Is it possible to look at anything without labeling it and to simply look at it as it just Is?

The following two things are certainly possible:

1. We can pick up information through our eyes or other sense organs without really thinking about it, and without even noticing what it is before us. As I pass through a crowded market, for example, there are many sights and sounds that affect my senses without my being conscious of them.

2. We can observe an object or a situation without using any words (even to ourselves) to describe what we see. I can study the surface of a rock, for example, without applying any labels to what I see.

What is more controversial is the possibility of consciously attending to something without categorizing it in any way. Some philosophers (myself included) think that being conscious of an object and/or its properties requires us to categorize our sensations in a way that enables us to compare them with other objects and/or properties. In order to notice a strange object in the market, I must recognize it as having a particular shape, or a particular color, which is similar to other shapes, or other colors. Other philosophers, however, think that I can notice objects and their properties without ever categorizing them in this way, and without registering similarities and differences. What makes this dispute difficult to resolve is (a) unclarity about what it means to "recognize" a shape and to see it "as" similar (does a similarity in resulting behavior indicate a "recognition" of similarity?), and (b) the unreliability of introspection (did I categorize the color as being similar to other blue things or not?).

If one thinks that all categorizations detract from one's awareness of an object's or uniqueness -- emphasizing similarities rather than differences in shape, or emphasizing similarities in shape rather than differences in texture -- then the very fact of conscious awareness will get in the way of seeing an object "just as it is". On the other hand, I would suggest that it is precisely through the making of multiple comparisons (shape is like this but unlike that, color is more like this than like that, texture is somewhere between this and that) that the uniqueness of an object becomes evident.

It's pretty clearly possible to look without verbal labeling, since animals and infants do that. But whether we can just look at something 'as it is' isn't so clear. One obvious problem: our sensory systems (brain included) do a lot of processing of the information they take in, and this starts early in the process - long before we get to anything over which we have conscious influence. So if that doesn't fit the "seeing as it is" bill, we're already out of luck. But there's another problem: what would count? My cell phone sits beside me. What would it mean to look at it as it is? Among other things, it is a cell phone. If I don't recognize that, there's an obvious sense in which I don't see it as it is - or at least, not for what it is.

But even if we stick to the intrinsic characteristics of the thing apart from its uses, which of the countless many count? There are far more physical facts about my cell phone than my beleaguered brain could ever cope with. Not only that; many of the really important properties of my cell phone are at the level of microchips and the like - not to mention that the thing is made of submicroscopic molecules.

We can certainly train ourselves to focus on "basic" features like color, shape, etc. An artist might need to do that to make a good drawing. So no doubt we can do some of what you probably have in mind. How much is partly a question for the psychology and physiology of perception. But just because our perceptions usually contain more "interpretation" doesn't mean we aren't seeing what is. After all: those interpretations may be true!

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