Sellars

The Manifest Image: How our common sense ontology is fake (sometimes)

Wilfrid Sellars framed the conflict between common sense and science, that arouse since the flourishing of the natural sciences, with the concepts of the manifest and the scientific image of man in the world. The manifest image is our common sense image, which includes colors, chairs, institutions etc. The scientific image is what the natural sciences tell us the world is like. These images can sometimes contradict each other.

For me, the aim of philosophy is threefold: 1) We should try to critically accompany the sciences and try to connect different parts of our scientific image. (Which means also parts in the scientific image can be in tension.) 2) We should connect the scientific image and the manifest image as far as we can. (How is it possible to connect folk psychology and neurophysiology?) 3) We should inspect the manifest image. What is worth having in our manifest image (folk psychology, for me at least) and what not (racism for example).

So philosophy is wedded to the scientific image as well as to the manifest image. Both images have their own problems and both have their own merits. A lot is written about our scientific image. But actually not so much explicitly about our manifest image. I will try to examine some traits of our manifest image in some posts to follow.

Let’s make a start. We hold often some beliefs of our common sense ontology that seem so obviously right that we do not even question them. At least, until someone comes with a crazy, astonishing experiment. For example, I think it is natural to think that the sound a balloon produces when he gets popped is to a large degree an internal property of the balloon. If you pop a balloon it is just loud. But watch this video, which shows what happens if you pop a balloon in an anechoic chamber:

An anechoic chamber is a room that is designed to completely absorb reflections of sound. And if you pop a balloon in one of these chambers it produces barely any sound at all. So the loud sound of a popping balloon is not an internal property of the balloon. What makes the sound so loud are the properties of the surroundings.

So you can see that some beliefs of our common sense are just mistaken. Of course that does not mean that they are not useful. Under normal circumstances popping a balloon produces a loud sound but that is actually not the balloons fault.