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Can we perceive matter directly?

  1. Jul 15, 2014 #1
    I'm not sure if we can. We can see it, but are we actually sensing matter when we see it, or just light?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2014 #2
    It really depends on how strict your definition of "directly" is. Like you say, we perceive the external world through the senses. We can detect that which we call matter through many different senses. We can touch it, where we are detecting tactile responses in the body, we can see it where we are detecting light in the eye, etc. But this line of thinking can be continued to an almost ridiculous end... Do we really detect light, or do we detect the transition of electrons and molecules between energy levels (which is caused by the light)? Or do we detect the impulse that is sent as a result of that transition? Now we are talking about physiology and philosophy.

    I don't think that the distinction between "direct" and "indirect" observation is useful in physics. Its not a clear distinction and it makes no (or little) difference on any conclusion we make. In Philosophy, which is not discussed here, the distinction can have importance.
  4. Jul 16, 2014 #3


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    Perhaps have a think about computer simulations. Our eyes alone can't tell the difference between light reflected from a lump of real matter and a good computer generated image of the same scene. Even our eyes and brain combined struggle to identify real from simulated sometimes. Is that real or fake leather on your car seats?
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