Inerrant Rampancy

Just another weblog

This is What Happens When I Have Too Much Downtime

…I end up on a thought-bender.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about perception, mostly as a philosophical construct. There are plenty of theories to go around, but the few I’ve been reading about (sometimes on purpose and sometimes just because someone else references them) have to do, in part, with the idea that what we perceive may not be what is real. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most philosophies (disproved and otherwise) that deal, in some way or at some point, with perception deal with it as a false representation of one kind or another, and that makes sense.

Certainly our brains have the ability to distort what we would call reality, that’s why we have people who hallucinate or have false memories or delusions or paranoia or any other kind of psychosis. We know the brain fucks with us, but we sort of take for granted the fact that most of the time it doesn’t.

Or so we think.

When we make and use a camera we account for parallax error, that tiny (depending on the size of the camera) little difference between what the lens is looking at and what we see through the viewfinder/lcd, and don’t really give it a second thought. But what if there’s a parallax error within our brains or even within the hardware itself, like the eyes? What if what we see isn’t what’s real, but the difference is so small that 99.99% of the time it doesn’t matter? In a way we already deal with this when it comes to tactile sensation; our sense of touch isn’t based on the actual touching of objects or molecules or even atoms, it’s a product of the forces that act on those things. Particles don’t actually touch each other, they enact forces that repel and which give the sensation of pressure, giving us the feeling of touch. Again, this is such a small kind of parallax error that nothing major comes of it and we can operate under the assumption that when you push on something, it’s going to push back. In fact, not assuming this could have some particularly bad consequences (like if you thought that you could drive your car through a bridge embankment without the bridge embankment pushing back…hard). It’s like knowing that Newton’s laws are wrong but using them anyway because in 99% of experiments they provide statistically accurate data and because using Einsteins equations is too difficult for most people.

But the philosopher’s job is not to ignore problems because they’re too difficult or because they’re not useful in the practical world (in fact you could probably say they deal in only those kinds of problems). The philosopher’s job is to tackle Einstein’s equations, to think about the tiny forces and the parallax error in such a way as to make it make sense. So, what of perception, from the philosopher’s point of view?

Well, I’m sort of wondering if the whole point isn’t moot. I mean, let’s say that what we perceive isn’t accurate. So what? It functions well enough to keep us from killing ourselves, it’s got a complexity great enough to warrant discussion on it’s own (we aren’t going to run out of things to ponder even if we’re only pondering the superficial part of existence), and it’s kind of the only thing we’ve got. I mean, if we can only interact with the world through our perceptions, and can only interact with data from the world with our perceptions (meaning even if we built some kind of device that could perceive the world as it actually is, that device would still give us data that we would have to interpret with our own flawed senses, skewing the data just as though we ourselves had gathered it) then that’s what we’re stuck with. What point is it to ponder what is outside of the perceivable? In fact, what are we even talking about when we talk about things outside of perception?

Some folks seem to think that the unperceived refers to things unseen by the naked eye or unsmelled or unheard or untouched, but that’s wrong. If we can detect it, no matter how we manage to do that, it is perceivable, and falls into the category of “Flawed and Possibly Not Real”. Anything else, meaning anything not perceivable, isn’t anything at all, since it produces no effect and has no cause. There can be no “real” world, apart from our perceptions, because if there were and it were important, it would produce some kind of effect and we would perceive it, thus bringing the “real” world into the realm of the “perceived and flawed” world. If it’s perceivable it’s inaccurate, and if it’s not perceivable then it’s nothing.

I’m sure someone has already figured this out, but I think that sometimes it needs repeating, if only to remind us that we don’t exist alongside the supernatural. We are not one small rip in the fabric of the universe away from the “true” world, where all the secrets of life are revealed. We aren’t ever going to finally “see” anything more than what we can already “see”, because if something like that were out there, we’d notice it. Thankfully, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of discovery; it merely relegates it to the jurisdiction of man and his ever-so-slightly flawed perceptions. The downside: There’s nothing outside of this reality. The upside: Everything inside of it is ours.


December 20, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Legally, this thing is painfully hard to read.
    Here are words, in my opinion, you’re forbidden to use:

    All are terms of relative degree and no basis has been set forth as to the meaning of each.


    Comment by Dirk Diggler | January 16, 2009 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: