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TOK Essay

We see and understand things not as they are but as we are. In order to more fully understand and question this statement, it must be broken down to its core. ‘We see,’ is referring to the way in which I as a human perceive the world. If looked at from a visual perspective, one person will see a guitar in the exact same way as millions of others do. However, ‘see’ in this case is referring to the thought process that occurs in our minds after we use our five senses (touch, smell, hear, tastes and see) to perceive the object or idea and is very closely linked to ‘understand’ which is to think about and comprehend something. The word ‘things’ is referring to anything in the world, whether it is a tangible object, a thought, a concept, a theory, an emotion, etc. The phrase, ‘not as they are but as we are,’ is implying that we see the world differently from everyone else as our past experiences mould the way in which we ‘see and understand things.’

Furthermore, the thesis statement is also suggesting that everything has one absolute, true form which exists and can only be seen through a person who holds no bias. Therefore, the way in which we view the world tells us more about ourselves, than the world itself. The question of whether this statement is true or not will be looked at through two ways of knowing, which will be emotion and sense perception in this case. I do not believe the knowledge claim to hold true for sense perception as my past experiences, upbringing and culture have had no affect on my five senses. I have led differently from every other human being on this planet, but I will still taste sugar as sweet or see the sun to be bright, just like everyone else. Whilst constructing this essay, my friend and I were asked a question to which we had very different answers. Neither of us was right or wrong as the answer depends on the individual’s opinion. However, in the case of sense-perception, an opinion is not relevant as there is only one absolute form, only one answer.

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I have never had an argument with someone about how big something appeared to be, what texture something possessed, the way something smelled, etc. Hence, it is not the experiences I have had, but rather the experiences I haven’t had that have to lead me to make this claim. It may be for this reason that I possess a biased viewpoint on this knowledge issue. Being a student who attends the Queensland Academies of Health Science, another bias I hold is my way of putting the natural sciences above all of the other areas of knowledge. I take SL Biology as a subject and it has taught me that there is next to no difference in the way one person perceives something (that can be picked up by our five senses) to another. A large portion of the human population, including myself, places scientific fact above all other forms of information as it is seen as being the most credible. However, the millions who claim to “know” these scientific principles don’t understand any of it, but just accept it as fact on the basis it is ‘scientifically proven.’

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I myself am guilty of this, as I don’t understand most of the things that my Physics teacher or the textbook tells me, but I accept it as I assume that this information has come from a person who is far more intellectually superior than myself. Furthermore, my knowledge has been limited by the fact that I can only see the world through my eyes, as I have not experienced the way in which someone else acquires knowledge through sense perception. A counterclaim to my belief that ‘we see and understand things not as they are but as we are’ is untrue can be seen in human defects. I have a lot of trouble seeing without glasses or contact lenses, and in this way, I see a passage or text very differently from those with perfect vision. Therefore, I am perceiving as I am, but this unique way I visually perceive things does not come from a bias that stemmed from my past experiences, culture or upbringing. However, a visual stimulus that reflects one’s self exists and is known as a perceptual set. The perceptual set theory stresses the idea of perception as an active process involving selection, inference and interpretation.

Perceptual set is a bias or readiness to perceive certain aspects of available sensory data and to ignore others. However, in my personal experience visual perception does not always reflect a person’s bias accurately. I noticed this during a theory of knowledge lesson in which the class was shown a picture that was meant to be seen as either a rabbit or a duck. Seeing the duck indicated that your read from right to left (not the western world) and seeing the rabbit suggested the opposite. All of the class members except me and one other, claimed to have seen the duck first even though a great majority only knew English. Furthermore, I spent the first seven years of my life reading only Japanese which goes from right to left, yet I still saw the rabbit. This has to lead me to believe that the human sciences are unreliable in relation to that of the natural sciences, and thus the reason for my opposition to the knowledge claim when looked at through sense perception.

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Unlike sense perception, I find that emotion applies a great deal to the claim. My personal experiences have to lead me to feel differently about things than others do. This really stood out to me in my early teens when alcohol and sex became more and more concurrent. All my friends embraced it as normal teenage culture; I on the other hand had grown up in a very religious household and had been told to stay away from immoral activities, and as a result, viewed these worldly acts in a very different way to the majority of my peers. Furthermore, I have noticed that my day depends greatly on the way I feel when I wake up. If something happens in the morning that compels me to feel angry or frustrated, I will be aggravated by things that would not normally affect me, and vice versa for happiness or joy. Once I realized this effect that my emotion had on me, I also realized that I could choose how to feel. For example, I did poorly on my physics exam the last term and instead of letting it bring me down, I saw it as an opportunity to improve which gave me a great deal of drive. As mentioned earlier, by stating that the knowledge claim is true, I am also stating that everything in this universe has one true state.

A counterclaim to this idea is the question of whether or not some things would exist without human bias. For instance, the previously mentioned perceptual set depends on an individual’s past experiences; therefore an image cannot exist without bias, which indicates that things do not possess an absolute, true form. Furthermore, I have also learnt that humans possess innate qualities, with emotion being one of them. I moved from Japan to Australia when I was seven and noticed that the way people feel and show their emotions is exactly the same despite the very different cultures. Babies cry when they are sad and smile when they are happy, which indicates that the same emotions are felt amongst all humans despite their personal experiences, upbringing, culture or lack thereof.

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We see and understand things not as they are but as we are rings true in the case of emotion as a way of knowing but not sense perception, in my personal opinion. I believe that we can only utilize our senses objectively as everyone sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes in the exact same way. This being said, there are rare cases present in which the five senses can be utilized in order to reveal a subjective truth about an individual. The perception set was used as an example. The emotion on the other hand is very subjective as we as humans do not all feel the same way about ‘things.’ Furthermore, we as the knower can choose to feel a certain way in many instances which again, is a very personal or subjective way of ‘understanding and seeing things.’ However, natural science has suggested that emotions are innate qualities and all humans possess the same ones.

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TOK Essay. (2021, Jun 06). Retrieved September 30, 2022, from