Perception and reality

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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Prof Bulani
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Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 9th, 2020, 6:53 am

There seems to be a popular convention here that either objective reality doesn't exist, or that it is elusive to the point where we can never be sure it exists. Thus truth can only be subjective.

I'll start off by defining truth as a statement that aligns with what actually is. Because the alignment can vary by degrees, the truth value of a statement isn't necessarily always binary, although for many statements it is. Also, I'm not defining truth as a statement that aligns with what one believes actually is. One can believe something to be true that is actually false.

At this point I'll also point out that reality is defined as what actually is. Perception is defined as the model of reality we create in our minds based on our sensory input and our mental reconstruction of this input. More simply, reality is the terrain, perception is the map. Reality is NOT perception.

The question now becomes, how does one determine what actually is? After all, our knowledge is comprised solely of what we have constructed in our minds. And since what resides in our mind relies entirely on what is picked up by our senses and processed by our brain, and since it is reasonable to conclude that we misperceive sensory data, misinterpret what we perceive, and/or misremember what we've perceived and interpreted at least some of the time, we can argue that we cannot rely on our perception to determine reality, i.e., what actually is. The argument is extended to the point where we should abandon all hope of determining objective truth, because such an exercise is futile.

I posit that we can, and generally should, rely on our senses, interpretation and memory as mechanisms for creating mental maps of reality accurate enough that we can make and evaluate statements of objective truth. We have abundant evidence that an organism's survival in reality requires accurate sensory perception, coherent mental interpretation and reliable recollection. Organisms that routinely fail to create accurate maps of reality also fail to navigate reality correctly and die out. Therefore, our existence in realty as living organisms is a strong case for the position that our statements about what is aligns closely, for the most part, with what actually is.

I will add the caveat that we must bear in mind that because we are never free from the possibility of faulty perception, it is wise to give some confidence leeway with regard to statements that we evaluate to be true. The possibility sometimes exists that we should be wrong. With that said, it is unwise to assume that it is impossible to evaluate truth of statements.

Finally, let's suppose that all the evidence we have for us relying on our perception is illusory. We could be actually outputs of a complex software simulation. We could be brains in a vat, with electrodes feeding our experiences to us. We could be bodies in a matrix of fuel cells, living in a simulated overworld realm designed by the architect. We could be figments of a dreaming giant. We could be in a long dream ourselves, as a sentient subatomic particle alone in the void of nothing. And as such, it may be possible that what we conclude is a reconstruction of reality is simply a lifelong illusion.

Under any of those circumstances, or any other possible (or even unimaginable) scenario, reality would still objectively exist. As long as any individual can conclude that "I exist" (and cogito ergo sum asserts that I can), then it necessarily follows that the complement "not I" must also exist. The context "within my mind" can only exist if there also is a "without my mind". This "without my mind" region must be, by definition, objective, as it necessarily exists outside of whatever is constructed in my mind.

If at this point we still maintain that perception is all we have to work with and therefore reality (and by extension, our ability to compare our perception with reality) is inconsequential, I'll grant that as debatable. What is not debatable is the position that reality doesn't exist at all. I'm hoping that moving forward we will treat subjective perception and objective reality as separate things, and not conflate the two.
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Present awareness » February 11th, 2020, 1:07 am

The perceiver and the perceived produce each other. There may be no perception without something to perceive and without something to perceive, there may be no perceiver.

The things we experience as we grow, teach us about the nature of reality. When we fall, we experience gravity, burn our finger and experience heat etc. It doesn’t matter what those forces may actually be, all that matters is how we relate to them.

It is our conscience self awareness, which is a hologram, based on images, thoughts, memory about past experiences which help us to construct an image of whom we are. We are actually 3 different people: whom we think we are, whom other people think we are and whom we really are.
Even though you can see me, I might not be here.

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Terrapin Station » February 11th, 2020, 1:16 pm

So many things to address here.

I'm a direct (aka "naive") realist. I've grown increasingly frustrated with the prevalence of idealism on philosophy message boards, in philosophy chat rooms, etc. over the years, because it's seemed to stem primarily from three things that have seemed to become more prominent: (1) kind of a hipsterish/neo-beatnik desire to be provocative and more or less trollish, (2) ignorance about philosophy aside from the most popular figures from historical (Plato, Aristotle) and literary and political angles (so the most popular continental writers, including Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, etc.), and (3) religious folks who seem to believe that adopting idealism is one of their best bets for retaining their religious views.

On my view, idealism is rather idiotic--I used to not feel so strongly or bluntly about that, but see again "I've grown increasingly frustrated with the prevalence of idealism on philosophy message boards, chat rooms, etc." The arguments for idealism, insofar as anyone will take a chance in actually stating/examining them in any detail, all suck. Often the people espousing idealism either don't have the mental capacity to realize why the arguments for it suck, or they're not going to let this get in the way of their hipsterish trolling or religious beliefs.

At the above, though, I'm a subjectivist on truth value, but that's because of "technical" issues re what propositions are on my view, what meaning is on my view, etc.

Representationalism in philosophy of perception is just as idiotic as idealism in general, and there's no way to argue for representationalism without either endorsing idealism or being inconsistent. And not only that, but there's no way to argue for either without endorsing solipsism or being inconsistent.

One simple thing to keep in mind is this: there would be zero grounds for saying that any perception is in error or is illusory without being able to say what an accurate or non-illusory perception would be, and if you can do the latter, you can't argue that you can't access the real world.

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Steve3007 » February 11th, 2020, 5:04 pm

Prof Bulani wrote:There seems to be a popular convention here that either objective reality doesn't exist, or that it is elusive to the point where we can never be sure it exists. Thus truth can only be subjective...
I did read through the rest of the OP too, but struggled to get a handle on exactly what point you're trying to make, other than the obvious one that we perceive the thing we think of as reality via our senses.

When you say "there seems to be a popular convention here" I presume you mean that lots of people who post on this forum believe it. Which ones? And when you say "can never be sure it exists" do you literally mean "sure"?

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 11th, 2020, 6:37 pm

Present awareness wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 1:07 am
The perceiver and the perceived produce each other. There may be no perception without something to perceive and without something to perceive, there may be no perceiver.

The things we experience as we grow, teach us about the nature of reality. When we fall, we experience gravity, burn our finger and experience heat etc. It doesn’t matter what those forces may actually be, all that matters is how we relate to them.

It is our conscience self awareness, which is a hologram, based on images, thoughts, memory about past experiences which help us to construct an image of whom we are. We are actually 3 different people: whom we think we are, whom other people think we are and whom we really are.
Do you exist because you perceive yourself? Or do you perceive yourself because you exist? Which occurred first? Do the things you say we experience (gravity, heat, etc) exist before we experience them, or did they come into existence upon our perception of them?
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 11th, 2020, 7:01 pm

Terrapin, I don't see how my position is not a realist position. Objective reality exists independent of our perception. We observe reality, create a model of reality in our minds, and use that model to inform our navigation decisions in objective reality. This model updates in real time as sensory input is constantly being processed, even in the background, and our understanding of and interaction with objective reality adjusts as required for survival.

I had to look up representationalism. I'm not sure how representationalism is anything like idealism, nor how it is at odds with realism.
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 11th, 2020, 7:07 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 5:04 pm
I did read through the rest of the OP too, but struggled to get a handle on exactly what point you're trying to make, other than the obvious one that we perceive the thing we think of as reality via our senses.

When you say "there seems to be a popular convention here" I presume you mean that lots of people who post on this forum believe it. Which ones? And when you say "can never be sure it exists" do you literally mean "sure"?
If you insist on names, it seems that present awareness right here on this thread is one such example. Recently, phenomenal_graffiti has been making vocal arguments for this position. I think pattern-chaser has also made similar arguments. That's all I can think of off the top of my head for now. Why does it matter though?
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Terrapin Station » February 11th, 2020, 8:05 pm

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 7:01 pm
Terrapin, I don't see how my position is not a realist position. Objective reality exists independent of our perception. We observe reality, create a model of reality in our minds, and use that model to inform our navigation decisions in objective reality. This model updates in real time as sensory input is constantly being processed, even in the background, and our understanding of and interaction with objective reality adjusts as required for survival.

I had to look up representationalism. I'm not sure how representationalism is anything like idealism, nor how it is at odds with realism.
It would depend on whether you're saying that we're only aware of the mental model we create or if you're acknowledging that we actually can observe reality (without it being a mental model).

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Present awareness » February 11th, 2020, 8:12 pm

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 6:37 pm
Present awareness wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 1:07 am
The perceiver and the perceived produce each other. There may be no perception without something to perceive and without something to perceive, there may be no perceiver.

The things we experience as we grow, teach us about the nature of reality. When we fall, we experience gravity, burn our finger and experience heat etc. It doesn’t matter what those forces may actually be, all that matters is how we relate to them.

It is our conscience self awareness, which is a hologram, based on images, thoughts, memory about past experiences which help us to construct an image of whom we are. We are actually 3 different people: whom we think we are, whom other people think we are and whom we really are.
Do you exist because you perceive yourself? Or do you perceive yourself because you exist? Which occurred first? Do the things you say we experience (gravity, heat, etc) exist before we experience them, or did they come into existence upon our perception of them?
To ask which occurred first, is to assume that existence and perception are two separate things. It is my belief that they are just two sides of the same one coin, so that you may not have one without the other. Take a penny with two sides and try to sand it down thin enough so that it only has one side. If you can do that, you will be able to hear the sound of one hand clapping!
Even though you can see me, I might not be here.

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 12th, 2020, 2:46 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 8:05 pm
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 7:01 pm
Terrapin, I don't see how my position is not a realist position. Objective reality exists independent of our perception. We observe reality, create a model of reality in our minds, and use that model to inform our navigation decisions in objective reality. This model updates in real time as sensory input is constantly being processed, even in the background, and our understanding of and interaction with objective reality adjusts as required for survival.

I had to look up representationalism. I'm not sure how representationalism is anything like idealism, nor how it is at odds with realism.
It would depend on whether you're saying that we're only aware of the mental model we create or if you're acknowledging that we actually can observe reality (without it being a mental model).
I'm saying we must create a mental model, and that model is based on what we observe and experience in objective reality. Reality isn't a mental model, it is objective and it necessarily exists. However, we interact with reality through our real-time perception of reality. We cannot not make a mental map of reality. Even in instances where we react directly to reality without conscious decision making (like reflexes or other involuntary actions), subconsciously that information is added to the map.

To address your comment directly, we are only aware of mental model we create (i.e., everything we are aware of is copied into the mind) but we can also interact with reality without awareness (reflexes and so on).

Again, reality is the terrain, perception is the map. Both exist. The more accurate our map is of reality, the more effectively we can navigate reality.

Since our map of reality is the interface, as it were, between ourselves and reality, that's really what we are aware of. As such, it is possible to create an inaccurate map. Further, we can shape the map by mentally filling gaps in sensory input with information created in our minds. This allows our map to become expandable beyond what our direct sensory input can gather. We can also, to a certain extent, consciously reject or accept new information, either maintaining the model's integrity, or allowing the model to be modified. Both are necessary if the goal is to create the most accurate map possible.
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 12th, 2020, 2:56 am

Present awareness wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 8:12 pm
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 6:37 pm

Do you exist because you perceive yourself? Or do you perceive yourself because you exist? Which occurred first? Do the things you say we experience (gravity, heat, etc) exist before we experience them, or did they come into existence upon our perception of them?
To ask which occurred first, is to assume that existence and perception are two separate things. It is my belief that they are just two sides of the same one coin, so that you may not have one without the other. Take a penny with two sides and try to sand it down thin enough so that it only has one side. If you can do that, you will be able to hear the sound of one hand clapping!
Existence and perception are two different things, and are not codependent nor even necessarily interdependent. Perception is, at best, a soft copy of the coin. The coin exists as an object first. We then perceive the coin separately.

People perceive things that do not exist, and fail to perceive things that do exist, all the time. I wouldn't go as far as to say that there is no correlation between the two, as we have abundant evidence that most of what we perceive is result of there being existent objects to perceive. The conflation between subjective perception and objective existence is what I'm trying to dispel here.
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Terrapin Station » February 12th, 2020, 5:10 am

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 2:46 am
Terrapin Station wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 8:05 pm


It would depend on whether you're saying that we're only aware of the mental model we create or if you're acknowledging that we actually can observe reality (without it being a mental model).
I'm saying we must create a mental model, and that model is based on what we observe and experience in objective reality. Reality isn't a mental model, it is objective and it necessarily exists. However, we interact with reality through our real-time perception of reality. We cannot not make a mental map of reality. Even in instances where we react directly to reality without conscious decision making (like reflexes or other involuntary actions), subconsciously that information is added to the map.

To address your comment directly, we are only aware of mental model we create (i.e., everything we are aware of is copied into the mind) but we can also interact with reality without awareness (reflexes and so on).

Again, reality is the terrain, perception is the map. Both exist. The more accurate our map is of reality, the more effectively we can navigate reality.

Since our map of reality is the interface, as it were, between ourselves and reality, that's really what we are aware of. As such, it is possible to create an inaccurate map. Further, we can shape the map by mentally filling gaps in sensory input with information created in our minds. This allows our map to become expandable beyond what our direct sensory input can gather. We can also, to a certain extent, consciously reject or accept new information, either maintaining the model's integrity, or allowing the model to be modified. Both are necessary if the goal is to create the most accurate map possible.
So first off, on your view, all you can know, in the acquaintance sense, is your mind.

Another name for the stance that all you can know by acquaintance is your mind is "epistemological idealism."

And another term for the stance that all you can know by acquaintance is your own mind is "solipsism."

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Pattern-chaser » February 12th, 2020, 7:14 am

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 9th, 2020, 6:53 am
There seems to be a popular convention here that either objective reality doesn't exist, or that it is elusive to the point where we can never be sure it exists. Thus truth can only be subjective.
Steve3007 wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 5:04 pm
I did read through the rest of the OP too, but struggled to get a handle on exactly what point you're trying to make, other than the obvious one that we perceive the thing we think of as reality via our senses.

When you say "there seems to be a popular convention here" I presume you mean that lots of people who post on this forum believe it. Which ones? And when you say "can never be sure it exists" do you literally mean "sure"?
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 11th, 2020, 7:07 pm
If you insist on names, it seems that present awareness right here on this thread is one such example. Recently, phenomenal_graffiti has been making vocal arguments for this position. I think @Pattern-chaser has also made similar arguments.

I can only clarify my own position; others will answer for themselves, as they choose. But here goes.

From Descartes' cogito, any one of us can conclude that something has actual existence. Thus Objective Reality exists, and this something is all or part of it. I believe that this is the one and only Objective Truth that any human can knowingly possess. All else concerning the nature, structure or content of Objective Reality is, and must remain, unknown to us.

This is very far from saying this:
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 9th, 2020, 6:53 am
...objective reality doesn't exist, or that it is elusive to the point where we can never be sure it exists.
Objective Reality must exist, I think. But that's it as regards Objective Truth, Objective Knowledge and humans. My position is very much not as @Prof Bulani describes it. 🙂👍
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 9th, 2020, 6:53 am
Thus truth can only be subjective.
Of this I am unsure. But I am happy to assert it the other way round: Human truths can never be Objective, except as described above. In other words, no 'truth' can claim the authority and certainty that Objectivity brings with it. Because no truth can be shown to correspond with that which actually is.
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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Steve3007 » February 12th, 2020, 7:23 am

Pattern-chaser wrote:From Descartes' cogito, any one of us can conclude that something has actual existence.
I presume that "something" is the mind which is doubting its own existence?
Thus Objective Reality exists, and this something is all or part of it. I believe that this is the one and only Objective Truth that any human can knowingly possess. All else concerning the nature, structure or content of Objective Reality is, and must remain, unknown to us.
In saying "I believe that this is the one and only Objective Truth..." you appear to me to use the word "objective" in the same way that RJG does. That is, as equivalent to "logical certainty". Is that what you mean by "objective" here? Are you saying that this one and only proposition ("I am") is the only thing that that we can say is true as matter of logical certainty? Such that to deny it would be self-contradictory?

If so, it's my view that this is a non-standard use of the word "objective" that leads to the danger of ambiguity. I don't see "objective" as a synonym for "logically certain".

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Re: Perception and reality

Post by Prof Bulani » February 12th, 2020, 8:13 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 5:10 am
So first off, on your view, all you can know, in the acquaintance sense, is your mind.

Another name for the stance that all you can know by acquaintance is your mind is "epistemological idealism."

And another term for the stance that all you can know by acquaintance is your own mind is "solipsism."
By definition of the word "know", all you know is equivalent to what's in your mind. You cannot know something if it's not in your mind, strictly speaking.

Solipsism, as I just learned, is the view that the only thing one can know for certain is that oneself exists. That's not my position, as I pointed out. As an extension of the certainty that the self exists, we are also implicitly certain that the "not self" also exists. It would be impossible for the self to exist without the not self. And since what the self is aware of is in the mind, and essentially subjective, what is outside the self is independent of the mind, and objective.

You seem to have this urge to fit my view into a prefabricated philosophical box, rather than simply read what I wrote and understand what I'm actually saying. I'm not changing anything I've said here from what I said originally, and yet I feel like an apologist when all I've done is point out that the labels you're attempting to put on me don't fit.
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