Psychology: When We Should Trust Our Senses

Every day a person makes a number of choices. To make a good choice an appropriate approach is needed. Different problems can be solved by means of different approaches but all of them this way or another involve people’s senses. In the current paper I will consider how people rely on their senses when they judge about the world around. I will see how trustworthy senses might be when it comes to defining what is true and what is not. In the long run I expect to answer the question of when should we trust our senses to give us truth?

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To begin with, the very concept of truth requires at least general consideration. The thing is that truth is a rather vague concept that cannot be universally defined. Depending on the views of the person who decides weather something is true or not, truth is understood and perceived differently. For example, the Objectivists believe that the True is the real considered as the object of a possible conscious belief or judgment. Senses are not needed for the Objectivists to define what is true. They are guided by the existing knowledge. The Subjectivists see the True as whatever would be confirmed by an all-comprehending or absolute experience.

They acquire this experience through senses and rely on them. For the Dualists the True is whatever in the individual corresponds to what exists outside the individual. Truth for them consists in the correspondence of intra-individual with extra-individual identity-relations. The judgment “The earth is round” for the Dualist appears to be true if there is in the world external to his/her organism a relation of identity between the earth and round, corresponding to the relation of identity between his/her idea or experience “earth” and his/her idea or experience “round.” The idea comes from knowledge; the experience comes from senses (Montague 56).

Thus, different people have different views on truth and perceive it differently; therefore, different reliability on senses can be spoken of.

But one thing remains the same for all people, they have senses (I do not mean those who suffer from various diseases that influence their senses). Touch is the first way they perceive the world creating physical connection between the external world and themselves. No matter what views on truth they adhere to they all have an ability of active perception. Margaret Atwood writes in her novel, The Blind Assassin: “Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.” (Julius 23) The whole body surface is receptive to touch of different nature even the base of hair follicles. These receptors respond to mechanical, thermal and chemical stimuli from a pinprick to a breeze.

Let us just consider how often we keep in touch with our friends. I do not speak of mobile phones or email here. The problem under consideration is physical touching. Different countries have different traditions concerning friendship relationship. In some, old friends kiss each other on the check when meet; in others, they give each other a hug. Or, consider the way you deal with newborns – do you hold and cuddle them? Answering these questions one can easily understand whether he/she is at ease with body contact or reserved and protective of one’s “personal space”.

Most likely, the answers will reveal that people are inept when it comes to their sense of touch. Of our five senses, the sense of touch is by far the most neglected (Morris 65). A simple observation that follows proves the fact. If a person capable of seeing takes a book written in Braille and runs fingertips over the pages he/she will feel many little bumps, nothing more. But a blind person will be able to read a lot of books that way. The example shows how a sense of touch can bring different information to different people and to what extend this feeling can be used.

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In the article The Magic of Touch (2005) Morris speaks of the exhibition that aimed at reawakening people’s interest to the world of tactile sensations. Called Touch Me this exhibition encourages people to explore a wide range of new sensations as they pass through its various installations and exhibits. Moreover, the exhibition shows how reliable our senses might be when we judge about some object. Some of the exhibited objects looked familiar but turned out to have unexpected feel. Thus, hard materials look soft, soft ones look hard. One cannot rely on his/her seeing – only by touching one can understand the truth (Morris 65).

Not to speak of material world, we can also count a number of examples from our ordinary life when the sense of touch can give us information about the way the person we are talking to accepts us. Skeptics might claim that this information is very subjective and that people see what they want to see, but our point here is that at the very moment of touch people share some energy with each other and this energy definitely brings some truthful information about them, no matter to what time this truth remains to be truth.

It is proved that babies starved of holding, embracing, touching and breastfeeding in childhood will be badly programmed for loving intimacy when they eventually become adults, deprivation of childhood touching can lead to adult neuroses (Morris 67). This means that since childhood a person is expected to make use of his/her sense of touch to get the information from the outside world. As the person matures he/she learns how to differentiate what is true and what is not, but on the initial level the information is perceived as truthful.

From this perspective, human senses can be considered the inner beings of people’s souls and the tools that need to be used first and foremost to decide what is true and what is not. Emotions that people are often ruled by are often deceiving, only senses tell us when something is wrong. Going by emotions and neglecting the senses may lead to getting a subjective view on this or that situation or even to some emotional disturbance even.

On the other hand, a number of examples prove that senses cannot be always relied on as sometimes they are not accurate. A mirage in a desert, or an optical illusion, is one of the most obvious examples of how senses “play tricks with our mind”. Not to consider desert, when one is driving all day long, feels thirsty and does not have an opportunity to have a drink, he/she sees the pools of water standing in the road, but driving closer to it realizes that the water quickly and mysteriously vanishes. The driver starts to question the work of his/her eyes – did the eyes see something that cannot be logically explained or that the driver knows is not really there?

It is enough to have basic scientific knowledge to know that water doesn’t normally evaporate that quickly in the natural world. This simple example proves that we can’t always trust our sensory perception of the material world to be completely accurate in our judgments about it (What is Truth Anyway?) From this position, a person can trust his/her senses all times only when he/she is totally aware of them. Trusting senses automatically is not always wise, only when one really understands his/her senses, the latter can be acted on.

What is more, if consider that truth is something that we recognize, not sense, we will see that senses never give us truth. This is just data that we get from senses. Though this data can be rather reliable our interpretation of this data may be incorrect.

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Everything stated above considered we conclude that human senses serve friendly tools when it comes to defining what is true and what is not only when we can be sure that we interpret the data got through senses correctly. Together with the previous experience that we have and the knowledge at our disposal senses contribute to the objective perception of the world around. Therefore, it is in behalf of a person to ensure the right proportions in correlation of senses, knowledge and experience to get the true information about the object of his/her interest.

Works Cited

Montague, Pepperell. The Ways of Knowing: Or, the Methods of Philosophy. G. Allen & Unwin, 1925.

Julius, Corinne. “Let’s Get Physical; Designers Are Creating Amazing Products That React to Our Senses.” The Evening Standard 2005: 23.

Morris, Desmond. “The Magic of Touch.” The Daily Mail, 2005: 65-67.

“What is Truth Anyway?” Three Steps to the Fountain. Web.

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