On Perception and External World

"We believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities."

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

"We may given the name 'data' to all the things of which we are aware without inference. They include all our observed sensations - visual, auditory, tactile etc. Common sense sees reason to attribute many of our sensations to causes outside our bodies. It does not believe that the room in which it is sitting ceases to exist when it shuts its eyes or goes to sleep... In all this we may agree with common sense; but where it goes wrong is in supposing that inanimate objects resemble in their intrinsic qualities, the perceptions which they cause. To believe this is as groundless as it would be to suppose that a gramophone record resembles the music that it causes....

Suppose that a speech is recorded simultaneously by a number of gramophones, the gramophone records do not in any obvious way resemble the original speech, and yet, by a suitable mechanism, they can be made to reproduce something exceedingly like it. But what they have in common can only be expressed in rather abstract language concerning structure....

[The light emitted by a star] may happen to hit a human eye. When this occurs, the results are very complicated.... the disturbance in the nerves, which has been traced by the physiologist, reaches the appropriate region in the brain; and then, at last, the man whose brain it is sees the star.... I believe, for my part, that there is no greater mystery than there is in the transformation by the radio of electromagnetic waves into sounds....

What these physical analogies to perception show is that... a vast assemblage of overlapping events in taking place, and that many of these events, at a given place and time, are connected by causal chains with an original event which, by a prolific heredity, has produced offspring more or less familiar to itself in a vast number of different places... What is preserved throughout the causal chain, in this case as in that of the gramophone record, is a certain consistency of structure."

Bertrand Russell, My Philosophical Development [Extracted lines have been rearranged by me from different parts of the essay 'My Present View of the World' to produce a sort of summary of the whole essay, using Russell's own words.]

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