15 October 2008

A Brief Note on Sense Data Theory

According to "sense-data" theory, the only things we directly experience are sense-data. Generally these are held to come from extant but unknowable external objects but the sense-data themselves are also, somehow, taken to be objects in and of themselves. So that if I perceive that a rectangular triangle table* appears to have an acute angle, there really is a sense-datum that has that acute angle and that is what I perceive.

Based on a few remarks from Dr. Wahl, it doesn't look like many buy into this any more. Anyone remember trying to draw a table when you were really little? I do. I'd draw a rectangle, because I knew that the table was rectangular and didn't know anything about perspective. This seems to be common across the spectrum of children (with the exception of my cousin Aaron and, likely, other prodigies). It takes practice to learn to draw with perspective, i.e. to draw what we "really see." This indicates that there's something going on besides simply taking in the visual data as is. There's some sort of processing going on.

The more I learn about Theory of Knowledge, the more I think I really need to take a class on cognitive development, or some equivalent. There's a Theory of Mind class sometimes offered that might do it. A lot of these disparate theories we've been looking at don't really hold up with even rudimentary knowledge of how the brain actually works (or appears to work based on sense data gathered through various infernal machines).

*I caught this shortly after publishing, and it was too amusing not to leave evidence of my mistake. We have a new species of philosophical conundrum! Behold the Rectangular Triangle!

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