Risks of First Hand Knowledge The FALLIBILITY of Eyewitness Testimonies

Alexandre Ait-Ettajer

Marwan Al-Edrus, Ansar Eshonkulov, Zoe Grout

Wednesday 1 February 2017 - Tuesday 7 February 2017

WOK Badge: Sense Perception

Risks of First Hand Knowledge: The Fallibility of Eyewitness Testimonies



Is first hand evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, reliable as a source of knowledge?

Sources of Knowledge and Reliability

If we go by the preliminary definition of Knowledge offered to us in the second chapter as Justified True Belief, then we can conclude that a Source of Knowledge must be something, some-event, some-experience capable of supplying all three

The term reliable knowledge is not used in the same sense as a reliable car. Rather than being something of consistently high quality in terms of performance, reliable knowledge is a type of knowledge that, qualitatively speaking, has a high “Justified” rating.

Does a Source of Knowledge have to provide all JTBs?

Empiricism & The Other Thing

Empiricism: the philosophical view that the source of all knowledge is sense perception and the experiences derived from it

Rationalism: the philosophical view that knowledge can be inherent; as in it does not require a source, but rather is present from the moment the knower becomes a conscious entity

Knower & Knower’s Perspective

A Knower is anything or anyone capable of generating and storing knowledge. E.G: a book can store knowledge but it is not a knower, thereby that definition cannot be correct- on the other hand a chimpanzee (presumed to be a thing for the purposes of inclusiveness) is a knower, as common sense would dictate it, and it can both create and store knowledge.

Knower’s Perspective is the biases and the preconceived notions that a Knower has while obtaining more knowledge. This can be seen through biases that people have in life such as political and religious views. In this way Knower’s Perspective is essential in understanding how and why a person knows what they know.

Seemingly Important Terms

Eyewitness is a term used to describe a knower who has first hand sensory experience of an event or issue, and is thereby a holder of Personal Knowledge of that particular event.

Testimony is the information that is released by the eyewitness in the act of retelling their knowledge of an event with the purposeful intent of providing a truthful recount of their experiences i.e. the speaker has to believe that it is true the whole time.

First Hand is essentially another way to describe Personal Knowledge; that being knowledge that is, on a conscious level, independently generated within a knower’s mind rather than knowledge that is shared by another knower-entity.

Is first hand evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, reliable as a source of knowledge?


Pros: All knowledge is derived from sense experience, and we cannot possibly garner knowledge in any other way. Thereby all knowledge is a witness testimony, to an extent; and we should judge each witness testimony by its individual merits rather than lumping them together as being unreliable.

Cons: Eyewitness Testimonies come from a limited amount of Knowers. One testimony/Knower’s Perspective, they are inherently subject to the biases of the those experiencing them and cannot be considered as objective. Furthermore they cannot provide us with an objective depiction of the events, and claiming that it it possible to gain an accurate perspective by gathering a multitude of testimonies is simply unrealistic.

Pros: We cannot be sure that such a thing as an objective reality even exists; and thereby we should not appeal to it as if it matters, considering that it is not an established truth, when making a judgment based upon so called “subjective” evidence. The truth is that eyewitness testimonies are everything that humanity has to offer in such cases, and without them we would not know anything


  • If you go by the empiricist interpretation, all knowledge stems from what can be crudely called testimonies
  • Suggesting that all testimonies are flawed would suggest all knowledge is flawed
  • Judge all testimonies individually
  • Even though a single testimony is limited, it can be judged from various angles, thus the beauty of shared knowledge


  • Never an objective truth, about as far away from “T” Truth you could get
  • Always limited in their perspective
  • The more you “interpret” the farther you stray from from objective truth
  • Testimonies are subjective and are determined by the speaker’s Knower's Perspective

Project Accompanying Script:

How First Hand Knowledge Flawed:

  • At the start of the presentation, show image of a person who committed a crime and give the viewer 1-2 seconds to see the person
  • At the end of the presentation, show how Eyewitness Test is flawed by giving the viewer three options of people who have committed a crime, all of them should look similar to the actual criminal.
  • Most people should not be able to identify the criminal because they did not have enough time to process the image. Just the same as in real life, where people do not have a lot of time to see the person.
  • This parallels true Eyewitness Testimonies can be flawed, people forget and their memories can be altered by their memories, biases and premonitions about the world.

As Expected there was quite an even spread on how people chose the criminal. There was no clear definitive choice.


Wednesday 1 February 2017 After Class

Though having missed one class was a major drawback in learning about Sense Perception, I believe I can bounce back with my group. I have a group of people that are all smart and dedicated and believe in what we will be doing. The only thing that I am scared about is that all of us may be smart, but we all procrastinate a lot so hopefully we can get things done beforehand.

We started the day off by getting into our groups, Marwan, Zoe and Ansar. We took the quiz, which I passed with a 90%, I missed one of the questions that had two answers and only put one. Other than that the quiz was quite easy. While waiting for the rest of my group to pass the retake, Marwan and I tried to formulate our question based on the Textbook and TOK Badges Documents. We haven't gotten anywhere but we definitely want to talk about the flaws in sight and how this affects our world.

I've read one of the Elected Readings

The first being "Illuminated" specifically the passage on Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. This section has inspired me and the way I view the world around me. There are so many hidden gems everything that I see. But what really got me thinking is how I perceive the world differently than it actually is. How little details here and there result in a completely different world that I could have never comprehended with getting bored. I think that I must go out and try to experience the world as Annie Dillard has and relax.

Friday 3 February 2017 Before Class

Our group has not made any progress in our project and this is our last day to complete it. I have not lost faith in my group members, I feel that they are all capable of doing good work. The problem is that we can not agree on what we all want to do. We're all proud about our ideas and believe that our ideas are the most important. Though this back and forth is good for planning, we're not actually progressing and making anything.

What do we have to do?

So what we have to do is finalize the project question that we want to answer and come up with how to do it. Though I don’t know what we are going to do I believe that this can all be accomplished if we work through the whole of the class period. We must not get off task and there must be a system for keeping everyone on track keeping them focused.

What did you learn?

I learned that these people are great but we are unproductive with creating a project. We can not get into any sort of agreement about what we want to do, I believe this is so because we all are perfectionists and can’t just settle on the second best option that we created, it always has to be better. But I do have an idea, what if we were to get them some sort of food or liquid to eat or drink that is in the shape of or has some sort of disgusting label to it. But the product would be fine to ingest and there would be no harmful substance in them.

Essential Terms:

Empiricism: the philosophical view that the source of all knowledge is sense perception and the experiences derived from it

Rationalism: the philosophical view that knowledge can be inherent; as in it does not require a source, but rather is present from the moment the knower becomes a conscious entity

Yesterday I finished my second elective reading, "How can going Blind give you Sight?," by Isaac Lidsky. Mr. Lidsky was very inspirational and described his struggles of being blind and how sight can be hinderance in what we do in life. He talked about how he didn't let being blind hinder his life and to still doing everything he wanted to do. He had a very inspirational metaphor about how fish swim backward by wagging their head. I have learned to be able to comprehend that even though there may be things that I hate about myself I can still find ways to become better. Senses such as vision allow us to comprehend the world, but we shouldn't cave into them and only rely on them.

Friday 3 February 2017 Afterclass

I have found out that we are in a lot of trouble since we do not have anything concrete to create our presentation. We have to make our whole presentation over the weekend and make the knowledge question that we'll present. There is no other thing that I can say in this journal. All I can say is that we need to finish soon. We'll have to plan to Skype over the weekend and create the slides we'll present.

Knowledge Questions: Through the day, we have formulated a couple of Knowledge questions. Hopefully we can choose from one of them.

  1. Is first hand evidence, such as eyewitness testimony, reliable as a source of knowledge?
  2. Is trusting your senses ethical for making decisions?
  3. How do Illusions affect our comprehension of the world?

Tuesday 7 February 2017 After Presentation

Today I think we are ready to present but we are all stressed about presenting and are trying to find solace in what we are trying to complete. All we have to do is go through a quick run through of the presentation. After that we will be fine and the presentation will go “okay”. Once we are done with this presentation I’m going to try and find a more productive group that I can. I think that as a group we need to work on collaboration issues and make sure that we coordinate better.

As a personal goal I believe that I need to stop procrastinating and relying on people to do work for me. This has led me to a failed presentation and maybe another today. Hopefully not. Also as a personal goal I want to be able to learn and comprehend how the world works and be able to comprehend how to react in social situations.

I think that I was fumbling and stumbling around in our presentation and this was really bad for me and my group. If I weren’t to have been so incompetent then I think I could have become a real asset to this group. Otherwise I think that we did all right and that there were many other ways that this presentation could have gone awry. If anything I believe that we didn’t do that bad.

If I were to do this again, I would try to make sure I was more prepared and that everything could have been more cohesive and better entangled! Also I also hope to be able to make a good presentation next time.

Extension Proposal

Does the way we see the world confine us to certain truths?

This presentation should be added as a resource because it explains very well the specificities of how our lives are limited in many aspects. It is related to the TED talk that I listened to. It taught me that my knowledge of the world is not the truth and I need to spend as much time as I can to open my horizons.

Personally I have been struggling with accepting life around me. So to hear from people that understand me in the smallest way was very moving for me. I really enjoyed this experience. I hope to be able to enjoy life more from now on.

Commentary on Experience

What I learned about this was that our senses are not as trustworthy as they seem to be. I believe that my life has made more sense because I have been able to learn about how to not trust my senses but I should still use them. I need to be more conscientious about my senses and how they could infrom me.

What really moved me was how the justice system is flawed in many ways that I wouldn't have actually have thought. Also the Elected Reading was very informative to me. I got to understand about my emotions and how personally I could become happier in life. I learned that though our senses are invaluable they are not the end all be all of my life. I should expand my knowledge of everything around me. As a person I believe that this class has allowed me to experience more and understand more about the world. I hope that the next Badge will do the same for me.

Created By
Alexandre Ait-Ettajer


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