Monday, February 12, 2007

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish...BLUE Fish???

One thing that sometimes bugs me is perception. How people can see the world two different ways, and yet still see the same thing. To use a more specific example, let's look at color. (I warn you upfront, this post will become quite convoluted, probably due to the very nature of the material.) Consider the following block; what color is it?

It's red, of course. I see it and know it's red. You see it and know it's red. This color is universally red. (For purposes of my argument, colorblind people don't exist. Sorry, pals.) However, what if red is not universally this color?

Confused yet?

What I mean is, what if the color I see as red is not the same one you see as red. What if the photo-receptors in our eyes, while processing the same information, feed different colors to our brain and present them as red. What if, the color you see as red, from my perspective, looks like this:

"Don't be silly, Andrew; that's green." Yes, it is. But what if someone's internal vision say this as red? And they always knew of it as red?

To better illustrate, take these two color wheels (click on them for larger versions). One is the normal color wheel that you're used to. The other is the color wheel someone else sees according to your perspective.

How can such a phenomenon be possible? Well, here's a challenge I propose to you. Describe a color.
Pretend there is a blind child that wants to know what the color red is. Describe it.


A-ha! You see my point? It is a nigh-impossible task, because everything we know about color is through experience and reference, not empirical information. If you want to have a person understand the color yellow, you show them a banana or a lemon. Person A may see the yellow on the left. Person B may see the yellow on the right. Each one sees yellow, and in each one's perspective, the other person sees purple and calls it yellow.

I hope that didn't thoroughly trounce your mind. To be perfectly honest, if my theory is true, then so are two other things: 1) It would be difficult to prove. 2) It makes little difference in the world. Let's look at both of these.

First, how would one go about proving that my idea isn't just something I wrote to hear myself type for a while? I have only one possible solution, and I'll readily admit it's more science fiction than science fact. The only place that people see different colors (perspective-wise) is in the mind. Hence, if you could hook some diodes directly onto someone's brain, making a visualization of their thoughts, and their sight, you could see colors the way they see them. How you would do this, I'll leave up to someone who actually knows about science.

Secondly, if my great theory is what? What difference will it make in the world? None, I suppose. Regardless of how people see their individual colors, they will stop at red and go at green (if they're a good citizen, of course). People have gone on well enough for millennia without knowing how each other exactly sees colors, so I think things will go on some more.

It's just interesting to think about. It's like talking about general relativity. A person's perspective alters not only what appears to happen, but what actually happens. Like they say, perception is reality.

Hmm...maybe I should have gotten more sleep last night.


Unknown said...

The argument is thoroughly discussed in philosophical literature and is called the Inverted Spectrum argument. The basic consensus among the community is your conclusion: what does it matter? It's functionally equivalent regardless of the differences in the first-person experience.

Searle would also argue that there is no objectively empirical way know about any given person's conscious perceptual experience because it has a first-person subjective ontology.

And with that, I'm going to highly recommend you take Philosophy 132 (The Philosophy of Mind) with John Searle. You'll find this and lots of other fun mindfucks littered throughout the course. :)

Andrew Schnorr said...

Thanks for the info! Although I'm a little disheartened that I didn't think of some new, sweeping idea, I can rectify that by realizing that I was able to independently think of something that has significant discussion in philosophy. Huzzah!

P.S. Don't mind me asking, but who are you? I can't tell by your user name?

Unknown said...

ok i took a couple of days off. so you couldn't complain about me complaining about your complaints. and to let the rest of your great friends to commment on blogs.

"red" can be describe. now, whether or not the child could understand it is another question.

Red may be any of a number of similar colours at the lowest frequencies of light discernible by the human eye. Red is one of the three primary colours of visible light, the others being green and blue. Red light has a wavelength range of roughly 625–760 nm. Frequencies lower than this are called infrared, or below red and cannot be seen by human eyes, although some infrared frequencies can be felt as heat. Red is associated with anger, death, blood, and love.
it also gives off the perception of warmth.

the last line is probably the only part the child could understand.

actually that first block is everything but red. like the second block is everything but green.

black, which is thought of as all the colors put together, is nothing. white, thought of as absent of all color, has them all.

but there is a line that got me confused a little.
"the other person sees purple and calls it yellow."
how would anyone know purple is indeed purple?

i understand that's your point. but still you're naming the color in question. you're assuming there IS a purple. but what if there isn't? a more correct way to state it is to say "my purple" "your purple" "his purple" or "her purple" can't really say "their purple" because they probably don't see the same hue.

note: in art, there is no such this as "purple."
it's non-existent. but thats just in art. so i don't see purple. i blocked it out. lol. i see violet.

speaking of which, i can't see gray. honestly, i'm grey color-blind. i can recognize it. i know its gray. but it doesn't look grey to me. they're all look like dark version of green, blue, violet or reflective.
but there are some colors that are dark green that i call grey, because i assume they're gray. but then people laugh at me and tell me its green. then they think i can't see green. :(

but i do love the concept of grey. shame i can't see it.

holla at your boy!

Unknown said...

Yes colors can be defined objectively and absolutely by their light wavelengths and their luminance. The problem is that this description does not take into account the first-person perceptual experience of that color: the hues we have come to know. And many wavelength/luminance combinations can map to one hue. This is particularly funny with reds as many people put wavelengths in both the lowest and highest wavelengths in the visible light spectrum in the red (or reddish) hue bucket.

As far as abstract conceptual associations to those hues...well those vary greatly given the socio-cultural context. The only seemingly universal association is that of the red hue with warmth.

As far as what the blocks ARE...well if what they are is their hue, then they are red and green. If what they are is the light wavelengths that are absorbed, then they are everything but the wavelength reflected which maps to red and green hues. I tend to find that most people refer to their perceptual hue experience when they ask "what color is that?"

The problem with our perceptual experience of blacks and whites are that they are anchored on the darkest and brightest light sources in our visual field. Black is whatever has the lowest luminance and white is whatever has the lightest luminance (with a roughly uniform distribution of light wavelengths). So objective scientific definitions of black (no light reflectance) and white (absolutely uniform light reflectance with high luminance) are rare if they even are existent in our perceptive experience.

By the way, I'm Dimas. :)