When seeing “The Scream” by Edvard Munch for the first time, everyone produces a different response. A kid might giggle; a middle-aged person might stare at the subject with both curiosity and empathy; a senile individual might view it and reflect on his or her past. Despite seeing a same artwork, people experience different emotional responses due to having led different lives and thus having experienced different things. Hence, there is no one solid fact; it varies from a person to person, as knowledge can be construed differently.
This is also surprisingly evident in mathematic, the area that is assumed to lack personal element. For example, when 30 students are given a complex root question to solve, one would assume that everyone would solve it the same simple way, physically seeing the same question. However, everyone might not necessarily ‘see’ the question in a same way; what I mean by this is how all 30 students can possibly interpret the question differently, thinking of different approaches to finding the solution.
This also applies to science, in which there is a myriad of methodology to find concentration, pH, rate of reaction and other common aspects of science. Additionally, even if the two scientists were to witness a same chemical reaction, each could possibly write a completely different qualitative observation from the other scientist’s, possibly driven by his or her personal values and interests. As these previous examples have suggested, our sense of perception cannot solely account for the knowledge we bear. However, reading “How do we know anything?” written by Thomas Nagel made me see that there was more to it than that.
What caught me off my guard the most were solipsism and its relation to the external world. This view basically represents a belief, in which an individual believes his mind to be the only thing present. Solipsism repudiates the existence of the external world, suggesting that it is merely generated by one’s mind. This concept struck me as a desolating but very insightful idea, as there was no way to falsify it, meaning that there is a possibility that it is true; everything I see in this world might simply be hallucinations that my brain is continuously designing. Hence, one could contend that the concept can be accounted by the theory of logical reasoning. However, as Nagel explained, there is only a few that carries this view point due to its lonely nature. To me, this low number illustrated how our beliefs and emotions play even bigger roles in our sense of perception than we might believe.
Our beliefs are derived from the accumulation of our personal experiences and memories, and they shape how we perceive the world. Being sentimental creatures, we innately find extreme difficulty in viewing our lives as vain; we want to find meanings in our lives. Hence, this extract made me consider how our emotional—irrational—aspect might often possibly undermine our logical side to protect ourselves, rejecting solipsism. It made me realise how the knowledge we have been carrying could possibly be empty shells that we have created to avoid feeling vanity in living. This opened my eyes to the beauty of sense perception as a concept itself, as it is a multi-layered idea that is clearly not as simple and biology as we tend to believe.
What made the writing even more splendid was Thomas’s counter-argument against solipsism. He claims, “perhaps you are a solipsist: in that case you will regard this book as a product of your own mind, coming into existence in your experience as you read it. Obviously nothing I can say can prove to you that I really exist, or that the book as a physical object exists.” Although his argument, indeed, sounds foolproof, his denial of the idea reinforced my view.
Thomas’s article piqued my interest in perception, as it demonstrated how the genuine ‘truth’ of the world is possibly beyond our grasp, despite never changing.