Perception. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling. All sensations bundled up in one word-Perception. Our means to know the world. Let’s talk about the sensation which I think we use the most, seeing. It has become so essential to our everyday lives that we hardly ever think about it. We know everything usually by seeing it. I see the Eiffle tower and that’s how I know it, before touching it. Other sensations might happen before seeing, for example, I might smell a rose before I see it, but seeing something is usually the first perception we have of it. So let’s take it up as our case. Do we really see what we see? Does everything we see actually exists the same way we see it? Or is there a reality different from how it appears to us. These questions have baffled me since childhood, and now that I am studying these concepts in Philosophy, I feel relieved that I was not the only person who got confused about this.
Bertand Russell in his famous book, The Problems of Philosophy, gives his theory about perception. He takes a table. Now, we see the table and know about its shape, colour, size. But is the table the same in reality? Does it appear the same way to everyone? Not necessarily. Then isn’t what we see different from what really is the case? Let’s take the famous example of optical illusion, the Mirage. When we see water at a distance, we are sure of it really being there, but as soon as we reach there, it all disappears. We are once again deceived by our perception. And what about hallucination? Are we not convinced of our perception of something which is not there for real? Why does this happen? Is there actually a different reality than what we perceive?
Russell talked about this at length in his distinction between appearance and reality. How the table appears to me is different from how it appears to person X, because no two people in the world can have the same perspectives, and therefore, identical perception is not a possibility. So then there is a reality different from what we perceive as reality, and that in a nutshell expresses the everyday confusion of perception. Because, if our perception does not reveal to us the reality, which way do we know it? And when the knowledge of everything around us including the knowledge of the world is rooted in perception, isn’t everything we now to be real called under doubt?
So then we have the question, what is reality? Is there a world that lies beyond our everyday perception and is the real world? Is reality just my own collection of perceptions and ideas, or is there a world outside of me, beyond me? And if there is my world of perceptions and a world outside that, then how, if at all, can I get beyond these perceptions to know if they match up with reality? But is it possible for us to rise above our perception and see the world by establishing a relationship between the objects of the external world and ourselves, independent of our perception? And do the real world and its objects exist irrespective of my perception of them? The questions are endless and to answer them we need to understand the basic concept of metaphysical realism and epistemological realism.
According to an epistemological realist, even though we have perceptions, there must be an outside world that our perceptions represent, for otherwise we would not have those perceptions in the first place. Despite the fact that the mind can be very creative in making up all kinds of ideas in the imagination, there seem to be certain perceptions and ideas that could not have been generated by the perceiver. In other words, there must be some things “out there” that directly cause the representation of our perceptions “in here.” Whereas if you believe that there is a world of things “out there” that really do exist and would continue to exist whether or not you or anyone perceive them, then you are a metaphysical realist.
Eepistemological realism and Metaphysical realism both give us different approaches to understand and know that which is real. But ultimaltely, everything that we know to be real or is real, falls under Being. Hence, in the end, it’s all about the knowledge and understanding we have of Being-in-the-world, and how it presents itself to us in our everyday lives.