| by Flemming Funch|
Naïve realism is a common sense theory of perception. Most people, until they start reflecting philosophically, are naïve realists. This theory is also known as "direct realism" or "common sense realism".
Thanks, Anandavala for mentioning it in your article The Scientific Case Against Materialism. The Wikipedia entry tries to imply that it is something that kind of doesn't apply to scientists, which of course isn't quite so. Actually the odd statement there that "the universe really contains just those properties which feature in a scientific description of it" hints at where scientific thinking can get off track, but maybe there's another name for that. You know, the idea that reality is what is found in sufficiently agreed-upon scientific theories, rather than what it really is, beyond any kind of theory.
Naïve realism claims that the world is pretty much as common sense would have it. All objects are composed of matter, they occupy space, and have properties such as size, shape, texture, smell, taste and colour. These properties are usually perceived correctly. So, when we look at and touch things we see and feel those things directly, and so perceive them as they really are. Objects continue to obey the laws of physics and retain all their properties whether or not there is anyone present to observe them doing so.
Naïve realism is distinct from scientific realism. Scientific realism says the universe really contains just those properties which feature in a scientific description of it, and so does not contain properties like colour per se, but merely objects that reflect certain wavelengths owing to their microscopic surface texture. The naïve realist, on the other hand, would say that objects really do possess the colours we perceive them to have.
You'll also find an oddly large percentage of those people who claim science as the foundation of their thinking who mostly argue for what science used to be. You know, aristotelean and newtonian kind of science. Which involves a certain kind of naïve realism, at least in comparison with more modern stuff. I mean, that the universe consists of seperate objects that have properties like mass and that are subject to gravity. Oh, that's how it appears on a superficial and tangible level, and that's practical for building houses, and satellites, and for maintaining your household in a sane way. But in terms of how it really is, it seems to me that science has been beyond that for a century or so. But a lot of us haven't really internalized stuff like quantum physics and even relativity theory, because it is odd and counter-intuitive. Because it doesn't fit with our naïve kind of observation of what is there. So we easily default to arguing that all the odd stuff is impossible, part of some kind of organized scam, or at best an unproven theory.
OK, I often complain about this kind of thing. It is one of my pet issues. And "Science and Sanity" is still on my list of all time most important books written. It is important not to forget that your simplified idea about reality is not reality, no matter who agrees with you. The foundation of sanity is to stay aware of the difference between perceptions of stuff and the real stuff.
Here's another article that Anandavala links to:
The first stop on our tour is a place called "naive realism." Naive realism is a way of looking at the world. Ways of looking at the world are sometimes dressed up with the word "philosophy," but I won't split a hair's difference.
I hope so, but that's where I'm skeptical. Real science, yeah. But there's the widespread belief system, sometimes called materialism, which tends to trump science if one doesn't watch it. I.e. that the world is fundamentally the world of physical objects we see, and nothing that isn't material could possibly exist, and anything else that appears to exist can only come from matter, and no other explanation is possible and even worth considering. You know, naïve materialism. Accepting things without considering the alternatives and without verification.
True naive realists would never sum up or analyze their views, because they do not consider them views but the way things obviously are. However, I will do my best to illuminate them:
"I, the naive realist, am a human being. There is this one physical world, the space where everything exists and the time in which everything happens. There are many things in this physical world, each largely separate from the other and persisting over a span of time. Time is divided into 'now,' which is real and experienced, 'the past,' which once existed but now does not, and 'the future,' which does not exist yet but will.
"My senses give me direct knowledge of reality. If I see a chair, it is because there is a chair physically where and when I see it. There are exceptions, like when I am dreaming or watching a movie, but these are rare and obviously not real.
"I can know things through my senses, through thinking about things, and through communication with other people. Other people's beliefs may be correct or not, but beliefs of people I respect, and beliefs held commonly by most people in my society, are usually true."
Naive realism sounds reasonable enough, but it can lead to science, which as we shall see, contradicts naive realism on nearly every account.