Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

Sensory Perception

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Our senses nourish our brain like food feeds our body, without their input our brains would be very hollow and lacking of knowledge (Kirby & Goodpaster, 2007). For knowledge we heavily rely on what we perceive from our senses, as they provide first-hand experiences, giving us primary evidence on surroundings and situations. However human’s five senses touch, taste, sight, sound and smell also have their imitations, so therefore they each have weaknesses to the amount of accuracy of knowledge they can give.

Starting from the sense of sight, a popular expression is “seeing is believing” as we depend on this sense to confirm reality. However beliefs from sight vary from person to person as we perceive things differently. An example of this would be the fact there was a time when people believed the earth was flat, as that was how it appeared as people could see the distant horizon as a straight line, it was only when the few thought otherwise went forth to prove against this knowledge that they were able to open new vistas of reality through their vision.

Hearing, another sense has also been important for the use of human survival as a way of hearing unusual sounds that may stand for danger and for communication through language. However, human hearing can be limited, as often scientists find the existence or presence of sounds we cannot hear through our own ears. A human hearing deteriorates through age, as sensitivity towards sounds of higher frequency is lost. However our hearing is sophisticated enough that we can organize the sounds we hear, grouping and segregating these factors so in one aspect we hear what we want to hear.

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Sounds can also be interpreted or misinterpreted by different people as they stimulate varied emotions. As we generally connect the sounds we hear back to our memory, meaning we can recognize a person with a distinguishable voice. The sense of smell is important and is often used subconsciously for instinctual reasons. As recently discovered the extent to which the smell of a partner can affect our attraction to them. Our perceptions and evaluations others are influenced by their smell, as unpleasant smells connect to our disgusts or negative opinion of another.

However, the perception of what is a good or bad smell can be interpreted differently between people as it is attached to previous knowledge gained. Knowledge, justification and critical thinking are three factors that contribute to the accuracy of sensory data (Mohanan, 2000). Critical thinking is the mental process of reflecting upon something to assess its credibility, truth, significance, usefulness, value or goodness on the basis of information available to us and a mode of justification that we consider legitimate. Critical thinking, knowledge and justification support the accuracy of information that our senses feed our brain.

What we call knowledge is a collection of propositions that we believe to be true. A knowledge claim becomes part of the knowledge for an individual when the claim is accepted as true. Justification involves providing reasons for accepting propositions that we regards as knowledge, that is, for considering them to be true. It also involved providing reasons for rejecting the propositions that we regard as non-knowledge, considering them to be false. In other words, justification involves the defense of what we regards as true, and the refutation of what we regard as false.

Observations, generalizations and theories are strategies of justification when using the senses as a viable way of gaining knowledge. Psychologists have long debated if perception is in fact due to nature or nurture. Beginning from the view point of nature, Gibson’s bottom up/direct theory that all the information we need to perceive is provided by our visual environment e. g. nature, rather than having to use past knowledge or experience (Mace, 2005). Additionally, Gibson and Gibson later proposed their Differentiation Theory which explains how the innate system develops.

They suggested when young, we lack the ability to differentiate between objects. However, as we get older we develop the ability to differentiate, for this to take place all the necessary information needed is found is our visual environment. Next, from the view point that perception is a processes of nurture comes from Gregory’s top down/indirect theory which suggest that often the perceptual sensory data we receive is ambiguous and impoverished so perception often relies on the construction of sensory data, stored knowledge and expectations (McLeod, 2007).

Research would suggest that although some argue that perception is due to nature, while other argues for nurture, it may in fact be that the two factors are interdependent and rely on each other. After all, it would be most adaptive to be born with some ‘hard wired systems’ which can be pruned and then developed to suit our environment. The human senses have enough strength to enable us to survive and develop our knowledge of our surrounding world to a point a point which we feel comfortable.

Each sense has its limitations as well as its capability to be influenced by our inherited preferences, memories or previous knowledge. The senses an also be influenced by certain human states as tiredness, drug/alcohol abuse, nutritional deficiencies are all detrimental to the sensitivity of senses causing us to perceive something mistakenly. Our senses tell us similar things: through our different experiences in life we absorb the facts in different ways.

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