Class Warfare Blog

September 14, 2019

We Can’t Trust Our Senses! . . . Really?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Steve Ruis @ 8:57 am

I have pointed out that we carry around in our heads a mini Matrix-like simulacrum of reality. This mental construct is how we make sense of the world around us, actually it is how we perceive the world around us in an effort to survive. As a recent Scientific American article stated:

“The deeper truth is that perception is never a direct window onto an objective reality. All our perceptions are active constructions, brain-based best guesses at the nature of a world that is forever obscured behind a sensory veil. Visual illusions are fractures in the Matrix, fleeting glimpses into this deeper truth.

“Take, for example, the experience of color—say, the bright red of the coffee mug on my desk. The mug really does seem to be red: its redness seems as real as its roundness and its solidity. These features of my experience seem to be truly existent properties of the world, detected by our senses and revealed to our mind through the complex mechanisms of perception.

“Yet we have known since Isaac Newton that colors do not exist out there in the world. Instead they are cooked up by the brain from mixtures of different wavelengths of colorless electromagnetic radiation. Colors are a clever trick that evolution has hit on to help the brain keep track of surfaces under changing lighting conditions. And we humans can sense only a tiny slice of the full electromagnetic spectrum, nestled between the lows of infrared and the highs of ultraviolet. Every color we perceive, every part of the totality of each of our visual worlds, comes from this thin slice of reality.” (The Neuroscience of Reality by Anil K. Seth)

The reason I bring this up is that materialists, like me, are often challenged by people who are fans of the supernatural that our perceptions are flawed and that something could exist outside of our ability to perceive.

Yeah, “Cleanup of wishful thinking on Aisle 5, please!”

As mentioned above something as profound as color is a mental construct. It only exists in our heads . . . in that fashion. Other animals “see” differently. Some insects see myriad colors, well into the ultraviolet part of the EMR spectrum. Some animals see in duotone, others in black and white.

Sepia duotones were common in the early days of photography.

I have been a fan of black and white photography for half a century and I remember seeing quite a few black and white movies on television as a child, but now with color movies being so dominant, black and white movies seem bizarre somehow. Interestingly enough, the original design of our vision (designed by evolution, not some supernatural designer) was for duotone vision. For those of you who do not understand “duotone” it involves two colors against a white (or single color) background. Photoshop has an “action” to create duotones from black and white photos and you can have great fun creating these. But they pale in comparison to full color photos (see the example photo of one of the first photographic duotone varieties).

The reason we know that we were originally designed (by evolution!) for duotone vision is apparent in the color receptors in our eyes. We have two dominant color receptors. For full color we would need three (just like the RGB—red, green, blue—color monitors/TVs). The two primary color receptors in our eyes are quite different in the color of light they respond to, but the third is clearly a mutation of one of the other two. (There is DNA evidence for this.) The color it responds to is very close to the one which it is a mutation from. But this is enough difference for our brains to interpolate “full color” from the information. If our eyes were computer monitor aligned, that monitor would not be a red-green-blue monitor but a red-green-“bluish-green” kinda sorta monitor. So, basically we got “full color” vision by accident. And, if we had not, we would think that duotone vision was “normal.”

Now, can we “trust” our senses? Of course we can. We can trust them to be what they are. But if you think that what we observe is a direct portal to reality (whatever that means) you are mistaken. We need to understand what out senses are . . . really are, not just what we assume they are.

Scientists have tackled many parts of this issue. For example, when you see a Yellow Banana™ (Ray Comfort) and you describe the color as “yellow” and I see it and say “Yes, it is yellow,” have we just been trained to use that word (yellow) for that color or do we actually perceive the same thing? Rest assured that we do perceive the same thing (brain scanners are wonderful tools) and you are not seeing green and calling it yellow and I blue and calling it yellow, or some other misperception. So, we all seem to be taking in the same information and treating it the same way. So we agree on what out senses “tell us.” Actually our brains interpret the information in the same way. (Normally . . . there are variations enough due to the sheer number of us.)

In addition, we have invented myriad instruments to extend our senses, including ear trumpets, telescopes, microscopes, radio telescopes, eyeglasses, laser interferometers, etc. We do not just depend upon our hard wired senses to acquire “sensory” information. And we have coherent interpretations of what our instruments perceive. (When scientists “measurements” conflict, they hungrily chew on those data because they may be the source of new learning.)

And we just do not perceive “supernatural” phenomena. If we did, then they would be “natural.” For supernatural mental constructs, such as gods, to affect us, they must affect reality, and so they, or their effects, should be observable. They are not observable and sometimes when we have looked and looked and looked, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. The simplest explanation for why there is no evidence for the existence of gods is they do not exist.

To claim that a god exists outside of time and space (whatever that means) is a desperate claim that puts a god where it cannot be perceived. But it also puts a god where it cannot affect reality. In this we can trust our senses. Anyone claiming that we cannot is building fairy tales out of whole cloth.


  1. Didn’t know that about the eye. Cool!

    outside of time and space… Until they *need* said god to interact with the baryonic universe.


    Comment by john zande — September 14, 2019 @ 10:57 am | Reply

    • Actually if you ignore the basic problems of without time there can be no change and without space there can be no movement, if old Yahweh could pull this off it would explain a lot of his powers. He could jump forward or backward in time to learn stuff (and so appear to omniscient) and could step outside of space to appear to appear and disappear any time he wanted. He would be immortal, by definition as he could appear in any year (step in, step out otherwhen). He could travel instantaneously (step out of space, step back in otherwhere). You could do a lot of cool stuff! If only they weren’t making this shit up!

      On Sat, Sep 14, 2019 at 10:57 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 14, 2019 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

      • Well, by definition, an aseitic being *can only* exist in no-time no-space. That part’s fine. The theist gets all muddled when they then try to lift him out of that self-contained existence and into ours.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by john zande — September 14, 2019 @ 3:00 pm | Reply

  2. When one has to use words to convince you your imaginations are authentically god, you must betray your own senses through a falsely heightened hope that there is more than to it than there is. We don’t know what goes on after we die, but we certainly can make up some really cool scenarios, but all that mean is we’re imaginative.


    Comment by jim- — September 14, 2019 @ 11:14 am | Reply

    • That’s the point. They can make up all kinds of stuff and then insist it is true … because my imaginary god says it is.

      On Sat, Sep 14, 2019 at 11:14 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 14, 2019 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  3. “The reason I bring this up is that materialists, like me, are often challenged by people who are fans of the supernatural that our perceptions are flawed…”

    “Now, can we “trust” our senses? Of course we can…But if you think that what we observe is a direct portal to reality (whatever that means) you are mistaken.”

    So much contradiction. This is headache inducing.
    If my senses aren’t a direct portal to reality then neither are yours. Your reductionist view of reality can be applied not just to “color”, but to everything else in your materialist universe. Congratulations! You’ve reasoned yourself out of existence!


    Comment by John Branyan — September 14, 2019 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

    • Nope. I simply clarified what it is that you can trust. You can trust your senses to do what they actually do, but not all of what people think they do. Every beginning college course in psychology begins with a major section on perception. This is because people have so many mistaken ideas of what their senses produce. We also do a lousy job of teaching kids about the “senses” in school. We teach them that there are fives senses … but there are actually quite a few more. The idea that there are just five blocks their acceptance of the others.

      On Sat, Sep 14, 2019 at 5:23 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 9:30 am | Reply

      • “You can trust your senses to do what they actually do, but not all of what people think they do.”

        Please tell me what my senses ‘actually do’. I am under the mistaken belief that they reveal reality.


        Comment by John Branyan — September 16, 2019 @ 10:46 am | Reply

        • Do read more than just the first paragraph of my posts. If you are interested in more I can suggest The Neuroscience of Reality .

          On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 10:46 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 11:11 am | Reply

          • I read your entire post, Steve. It makes me smile when you assume my questions are the result of sloppy reading on my part rather than incomprehensible prose on yours.

            You suggest that our senses aren’t depicting reality. You suggested our senses can’t be trusted. You made vague reference to what our senses ‘actually do’ being different from what people believe they do.

            I’m not interested in “more”. I’m interested in hearing your explanation about what our senses are actually doing. I would also like an explanation of how you can be certain your article is correct without appealing to one of your untrustworthy senses.


            Comment by John Branyan — September 16, 2019 @ 11:22 am | Reply

            • As with all sensory input, it is helping us survive. Our senses are not there to help us make sense of the world but to predict what will happen … if. For example, fruit often undergoes a color change from an unripe to a ripe state. Some unripe fruits are actually poisonous and ripe fruit are always more nutritious than unripe fruit, so perceiving these color shifts helps us survive. What we “see” however is quite different from what fruit flies are “seeing” but the same criteria apply. The fruit fly is better off eating ripe fruit. Our brains and fruit fly brains create simulacra that represent these changes. The simulacra are real, the “colors” are not. If you have ever seen a scientific photograph using “false” colors to provide more information, this is a manifestation of the same idea. And, of course, scientists are careful to label such photos as appearing with “false colors” so as not to mislead.

              On Mon, Sep 16, 2019 at 11:22 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



              Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 12:05 pm | Reply

  4. It wasn’t until I started seriously reading about biology, psychology and the brain that I realized that the world that we perceive doesn’t really exist. It took me a while to get wrap my poor brain around that notion. Everything we sense is not a direct experience of the world, it is our brain interpreting various signals being sent to it by our bodies. Even more surprising to me at the time was the fact that our brain not only censors things, it flat out makes things up. Strange thing, the brain. Great fun to play with but annoying at times.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by grouchyfarmer — September 14, 2019 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  5. A god that exists outside of time and space just sounds like a theistic version of the multi-verse.


    Comment by chris schilling — September 14, 2019 @ 11:50 pm | Reply

  6. I have had a very good imagination as far back as I can remember. I know with 100% certainty I used to drive Dad nearly nuts with my endless “what ifs” The thing is, he and many others I respected was I learned early on to be good at separating my imaginations from reality. Trust the facts as it were. Must be a part of how I came very close to getting excommunicated from the Lutheran church for asking my top of the charts ‘bad’ question. It was about a certain garden and a particular tree, and just who planted that tree.
    p.s. I still like black & white photos. Even my newest Canon digital SLR has a function to allow B&W photos and a good many filters for doing so. Beats carrying all those spare filters. Oh, this new DSLR also has a sepia function and all such filters are variable. When I still lived in SoCal, we converted one small bedroom into a black & white darkroom. Digital is easier and no nasty chemicals to dispose of. Bad side to digital cameras, they use certain rare earths in the making of them. Now we not only have blood diamonds, we have blood rare earths and even, I recently found out, blood gold.


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — September 15, 2019 @ 2:49 am | Reply

    • I just got a new Canon camera. I’ll have to check out the BW and duotone settings! I learned something today … from you! Thanks!

      On Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 2:49 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  7. P.S.
    My dear, departed former wife and I decided after many long conversations came up with this for you all to think on, if you wish. The brain is an actual organ and medical science knows much about it. The mind, well, not many folks have even begun to investigate how the mind functions, let alone understand it.
    The brain is not the mind and the mind is not the brain.


    Comment by Walter Kronkat — September 15, 2019 @ 2:52 am | Reply

    • Yep and I used to refer to my ex-wife as “my dearly departed ex-wife” with the addition, “she’s not dead, just dearly departed.” She went and spoiled my joke by kicking the bucket.

      On Sun, Sep 15, 2019 at 2:52 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — September 16, 2019 @ 9:34 am | Reply

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