Conceptual understandings about Perception

Our perception of the world is not just limited by our biological faculties but also our expectation of the thing being perceived.

Our senses help us understand the world but they are limited by our biological makeup, for example, we have three rods and cones that limit our perception of colour and light, while pigeons have Penta-chromatic visual senses that allow them to perceive UV light as well. Besides these biological limitations, there is another filter that limits our perception of the world, and that’ s our expectation of the world. At its basic level, our mind runs on an axiom system, that lets us reason what we see around us. This axiom system biases us to anticipate the future. If we suspend our disbelief in our expectations our experiences then conform to these expectations, and we therefore sometimes perceive things that are not ‘really’ there.

When riding a bike, years ago, I fell at a sharp turn. I quickly got up, brushed off, sat back on my bike and started pedalling. I felt a little tingle in my knee but not enough to make me look down at it. As I continued to ride, I felt something trickling down my leg, and so I looked down at it and saw the blood oozing out of the gash on my knee. I remember immediately bursting into tears because all of a sudden my knee started hurting. This is possibly due to the negative emotions associated with blood. In my mind, I held exceptions about what oozing blood could mean. I associated it with a bad wound and a lot of pain, and as a result, even if my knee was not actually in that much pain, my mind perceived it to be. This is a pretty nieve expectation to have, but I won’t hold it against my younger self.

Placebos play with expectations and perception in this way. The action of ingesting pills labelled ‘pain killers’, our mind starts to anticipate that the pain will reduce. The conception of this hypothesis then makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a little scary to think about because we sometimes can’t even trust our minds to tell us the ‘truth’.

Although we can’t perceive the world in its ‘true’ form, we can still rely on our senses to piece together a valid image of the world.

Because of the gap between the phenomenal and noumenal world, we can never be certain about what the world around us truly looks, sounds smell and tastes like. However, this doesn’t mean that the way we perceive the world is invalid, after all the scientific knowledge that we have acquired as a species has been done through the lens of our perception, and it has always worked for us. So I guess what I am trying to say is that the way we perceive the world becomes the structure on which further knowledge is built, which is common sense I guess. Just like logical syllogisms, if our perceived world is the premise, the scientific work that we do are the logical syllogisms that follow after. We can never be sure of its truth but we know that it is valid, and as long as this scientific knowledge is applicable in the noumenal world it doesn’t matter whether the way perceive it is the truth or not.

Side note: I have been reading more about Kant’s philosophy, and I came across the term ‘transcendental arguments’ wasn’t totally able to grasp what it means. Could you please help me understand it? Thank you!!

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    Thank you Aarushi. You have captured the important points here and made connections with other TOK areas and your own experience -well done.

    You example on the bike was a good one; I think that sort of thing often happens in a high adrenaline situation when someone is injured – they keep going until they actually see the injury. And from my own experience, young children who fall over look to their parents to see how adults react; and then the children take their cues and react accordingly.

    Your second point is very well made; that our perceptions kind of give us our axiomatic system, within which we then operate. But there could be alternative systems just as valid. I did wonder about “never be certain about what the world around us truly looks, sounds smell and tastes like” – I am not sure this is quite the best phrasing. Might it be that we can be certain of how it tastes TO US but that ther IS no truth here.

    Kant Transendtal Argument (TA) – well, a TA is deductive philosophical argument which takes a fact (F) which it is argued is obviously true, and then states what MUST be true (T) in order for F to be true. And because F is true, T is true.

    It look like this

    F is only true if T is true
    F is true
    therefore T is true

    The intro here explains it well, but then goes onto explain attack TA as a method. If you are intersted, the best book on this that I know is

    I can lend you a coy, but I suspect it is not one for term time 🙂


    this is very good.

  2. Reply

    Beautiful, I am absolutely mesmerised by the understanding you have displayed. Well done, Aarushi!

    You never cease to inspire me!


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