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Published by Reetu Rahman

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Published by: Reetu Rahman on Mar 31, 2010
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Tasnim Rahman002163-015May 2010
TOK ESSAY “We See and Understand Things Not As They Are But AsWe Are.” Discuss this claim in relation to at least two waysof knowing.
Each and every one of us are different from each other. We have our own way of thinking, own perception and our very own way of explaining and understanding things,to ourselves and the people around us. At the same time, there is the nature, andeverything around us that has its own way of being around us. We sustain by interactingwith our surroundings and over thousands of years of human evolution, the way weinteract with the nature or our surroundings has evolved too which is termed as‘civilization’ of human nature. Individuals interact with their surroundings or environment individually, that means the way I would perceive, observe and experienceeverything around me would not be same, but likely to be similar when it comes to, for example, understanding the exponential functions in Math or the reason why H2SO4 issuch a volatile and highly reactive chemical with reasoning. Because the reasoning of such issues are proven and universally true, although the way we understand it will bedifferent from one another, but we will all end up understanding and obtaining the sameknowledge. Rudolf Arnheim said “All perceiving is also thinking, all reason is alsointuition, and all observation is also invention.” The reason why we would consider whatArnheim said to be true and relate it to ourselves would be because when we experienceand undergo the acts of perceiving, reasoning and observing, the way we do it is personalto us and therefore is different. The fact that we carry out these acts differently is becausewe are individuals. Relating this individuality in ways of gaining knowledge or knowingin human beings to nature of nature itself, the issue that rises is that we are unable to gainequal knowledge because of the way we interact with our surroundings and in terms of that “some are more equal that others” [Animal Farm, George Orwell]. Just imagine howdifferent things would be if the entire human race lived the same lifestyle as the very first
Tasnim Rahman002163-015May 2010Homo Sapiens on the surface of the earth did and no body had the capability to interpret,explore, question themselves, be creative and be able to gain no knowledge at all.The fact that we are different from each other makes us individuals. We arecategorized according to our nationality, culture; traditions, beliefs, gender and education,and these are the aspects that revolve around us in the many forms it is available in. Whatwe see around us, our senses, interaction, emotions and interpretations are enriched bythe stated aspects as we grow up and mature. Upbringing always plays a key role in thedevelopment in us as knowledge-seekers who are initially dependant on their family, thenthe society for their identity. As we mature, we learn to interact with our surroundingsthrough our senses, interpret and understand what we do or why something happens aswe observe and try to justify an observation with a previously gained knowledge. These processes are different in every one, which is why while some rely more on emotions as away of knowing and others on reasoning. A simple example of it could be of birthdays.As living organisms, our existence on the surface of the earth is marked by our birthday,or at least that is how I think of it. Birthdays come and go every years, but it still makesmy ‘best days of the year’ list, even after I have had 17 birthdays [the point I wish tomake is about having a birth-day, not a birthday party] and whether or not it makes adifference to anybody else. I do not mean to say that my birthday is ‘MY DAY’ andnobody else can be born on that day, which would be impossible, but anybody can havethe same birthday as me and even the same birth year, but our feelings towards our  birthdays can be extremely varied. As said before, I celebrate my birthday having theunderstanding that I am celebrating my existence whereas the other person sharing thesame birthday could take his/her birthday as another day that marks the existence of hismiserable life. One of the most basic reasons behind this is our upbringing and the normsof the society we grow up in and because of this we do not see ourselves as one of thethousands of communities with specifications in physical and social characteristics allover the world but as the only group of people who are living what is called a ‘life’ andany one out of the ‘ordinary’ [for them] is considered stranger than an alien. As aBangladeshi studying in an international school being taught by expatriate teachers is a2
Tasnim Rahman002163-015May 2010 part of being a student and I am definitely used to the idea that humans exists is allcolours, shapes and sizes [not literally]; but on my way home when I sometimes see myteachers being stared at and ripped off for money by fellow Bangladeshis, more than being ashamed of myself as a Bangladesh I now understand that they are not used to theidea of variability because of the lack of education and poverty.For having the ability to observe, question, find the answer and justify oneself, weare able to have an idea of other’s perspectives. According to Islam, women are supposedto cover themselves decently and the traditional clothing for Bengali women are sariswhich shows off somewhat a large area of their back. Expatriates in my country arehugely criticised for being ‘uncivilized’ and wearing revealing clothes. When my Koreanfriend SJ asked me ‘why do people here comment if you are a foreigner and wear shortshirts when they were saris that show off their tummies,I was left dumbfounded.Because I did not experience living here like an expatriate, it could have never occurredto me if it wasn’t pointed out. Like Arnheim said, ‘every observation is an invention’,although the observation was made by my friend and it was an entirely an invention for me and from then on I came to the realization that there is nothing wrong or right about aculture, we come up with our opinions and they are biased towards they way I think which itself if biased towards the way I was brought up.However, when dealing with subjects and objects within the bounds or theterritory of the society, it has always been important to accept and follow the norms of the society because whether you are appreciated or discriminated by the society inentirely based on the ‘loyalty’ towards the norms of the society that you live in. For example, Mersault, the central character of Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’, , has beendiscriminated against and considered an outcast by his society because he didn’t cry at hismother’s death and lived a very catatonic life- neither did he communicate well withothers nor did he want to be accepted by the society. The concept of life did not hold anymeaning for him, he didn’t have an aim in life, and that is not considered acceptable bythe society. The society requires people to have aims, keep trying for something he/she3

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