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Science

Can you see the world objectively? Scientists say no

Madrid / A team of scientists from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, United States) has used cognitive science methods to test a long-debated philosophical question: Can you see the world objectively? Their answer is flatly no.

After conducting various experiments, the researchers concluded that it is almost impossible for people to separate the true identity of an object from the perspective with which they observe it.

In one of the experiments, for example, volunteers had to look at round objects that were tilted and located far from them; Even when they knew that objects were round, they couldn’t help but “distort” them, such as ovals or ellipses. The results of the study are published in the PNAS journal.

“The influence of one’s perspective on perception is something that philosophers have been discussing for centuries. Experimenting on this issue was really exciting, ”says Chaz Firestone, a Johns Hopkins researcher and lead author on the paper.

And it is that, when humans see things, the brain combines pure visual information with assumptions and acquired knowledge about the world.

So, for example, if you take a (round) coin and tip it away from you, the light of the coin hits your eyes in the shape of an oval or ellipse; but your brain then goes beyond that information and makes you “see” a circle in the real world.

Is it possible to separate the real shape of an object?

But for decades, philosophers like John Locke and David Hume have wondered if it is possible to separate the real shape of an object (a circle) from how our eyes see it (an ellipse) or, in other words, if objective vision pure is possible.

To answer the question, the team designed a “philosophy experiment” for the laboratory. In one of the tests, volunteers were shown pairs of three-dimensional coins: One was always a true oval, the other was a circle, and subjects had to choose the true oval.

It seems easy, but when they were shown inclined circular coins, the subjects were puzzled and their response time varied significantly, something that happened in all cases: with moving and still coins, with different shapes, and whether they were seen in a computer or natural.

“The objects are marked by our perspective. Even when we try to perceive the world as it really is, we cannot completely rule out our perspective, ”concludes the study’s lead author and neuroscientist, Jorge Morales.

This is the first in a series of experiments in which the team of scientists, in collaboration with the philosopher Austin Baker, will carry out methods and approaches from psychology and neuroscience to test approaches to philosophy.

“This result really surprised us. We hoped that ‘objectivity’ would totally outweigh any influence from the subject’s perspective but it did not. ” “This is a good example of how the ideas of philosophy can influence the science of the mind and brain,” concludes Chaz Firestone, a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, a graduate in philosophy and head of research. (June 9, 2020, EFE / PracticaEspañol)

(Automatic translation)

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