Link scan: “if you cannot explain something to someone else, you do not know it.”
AoKs investigated: History & Arts
“Even though there are problems with our perceptual systems, this doesn’t mean that knowledge gained from our senses is completely unreliable.”
I apologize to my ToK teacher in advance as I have probably written way too much (but what’s new?)
The phrase “there is more than meets the eye” is especially (and literally) true when exploring the fallibility of sense perception. At first glance, sense perception may seem straightforward– however, our senses, like any other way of knowing, is greatly influenced by our identities, values and backgrounds. This personal element means that just as no two people are the same, no two people can ever have the exact same sensory experience.
Chosen AoK: History – There are many factual elements of history (i.e. the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941); similarly, there are several subjective aspects. Often times, primary sources such as eyewitness testimonies are the most valid recounts as the person was actually there to experience the historical event themselves. However, there are several factors that go into what a person interprets from their senses, making some testimonies more trustworthy than others. Example: the Sharpeville Massacre (1960). In a public statement, the South African High Commissioner claimed that he saw over 20,000 armed natives attack the police. Conversely, according to a journalist’s eyewitness testimony, the crowd was only 5,000 strong. At the time, white South Africans were in power. Officials such as the High Commissioner may have felt threatened by an uprising– thus, in the heat of the moment, he may have seen a significantly larger amount of protestors. Being a reporter, the journalist is obligated to be more careful, observant and truthful. Hence, his account of seeing 5,000 people is much more reliable. Here, we see an example of the same moment experienced by two different people. Although they used the same sense, the results were vastly different as one perspective may have been more clouded than the other. This can be applied to real-life situations: eyewitness testimonies are still used in criminal cases as court officials try to uncover the full truth. Just as fear affected the South African High Commissioner in 1960, it may affect innocent civilians who unexpectedly witnessed criminal activity. Nevertheless, the fact that it is used in court means that although we know the senses are susceptible to error, we must still rely on the information we gain from them as they are not indefinitely untrustworthy.
A counterargument to this statement could be the opinion of someone who opposes eyewitness testimonies altogether: that our senses are entirely unreliable and there is no reason to trust them. My response to this would be that although there may be gaps in eyewitness testimony, we use other witnesses or other ways of knowing to fill them in (especially reason, intuition and memory). As the ways of knowing are interconnected, declaring that one of them is completely unreliable would mean we cannot trust any of the others either– consequently, error-prone as it is, we must have some faith in our sensory perception.
Another example I learned about more recently relates to colour-blind people. Although they may not be able to differentiate colour very well, many of them have heightened abilities in identifying different shades. Therefore, a testimony from them about information like the colour of an object would be just as valuable as the testimony of someone who could see colour.
In conclusion, sense perception is fallible as we can only construct images in our minds based on past experiences, converting them into something that works in tandem with our individual understanding of the world. While it is problematic, there is still some component of truth and value in the knowledge we obtain. While our senses are not entirely accurate, they are not entirely unreliable.
Throughout my journey in the Middle Years Program, I have participated in several service activities that have allowed me to grow as a learner, helping me to become more aware of my own strengths and areas for growth. In Grade 7 and 8, I traveled to Chiang Mai and Sabah for CAS week, respectively, and committed to service by doing construction for local schools. The most memorable part of this was seeing how happy they were with so little. Since the people in those more remote areas do not have the resources necessary to live the comfortable life I am fortunate enough to have, seeing their contentment with what little they have greatly allowed me to realize how ungrateful I am for my extensive access to resources and modern lifestyle. Thus, appreciating the daily luxuries I take for granted is a clear area of improvement for me.
I undertook challenges that developed my communication skills through actively participating in the Kids4Kids buddy reading program, a student-led initiative where volunteers visit local community centers and read to children to help them in learning English as a second language. This program not only fosters organizational skills (as students are tasked with collaborating to plan each session) but also cultivates interpersonal skills and a drive for making positive contributions to society. I needed to persevere in action as they spoke Cantonese as a first language– a language I understand but cannot speak– and therefore, I needed to communicate nonverbally and using my knowledge of Mandarin and English.
Perhaps the greatest culmination of the exploration of my personal passions and globally engaging in service is taking part in Applause For A Cause– a budgetless event where students performed musical theatre songs and donated profits to Worldwide Action, a charity aiming to rebuild schools destroyed from earthquakes in Nepal. This was not only successful as we fundraised enough to build two classrooms; it also developed my international-mindedness as I was made more aware of the issues people outside of my local communities face.
I considered the ethical implications of my actions by personally judging if they would actually benefit the community. Too often is the notion of voluntourism considered service. I do feel that the service I have participated in has made a positive impact on local and global communities. As discussed previously, this is not only evidenced by a tangible product such as the progress on classrooms we made for students in Chiang Mai, Sabah and Nepal, but is also highlighted through the intangible developing language skills of the local children in Kids4Kids. Ensuring that our actions are ethical and genuinely advantageous to our communities is incredibly important, as although memory may fade, compassion and the desire to improve society truly follows us throughout our lives.