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Question 7: “We see and understand things not as they are but as we are.” Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways of knowing.

Louise Hansen
IB candidate#: 000768-019
American School of the Hague
Theory of Knowledge Essay
May 2010
Word Count: 1,599

“We see and understand things not as they are but as we are.” Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways of knowing.

In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and it was the end of the Cold War. Who was responsible for ending the Cold War? Was it Reagan or Gorbachev? From all the sources and knowledge accessible shouldn’t we all come to the same conclusion? Even in history the use of perception and language changes the way we see and understand things. Historians continuously disagree, even on the matter of who ended the Cold War. Language, emotion, and perception are tools of manipulation in history; we become analytical and come to understand the past as we are, not as they are. This process of understanding the past is far from simplistic. Human minds are complex and unique. Even the most basic process of visual perception involves a multiplicity processes. There is not just one chain of microbiological events; we don’t all just understand that a table is in fact a table and that we use it to place items on. The process is multithreaded where one interprets the angles, lines, shape, color, and texture into the final conclusion that a table is something you use to place items on. If this process is multithreaded, then it wouldn’t take a lot for someone to see and understand things differently, the way they are. The environment around us, and the things we see and come to know are determined by who we are, and how we want to understand them. Imagine seeing an object in a room, the shape of it, the color every detail, but you can’t understand what the object is just by seeing it. The case study “A World Without patterns, Faces without Meaning” by Hilary Lawson, studies a man named John who suffers from Visual Agnosia (Van de Lagemaart 108-110). A man whose life and way of seeing and understanding the world is different from the majority of the population. John can describe what his house looks like: he simply can’t recognize it (Van de Lagemaart 108-110). John needs to use language in order to understand that the object in front of him is his house. Protagoras, a Greek philosopher, states that “Man is the measure of all things: of those that are, that they are; and of those that are not, that they are not” (Mark). In John’s case the way he interprets the world differs from the way I interpret the world. There is a step missing for John, he can’t automatically understand the world the way we do. The way he measures the world is dependant on his individuality, and his disability, which makes him unique. His uniqueness, however, reveals to us the “human-ness” of our basic perception of the world. John experiences a missing step, and we are reminded of how normal “human” perception has evolutionarily engineered the human judgment that most of us have.

John’s disability may perhaps seem as a given that he would see and understand the world differently. However in “Man is the Measure” by Reuben Abel, he argues that “the universe-so far as we can tell! - was not made for man” (Abel xxii). There was a life before intellect and before human’s existed. If this is true, then how can one say we truly comprehend the things around us, and is there really such a thing as “the structure of the world”? (Abel xxii). Do we all have the same basic structure of the mind? And same language? Abel states that “intelligence is apart of the world” (Abel xxii) that we humans have created; we have given meaning to the things that are around us. Reuben Abel suggests that raw and basic material evolved to become what it is on its own. It is not a human specific environment. We, humans, perceive it, operate it, and come to know it as humans, not as...
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