“Your lying eyes”: the online right has a slogan that runs “don’t believe your lying eyes”—which is supposed to be the imagined retort from the left when the right notices some disfunction which the left seeks to deny. There is an irony here, because the idea that you can “trust your eyes” is novel—it comes in with modernity. The established view for about 2,000 years was that the least trustworthy sense is sight.
If you think about it, you are rarely deceived by smell, taste, or touch—you rarely think “I thought I smelled chicken but it was actually beef”, but you make mistakes like that with your eyesight all the time. We know there are such things as optical illusions, but there are few “tactile illusions” or “nasal illusions”. Hence, if you have to trust a sense, perhaps you would be better to be like a dog, like a true Cynic, and trust your sense of smell.
This is why Plato valued the forms—mathematics, unlike eyesight, unlike any other sense, remains completely trustworthy (as sound as a geometrical proof) and so becomes the ultimate place where knowledge resides. This view remained constant until the time of Galileo—it was the philosophical (scientific) orthodoxy that sight was to be mistrusted, just as hearsay reports from other people were to be mistrusted.
Hence lenses (the word derives from “lentil”) were developed by craftsmen and not scientists. Glasses and telescopes were not taken seriously by men of science because these were taken to be inherently misleading. If you think about how a mirror distorts an image, the idea that “the lenses lie” seems like common sense. And, in addition, people did things like use a large mirror to look at the anatomy of a bee—but the large mirror distorted the image as it magnified it, so lending credence to the view that “the lens is a lie” (the distortion was obvious to see).
So lenses and telescopes remained the hocus-pocus of craftsmen, novelties and “dubious aids” to help people with poor eyesight. It was only Galileo who changed this situation. He bought a telescope, a Dutch telescope, that was very weak—it had such poor magnification that it made almost no difference at all (about x3 magnification); it was sold as a novelty, but Galileo improved the lenses himself and, within a few months, achieved up to x30 magnification. At first, his results—the moons of Jupiter and so on—were distrusted, even by men like Kepler who had studied optics.
So began the first “struggle between science and religion”, which was also as much a struggle between, really, the old philosophy and science and the new philosophy and science. It wasn’t exactly Christian prejudice that held Galileo back—the idea that you should distrust your sight went back to Plato at least.
As this conflict played out, Galileo created modern science which, apart from its desire to turn everything into a quantity for analysis, is characterised by its trust in sight—for the modern person “seeing is believing”, so if you see it in a photograph or in a telescope eyepiece or through a microscope then it’s “more real than real”, whereas in the past that would have been regarded as the weakest evidence and inherently a distortion to be distrusted.
So when the online right appeals to their “truthful eyes” they are actually being very modern. They work solidly in the Galilean tradition of science, a tradition where if you see it, even through a lens (or a clip on YouTube), then it’s real—that’s the gold standard of knowledge today, even though “the camera never lies” is a very accurate ironical statement.
Does that mean they’re wrong? Well, no—not necessarily. It would be obtuse to say “old is right”, “new is wrong”; or that anything before modern science is somehow “true”, as if anything before Galileo is true while Galileo is false. However, it is notable that the right is usually in opposition to modernity—sees the source of our problems in modernity—and yet, in this respect, they appeal to the gold standard of modernity in order to know anything.
Of course, this applies especially to the “technocratic right”—to the neoreactionaries, to the IQ technocrats, eugenicists, and so on—because, for them, the problem is that the left is, in a sense, “primitive” and has regressed (perhaps via postmodernism, perhaps via post-Marxist speculation and infatuation with “indigenous ways of knowing”) away from the scientific method (which is the only way to know anything, really).
Hence, in this conceptualisation, the left’s error would be to be like the philosophical consensus before Galileo, too obsessed with an abstract theory that “must be true” (say, for example, the “psychic unity of mankind”) and the right represents the Brechtian Galileo who must “say what he sees, even if he be burned by the religious authorities”—perhaps the story could be given a sentimental democratic twist, per Taleb, where the “humble tradesman”, the lens grinder, takes on the snooty philosophers (who talk about “spectacles” not “lenses”—not beans, like some commoner).
As we’ve seen, the idea this was “superstitious religion” versus “rational science” is itself a misnomer imposed on the “Galileo question” by, in all probability, the Enlightenment and certainly by men like Brecht who saw Galileo as “the progressive scientific bourgeois element doing away with the religio-aristocratic element”. This is how enmeshed in modernity we are—even the “radical right” presents itself as the “true modernists”, the “true scientists” (they want to burn as scientific saints because they saw the truth about race and IQ—like Galileo saw the moons of Jupiter).
Nonetheless, the old objection against “sight” remains solid—and perhaps more so in an era of AI fakes and digital manipulation. It has never been harder to trust “what you see”, whether down a lens or on a screen. As for rishis, for seers, that refers to the third eye—not profane sight.