There seems to be much confusion around this topic. Our eyes detect light, but do they see? Detecting light is part of the visual process. The end result is that objects become visible. This occurs in the brains visual centres. No perception occurs in the actual eye itself.

Your thoughts?

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    Difficult topic, as you say. As I understand it the eye is now considered part of the brain, which may reflect the difficulty of making a clear division between them.
    – user20253
    Jan 31, 2018 at 11:41
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    We perceive (see, etc.) through the perceptual systems of the brain. The visual system "is the part of the central nervous system which gives organisms the ability to process visual detail." The eye is an organ of the visual system. Jan 31, 2018 at 11:42
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    @PeterJ that may be true, but the prefrontal cortex is also part of the brain, but no visual perception occurs there. I think it has more to do with where perception occurs in the brain, than with whether the eyes should be considered part of the brain. Jan 31, 2018 at 12:17
  • "No perception occurs in the actual eye itself." That's not correct. Perception begins in the retina. In particular, ganglia cells in the retina perform initial processing of color information (through the opponent process), and the retina performs some edge detection, both through a similar process.
    – H Walters
    Jan 31, 2018 at 16:04
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    When we dream we see, but our eyes are closed. There isn't any light involved either. Jan 31, 2018 at 22:15

2 Answers 2


I can see Wittgenstein in my imagination proposing that you ask yourself how the word see is used in everyday language. Do we in fact say that eyes see? It is people who see, do you see? It is you who sees with your eyes.

There is nothing metaphysical or deeply philosophical in this. Just language.

That said, in the Hebrew bible eyes are sometimes attributed with seeing

but your eyes have seen all the great work of the LORD which He did. — Deuteronomy 11

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    And yet---"Legolas, what do your elf-eyes see?" Not quite everyday, but not so far off.
    – Canyon
    Jan 31, 2018 at 20:14
  • not so far off? take a look here how long ago middle earth is :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth
    – nir
    Jan 31, 2018 at 20:52
  • Everyday or even common usage of a word or term, in no way implies accuracy. This site is about determining the truth. I might ask for a red apple, but that doesn't mean the Apple is actually red. Jan 31, 2018 at 21:20
  • @ZaneScheepers The argument is much more complicated than that, although most of the heavily lifting was done in Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. He's saying that you don't really have an idea of sight, except as something you as a whole posses. There is no sense (on this view) in talking about "where" sight is.
    – Canyon
    Jan 31, 2018 at 22:34
  • @Canyon neuropsychology has come a long way since then. We know exactly where in the brain every aspect of vision occurs. So he's wrong. We do have a few ideas. But you're right, it is complicated. Jan 31, 2018 at 22:54

In Psychology, 'Sensation vs Perception' seems to define Sensation as 'the passive process of recollecting information through the senses', while perceiving is 'the active process of interpreting and storing the information received'. 'Seeing' is usually seen as a sensation and 'observing' as a perception, so in that sense it could be said that 'eyes see'.

On the other hand, it is impossible to make any sense out of what our eyes see without a visual cortex. In this sense, 'eyes don't see'. An interesting experiment took place a while back, where a blind patient went to visit a doctor. He, however, was not blind because his eyes didn't work, but because his visual cortex was damaged. The doctor got a pen, and told the patient to tell him how the pen was moving. The patient argued that he was blind ('How was he supposed to know?') but the doctor insisted on him following his intuition. The patient guessed correctly each time.

Eventually, it was discovered that this happened because the visual cortex is divided into two parts, one used for recognition of objects and the other for their motion.

So, it all comes down to what you define as 'see'.

  • 'Seeing' is usually seen as a sensation. Do you have a citation for this claim? As far as I know, detection is a sensation. Seeing and observing are one and the same thing. You're not the first to make this claim. If it's true, then we can't see cars, trees, ect. We can only perceive them. Jan 31, 2018 at 13:37

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