We are not aware, or we tend to forget that the world in our mind is a construction. Our brain created this world. If we look at the sun, we see an image of something outside of our body. If we look at our feelings, we see an image of something inside of our body. The sun and our feelings start as physical impressions that are external to our perceptual system. In both cases, sensory cells are stimulated. These signals are transmitted to the brain, where sensations are created. On one side, we have the world in itself, on the other side, the world of presentation. We can in no way leave our constructed world to check the state of the world in itself. Strictly speaking, we are not even able to know for sure if it exists. For the moment, we leave this solipsistic thought for what it is, and we assume the presence of an outside world.
Most people interact with this world as if they have direct access to it. As if there is no perceptual system transducting sensory stimuli and no central nervous system integrating these signals. In philosophical terminology, this is known as direct or naive realism. We expect that our conscious experience is directly related to the world as it is. This would mean that our knowledge is unmediated. What’s impossible because knowledge is always a representation of something else. The external world is represented in the world of experience, which we in turn try to apprehend in conceptions. Knowledge as we generally understand it is an image of an image. In this way, we arrive at indirect or representational realism. This approach argues that our conscious experience is based on an image of the world and not on the world itself. Our knowledge is mediated, and this has some profound implications for our ability to understand ourselves and others.
I’m not able to know you directly. Everything you are to me is constructed by my brain. Everything I feel for you is constructed by my brain. I experience images of physical impressions. Not only of you, but also of myself. We are not able to compare these images with reality, simply because we have no access to the world in itself. In other words, we are not able to compare our knowledge with an objective point of reference. The only things comparable are intersubjective perspectives.
However, intersubjective worlds are maybe not that easy to resemble. Within the bounds of everything that is observable, there is a small part reserved only for ourselves. That is what happens within our body. It reacts to the image we have of the external world with the objective to survive. These reactions are not the same for everyone. They are actually quite unique from person to person. They get formed under the influence of our genetic equipment, our personal history and the cultural context in which we find ourselves. Only we are able to observe our inner physical reactions. We experience these through feelings which we relate automatically to what happens in the external world. That is what makes this world meaningful, tangible and totally different for everybody.
This reasoning is meant to stress the importance of feelings. The meaning of something is not intrinsically related to elements in the external world. These elements are meaningless in themselves. Meaning is added through feeling. This process is based on the physiological reactions of our body, as a response to the image we have of the external world. These reactions are different from person to person, and we didn’t deliberately choose for them. However, we have the power of influence if we take into account that feelings do not just happen to us. Our body installs them dedicated to our survival. This is why I believe feelings only tell us something about how we as individuals are related to the world and as good as nothing about the world itself.