Asha de Vos

Marine Biologist, The University of California Santa Cruz


This conversation is closed.

Is seeing really believing?

As the old saying goes - seeing is believing - but is that true? Do we only believe things we see? Where does this come from?

Closing Statement from Asha de Vos

Wow - great interaction and thank you to all of you who contributed. 'seeing' ultimately refers not only to visual seeing but also sensing as a whole. but there were some interesting points. I guess the saying is open to interpretation in many different ways as we have seen through this thread and thats what i find most interesting about posing this random question - the variation in everyone's perception which is related to most things in the world. Thanks again and I will see you guys again - soon with yet another questionable question.

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      Mar 9 2012: Great! thanks Adriaan - thats certainly a new angle....not just sensing with all you have but with your mind too! Interesting. Thank you :)
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    Mar 9 2012: There are some interpretations to this expression:
    1) If you see something, you'll believe it more than if you heard or read about or imagine something...
    2) Seeing does not give full proof, but you need your senses to get information about this world around you. As sound cannot be seen, nor taste or touch, one can see it as the most obvious example that you need senses (in this case seeing) in order to change your beliefs
    3) In a materialistic perspective, one needs data (observable facts) in order to have evidence (or counter-evidence) for testing theories about this world.
    4) ...
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      Mar 9 2012: Hi Christophe - great. I think I have concluded that seeing is actually 'sensing' can believe something that someone else tells you without you seeing, reading or imagining it too right? Your 3rd answer makes you sound like a scientist! YAY! :)
  • Mar 9 2012: Hi Asha,

    There's a fun saying in the amateur astronomy community. "I wouldn't have seen it if I didn't believe it." There's a lot of truth in it.

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    Mar 9 2012: Hello Asha,

    The idiom seeing is believing tends to imply that people can only really believe what they experience personally.

    Therefore, when we find it difficult to believe what another person has no difficulty believing in, we should take into account that it is our diverse experiences that lead us to our diverse "belief systems".

    And seeing with our eyes of understanding is also another way of seeing, like someone has already mentioned.

    Also, look at this scripture from the Bible at Ephesians 2:18 "the eyes of your heart having been enlightened, that you may know..." So even our figurative heart can have eyes and see. How interesting huh??

    Nice question.

    Hope my small contribution helped.

    [EDIT] I will add, that for me personally the idiom implies also that there is doubt...someone has a reputation for not being honest, or has started a pattern of behavior that leaves one doubting they will follow through with what they have claimed.....therefore stating to that person "seeing is believing, or 'I'll believe it when I see it" would be appropriate. As in the case of someone who finds it difficult to commit to a relationship telling you..."I found the one, I'm getting married".....and you think....."I'll believe it when I see it"..
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      Mar 9 2012: thank you - this is another great contribution! yes you are right about the figurative heart....i'm enjoying this conversation much too :) I am so glad I asked....thanks for the interaction and the contribution!
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        Mar 9 2012: You are so very welcome.....hope you are well and that your assignment is a success!!
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    Mar 9 2012: Belief and truth are not inseparable. It is possible to believe something that is false. Belief is arbitrary and unprovable. Someone can say they believe something and it is impossible to prove they don't, and vice versa. So, belief is not seeing. Vision can be inaccurate, unreliable, optically erroneous, or deceived. So, seeing is not believing. Opthamologists and optometrists study seeing. Philosophers study knowing. My answer to your fine question Ms. deVoss is no. Thanks for the exercise.
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      Mar 9 2012: Thank you - I believe seeing can also mean sensing then?
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        Mar 9 2012: Yes. Seeing is sensory as opposed to intellectual. We believe something for one of three reasons: we are convinced by examination of observable information; we simply choose to do so for any number of reasons; we are convinced by forces beyond natural explanation (faith).
  • Mar 8 2012: Seeing is seeing and believing is believing. That's why we have 2 different words for these 2 different things. Happy Today.
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    Mar 8 2012: You're taking the phrase too literally.
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      Mar 9 2012: Xavier - totally valid response.....I won't argue it....but I don't think we can just discard the question because I am being too literal. Its a valid question - its a phrase we all use but I was curious about is wikipedia said to me "Seeing is believing is an idiom first recorded in this form in 1639 that means "only physical or concrete evidence is convincing". It is the essence of St. Thomas's claim to Jesus Christ, to which the latter responded that there were those who had not seen but believed. It leads to a sophistry that "seen evidence" can be easily and correctly interpreted, when in fact, interpretation may be difficult."
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    Mar 9 2012: One can only truly see with the eyes of the heart...Often it is hard to see with the eyes of the heart, especially since the eyes of the head depend on visible evidence.
    "the essential is visible to the heart". Be at peace :-)
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    Mar 9 2012: I LIKE that! its true! we see what we believe. so again its all down to the mind! the mind is what determines what we see and what we believe.....thank you!
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    Mar 9 2012: Great saying because it works both ways - we believe what we see, but even more interesting we see what we believe.
    All our experiences are interpreted via the lens of what we "know" (aka believe)
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    Mar 9 2012: Seeing is believing is an idiom first recorded in this form in 1639 that means "only physical or concrete evidence is convincing". It is the essence of St. Thomas's claim to Jesus Christ, to which the latter responded that there were those who had not seen but believed. It leads to a sophistry that "seen evidence" can be easily and correctly interpreted, when in fact, interpretation may be difficult. (Wikipedia)

    I guess this is why we use that phrase but I just wanted us to think about why we each use it...individually. What does it mean to us. This is just a question that came to me as I wait in limbo for a response about a leaking boat that is meant to be my transport in the field over the next two weeks! I appreciate everyone's time in brainstorming this....keep 'em coming!!

    ps. if i go a bit quiet its because my internet connection isn't great in the field area I work in...but its also a great sign because that means by leaking boat was fixed :)
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    Mar 9 2012: Perhaps I'm "reading into" the question, but I agree with Xavier Belvemont that the question is not to be taken literally. It seems like the question is:

    "Do you need to empirically observe something to reasonably believe in it?" This question makes sense of the above comments and includes all sensory data.

    However, that being said, the answer is no. There are numerous things we believe that we cannot empirically verify. For instance, our belief in the existence of a literal past, or the reality of the external world, or the reality of human rights, are not things that can be empirically verified.

    Thus we need to include rational intuition in our understanding of how we acquire knowledge.
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      Mar 9 2012: Valid - interesting. The reason I asked the question in the way I did is because many people often use the term 'seeing is believing'....and I guess I was curious as to what drove people to use it. What it meant to them. This interaction with all of you is making that possible....
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        Mar 9 2012: Seeing is just seeing. Long ago I saw a phenomena that we call a UFO. Then you see something without knowing what you see. I can describe what it looked like without saying what it was because I don't know. It isn't different with other things. I can describe what I see and some may believe it and others don't. I never believe a thing I didn't see for myself.
        Most things though you can see with the mind or to say it different, with the inner eye.

        Asha, your surname is a good example of an authentic Dutch name yet I don't believe you to have Dutch origins until the facts support that assumption. Until that time I don't know.
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      Mar 9 2012: “Seeing in believing “ … It’s a phrase lots of wise people had said . But as I think they didn’t mean it literally. But quote should be when you believe in something there should be a proper reason and logic behind that. Don’t believe blindly on others or something.
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    Mar 8 2012: People do learn from experience, which I believe is "seeing" in the sense of your question. People also draw conclusions from anecdotes, which often don't actually offer a broad enough range of observation to inform belief in a reliable way. People also believe things they have not seen with their own eyes, or perceived with their own senses, but which are communicated to them by people they trust.
    Of course, people differ widely in how much evidence they need before they will believe something and the sort of evidence they count as valid.
    I wondered what you were thinking or actually curious about when you posed your question.
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      Mar 9 2012: I like this. True - so 'seeing' is a loose term for sensing I suppose? What was I thinking? It was late at night, I am just about to head into the field and find out that the boat I was going to use has sprung a leak. I was told that there was a chance the boat would be out of circulation for a while but there was a small chance that the problem was small enough to fix and go go go. That's when I thought - seeing is believing!