Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Midterm Assignment: Perception of Experiences for Knowledge

In the beginning of the epistemology unit, I had no concept of how there can be innate logic in our heads without experiences. Through the research of both myself and my classmates, I slowly began to push against my own idea, realizing that the concept of learning and increasing knowledge with experience is not mutually exclusive with having innate logic and reason within ourselves from birth. The two intertwined is what gives humans the ability to both experience, and learn and gain knowledge from those experiences. However, in the end, I did realize that the more passionate portion to me is still trying to decipher how one’s experiences affects his or her knowledge on one topic. My research question then, has to do with how our prior experiences affect the way we perceive future experiences and therefore our knowledge. The proposition is as follows: Our prior experiences affect the way we perceive future experiences, and therefore the knowledge we gain from these experiences.

A and B have the same shade but our eyes often account for the shadow of the cylinder. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Same_color_illusion_proof2.png

With that proposition, I do make a few assumptions.

1. Experiences give us knowledge
2. The way we perceive experiences affects the extent and perspective of the knowledge we gain
3. The way we react to future experiences is dictated by the knowledge gained by our prior experiences

So if we frame it in an argumentative fashion:

If experiences give us knowledge
and the way we perceive experiences affects the knowledge we gain
and the way we react to future experiences is affected by our previous knowledge
then the knowledge we perceive in the future is directly dependent on the knowledge gained by previous experiences.

Therefore, we can say that the knowledge we gain from previous experiences directly affect the knowledge we will perceive in future experiences.

Before we start moving too far, however, we do require these propositions to be true. So let’s start with the first:

1. Experiences give us knowledge

It is hard-fought to find somebody who would disagree with that statement. If we touch a stove when it’s on, we gain the knowledge that the stove is hot when on. If we go outside and touch snow for the first time, we gain the knowledge that snow is cold. Therefore, experiences do give us knowledge, if we define knowledge as awareness and familiarity.

2. The way we perceive experiences affects the extent and perspective of the knowledge we gain

This concept is a bit harder to prove, but it with the idea of selective perception and selective retention, it could be seen as true as well. Selective perception means to not notice things that bring emotional discomfort, and to notice experiences that give us emotional fulfillment. In the same leaf, selective retention is when humans remember certain instances that are closer related to their values and interests. An example of selective perception may be a teacher who remembers their best and brightest students’ excellent work, but disregards a slacker student’s effort to become better. Following on with the same example, selective retention would dictate that the teacher remembers their best students more than they would remember bad students. With these two concepts that convey the idea that our mind narrows according to our emotional feelings, it can be said that the above argument is true. If we close our minds off to certain aspects, it affects the extent of what we can learn from the experience as we are not perceiving certain aspects of it, therefore affecting the knowledge we gain as well. Therefore, I would say the statement above could be seen as true.

3. The way we react to future experiences is dictated by the knowledge gained by our prior experiences

The statement above can be considered true as well. Learning means to recognize knowledge from experiences, and like how a child can quickly come to realize that falling down hurts, they can learn that they do not want to fall down. Therefore, once a kid learns that falling is bad, they might react to a potential situation that may invoke falling differently than if they didn’t have this knowledge.

Which brings us to the last point. Because experiences give us knowledge, and the way we perceive experiences dictate what kind of knowledge we gain, and the way we react to future experiences is dictated by prior experiences, we can come to the conclusion that the knowledge we gain from experience in the future is dependent on the knowledge gained from the past because prior experiences change our reaction to future experiences, allowing us to perceive things differently than if we didn’t experience the prior experiences. Phew, that was a mouthful.

The idea I thought I came up with is not exactly a new concept. Enactivism “argues that cognition arises through a dynamic interaction between an acting organism and its environment.” Evan Thompson, one of the fathers of enactivism who is also a professor at UBC, argues that “experience of the world is a result of mutual interaction between the sensorimotor capacities of the organism and its environment.” In my idea, he argues my point that the interaction between an organism and its environment ultimately dictates experience, which grows to knowledge. Though a relatively new philosophical idea, enactivism perfectly encompasses my argument that our experiences prior affect our experiences and knowledge of the future.

Though the idea of acquiring knowledge through experience is an age-old concept, it’s seen that there is always room for improvement. Because I know this, I will know that I am interested in the future about this idea in the future and therefore will act accordingly. And so, I end this mid-term with this quote by Marianne Williamson:

We can always choose to perceive things differently. We can focus on what’s wrong in our life, or we can focus on what’s right.’


2 Responses to Midterm Assignment: Perception of Experiences for Knowledge

  1. Vincent says:

    Great post (insert name here, ref. to earlier discussion) Jeff, there is just one thing that irks me so, the word “give” in your proposition. Does “experience” “give” us knowledge? Do we “take” knowledge? Does the knowledge already “exist?” (all the words in quotations will be defined below for clarification) Sorry to throw all these questions at you, but anyway, going back to the point of this comment. What I mean by all these questions is that the word give seems like our senses give us knowledge, although I’m not sure if that is the complete process quite yet. Also this brings me to the point that it seems more likely that we “take” that knowledge or rather our subconscious does. As I think you said earlier in a discussion, our subconscious often selectively absorbs knowledge. Which your 3rd proposition does address, however, it seems like these two contradict each other, in the sense that we can give and take knowledge, but if it is the same knowledge that we give and take it becomes superfluous (i.e. like log exponents). Continuing on, I think a better word than give would be exchange, as often the flow of information goes both ways. (Sometimes more one way than the other), because is it really our experience that gives us knowledge or is it the chain of our environment releasing energy, our senses (experience) interpreting that energy as data, our subconscious keeping important portions of that data, and finally our conscious mind receiving that data as something completely different than it started out as. And just because the environment is constantly releasing energy and we can receive it, doesn’t mean we don’t do so without a price. Theoretically, based on our environment, we constantly release body heat, and have the sun’s energy reflect off our bodies, releasing energy from the valence electrons in the atoms in our bodies. Of course this exchange information not only applies to our physical experience, but what is inside our minds as well. Our brains make a small but weak magnetic field, and so do our hearts, our internal organs constantly release energy to the outside world. This can be received as data as well, although we may not be aware of it. Remember the idea I had discussed earlier, the one about knowledge diffusing, anyway, this could largely be due to several magnetic fields communicating the same/similar idea and then having other entities interpret that data. Zogg’s video on language actually communicates a similar theory about language, and its assimilation and evolution, if you’re interested I posted his playlist earlier. Thanks for the post Jeff, very interesting, especially since you tried the contradictory route to your post. Defining anything with pure rationalism is extremely difficult, unless of course you think that knowledge exists without us.


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