To what extent can we trust our senses?

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trust ▪v. believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of. ►(trust to) place reliance on (luck, fate, etc.)
- Oxford dictionary, tenth edition

Are senses trustable? I would be a madman saying no, wouldn’t I? But can you really be that sure?

Of course senses are used as ways of knowing in many, if not all, areas. If I am in the chemistry laboratory, my way of knowing is to see that something changed and thus I can tell a reaction occurred. Trying to interpret and enjoy art, some kind of sense is necessary.

Senses are needed in almost all the cases of daily life and without them living would be hard to picture. Humans have five senses, to smell, to hear, to taste, to feel and to see. You are able to get along without one of them but it is, of course, harder. We have based all of our society on the beliefs that our senses are trustable, and without them we would function poorly. However, it is not without reasoning I say senses cannot be trusted.
In the every-day-life you hear about people whose senses are not reliable. There are cases of illusions and hallucination. There are cases of reduced hearing. There are diseases making you unable to feel pain. Even though we cannot say our senses are trustable, it is all we have, and therefore we trust them.

I often think about how we can be sure of things. Of course, our senses are the natural answers. But these thoughts leads me to wonder “how can I be sure of that?”. Picture yourself lying in the grass, looking up toward the sky. Ahh, the delightful blue stretches from you left, to your right, to the horizon and beyond it. And it is blue all right. My senses are telling me it is blue. However, scientists have found that the wavelength of the light from the sky is actually one which we normally would see as purple. Our eyes prefer to see it blue. (Kamrat Posten 2002). Now, where does that put us? Should we trust the scientists, who have spent years and years to come up with the laws of nature to be able to investigate the relationship between light waves and human eyes? Or should we trust our own eyes, which in fact are able to modify the reality as we see it to its own will? However, scientists have based their progress on what they have seen, even if it is a note printed from the computer or something they have really seen. Thus we are left with only one option. We have to trust the eye. Now I might say that as if it is a bad thing, but to be honest, it is not. Think of all the time in your car where you did not die. Considering all the people who were also driving and also trusting their eyes, one has reason to rely on them. Furthermore, sight is easily “proved”. If you see an object and you can touch it, then by comparing the two sense experiences, touching and seeing can be, in lack of a better word, proved by each other.

When it comes to the other three senses however, this is not true. The reason to why sight and feeling can be proved is that they are both, so to speak, three-dimensional. Smelling, hearing and tasting are also in a sense 3D, but is harder to use when deciding distance. For example, placing a radio 20 m from you, you are most likely to find it easier to determine distance using your eyes than using your ears. Also, your ability to see and feel is somewhat more concrete than hearing, smelling and tasting. I would say this is because these two senses are the ones that a person mostly uses to prevent oneself from being hurt. You can see a sharp object flying towards you and avoid it, but it is less plausible that you can hear it and then dodge it. There are not so many cases where you can literally smell fear or pain, but using your feeling you can sense that something is hurting your e. g. hand, and then remove it. To see and feel is more direct. Thereby, one can say that the senses which I would like to call the abstract senses (hearing, smelling, tasting), are not as trustworthy as the concrete ones. The concrete ones however, are just as trustworthy as we make them. In human life, senses can in most cases be very trustable.

Still, looking from a greater perspective than the one of a small consciousness of man, human senses are not at all reliable, opposing what I agreed on earlier. A sense in its scientific form is nothing but an interpretation of waves emitted from things outside one’s head. The range of different waves in the world is so wide that the thought of a mind so developed that it can interpret all of them seems impossible. The human brain would, to this mind, look like a joke and more importantly, completely unreliable. For all I know, there could be several more forms of waves that we humans have not got a chance to understand because it lies beyond our intelligence.

To put it simple; to what extent can we believe in the reliability of our se...

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Tove Lagström [2007-05-10]   To what extent can we trust our senses?
Mimers Brunn [Online]. http://mimersbrunn.se/article?id=8127 [2017-11-21]

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