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General acquisition of knowledge

“What can be meant by the Panchantantra saying, “Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes?” Is it necessary to have clear ideas to see? The Panchantantra saying : “Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes,” almost directly contradicts the popular idea held by many today in which “seeing is believing”. However to truly understand the question asked, we must firstly define what is meant by knowledge, as the definition for this will surely affect the answer given to the question.

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Simply put knowledge can be defined as justified true belief. To elaborate, it isn’t enough to simply believe something and accept it as fact, what you believe you know must be true, it should be an indisputable fact. For example I know my name is Samirah Musazi, as it is stated on my birth certificate, I am therefore justified in this belief, and can take this to be an aspect of my knowledge. This then leads to the question, what are the different ways of acquiring knowledge? And speaking specifically in terms of the question, are our eyes the most valuable tool in our acquisition of knowledge? To answer these questions I shall first examine the ways that our eyes (or sense perception) can be used in our gaining of knowledge, and the very problem with this.

One cannot dispute the fact that much of what we know, we gain from sight. We know for example that it is raining outside, by a quick glance at the window. Or we know that our teacher is getting annoyed by our incessant chatter, by studying the angry expression on his/her face, hopefully prompting us to stop. However sight alone can be very deceiving, and using our eyes as the soul basis in our decision of what is true and false, can at times prove to be unreliable.

To illustrate my point, I am sure that you also have made the silly mistake of relying on your sight in the morning to make a decision as to how hot or cold it is outside. To clarify, when I was younger, I thought that I could make quite a precise judgement as to whether or not it was hot outside, simply by glancing outside my window. If it was sunny it was obviously hot, and if it wasn’t sunny then I would need my coat that day.

However my method of telling the temperature later revealed itself to me as being a farce, as one day running late for school I looked outside the window and saw that it was sunny, I thus decided to run to school without a coat, big mistake. This thus resulted in me freezing like an icicle, not the best start to a day. All of this was caused by my reliance on my eyes as a source of information. If I had taken the time to open my window, and feel the cold air with my skin, I would have known in this instance my eyes would have been the ones to deceive me. So reaffirming my point, troubles can arise when you use your eyes as the soul apparatus in your pursuit of knowledge.

This can also be seen in people’s exploitation of optical illusions whereby the brain sees something and simply makes up the rest. It builds a whole image as to what it believes should be true, even though it isn’t. I have fallen victims to such tricks, a notable one is where you are presented with two rectangles which are of different shades of colour and are angled differently. One appears to be longer than the other, but they are actually both the same size. So in this instance we can say that I am in agreement with the Panchantantra saying, “Knowledge is the true organ of sight, not the eyes”, as your eyes do have the power to deceive you.

On the other hand, as I previously stated, for many the eyes are the true organ of sight. By sight I mean insight into the world and knowledge of our surroundings, this is demonstrated by the age old proverb: “seeing is believing.” Although it can be acknowledged that at times our eyes do deceive us, for many they are the primary object used to discern what is around us. Through our eyes we gain what we perceive to be physical evidence, and for many this is enough. An example lies in the fact that when people are having trouble believing someone on a certain issue they often say the simple statement: “prove it”. Why? Because seeing something often constitutes justified belief. Just as I “know” my name is Samirah Musazi, because that is what I’ve been told I also believe this quite justifiably because I have read it on my birth certificate. For me in this example, seeing was believing.

In spite of this referring back to the Panchantantra saying, peoples preconceived views on a particular subject can influence what they perceive to be knowledge. In other words if you hold an idea strongly in your mind, it is going to influence what you take from a situation that you experience. I learnt about this personally quite surprisingly from a biology lesson. We were learning about DNA, and how only a proportion of our DNA codes for the production of amino acids, the rest is known as non-coding DNA or introns.

This non-coding DNA was previously known as junk DNA. Now the title junk DNA would have surely influenced scientist’s views at the time in the quest for finding out the purpose of the non-coding DNA. Many scientists chose not to research into its purpose as like the name suggests, they decided that it was purposeless, and had no significance in the human body. Luckily though, there were scientists who were willing to do further research into the non-coding DNA, they have discovered that it indeed has a purpose, we just do not know what it is yet. In my opinion this is a prime example on how people expectations can affect the way they see things.

This argument goes both ways, as just as we can attribute the lack of enthusiasm for finding out the purpose of the non-coding DNA to the name “junk DNA”, which would have thus influenced people’s perceptions of the non-coding DNA, it was these preconceived ideas which lead us to discover that the non-coding DNA had a purpose. In other words, someone must have held the idea that the DNA had a purpose, which would have driven their desire to find out what the purpose was. So having clear ideas does indeed influence what we allow ourselves to see, or blind ourselves from.

So what can be concluded from this? Through my analysis of the question we can see that there isn’t a definite answer. In some instances our eyes alone are sufficient in causing us to have justified belief, but in other they can serve only to deceive us. Furthermore, having a certain belief can affect what we allow ourselves to see, or not to see in some cases. Perhaps it is better to use our eyes in conjunction with other senses in the hope that we will not be thoroughly deceived then. Or perhaps we can never fully rely on our senses. This is quite a cynical view, however I draw comfort in the fact that there 7billion human beings in this world, with 7 billion minds and beliefs. These beliefs often shape what we later discover, and there will always be someone willing to push the boundaries and see if something is true or not, leading to the general acquisition of knowledge.

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