You are on page 1of 6

Name: xxxxxx xxxxxx

Session number: 000812-0070


Word count: 1592

Humans are pattern-seeking animals and we are adept at finding patterns whether
they exist or not (adapted from Michael Shermer). Discuss knowledge questions
raised by this idea in two areas of knowledge.

Philosophers like Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, 2008) and Sir Francis Bacon (Bacon et al.,
1825) have agreed that the individual who possesses knowledge will consequently possess
power. However, there has always been a trade-off as to what is true knowledge. How can
we confirm that our knowledge is actually true? The German physicist, Helmholtz,
ventured the idea that senses and past experiences can shape the way a thinker understands
the world, and it can make the human adept at constructing images and patterns whether
they exist or not (theoryofknowledge.net, 2014). It is difficult to trust our senses to gain
true knowledge given that the humans sense perceptions tend to fall into confirmation bias.
Granted that humans have this biological nature, it is important to know if our senses are
actually guiding us to see images or patterns that actually exist and not only to fallacies.
This leads me to the question, To what extent is sense perception, alone, sufficient for
gaining knowledge?

In the arts, ones interests and experiences are essential in gaining knowledge. The
particular interest you have and the things you have experienced in the past are factors that
determine how you perceive an art piece. For example, last summer I visited the Salvador
Dali museum in Florida, where my family and I encountered M.C. Eschers painting Study
for Stars.
Figure 1. Study for Stars by M.C. Escher. (Mcescher.com, 2016)

The painting consists of shapes that seem to be stars. My fathers perspective regarding the
stars was of the vastness and the beauty of the universe. My father is accustomed to
watching and studying the stars at night with a telescope; he loves stars and he is very
enthusiastic about cosmology. He interpreted the painting by saying that it is beautiful how
the painter gave different geometrical faculties to the stars and still conserved its beauty.
My interpretation was quite different. I saw the painting as a symbolism of the struggle
between men vs. nature. The fact that the stars are made of geometrical shapes symbolises
how the freedom and wildness of nature is being restricted by angular and mathematical
shapes. For me, it symbolises how man is sabotaging nature by restricting its freedom. My
father and I had different topics of interest, which we brought to the viewing of the same
painting. Even though our interpretations were different, my father and I were able to come
to knowledge of the artwork with the use of our senses. Humans only see or notice those
examples that fit our preconceived interests and beliefs; thus, I was able to perceive
patterns that reminded me to conflict between man vs. nature, coming to true knowledge.

However, reason is required for knowledge in art, and in fact, sense perception can come in
the way of reaching knowledge in the arts. It is very important to be cautious about what we
perceive because sense perception is selective. What an individual tends to notice or to
perceive better in a particular environment is greatly influenced by our interests, emotions
and culture; thus, the patterns that are perceived by the audience might fall into
confirmation bias (Lagemaat, 2015). These three aspects act as filters that determine what
shows up as an individual scan the images around them.

Spectators in the arts are able to make rational judgments while perceiving a piece of
artwork, and not fall into perception selectivity. For example, in June 2004, Mexican
physicist, Jose Luis Aragn, compared Van Goghs Starry Night with physics phenomena
Turbulent Flow (Aragn et al., 2008). Using the Hubble Space Telescope, Aragn took a
picture of a distant cloud composed of dust and gasses, which followed turbulent flow
behaviour. This image reminded them of Van Goghs Starry Night, which vividly
transmits the sense of turbulence. By using mathematics, Aragns team was able to find a
correlation between the behaviour of the painting and the velocity differences in a turbulent
flow. Aragn noticed the pattern in nature and in the art piece with the use of his sense of
vision, but reason and logic was required to construct a mathematical correlation between
the painting and the phenomena. The use of emotions and senses were not vital in the
understanding of the spectators rational judgement. A solid and logical method was used to
create a valid conclusion of the relationship of art and physics; thus, leading them to
justified knowledge without confirmation bias.

Sense perception plays a great role within the arts. Senses lead the knower to make the
most creative interpretation of art, and to spot patterns in the environment. On the other
hand, given that sense perception is selective, there are too many different interpretations
that can easily fall into confirmation bias; thus, I believe that sense perception, alone, is not
sufficient in gaining knowledge. We were able to see how Aragn combined sense
perception and reason in order to make succesfull links between art and nature and
effectively gaining knowledge. Given that mathematics is a universal language, all humans,
regardless of their emotions, religion and culture, share it; thus, it does not tend to fall into
confirmation biased as easily as sense perception alone.
My second claim is that sense perception is essential in linking patterns within the natural
sciences. Empiricism believes that all knowledge is ultimately based on sense experience
(The Editors of Encyclopdia Britannica, 2015). Immanuel Kant, stated that All our
knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with
reason (Kant et al., 1955). This quotation makes reference to the scientific method, where
it is argued that the aim of science is to develop testable models, which capture experiments
essential features. This is done with the use of empirical observation and the classification
of data. For example, when doing the research for the DNA double-helix structure, Watson
and Crick used stick and ball models to illustrate the structure of the double helix. Rosalind
Franklin and Maurice Wilkins came to knowledge using X-ray diffraction experiments to
understand the physical structure of the double helix. When the structure was revealed in a
photograph, many complex patterns were revealed. Watson and Crick were able to interpret
correctly the patterns of the photograph and come to a conclusion via reason (Watson,
1968). Overall, we can induce that Watsons and Cricks DNA model wouldnt have been
possible if they werent provided with empirical evidence that was formulated via
experimentation and not via theory. Reason led them to analyse the complex patterns in the
image, but this was only possible after they gained knowledge from the sensorial
experience.

On the other hand, even though science is based on empirical observation, it is not as
reliable as it seems. Expectations and confirmation bias tend to lead scientists to different
interpretations of what they see, as they try to confirm their beliefs and overlook evidence
that disagree with them. For this reason, I believe that the use of imagination and reason is
essential to come up with new ideas in the natural sciences. Rationalism is the belief that
reason rather than experience is the most important source of knowledge (Mastin, 2008).
Many great scientists have experienced a spark of inspiration while they were thinking.
They manage to form new images and methods with the ability of thinking and reasoning,
rather than with the use of senses. John Dewey, an American philosopher stated, "Every
great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination (Dewey, 1929)."
An example of imagination and reason in the sciences is the dreams of August Kekul,
where he revealed the true structure of the benzene ring. Kekul described vivid images of
chains of molecules that looked like snakes; one of the snakes was biting his own tail.
These dreamy images allowed him to visualize the hexagonal structure of the Benzene
molecule (Scribd, 2017). It is essential to be creative in the sciences in order to give
meaning to the data gathered.

Overall, I believe that sense perception is an essential way of knowledge in the sciences. I
believe that most of knowledge comes from observations, and later we can make logical
patterns to come up with a theory. Even though confirmation bias exists in sense
perception, I believe that it is better to justify concrete evidence than someones creative
thoughts.

Personally, I believe that sense perception is extremely powerful but an insufficient tool to
develop knowledge. In the arts, I believe that sense perception was key to develop personal
knowledge, given that our emotions and our interests lead to the most creative
interpretations of art. On the other hand, I think that sense perception, on its own, might not
obtain the true essence of what the artist might have seen or obtain the hidden knowledge it
might contain. It is purely objective and can easily start to see patterns even if they are not
there. In the natural sciences, I believe that empiricism is better than rationalism. This is
because I believe in solid evidence by observation and experimentation. On the other hand,
I believe that empiricism requires a certain degree of reason in order to give sense to the
patterns obtained in experiments; thus, I think that sense perception, by its own, is not
sufficient to gain knowledge in Natural Sciences. It is important that we know this because
it is essential to know when to rely in sense perception, given that in some areas of
knowledge there might be an over-dependence on the senses. We never know if what we
sense is reliable or not; therefore, I believe that in order to obtain certainty we must not
over-depend on sense perception given that it can make humans adept at constructing
images and patterns even if they dont exist.
Bibliography

Aragn, J., Naumis, G., Bai, M., Torres, M. and Maini, P. (2008). Turbulent Luminance in
Impassioned van Gogh Paintings. Journal of Mathematical Imaging and Vision, 30(3),
pp.275-283.
Bacon, F., Montagu, B., Pickering, W. and Acland, H. (1825). The works of Francis Bacon,
Lord Chancellor of England. 1st ed. London: William Pickering.
Dewey, J. (1929). The quest for certainty. 1st ed. New York: Minton, Balch.
Hobbes, T. (2008) Leviathan (Oxford worlds classics). Edited by J. C. A. Gaskin. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, USA.

Kant, I., Meiklejohn, J., Abbott, T., Meredith, J., Kant, I., Kant, I. and Kant, I. (1955). The
critique of pure reason. 1st ed. Chicago: Encyclopdia Britannica.
Lagemaat, R. (2015). Theory of knowledge for the IB diploma. 1st ed. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, pp.126, 127, 128.
Mastin, L. (2008) Rationalism - by movement / school - the basics of philosophy.
Available at: http://www.philosophybasics.com/movements_rationalism.html (Accessed: 8
February 2017).

Mcescher.com. (2016). M.C. Escher Study for Stars. [online] Available at:
http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/back-in-holland/study-for-stars/ [Accessed 31 Jan.
2017].
Scribd. (2017). The Reveries of Kekule | Carbon. [online] Available at:
https://www.scribd.com/document/112275691/The-Reveries-of-Kekule [Accessed 31 Jan.
2017

The Editors of Encyclopdia Britannica (2015) Empiricism | philosophy,


in Encyclopdia Britannica. Available at: https://global.britannica.com/topic/empiricism
(Accessed: 8 February 2017).

theoryofknowledge.net. (2014). How reliable is the knowledge provided by our senses?


[online] Available at: http://www.theoryofknowledge.net/ways-of-knowing/sense-
perception/how-reliable-is-the-knowledge-provided-to-us-by-our-senses/ [Accessed 31
Jan. 2017].
Watson, J. (1968). The double helix; a personal account of the discovery of the structure of
DNA. 1st ed. New York: Atheneum.