Essay on The Source of Our Reality

Given that as human beings our conception of reality is everything that we experience and perceive, whether it is mentally or physically absorbed, and in some sense, the knowledge of that reality that we claim to have is derived from those very same experiences and perceptions. However the question at hand is that, although we may possibly agree on what constitutes reality; what is real and what is not real, we may not agree or even know what the source of that knowledge is and whether that building block is the correct standard to judge by. In other words, is the source of that knowledge derived from, perception through senses (sense perception), or is it founded on something understood by our minds alone, which consist of ideas independent of sense experience? Many philosophers have attempted to answer this question and that although on the surface may seem to be a very straightforward question, underneath it is the exact opposite. Some philosophers have argued that the mind alone is the basis of understanding our knowledge of reality, and in contrast, other philosophers have argued that sense perception alone is the source of our concept of reality. In my opinion, I believe that through sense perception, collectively in accordance with the mind regardless of initiation of either one, origins of our knowledge of reality can be found, and in addition believe that both are complimentary and that one with out the other is in some sense a broken machine.

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As mentioned before many philosophers have argued that the mind is the source of our conception of reality. Meaning that what is real is understood by the mind alone and that sense perception comes secondary. One of the philosophers that argue for this sort of ideology is Rene Descartes. Descartes goes about proving this by giving many ideas, one idea of which is known as the “wax” example. The wax example put forth by Descartes is the basic theory that illustrates that the mind is the basis of understanding our conception of knowledge. We all understand and perceive that a piece of wax has certain properties. Meaning that the wax has a certain smell, a certain shape, a certain temperature and so on, all of which can be known through sense perception. However, if the wax is then heated, it attains different properties from the previous, it has a different smell, different shape and so on. Descartes then presents us with the question. If the properties of the wax can change over time or through physical causation, how then can we conclude that wax itself has certain and absolute properties? How can we have knowledge of a particular thing if it is possible that the identity of that thing can change over time? In other words, Descartes argues that sense perception is the wrong foundation for a system of knowledge for it possible that sense perception can often be misleading, deceptive and can’t be trusted. Descartes concludes that knowledge must be founded on what can be understood by the mind alone. As a result he ads that we must understand that the wax is a flexible, changeable, extended piece of matter through reason or intuition, not by sense perception which cannot comprehend such information.

In my opinion, I both disagree and agree with this sort of reasoning given by Descartes. Fist of, I do agree that in the end we understand that the wax is a flexible, changeable, extended piece of matter through reason or intuition and that concept of flexibility, change and extension can only be understood by the mind alone. However, I believe that you certainly can’t understand such concepts unless sense perception is carried out. I must at some point experience the melting wax through vision, touch, smell etc…. In order to understand that the wax can change and that it is an extended piece of matter, for if I disregarded my sense perceptions, I would either question everything I perceive, which is impossible, or I would just have an idea or an image of a melting wax, something that doesn’t necessarily corresponds to something real.

In contrast to what Descartes believes, there is another well-known philosopher, John Locke, who argues for the exact opposite. Locke states that the only assurance of reality that we have is through sense perception. He argues that unless an idea is traceable to some previous sense perception or experience, than there is no way of assuring that that idea relates to something that is real, for it is possible that that same idea could have originated from the imagination. Locke further emphasizes that certainty is impossible, for the only assurance of reality that we are capable of is through causation or sense experience. Therefore he concludes that if we do not take sense perception as a type of assurance and the basis of our knowledge of what is real and what is not real, then we will, as said before, question all that we feel, hear, smell, see and taste. Certainly any sane person cannot doubt all of his/her sense perceptions and experiences. We must accept that sense perception is the basis of our conception of knowledge and reality independent of the mind. Locke further argues this type of ideology by giving one of his examples known as the “Variable Perception” argument. The “variable perception” argument put forth by Locke is the argument that states that what we are directly aware of in our perception of things is based upon qualities. Meaning that a certain thing or object that we perceive has a certain color, texture, shape and so on, this can be summarized as primary qualities. For example, the paper on the desk is white, flat, and smooth, we do not think for a minute that these qualities that we perceive is in the paper. If the qualities I am aware of were encompassed in the object (paper), then changes in color shape etc…of that same object (paper) should be self-caused, which according to this argument is doubtful. Therefore, we may conclude that any change in qualities that occur within the object is due to physical-causation; I color the paper gray. However, what if the lights were to be turned down. The color of the paper would certainly change to a different color; gray not white, however it can be seen that physical-causation is not a factor. Therefore the “variable perception” argument suggests that in such a case, what we are aware of in perceiving secondary qualities are in some sense our own sensations (sense-qualities), not qualities in the object.

I once again, both agree and disagree with this sort of reasoning implemented by Locke. In my opinion, I do agree with the fact that suggests, unless an idea is traceable to some previous sense perception or experience, than there is no way of assuring that that idea relates to something that is real, for it is possible that that same idea could have originated from the imagination. However, if sense perception does not work in accordance with the mind, then sense perception is a sort of dead end, and just as well vice versa. In other words, only the mind can make sense of what we perceive not our senses, as Descartes would argue. But once again we need sense perception to reconfirm our ideas of the mind. In relation to the “variable perception” argument, the changing color of the paper, perception of secondary qualities, and the realization that this does not lay within the object can only be understood by the mind, but in addition we must once again allow sense perception to take place in order for reconfirmation, for without consideration of our sense perception, it would just be an idea, nothing more then a dead end.

In addition to what Descartes has proposed to us, he presents us with an alternative explanation to the subject of the origin of our knowledge of reality. However, this line of reasoning may steer a little far from the primary subject, but if any possible truth, hypothetically speaking, were given for a proposal such as this, then it would greatly impact the answer to this question. This theory proposed by Descartes is known as “Cartesian skepticism” argument. This argument is the basic theory that states that no one person ever, anywhere can really know of the existence of anything beyond the content of their own present conscious thought. Objects of ones present perception of an external physical reality are uncertain. Memory and any belief about the past are somewhat sketchy and just as well uncertain. The only knowledge is first person, present tense, subjective knowledge and possibly priori truths such as principles of math and geometry. With this sort of ideology comes Descartes “Evil Demon” argument. Descartes suggests that we have no way of ruling out the possibility that the existence of external, physical objects even our own bodies are just an illusion and that everything within our realm of a physical world may come into question. It may very well be that fantasized images were planted in our minds by some very powerful malicious figure, such as an “evil demon” in order to fool us. Therefore, I cannot really trust anything that I think I know by perception. For it is logical that we, even though may claim to be sure of present conscious thought or claim to know ourselves as a thinking thing, we could all be being living in a sort of mind prison, a sort of matrix. As a direct result of this it would be impossible to answer anything about our reality, our knowledge of that reality, much less the question of its origin.

Despite this proposal given by Descartes, it is certainly possible that we as human beings, as thinking things could be under the control of such a being. However, I seriously doubt such a possibility can arise, for one might as; why would a being possessing bad intentions, or even good intentions want such reflective notions circulating in ones mind, what purpose would it serve? It certainly cannot, in my opinion be a positive factor in ones plans.

As one can see this is a very difficult argument to contend with, and many philosophers, such as Descartes and Locke have put forth very convincing arguments. But in my opinion, I neither completely disagree nor agree with there ideologies. I believe that the mind as well as sense perception is in some sense a machine, one part missing will affect the entire structure. If the source of our conception of knowledge of reality is our minds, then initially all I have is an idea, something that doesn’t necessarily exist in reality. On the other hand, if I believe that sense perception is the basis of our conception of knowledge of reality, then I would certainly have a problem, for in some cases, not all, our senses may be mistaken or mislead. But with the mind there, it allows us to make sense of such situations and allows us to come up with a plausible explanation through reason or intuition. Furthermore, in my opinion I think one has to come before the other, depending on the situation, but in the end the mind needs sense perception and sense perception needs the mind in order to reconfirm one another. Therefore, origins of our reality come from both mind as well as the senses, collectively and in cooperation.

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