TED Conversations

Sophie Rand

Student Engineering, The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art


This conversation is closed.

Can we ever know how another person "senses" the world?

In my Bioelectricity class this week, we learned about the cells
in our body that help us sense our environment: chemosensors in our
tongue that help us sense taste, for example, the photoreceptors in
our eye that sense light, and the hair cells in our ears that sense
the mechanical vibrations of sound, to name a few.

As a result, I recently revisited my answer to the age-old question of
“how do I know that the blue I see is the same blue you see?” that was
so startling and exciting to most 3rd graders playing baby Kierkegaard
a little bit differently. An answer could be that we just have to
trust that perception is guided by biology and that humans are
biologically identical to within 80% of our biological systems.

This answer, of course, raises new questions: even if you and I may
perceive the same blue, is that blue "real?" Where does sensation
leave off and perception begin, and how may we trust ourselves as we
try to compare them? Can we ever know how another person "senses" the
world? Would love to hear your thoughts!


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Feb 19 2012: I think the answer is that while not everyone will perceive and interpret things the same way, a lot of people do. I have a form of synaesthesia where I can taste colours in my food (eg, lemons are green to me, most fish is blue). I also frequently see the letter "y" as a deep purple. I find it odd, because I've never been able to find a case taste-colour synaesthesia online, yet my mother has the exact same one as me. She even interprets the same colours from the same foods that I do.
    So having never found a case similar to mine on the internet, I'm drawn to the conclusion that I am very unique in the way my world is compared to yours, even if it's unique in a minor way. At the same time though, my mother having the same synaesthesia shows me that as unique as it is, her visual blue is probably the same as my visual blue based solely on the fact that her tasted blue is the same as mine.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.