TOK Task #2 – “Even though there are problems with our perceptual systems, this doesn’t mean that knowledge gained from our senses is completely unreliable”

“Even though there are problems with our perceptual systems, this doesn’t mean that knowledge gained from our senses is completely unreliable.”

Knowledge gained from our senses isn’t completely unreliable despite the fact that there are problems with our perceptual systems, and perhaps that different people have different opinions.

These ‘problems’ with our perceptual systems could range from being deaf, blind etc. in terms of the five senses, but even if so, the use of their other senses cannot be invalidated when perceiving objects or notions as everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Also, the word ‘unreliable’ suggests that something is untrustworthy, but how can something be deemed unreliable if it is someone’s perception? It depends on the knowledge in question. 

This statement works in favour of the arts. Suppose that there is a sculpture and two people are viewing it. One is blind, and the other has senses that are fully functional. The blind person’s perception of the sculpture is not unreliable despite the fact that he cannot see the composition of it, but he can still feel it physically. This provides someone with fully functional senses with an exclusive perspective of how the sculpture feels. Simultaneously, the person with fully functional senses will experience one more sense than the blind person, but there might be an overwhelming amount of perceptive tools and thus, provides a different experience from the blind person. This knowledge is not completely unreliable because it is still a perspective, and it is important for perspectives to be considered when trying to judge something as subjective as art. In this case, perspective could be considered knowledge. 

Furthermore, perspectives are still valued in history, but it should be facts that dictate how our society acts upon different morals and ethics. If a soldier from WW2 gives a testimony, there is no way to define how reliable this is as he could be suffering from PTSD and thus, dramatise some events. This still doesn’t invalidate his testimony even if his perceptual systems were influenced as there is a level of bias, and this bias can be useful when analysing the different sides of the story in history in order for us to establish our own perspective.

Whether knowledge is reliable or not is highly dependent on what the subject matter is. However, the perspective, despite the problems in perceptual systems, is still valid as perspectives allow us to gain insight about the people around us, and that is knowledge in itself. Knowledge can be divided into quantifiable (e.g scientific data, statistics) and unquantifiable (e.g analysis of art) – if it is quantifiable, then the level of unreliability should be more heavily considered, but if it is unquantifiable, then all knowledge is reliable. 

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