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Tasnim Rahman

002163-015
May 2010

TOK ESSAY

“We See and Understand Things Not As They Are But As


We Are.” Discuss this claim in relation to at least two ways
of knowing.
Each and every one of us are different from each other. We have our own way of
thinking, own perception and our very own way of explaining and understanding things,
to ourselves and the people around us. At the same time, there is the nature, and
everything around us that has its own way of being around us. We sustain by interacting
with our surroundings and over thousands of years of human evolution, the way we
interact with the nature or our surroundings has evolved too which is termed as
‘civilization’ of human nature. Individuals interact with their surroundings or
environment individually, that means the way I would perceive, observe and experience
everything around me would not be same, but likely to be similar when it comes to, for
example, understanding the exponential functions in Math or the reason why H2SO4 is
such a volatile and highly reactive chemical with reasoning. Because the reasoning of
such issues are proven and universally true, although the way we understand it will be
different from one another, but we will all end up understanding and obtaining the same
knowledge. Rudolf Arnheim said “All perceiving is also thinking, all reason is also
intuition, and all observation is also invention.” The reason why we would consider what
Arnheim said to be true and relate it to ourselves would be because when we experience
and undergo the acts of perceiving, reasoning and observing, the way we do it is personal
to us and therefore is different. The fact that we carry out these acts differently is because
we are individuals. Relating this individuality in ways of gaining knowledge or knowing
in human beings to nature of nature itself, the issue that rises is that we are unable to gain
equal knowledge because of the way we interact with our surroundings and in terms of
that “some are more equal that others” [Animal Farm, George Orwell]. Just imagine how
different things would be if the entire human race lived the same lifestyle as the very first
Tasnim Rahman
002163-015
May 2010

Homo Sapiens on the surface of the earth did and no body had the capability to interpret,
explore, question themselves, be creative and be able to gain no knowledge at all.

The fact that we are different from each other makes us individuals. We are
categorized according to our nationality, culture; traditions, beliefs, gender and education,
and these are the aspects that revolve around us in the many forms it is available in. What
we see around us, our senses, interaction, emotions and interpretations are enriched by
the stated aspects as we grow up and mature. Upbringing always plays a key role in the
development in us as knowledge-seekers who are initially dependant on their family, then
the society for their identity. As we mature, we learn to interact with our surroundings
through our senses, interpret and understand what we do or why something happens as
we observe and try to justify an observation with a previously gained knowledge. These
processes are different in every one, which is why while some rely more on emotions as a
way of knowing and others on reasoning. A simple example of it could be of birthdays.
As living organisms, our existence on the surface of the earth is marked by our birthday,
or at least that is how I think of it. Birthdays come and go every years, but it still makes
my ‘best days of the year’ list, even after I have had 17 birthdays [the point I wish to
make is about having a birth-day, not a birthday party] and whether or not it makes a
difference to anybody else. I do not mean to say that my birthday is ‘MY DAY’ and
nobody else can be born on that day, which would be impossible, but anybody can have
the same birthday as me and even the same birth year, but our feelings towards our
birthdays can be extremely varied. As said before, I celebrate my birthday having the
understanding that I am celebrating my existence whereas the other person sharing the
same birthday could take his/her birthday as another day that marks the existence of his
miserable life. One of the most basic reasons behind this is our upbringing and the norms
of the society we grow up in and because of this we do not see ourselves as one of the
thousands of communities with specifications in physical and social characteristics all
over the world but as the only group of people who are living what is called a ‘life’ and
any one out of the ‘ordinary’ [for them] is considered stranger than an alien. As a
Bangladeshi studying in an international school being taught by expatriate teachers is a

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Tasnim Rahman
002163-015
May 2010

part of being a student and I am definitely used to the idea that humans exists is all
colours, shapes and sizes [not literally]; but on my way home when I sometimes see my
teachers being stared at and ripped off for money by fellow Bangladeshis, more than
being ashamed of myself as a Bangladesh I now understand that they are not used to the
idea of variability because of the lack of education and poverty.

For having the ability to observe, question, find the answer and justify oneself, we
are able to have an idea of other’s perspectives. According to Islam, women are supposed
to cover themselves decently and the traditional clothing for Bengali women are saris
which shows off somewhat a large area of their back. Expatriates in my country are
hugely criticised for being ‘uncivilized’ and wearing revealing clothes. When my Korean
friend SJ asked me ‘why do people here comment if you are a foreigner and wear short
shirts when they were saris that show off their tummies,’ I was left dumbfounded.
Because I did not experience living here like an expatriate, it could have never occurred
to me if it wasn’t pointed out. Like Arnheim said, ‘every observation is an invention’,
although the observation was made by my friend and it was an entirely an invention for
me and from then on I came to the realization that there is nothing wrong or right about a
culture, we come up with our opinions and they are biased towards they way I think
which itself if biased towards the way I was brought up.

However, when dealing with subjects and objects within the bounds or the
territory of the society, it has always been important to accept and follow the norms of
the society because whether you are appreciated or discriminated by the society in
entirely based on the ‘loyalty’ towards the norms of the society that you live in. For
example, Mersault, the central character of Albert Camus’ ‘The Outsider’, , has been
discriminated against and considered an outcast by his society because he didn’t cry at his
mother’s death and lived a very catatonic life- neither did he communicate well with
others nor did he want to be accepted by the society. The concept of life did not hold any
meaning for him, he didn’t have an aim in life, and that is not considered acceptable by
the society. The society requires people to have aims, keep trying for something he/she

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Tasnim Rahman
002163-015
May 2010

wants and interact with others and express themselves with words, postures, facial
expression and react to everything, either optimistically or pessimistically. They have to
react. And this is what Mersault didn’t and couldn’t do; he was unable to relate himself to
expressing of feelings. He was numb, he didn’t react and that was how he expressed his
feelings and that is how he was. Although it is considered wrong in the society, but it is
not, because we are how we are, and although we have to follow the norms of the society
because we live in it, it is not easy and possible to stop being how we are. The idea of
society has evolved since human beings began to live in groups, norms were established
in the society to ensure that everyone in the society could actually be treated equally and
be respected. As far as I can hypothesize, certain gestures and initiatives eventually with
time became a must do in the society. You are not considered a good person once you
step out of the boundary. As we grow up in the society we adapt to it just how water takes
shape in a solid container. These solid boundaries are likely to prevent us from seeing
things not the way we see or prefer to see and understand but the way we should or we
are supposed to.

In conclusion, as individuals we have the freedom to perceive, observe and reason


with the help of your senses to interact or communicate with our surroundings. But the
barriers caused by norms of the society and the difference empirical knowledge that we
gain under certain circumstances lead us to enclose ourselves and feel more included
somewhere and this is a great obstacle from gaining knowledge. The fact that we are
bound to or we preferably restrict ourselves, in regard to certain aspects of our everyday
life, from is the ultimate reason why although we do see and understand things not as
they are but as we are, we are limited to do the initiatives we takes because of where we
belong.

Word Count: 1559 words