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The senses have no power of distortion; what they observe is what is. Optical illusions do not validate the claim that the senses can deceive us: optical illusions are the senses making valid observations.

For instance, if we observe that a straw seems to bend in a glass of water, it is not because our eyes deceive us, it is because our eyes notice that the surface of the water will refract light rays so that the straw will seem to be bent. This does not mean that our senses are deceiving us however - it means that our senses are, in fact, in accordance with the fact that water refracts light.

It does mean, however, that our mind must be able to interpret what we see and to recognize that, although we are observing reality, the fact that optical illusions exist in some cases requires that, in such cases, one must apply a little logic in order to interpret what one is seeing as though the optical illusion did not exist.

...without the careful application of logic, our senses are not any good to us

The possibility of optical illusions in some cases is not, however, justification for the belief that what we see in other given cases may also be some sort of optical illusion and, hence, that we might not be seeing reality as it really is.

For one, optical illusions only occur under very specific circumstances where light interacts with entities in specific ways. In the vast majority of cases, there is no possibility of an optical illusion of any sort.

Optical illusions are not a distortion of reality - the existence of optical illusions simply demonstrates the fact that light (the basis of the mechanisms of sight) has certain properties, that it will interact with certain entities in a certain way, and that our optical organs are not capable of escaping this fact. They operate in a certain way and have no power to deceive us. They take in light as it is, and operate in such a way as to produce sensory data. It just so happens that some sensory data is less useful than others and requires more thought to identify what it is that is being observed - as is the case in optical illusions.

So if we see a straw appear to bend in water, the answer is not to claim that our senses deceive us: the answer is to recognize that our senses can only operate on the basis of what is. What we see is the result of light interacting with reality in a definite way; it is the result of the reality of how light interacts with certain entities.

We must identify the facts which our senses provide us evidence of, using our rational mind. If a straw seems to bend in water, we must identify that light is refracted by water - a fact which the apparent bending of the water can help us identify. Then we can identify the fact that the optical illusion is, in fact, telling us something about reality which might not be immediately obvious; it is not in fact distorting it.

We know that water does not bend straws. We can test this using touch, for instance. So the proper attitude is simply that the optical illusion provides a different view on reality than we might expect; one that requires us to step back and think about what we are seeing to see that, in fact, what we see is what is. It is just that it might not be immediately obvious why we see it that way.

And so it is with all optical illusions: they are the senses proving once more that they are valid, and that what they are telling is in accordance with facts. However, without the careful application of logic, our senses are not any good to us in any case.

Far from distorting reality, optical illusions are, in fact, as much in accordance with reality as any other sort of observation. The difference is simply that the process of logical identification of the facts that they demonstrate is more complicated.


Original posting by DwayneDavies on Feb 26, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=485

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