Author Topic: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?  (Read 1877 times)

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Offline median

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Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« on: August 28, 2013, 02:38:35 PM »
This is really a philosophical question regarding Epistemology. Many Christians (and other religious people) claim that if men/women are only made up of matter and energy (controlled by the laws of physics) then there is no reason to trust our senses (cognitive faculties) to accurately assist us in obtaining truths about reality - roughly (as their reasoning sometimes goes) because random atoms bumping into one another (in our brains) cannot be trusted to accurately portray what is true to us.

The late Scottish philosopher David Hume actually dealt with this problem in his paper An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. However, I'd like to get your thoughts before discussing Hume's answer.

If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?




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Online Dante

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2013, 02:54:00 PM »

If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?

Because they've been consistent, and have yet to be proven untrustworthy. Unlike godbelief.
Actually it doesn't. One could conceivably be all-powerful but not exceptionally intelligent.

Offline median

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2013, 03:17:38 PM »
Some apologists might reply that your answer is circular b/c you are relying upon your senses to in order to state why you trust them. In other words, if we say we trust our senses because they have been reliable in the past we are begging the question being asked.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/induction-problem/


"Our knowledge of such contingent truths could only be grounded in our experience.  But the principle of the uniformity of nature isn’t something that we can just “see” to be true.  As a result, it appears that we could only have inductive evidence to support it.  So it seems that the only way we could justify anything like the inductive principle is through induction.  [That is, inductive reasoning works because it’s always worked.]  But this just seems “flagrantly circular.” (Hume, p. 198; Salmon, p. 233)" [1]
 1. http://faculty.unlv.edu/beisecker/Courses/Phi-101/Induction.htm
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Offline Boots

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2013, 03:23:05 PM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...
It's one of the reasons I'm an atheist today.  I decided to take my religion seriously, and that's when it started to fall apart for me.
~jdawg70

Offline median

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2013, 03:26:04 PM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...

This is a generally good answer indeed (at least according to me) and it is similar in form to the one Hume gives (we have to live in this world) - although there have been many philosophical attempts to answer "Hum's Problem of Induction" since then.
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Offline Mooby

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2013, 04:05:45 PM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...

This is a generally good answer indeed (at least according to me) and it is similar in form to the one Hume gives (we have to live in this world) - although there have been many philosophical attempts to answer "Hum's Problem of Induction" since then.
It cannot be considered a logically good answer, though, because it is:
  • Appeal to consequences - We must trust our senses because not doing so leads to undesirable consequences (fear of walking, fear of opening eyes, fear of eating/drinking, not interacting with environment)
  • Begging the question - One must assume the conclusion (our senses are trustworthy) is true to determine the premise is valid (that there exists an environment to interact with; that we can walk, open our eyes, eat/drink)
"I'm doing science and I'm still alive."--J.C.

Offline Boots

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2013, 04:41:44 PM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...

This is a generally good answer indeed (at least according to me) and it is similar in form to the one Hume gives (we have to live in this world) - although there have been many philosophical attempts to answer "Hum's Problem of Induction" since then.
It cannot be considered a logically good answer, though, because it is:
  • Appeal to consequences - We must trust our senses because not doing so leads to undesirable consequences (fear of walking, fear of opening eyes, fear of eating/drinking, not interacting with environment)
  • Begging the question - One must assume the conclusion (our senses are trustworthy) is true to determine the premise is valid (that there exists an environment to interact with; that we can walk, open our eyes, eat/drink)

I don't quite agree with 2.  You can test your premise ("can I trust my sense?"), at least to a certain extent.

but I feel, Mooby--and this is NOT a dig on you, but on the arguments you present--that it's a bunch of philosophical hooey.  If we don't trust our senses, we might as well commit suicide.  Each of us is experiencing something.  Starting from a postulate that "we sense stuff" and going from there seems reasonable.

in fact, this is an example of one of my problems with religion!  Not sure I can explain it correctly in the limited time we have...

it's language.

I believe that the development of language is the one and only thing that truly sets us apart from non-thinking animals.  we don't have a soul, but we can describe something as intangible and amorphous (and imaginary) as a soul.  All it takes is the ability to assign labels to abstract concepts, and there you have it--higher thought.  Bears and dogs don't wonder whether they can trust their senses--they just DO.  The arguments given simply lend credence to my opinion that humans are outsmarting evolution (to our detriment)
It's one of the reasons I'm an atheist today.  I decided to take my religion seriously, and that's when it started to fall apart for me.
~jdawg70

Offline Mooby

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2013, 05:16:25 PM »
I don't quite agree with 2.  You can test your premise ("can I trust my sense?"), at least to a certain extent.
How does one do that?

Quote
but I feel, Mooby--and this is NOT a dig on you, but on the arguments you present--that it's a bunch of philosophical hooey.  If we don't trust our senses, we might as well commit suicide.
Again, this is an appeal to consequences.

Quote
Each of us is experiencing something.
Considering the subject matter of this thread, I cannot agree that this is self-evident.  Do you have anything to back up this claim?

Quote
Starting from a postulate that "we sense stuff" and going from there seems reasonable.
If you're going to take the trusting of your senses as axiomatic, then you have no real justification for trusting your senses.

Quote
I believe that the development of language is the one and only thing that truly sets us apart from non-thinking animals.  we don't have a soul, but we can describe something as intangible and amorphous (and imaginary) as a soul.  All it takes is the ability to assign labels to abstract concepts, and there you have it--higher thought.  Bears and dogs don't wonder whether they can trust their senses--they just DO.  The arguments given simply lend credence to my opinion that humans are outsmarting evolution (to our detriment)
Bears and dogs don't trust their senses; they simply are operators of their senses.  And I think it's fairly self-evident that if senses exist, then those of us engaging in this discussion are operators of our senses too.  But the mere fact that you operate your senses is not evidence that your senses are reliable or trustworthy.

The distinction is important, because in not considering whether they can trust their senses bears and dogs do not consider the possibility that their senses can be wrong.  And a claim that we shouldn't consider it either might be reasonable (if not logically rigorous) if our senses told us our senses are reliable.  However, observations made with our senses tell us that our senses are not always reliable and that our memories of our senses are not reliable.

Now that you've had your fill of Cracked articles, consider the little old lady in the nursing home looking for a crossing guard to help her cross the street, or the person knitting an invisible rug who will yell at you for accidentally stepping on it.  These people are also operating based on their senses, but your senses tell you that their senses are untrustworthy.  Of course, this requires your senses to be infallible, which you're taking as axiomatic... but so are they.
"I'm doing science and I'm still alive."--J.C.

Offline Boots

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2013, 07:31:59 PM »
I dunno Mooby...I do understand your arguments, and see the validity.  Here are my problems.

1) I'm not a student of philosophy, so I'm not equipped to counter these arguments.
2) I find these arguments to be useful in an academic sense, but useless in a real-world scenario.  I find no meaningful use in questioning whether I can trust my senses.  I cannot function if I don't trust my senses, at least to the extent to which I've learned they're trustworthy (I know, for example, that "hearing things" is a possibility, and the human brain fills in gaps with patterns even when there are no patterns).

so, I have no problem conceding that the philosophical argument is beyond my capability to counter, but I choose to ignore the question because I think it's not relevant.
It's one of the reasons I'm an atheist today.  I decided to take my religion seriously, and that's when it started to fall apart for me.
~jdawg70

Offline Azdgari

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2013, 08:31:50 PM »
Mooby, the question is incomplete, isn't it?  "Are our senses reliable or trustworthy"...at accomplishing what, exactly?

A known liar can be relied on, or trusted, to lie if it suits him.  In that sense, he is reliable and trustworthy.  It's all a matter of what he's being relied on or trusted to do.  What is the question, then?  Whether our senses reliably convey information about an objective reality?  Or something else?

The former may not be testable without circular reasoning, but the latter might be.
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Offline ParkingPlaces

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2013, 08:39:18 PM »
If you're talking about trusting our senses to give us absolutely accurate information about the various things sensed, no, we can't trust them. If you're talking at a practical level, they ordinarily seem quite competent when it comes to informing us about our surroundings. At least by our own standards.

For instance, color doesn't exist. At least as we experience it. Our brains take sensory information and make up shit. And we think we're seeing. And we are, to a certain extent, but not as well as we think. Yet it works most of the time. And as long as it works long enough for us to procreate and raise our young, then that's about all the better our senses really need to work. Everything else is a bonus.

And it doesn't even do much good to walk around aware that our senses are incomplete. We can see only a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, and would have much more information about the world if our senses could be broadened to include things like infrared. (Which of course we can do, artificially.) We hear a limited portion of the sounds in our environment. Our sense of smell is putrid (I'm proud of that one). Our sense of touch varies but is probably pretty accurate, overall, and our sense of taste is nice but probably reinterpreted by the brain in much the same way as light is. On top of that, our brain has to process the incoming data in such a way that it makes sense to us consciously. So those things we do sense are not always presented to us in things like chronological order, because our head can't handle it. If you clap your hands, you see it first, hear it second, feel it third, yet your brain tells you all three happened simultaneously. Which is cute, but not accurate enough to applaud.

So no, we shouldn't trust our senses. However, we have little choice. So we do. With caveats that not everyone is aware of.

Of course, when discussions like this start, we should also ask: Do we trust our philosophers? And why?  :)



Not everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They're all entitled to mine though.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #11 on: August 28, 2013, 08:42:48 PM »
... Which is cute, but not accurate enough to applaud. ...

I see what you did there.
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Offline Mooby

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2013, 10:02:49 PM »
Mooby, the question is incomplete, isn't it?  "Are our senses reliable or trustworthy"...at accomplishing what, exactly?
The question, as posed in the OP, is actually:
"If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?"

I take "accurate" to reference how well our senses map to reality.  For instance, I see a green, circular table beside me; does this observation map to an objective object with a given set of attributes?  And if tomorrow I see a different green, circular table, will that observation map to a different objective object with a similar set of attributes?

Taking it a step further, does there exist an objective set of entities (reality) that our senses can map to?  Do our senses mapping to anything?

I'm still not following where you're going with testing, though.
"I'm doing science and I'm still alive."--J.C.

Offline Azdgari

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #13 on: August 28, 2013, 10:25:09 PM »
The question, as posed in the OP, is actually:
"If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?"

Yeah, but you were building on that question and I was addressing more what you'd said, rather than going back to what the OP had said.

I take "accurate" to reference how well our senses map to reality.  For instance, I see a green, circular table beside me; does this observation map to an objective object with a given set of attributes?  And if tomorrow I see a different green, circular table, will that observation map to a different objective object with a similar set of attributes?

Well, it's pretty easy to demonstrate that they map to a reality, just by their consistency, right?  Whether they map to the reality is untestable but, in practice, trivial.

Taking it a step further, does there exist an objective set of entities (reality) that our senses can map to?  Do our senses mapping to anything?

I'm still not following where you're going with testing, though.

I wasn't going anywhere with the testing, really.  You've gone where I was going, anyway:  Is our whole idea of our brains mapping reality, an accurate one, even granting that our senses are sensing things about an objective reality?  Our brains create a predictive model - a complex theory, in effect - but what does that have to do with what is?  Isn't it just a model that soothes our intuitions about how reality responds to us?

I ask this not to pose an argument, but because I value your input on the matter.
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Offline lotanddaughters

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #14 on: August 28, 2013, 11:12:18 PM »
Many Christians (and other religious people) claim that if men/women are only made up of matter and energy (controlled by the laws of physics) then there is no reason to trust our senses (cognitive faculties) to accurately assist us in obtaining truths about reality - roughly (as their reasoning sometimes goes) because random atoms bumping into one another (in our brains) cannot be trusted to accurately portray what is true to us.
The more fully one is aware of his/her and others' sensory limitations(such as optical illusions) and psychological weaknesses(such as belief in Christ), the better one can properly distribute trust and distrust.

As for the random atoms? If they can't see how it is matter and energy, and they strongly feel that something deeper and special is a key ingredient, I'm willing to grant them that, as long as they are willing to accept that all animals have souls, because of the varying degrees of applied trust within the animal kingdom.

Because if humans were the most intelligent animals, and all of the other animals had equal intelligence, it would be one less argument against them. But, since we see varying intelligence not only between different species, but also different individuals, it takes the "specialness" factor right out of their stupid-ass argument, because the varying levels of intelligence appear to be randomly distributed.
Enough with your bullshit.
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Offline Mooby

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #15 on: August 28, 2013, 11:15:58 PM »
Yeah, but you were building on that question and I was addressing more what you'd said, rather than going back to what the OP had said.
It was actually Boots who asked if we could trust our senses.  My responses were based on my interpretation of that question.

Quote
Well, it's pretty easy to demonstrate that they map to a reality, just by their consistency, right?  Whether they map to the reality is untestable but, in practice, trivial.
How does consistency show they map to anything?  It could be the case that multiple things on our end map to one thing on the other end (similar to a function), or that everything maps to nothing (a dream within a dream), or that the mapping is only apparent.  Also, our senses tell us that our senses are not all that consistent anyways.

Quote
I wasn't going anywhere with the testing, really.  You've gone where I was going, anyway:  Is our whole idea of our brains mapping reality, an accurate one, even granting that our senses are sensing things about an objective reality?  Our brains create a predictive model - a complex theory, in effect - but what does that have to do with what is?  Isn't it just a model that soothes our intuitions about how reality responds to us?
Pretty much, assuming our brains exist.  In which case, why should we trust our senses?
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Offline lotanddaughters

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #16 on: August 28, 2013, 11:40:58 PM »
Pretty much, assuming our brains exist.  In which case, why should we trust our senses?
Because they're all we've got, whether they exist in a dream within a dream or not.
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Offline Azdgari

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #17 on: August 29, 2013, 12:29:58 AM »
How does consistency show they map to anything?  It could be the case that multiple things on our end map to one thing on the other end (similar to a function), or that everything maps to nothing (a dream within a dream), or that the mapping is only apparent.

Any consistency at all shows that our senses are receiving input that is non-random.  Whatever reality is confining input to a non-random pattern, that is what our senses are "mapping" to.  We could be brains in vats receiving virtual-reality programming.  In which case, that's the reality our senses are mapping to.

Also, our senses tell us that our senses are not all that consistent anyways.

Another branch of the topic, partly addressed below.

Quote
I wasn't going anywhere with the testing, really.  You've gone where I was going, anyway:  Is our whole idea of our brains mapping reality, an accurate one, even granting that our senses are sensing things about an objective reality?  Our brains create a predictive model - a complex theory, in effect - but what does that have to do with what is?  Isn't it just a model that soothes our intuitions about how reality responds to us?
Pretty much, assuming our brains exist.  In which case, why should we trust our senses?

Because they have a non-random consistency to them which demonstrates the existence of a reality that is the source of their input.  If that's a dream, then it's a pretty trustworthy dream, and that's our reality.  Etc.

I fail to see anything in what I said, and that you agreed with, that suggests we should not trust that our senses are sensing something real.

That's not really what I was getting at to begin with though.  I was questioning whether our models of reality in our minds - obtained and formed with or without sensory input - can have anything to do with reality, other than as predictive models.
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Offline median

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #18 on: August 29, 2013, 01:05:37 AM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...

This is a generally good answer indeed (at least according to me) and it is similar in form to the one Hume gives (we have to live in this world) - although there have been many philosophical attempts to answer "Hum's Problem of Induction" since then.
It cannot be considered a logically good answer, though, because it is:
  • Appeal to consequences - We must trust our senses because not doing so leads to undesirable consequences (fear of walking, fear of opening eyes, fear of eating/drinking, not interacting with environment)
  • Begging the question - One must assume the conclusion (our senses are trustworthy) is true to determine the premise is valid (that there exists an environment to interact with; that we can walk, open our eyes, eat/drink)

Neither of these rebuttals actually deals with my response (nor Humes for that matter). First, I don't even know what not trusting my senses (generally speaking) would even look like. So as far as that is concerned I really have no choice but to trust them generally speaking. So it has nothing to do with an appeal to consequences. But second, even if it did that wouldn't necessarily make it any less valid. Similar to the often touted Appeal to Authority fallacy, there are in fact exceptions to that card being played - and this in fact may be one of them. Besides that, the statement wasn't an argument, or anywhere near it. So you are attacking a Strawman. Now THAT is a fallacy.
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #19 on: August 29, 2013, 02:52:56 AM »
If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?

I think my response would normally be: "as opposed to.....?"

Whatever reality actually is, sensory input appears to be the only way we can experience and acqure knowledge of it.  In the absence of another method of acquiring that knowledge, I will go with sensory input, which has so far presented a consistent picture of what I perceive to be reality.

Bottom line though, I don't care that much.  "Reality" could be anything - but I know that if I treat perceived reality as being correct, I can minimise pain and maximise happiness.  Does it REALLY hurt when an apparent hammer falls on my apparent foot?  Who knows?  What I DO know is that it apparently causes me significant pain....so I act as if what apparently happened is reality, and endeavour not to do it again.
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
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Offline Mrjason

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #20 on: August 29, 2013, 05:29:45 AM »
If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?

Because my senses interpret the other matter/energy in a way that is meaningful for me.

Offline Boots

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #21 on: August 29, 2013, 07:11:42 AM »
If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?

Wait, wait...how is "only made up of matter/energy" relevant?  I think this question, as it's constructed, is a non sequitur.  (why *wouldn't* I trust my senses, whether I'm matter/energy, or not?)

did I phrase "non sequitur" correctly?  :-)
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Offline Graybeard

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #22 on: August 29, 2013, 07:24:54 AM »
If you are only made up of matter/energy, why do you trust your senses as generally accurate (if you do)?

The answer would seem to be, "Because those are all we have." It is not possible to gain any experience without the senses. We therefore are constrained and this becomes our real reality.

It would not matter if, in truth, the universe were completely different from the way we perceive it -> we have been successful so far based upon how our senses tell us it is.
Nobody says “There are many things that we thought were natural processes, but now know that a god did them.”

Offline Boots

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #23 on: August 29, 2013, 07:27:37 AM »
Yeah, but you were building on that question and I was addressing more what you'd said, rather than going back to what the OP had said.
It was actually Boots who asked if we could trust our senses.  My responses were based on my interpretation of that question.

The OP asked if we could trust our senses, not me.  I was giving my answer.  :-)
It's one of the reasons I'm an atheist today.  I decided to take my religion seriously, and that's when it started to fall apart for me.
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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #24 on: August 29, 2013, 07:27:57 AM »
we have been successful so far based upon how our senses tell us it is.

According to our senses. :P
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Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #25 on: August 29, 2013, 07:49:51 AM »
we have been successful so far based upon how our senses tell us it is.

According to our senses. :P

But - and this is the clincher for me - our measures and understanding of success ALSO come via our senses.

By doing "A", we may be succeeding or failing in "reality" - but all the results we experience come via our senses from the reality we perceive.

Does it matter if you win or lose a game you not only didn't know you were playing, but will never know you ever played and you will never discern any effects of that game upon your life?  I'm sticking with "no".
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Online One Above All

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #26 on: August 29, 2013, 07:53:08 AM »
But - and this is the clincher for me - our measures and understanding of success ALSO come via our senses.
<snip>

Serious opinion time:
Everything comes via our senses, which is why arguments like median's are pointless. While it is true that trusting our senses is circular logic[1], it's pointless to think if we can or can't trust our senses, since we'll be using our senses to judge that point.
 1. We can trust our senses because, according to our senses, we can.
The truth is absolute. Life forms are specks of specks (...) of specks of dust in the universe.
Why settle for normal, when you can be so much more? Why settle for something, when you can have everything?
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Offline Hatter23

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #27 on: August 29, 2013, 07:57:00 AM »
Because there is no other way for us to interact with our environment?  If we do not trust our senses, we would be too afraid to walk, open our eyes, eat/drink, etc...

This is a generally good answer indeed (at least according to me) and it is similar in form to the one Hume gives (we have to live in this world) - although there have been many philosophical attempts to answer "Hum's Problem of Induction" since then.
It cannot be considered a logically good answer, though, because it is:
  • Appeal to consequences - We must trust our senses because not doing so leads to undesirable consequences (fear of walking, fear of opening eyes, fear of eating/drinking, not interacting with environment)
  • Begging the question - One must assume the conclusion (our senses are trustworthy) is true to determine the premise is valid (that there exists an environment to interact with; that we can walk, open our eyes, eat/drink)

Neither of these rebuttals actually deals with my response (nor Humes for that matter). First, I don't even know what not trusting my senses (generally speaking) would even look like. So as far as that is concerned I really have no choice but to trust them generally speaking. So it has nothing to do with an appeal to consequences. But second, even if it did that wouldn't necessarily make it any less valid. Similar to the often touted Appeal to Authority fallacy, there are in fact exceptions to that card being played - and this in fact may be one of them. Besides that, the statement wasn't an argument, or anywhere near it. So you are attacking a Strawman. Now THAT is a fallacy.

It is also a huge appeal to ignorance. By what measure do we show our senses as unreliable except by other sensory imput? So to distrust them as completely unreliable would be to base our decision on something WE HAVE NO INFORMATION ON.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2013, 08:49:39 AM by Hatter23 »
An Omnipowerful God needed to sacrifice himself to himself (but only for a long weekend) in order to avert his own wrath against his own creations who he made in a manner knowing that they weren't going to live up to his standards.

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Offline jaimehlers

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Re: Why Do You Trust Your Senses?
« Reply #28 on: August 29, 2013, 08:39:41 AM »
What else do we trust, if not our senses?