the stick in the water

[Reading Irving Singer, Reality Transformed: Film and Meaning as Technique, in which he argues against the appearance-reality dichotomy.] Plato argues that because our senses can deceive us–e.g. a stick inserted into the water looks bent–we cannot trust them; only reason can reveal reality to us. This seems to me to be the same mistake as the person who argues against Wittgenstein’s claim that all criteria for propositions must be public by saying that I can have a headache, and know that I have a headache, without confirmation by anyone else. I can have a “private” headache. Yes, but the concept of a headache is one that we learned through socialization, learning language. Some headaches may be private. All headaches cannot, or else no one would know that was what they had, and in a sense you could say they didn’t have a headache–which doesn’t mean they didn’t (as an animal would) feel pain.

Likewise: all our senses cannot deceive us, and the fact that they do some of the time confirms rather than undermines our general trust in them. (How do we know the apparent bend in the stick in the water is a distortion? By feeling it, perhaps. By pulling it out of the water and seeing that it is straight.)

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