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Sophie Rand

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

TEDCRED 50+

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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!

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  • Feb 22 2012: I don't believe we can precisely know whether we experience the same way as another person . . . at least not so that we can communicate through speaking or writing. However, I believe as we come to understand more about mirror neurons, we will realize that we do not have to experience the exact same thing as someone else to be able to deeply emathize with them. Whether the blue you see is the same shade or different than the one I see, or the sky you see is the same as the one I see, we can find a common understanding that embraces our uniqueness.

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