Friday, May 13, 2011

Senses as a Way of Knowing

Throughout the scaffolding and steel of our bodies runs the silver line of nerve and axon, of filament and spark. The largest mass of this hides in the storehouse, the granary of our heads; but the mass outside is greater than the complex clump within.

The senses are not the ineffable chemical ocean of our emotional selves, but they are the main source of input, the neural net that shifts like a littoral at the periphery, sending messages up the shingle and through the tiny grains along the beach. The senses are directed messengers, sensitive each one of them to specific things that turn them on or off, or more on or less on, moron or lesson.

We have many senses: sight and sound, smell and taste and touch — these five kings claimed the kingdom centuries ago. But they are not infallible, and they are not alone. We have balance and temperature, location and motion, hunger and pain, and a host of other minor players which occasionally may take the stage and steal a scene.

The senses give us data, one datum at a time or many; data by themselves do not constitute information unless a context is woven to give them meaning. And when that meaning is verified, when definition and validity, generalisability and reliability, utility and transferability are all satisfied, the meaning becomes knowledge.

Sensory perception on its own is not knowledge, but it is a way to knowledge. It provides ceaseless, ever self-censored increments of material. From the many strands of sense, each of us builds a structure, weaves a tapestry, crafts a framework. It is the way we know what seems to be, the material underpinning of reality.

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