'... science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex [...]. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface.'
The problem with the conclusion here is that Mlinko, like so many others, fails to recognize the explanatory power of evolution: if the "symbolic sense data" of "appearances" are false, then the human brain would be poorly adapted to the physical world, and the human species would die out if its brain did not adapt to that physical world.
Here's another way to put the point: any human brain (or brain of any species, for that matter) that does not produce a relatively precise image of the world around it is less likely to survive and successfully reproduce than a brain with a more precise image of the world around it. So "our sense data" may be "primarily symbols," but there is every reason to believe that those symbols are accurate (at least for those with healthy brains).
So here's a third way to put the point: rejection of empiricism entails rejection of evolution.
To be fair to Mlinko, I should refer to the whole passage I cited from above:
Quoting Suzanne Langer in Elaine's Book (collected in Transfigurations), [Jay] Wright lays claim to her insight: “and the triumph of empiricism is jeopardized by the surprising truth that our sense data are primarily symbols.” For poets of this tendency, the world is occult, and poetry's attentiveness helps tease out the hidden reality:
What we callNicolas of Cusa posited the existence of an intellect comprising more than that which sense data and reason tell us. Now that science tells us that “our sense data are primarily symbols,” translated to the brain via nerve impulses and reassembled in the frontal cortex, the Cusan's truth is confirmed. Appearances are deceiving. What we see is just an interface. The very building blocks of matter are in flux.
our own might only be
the first stroke upon
clock, an instant shift
of center, a notion
the Cusan could
propose and stir
in the atom.
—From Equation Three