To see, means to consciously perceive, unlike detect, which is a mechanical process, which requires no consciousness. A infrared camera can detect light, but it sees nothing. We, humans, see a representation of reality. As answered by my question, "Do we really see objects?", we perceive our brains representation of objects, not the objects themselves. But what of light? Do we see actual electromagnetic radiation, or do we perceive brightness, because of light?


Basically, your question concerns the content of perception ("what we perceive"). As explained here, "content" can be understood in two senses, as in "the content of a bucket" or "the content of a story". You seem to imply the first sense in your question, where the content of perception would be "what is in the mind when we perceive something" (you say "our brains representation of objects"). Some philosophers hold this view as well, but there are reasons to think that the second sense is more appropriate, where, so to speak, perceiving is representing something outside (and it's not, literally speaking, the brain that represents, but the perceiving agent). In this second sense, the content of perception is, as in "content of a story", some external state of affairs, and it is closely related to belief. As explained in the entry linked above, there are reasons to adopt this understanding if one accepts that perception can be falsidical (we see a fish, but there's no fish).

In this view, we perceive (=represent) external objects directly. This does not mean that we perceive them "as they are" though.

Applied to light, there's a further step because even if we perceive "brightness" (conceived of as an external, objective state of affairs) this does not mean that we perceive "electromagnetic radiations" (or their amplitude). The further step is a reductionist account that would entail that brightness just is (amplitude of) electromagnetic radiation. But once the first step is assumed, this question is just a question of reduction and is independent of perception and less problematic.

Now you can still deny that perception has content in the "story" sense, and distinguish perception and judgement, as some philosophers do. Then perhaps we do not perceive electromagnetic radiations. You can find references in the entry linked above.

  • Thanks Quentin. You are obviously differentiating between visual perception and conceptual perception and I fully agree that we can conceive electromagnetic radiation. Imagine, if you will, watching the sun set. You realize that light from the sun only reaches us after 8 minutes. The visual representation you perceive is chronomatically delayed. You can conceive where the sun is but not visually perceive where the sun is. Reality can be conceived/known not visually perceived. The "see" in my question, regards strictly the traditional use. The contents of the bucket, not the comprehension. – Zane Scheepers Nov 28 '17 at 9:41
  • What few people seem to comprehend is that colors are phenomenal. They don't exist in objective reality. That includes black and white. The representation of an object (looks) nothing like the object, because (look like) is only possible subjectively. We can't even perceive what objective reality looks like, because we can't perceive "no perception". – Zane Scheepers Nov 28 '17 at 10:55
  • @ZaneScheepers ok but things are a little bit more mixed I would say because what you see is not mere sense data, and perception can be shaped by training for example or by contextual beliefs, which means that its nature is not very different from that of beliefs. – Quentin Ruyant Nov 28 '17 at 14:09
  • all the more evidence that visual perceptions aren't an accurate representation of reality. I wonder if this question keeps getting down voted because it's not an interesting question, or because of a lack of comprehension. – Zane Scheepers Nov 28 '17 at 14:27
  • @ZaneScheepers ok take the fact that the brain corrects the perceived colour when an object is in the shadow. This means that there's no direct mapping between perceived colour and received light. I agree. However the brain does so in order to have a more accurate mapping between perceived colour and reflectance properties of object. So in this case, our perceptions are accurate representations of reality (reflectance properties), thanks to the brain's processing, and they're more accurate than if we saw a colour that corresponded to received light directly. – Quentin Ruyant Nov 28 '17 at 15:59

There are many spectrums to light. A human sees a very tiny part of the light spectrum with the naked eye. Less than 15%. When you ask if we see light the answer is no. In comparison to the light, we don't see. I would say no we really don't see it. range of visible light

  • The question specifically refers to the detectable range we call visible light. – Zane Scheepers Nov 29 '17 at 13:19
  • Learn to read it does not refer at all, to visible light, It clearly says and I quote "actual light". My answer is complete with actual light. – internet-entity Nov 29 '17 at 17:15
  • in this case, actual light refers to all electromagnetic radiation, including "visible light", as opposed to light (as used to describe the sensation of brightness). Saying that undetectable light is not visible, is redundant. – Zane Scheepers Nov 29 '17 at 19:40
  • It says if we can see visible light. Maybe the question should be re-worded to fit your narrow vision. – internet-entity Dec 1 '17 at 11:40
  • how do you perceive my description as narrow? – Zane Scheepers Dec 1 '17 at 11:52

Some light is detectable, but no light is visible. Visible is a term used to describe the conscious perception of visual representations within our brains visual cortex. Trees, people, words on a page, are all visible. Air is invisible. We see trees, people and words on a page, but we can't see air. Light is the reason we see things. When our eyes detect light, our brain creates visual representations of the objects from which the light originates. We see these representations. It's illogical to say we see light as light exists outside of our subjective reality.

There is contention amongst physicists as to whether we perceive an object or only see the light (electromagnetic radiation) which the object emits. I propose that we see neither. Visual perception occurs in the visual cortex. What we see is neither the actual object, nor light, but a visual representation of the object.

Visual perception is a process, of which, detecting electromagnetic radiation is but a part. The actual perception occurs at the end of the process.

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