Seeing is Believing

Proof of Evidence

doubtingthomas

Doubting Thomas touches Jesus’ wounds [1].

According to the Gospels, St. Thomas had to see the crucified Jesus’ wounds in person to believe that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. Visual evidence, whether seen in person or via a photographic method, has long been taken as essential to belief.  Some Americans have to see evidence of severe war and devastation in foreign countries before they feel obligated to intervene. Some families of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 felt they had to see the crashed plane before they believed that their loved ones were dead.

In the realm of studies concerning seeing, it is important to explore the concept of seeing is believing. The phrase “Seeing Is Believing” implies that it is hard to believe something that one has not seen — that physical or concrete evidence is required to make an individual believe in the existence of something [1].

The concept of “Seeing Is Believing” can be understood to be the converse of the question: “Do you need to see to believe?” Because it is difficult to believe certain things unless they are seen, those things are considered surprising, strange, or seemingly impossible when presented without proof of existence. Individuals have to ask themselves what they can trust or believe in without seeing.  What evidence is essential for something to be “known?”  Professions such as law and media, and fields such as religion, history and the supernatural have answered these questions differently.

A journalism student should take time to pay attention to this topic because working in the news industry is largely about making important decisions with the information that is given to you. What information is definitely credible and does not need a second look? What information requires you to do further research? What information do you need to see for yourself before you would find it okay to take as fact and publicize? What do you need to see to believe? These questions are important because if you believe and report something that you did not see, and it turns out that that information was false, then your credibility is compromised as a journalist. Sometimes it only takes one mistake to ruin an entire career. People besides those studying journalism should care as well. When you are consuming media, you need to decide what information you need to see to believe and what information you are okay with taking someone’s word for. Your ability to make good decisions matters because if you are just believing everything you don’t see or always asking to see before believing anything, then you are doing a disservice to yourself. You need to find a good medium.


Relation to Religion

Religion is an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods [2]. For those who are religious, this belief is very important. Hindus worship several gods, goddesses, and believe in reincarnation. Muslims accept Muhammad as the last prophet and look to his lifestyle as an authority. Christians believe that Jesus Christ came down and sacrificed himself for their sins. It is worth noting here that current followers of these major religions have not seen these gods or prophets, and yet they believe in them and the teachings of the religion they follow. Why is that? Why do they not need to see to believe? The answer to this question is faith. Faith, in this context, is confidence or trust in a religion. Faith is not based on proof. David Vryhof states that followers of a religion need to have faith in order to please their god or gods and achieve eternal salvation [3]. Those who have strong faith in their religion don’t need to see proof of the existence of their gods. They follow because on a spiritual level, they believe in the existence of greater beings.

On the other side of this concept is the set of people who are convinced that they need to see to believe.  Atheists live this life because they have not seen concrete proof of higher beings.  They are heavily influenced by scientific theories that do not align with the foundations of certain religions.  They do not want to devote the time to believing in something they are not really invested in. They can see proof of scientific theories, so they believe those. The same situation does not apply for them and religious theories.

A biblical situation that is relevant to this discussion is the story of Doubting Thomas that was touched upon in the introduction. In the Bible, when Jesus’ disciples had learned of his resurrection, they were in shock. Thomas did not believe that Jesus came back from the dead and he said that he would continue to not believe that Jesus had risen unless he saw Jesus and the wounds in his hands from the crucifixion. Thomas, an individual who was supposed to be a faithful believer, was essentially stating that he needed to see to believe. Once Jesus presented himself to Thomas, Thomas was fascinated and began to believe. It’s very interesting to note that a disciple of Jesus did not have the blind faith expected of him. He had to see to believe.

Journalists typically can’t operate under this same blind faith. That might explain why many journalists are not very religious. People in this profession are required to present the public with the facts. If they don’t find and report the details associated with their claims, then the public will not believe or trust them. They can’t just have faith that people will take their word. The public needs to see evidence from journalists to believe them.


Factors Required to Believe

When an individual states that they have to see to believe, there are several factors that need to be considered. In many contexts, the “seeing” part of this statement encompasses much more than just physically seeing. Seeing in itself may not provide the full proof that a person is looking for; other senses may also be involved in this process.  Some people have to hear to believe; others have to touch to believe; others have to smell to believe. Others need a combination of a few or all of these senses in order to believe in the existence of something.

It would also be interesting to compare seeing to other senses and judge how that affects our understanding of a situation. Let’s take hearing as an example as we explore the first presidential debate with John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Those who saw the debate on television believed that Kennedy won the debate.  Those who heard the debate on the radio believed that Nixon won. Why is that? In a Time article about the debate, Kayla Webley stated that Nixon had recently left the hospital and looked underweight and sickly [4]. JFK was a tan and good-looking man who looked like he was in decent shape. Americans who saw the debate on television were drawn to Kennedy’s attractiveness, so they thought he won the debate. Those who heard the debate on the radio were drawn to Nixon’s eloquent speaking, so they thought he won the debate. It’s fascinating to think the manner in which you consume media affects the way you believe it. This might affect the avenues through which journalists want to present their information. They will be more inclined to present information in the way that provides the most desired impact.

Another question worth mentioning is “Can you always believe what you see?” Let’s take a look at eyewitness testimonies. Sometimes, individuals see crimes occur right before their eyes. In these situations, they are called in as eyewitnesses in court cases. Jurors have a tendency to believe what eyewitnesses say, but as Saul McLeod of Simply Psychology states, eyewitness testimonies can be affected by several factors such as anxiety/stress, reconstructive memory, weapon focus, and/or leading questions [5]. The witness could have been severely stressed out by the crime and remember things inaccurately because of it. She may have forgotten some of the event and began to reconstruct what she could not remember. She might have focused so much on a weapon involved that she forgot about the rest of the crime. She might have been asked leading questions by a prosecutor that led her to feel pressure and remember things the way the prosecutor painted it. Someone might see something and believe that it happened, but their memory of it could change afterwards. Certain factors could cause us to not be able to rely on what we have seen as fact.

Journalists are very often called on to be eyewitnesses. They go to events, see what happens, and then share what they saw with the public. Because journalists cover news, they get the opportunity to see and believe. When relaying this information back to the public, they have to make sure to do it accurately. That is why it is important for them to do things like take notes while at newsworthy events, record conversations, and quote accurately. Journalists have very significant roles as eyewitnesses for the public so the credibility of their information is important.


Seeing and Journalism

Journalists use visual documentation in the form of graphs, statistics, and numbers to help readers believe. Many people can’t just be told information. They want to see it in a visual form to really believe. They want to see the data and numbers that back the statements journalists make. This evidence helps readers to understand and believe.

Photography has played a huge role in the realm of seeing is believing. It gives people visuals of what is happening in the world and sometimes inspires them to make change. The strong impact of photography has a lot to do with how it allows you to see newsworthy events after the fact and visualize yourself as part of the scenario, or as someone very close to it. Seeing visuals and not just words lets someone know that an event actually happened. It is evidence. The images of the man jumping off of a building during 9/11 and the starved child being eyed by a vulture in Africa are powerful.  They serve as documentation that makes others’ tragedies and suffering very real. Strong photographic images such as these make people very aware of what’s going on in the places we can’t see, and sometimes inspires them to take action.

Artifacts also make historic events more real and more believable. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. contains many objects that make the public aware of the events that occurred during this great tragedy. Reading facts on plaques at the museum makes people think about the things that happened during the Holocaust. Seeing videos of the Jews being put into gas chambers and of survivors who talked about their experience gives the viewer visuals of the Holocaust. Seeing and smelling the exhibit that contains the shoes of Jews who were in camps during the Holocaust provides a more advanced level of realness, as it gives people actual items that were there during the Holocaust. Artifacts from a historic event make it more real to an individual. It gives them tangible evidence from the event.

Citizen journalism plays an increasing role in the world of journalism. This type of journalism involves the average citizen going out and documenting newsworthy events and sharing it with the public. It has revolutionized the concept of seeing is believing because citizens are relying less on journalists to provide them with information. They are going out to events themselves and documenting them. In other words, they are seeing for themselves in order to believe, instead of relying on trained journalists.


Related Topics

  • Seeing Visions
  • Seeing into the Past
  • Seeing as Change
  • Seeing News: Seduction of Seeing

Works Cited

[1] The Free Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/Seeing+is+believing
[2] Merriam Webster. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion
[3] Vryhof, D. (2013). What it Means to Have Faith in God. Retrieved March 19, 2015, from http://ssje.org/ssje/2013/04/07/what-it-means-to-have-faith-in-god-br-david-vryhof/
[4] Webley, K. (2010). How the Nixon-Kennedy Debate Changed the World. Retrieved March 19, 2015, from http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2021078,00.html
[5] McLeod, S. (2009). Eyewitness Testimony. Retrieved March 18, 2015, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/eyewitness-testimony.html


Additional Resources

1. *USHMM-
Boyne, J. (2007). The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. London: Random House.

This book is centered around a 9-year-old boy named Bruno who is not very aware of the Holocaust. He had been oblivious of its cruelties and had no idea that many people were suffering. Due to circumstance, his family was moved from their comfortable home in Berlin to a home in a desolate area where there wasn’t much to do. He then met Shmuel, a boy who lived on the other side of the wire fence near his house. Shmuel wore striped pyjamas, just like all of the other people Bruno spotted on the other side of the fence. Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel starts with innocence and then he becomes exposed to the atrocities of the Holocaust. This tale of Bruno displays how just not seeing something can make you unaware of it at all. Bruno had no idea of the true tragedies of the Holocaust because in his first home, he had no real exposure to it. Bruno’s story shows that seeing is believing because his friendship with Shmuel and the look he took into the concentration camp from the other side of the fence made him very aware of the terrible processes associated with the Holocaust. He was able to finally see and believe the Holocaust.

2. *USHMM-
Venezia, S., Prasquier, B., & Mouttapa, J. (2009). Inside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in
the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

This is an eye-witness account of the Holocaust by Slomo Venezia, a man born into a poor Jewish-Italian community in Greece. When the Germans invaded, his family was deported to Aushwitz. When they arrived, his mother and sister disappeared, and he learned later that they were most likely gassed. In order to earn some food, Venezia became a ‘Sonderkommando,’ without realizing what this job entailed (removing corpses from gas chambers and burning their bodies). Through this book, he details his daily tasks, speaks of the terror evoked by his superiors, and recounts how some of the prisoners tried to escape the concentration camps. This is a very interesting account of the Holocaust as most people who went into the gas chambers did not live to talk about it. He was able to see a good amount of the torture that occurred up front, and had to help in the disposal of the murdered Jews. Venezia saw horrid things that most of us could never even imagine looking at. Reading his vivid account could possibly make the Holocaust more real for the audience.

3. *USHMM-
Nyiszli, M. (1960). Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account. Greenwich, Conn: Fawcett Crest.

This is an account of a Jewish medical doctor named Dr. Miklos Nyiszli who was spared from death in the gas chambers for another terrible fate. He was tasked with performing “scientific research” on other prisoners under the supervision of the “Angel od Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele. Nyiszli was deemed Mengele’s personal research pathologist. He survived to give this account of his experience. Since Nyiszli was forced to do “scientific research” with the prisoners, he was unwillingly a part of the torture involved with the Holocaust. He had a hand in the suffrage of the prisoners and lived to tell the tale of his horrid experience. Reading of his horrendous first-hand account of doing research with the prisoners could really awaken emotions in the reader and assist in them believing that the Holocaust was a tragic and inhumane occurrence in history.

4. Kaplan, S. (2002). Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visual Culture in the
Religious World of Aşe Zärʿa Yaʿeqob of Ethiopia (1434-1468). Journal of Religion in
Africa, 32 (4), 403-421.

This article is devoted to neglected aspects of religious life. It aims to emphasize the importance of the Cross, the image of the Virgin Mary, the construction of churches, and other visual elements of religious life in Zärʿa Yaʿeqob’s Ethiopia. He was a ruler that confronted religious challenges in a largely unchristian empire. He sought to protect his state, church, and people by any means necessary. He placed great devotion with the Cross and the Virgin Mary, built churches, and mobilized Christian symbols. These visual representations were easy to use to get the word across in a largely illiterate Ethiopian population. This article helps to show how Ethiopians were able to believe through seeing. Since they could not read, the best way to spread the word of God was to show them Christian symbols. These visuals played a part in them converting to Christianity.

5. *Article related to museum visit
Shneer, D. (2015). Is Seeing Believing? Photographs, Eyewitness Testimony, and
Evidence of the Holocaust. East European Jewish Affairs, 45 (1), 65-78.

During World War II, Soviet newspapers and magazines were the first to publish photographs of the Nazi mass murder of Jews. Westerners considered Soviet photographs unreliable because Soviet photography blurred the distinction between art and photojournalism (unlike Western photography). According to Western evidence, Soviet photography would never be accepted as photojournalism because the photographer was always metaphorically present. So, even though Soviet photographs showed the Nazi murders of the Jews, it rarely convinced people of the truth of the subject matter. This brings up interesting points. If seeing photographs is unable to convince people of the existence of something, then they may need to physically bear witness in order to prove things they once didn’t believe, like the brutality that the Nazis committed. Also, it is intriguing to see that some people don’t take artsy photographs as reality on any level, while some may believe in this brand of photography just because the visuals speak to them and become real for them.

6. Gregory, S. A. M. (2006). Transnational Storytelling: Human Rights, WITNESS,
and Video Advocacy. American Anthropologist, 108 (1), 195-204.

Human rights groups use video as a component in their advocacy strategies. This article takes a look at how video is used on multiple platforms for human rights audiences. This article talks about the issues faced by an organization named WITNESS as they create and use video as visual evidence, testimony, and moral story before various human rights audiences. Some of these issues are the contextualization of stories and the difficulties of establishing an ethical relationship. This ties into the realm of seeing is believing because it explores how an organization delves to make videos as the most effective way they are able to in order to get people to become passionate about human rights and make changes. They believe that people need to see powerful videos in order to believe in the existence of world issues and be inspired to help.

7. Rosengren, K. S., & Hickling, A. K. (1994). Seeing is Believing: Children’s
Explanations of Commonplace, Magical, and Extraordinary Transformations. Child
Development, 65 (6), 1605-1626.

This article was about a set of studies that investigated children’s (ages 4 and 5) magical explanations and beliefs. The results of the first study showed that when seeing impossible events, 4-year-olds explained them as “magic,” whereas 5-year-olds explained them as “tricks.” The second study showed that 4-year-olds gave more magical and fewer physical explanations than did 5-year-olds. Most 4-year-olds viewed magic as possible under the control of an agent with special powers, and most 5-year-olds viewed magic as tricks that anyone could learn. In the final leg of the study, it was found that parents perceived their children as believing in a number of magic and fantasy figures and they stated that they encourage such beliefs to some degree. All in all, these findings suggested that many 4-year-olds view magic as a plausible mechanism, yet reserve magical explanations for certain real world events which violate their expectations. This shows that for young children, sometimes they don’t always have to see to believe. They can take comfort in believing things out of the realm, like magic, exist.


Photography Credit

[1] Doubting Thomas-
https://theinnerkingdom.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/doubtingthomas.jpg

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