and learning in general were all reaffirmed. But I know that the world has many confusing phenomena and that all faculties or avenues of knowledge can be, in ways, flawed, and while you should be conscious of these flaws, you still have to get through daily life.
    While you may never be able to have absolute, capital “T” Truth, absolute Truth is overrated. To find more perfect truths, we must rely on lesser ones; it’s how our inquiry has always and continues to progress. Think of “absolute zero”; we don’t know what it is exactly, but we have a very precise estimation that suits our needs. Same with atomic mass as given by the periodic table; it’s just a weighted average of what we know about the isotopes of an element, but it works for most our needs. And we use these imprecisions to forward our science to a point where we can reevaluate and improve all of our methods.
    So, in short, I try to be wary, thoughtful, open-minded, and yes even skeptical, but I don’t sweat it all too much. I do the best I can with what faculties I have because that’s really all one can do.

  9. I will apply my dad’s experience as an example. One winter day my mom made a hot pot for our family, My dad caught a fever that morning, but he still tried the hot pot. After eating vegetable and meat, he disgorged a lot. Then he has formed a bias on the hot pot as he thought the food was not cooked thoroughly and caused his emesis. He then never ate hot pot as his impression on it was violated by this terrible experience. However, the direct cause of emesis could be fever itself as my dad was not comfortable, and eating hot pot is not the main factor, or we can say, it only had a little influence.

    So I believe that one’s sensual experience affecting on impression could depend on two essential reasons. The first is that the frequency of this incident or the amount of samples happened in life. As my mom only cooked one or two hot pots in the season of winter, my dad only held two chances to experience. The first experience was obviously not good which means he would bear a high risk to try it twice. Eating hot pots is not a daily routine in my family so it becomes difficult to change this kind of impression. Thus, the accumulation of experiences could guide to the “accurate” formation of impression in one’s mind. Furthermore, the second reason could be the extent of the outcome that our sensual experience brings to us. As for my father, the emesis really left a profound imprint in his memories, and it was quite simple and natural to him to construct the relationship between illness and hot pots. The outcome was so serious that he trusted his sensual experience one hundred percent and never casted doubt on it. On the flip side, if sometimes I taste sweet biscuits but I find it bitter, I would like to try another one and begin to question myself like “what’s going on with my tongue today”. So more impressive the experience is, more difficult to change our subjective prejudice towards a certain object is.

  10. For example, if I keep circling myself for a minute, I will lose my balance when I stop (also, the world will seem like it is swirling, so I guess it affects some of my visual ability as well). Or, when I put on my 3D glasses, the movie becomes something in 3D, even though I know that the screen is flat.

    I would argue that no matter how good the setting and your own health, you can never be confident that your experience is accurate. For example, we can consider a color-blind person; can this person ever trust his visual experience? Suppose this person is never told and has never realized that he is color-blind; he would certainly trust what he sees, which is in fact not accurate. The question is, what if we are all like this color-blind person, that we are blind in some way/sense which we do not know? Going one step further, there is the famous “brain in a vat” argument, in which what we think the reality is turns out to be completely unreal. Ultimately, senses are only a way to receive information from the outside world, but since senses are not the objects themselves from the outside world, they cannot verify the accuracy of the received information, which may as well be made up to deceive us. As for our daily life, a color-blind person does not always need an accurate sight to have a good life/good interactions with others; on the other hand, if I am really just a brain in a vat, I am only getting around the facade of reality, but not reality itself.

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