10/27/2017 Katie E. Machen

Speaker: To See the World, Engage with it Physically

To a large audience at Franklin & Marshall's Barshinger Center for Musical Arts, Stephan Käufer, F&M's John Williamson Nevin Memorial Professor of Philosophy, proffered the idea that sight is limited -- our vision does not encapsulate our whole experience.

Käufer's Oct. 26 talk at Common Hour, a community discussion conducted every Thursday classes are in session, was titled “Prior to Equal and Unequal: What Phenomenology Can Tell Us About Perception."

He opened with a question, “Do we see and perceive with our whole bodies?”

  • Käufer cited the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who said, “Nothing is harder than knowing precisely what we see.” Käufer cited the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who said, “Nothing is harder than knowing precisely what we see.” Image Credit: Deb Grove

Phenomenology is the philosophical concept that what one sees or perceives is different from actual life. Käufer cited the French philosopher, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who said, “Nothing is harder than knowing precisely what we see.”

Käufer showed the audience two photographs of the same place, one taken by a short person and the other by a tall person. “Our body is the source of certain norms without which we wouldn’t have perceptions,” said Käufer, explaining how one’s perception of the world changes depending on one’s body.

Our retinal images are not good indicators of what we really see, Käufer said. Light and depth can change the way people see different images. An object shown in shadow and highlight looks to change color, and painters portray images at a distance to be smaller than images in the foreground.

“Moving is essential to perceiving,” Käufer said.

Why does the world show up as having depth or color? Käufer said the answer is not in retinal image or sense.

“We get the answer from our bodies getting a grip on world," he said. “We must engage with our bodies in the world to have a visual experience.”

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