A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

‘Appears as a Red Ball’ vs. ‘Is a Red Ball’

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 27, 2007

In last few posts i was saying that different things can appear same, both because of the things themselves (two different things can appear same if looked from certain side even to the ideal observer), and also because of the limits of the perception, and because of certain characteristics of the situation (fog, glasses, different lights, rewired brain, etc…).

In such way a red ball under a white light appears same as a white ball under a red light (all other things being equal). As in this picture we don’t assume sense-data or really any kind of “phenomenal experience” standing between the balls and the observer, there is nothing to be veridical vs. non-veridical (until we make it matter of judgment, that is).  What we have is merely two situations that appear (look/seem) same.

Further, it should be pointed that because we can focus on specific things in the world and ignore others, we can talk about “appearing same” not just of the whole situations, but also about parts. So, for example even the lights might be visible in the situation, we can ignore them and say that the balls in both situations appear same. This is similar to the situation where we are not sure if the situation is what we think it is, so we can say “it appears red” meaning it appears as it appears when there is a red ball, suspecting that it might be in fact some other situation which might appear same.

Also, talking about illusions I said that because one of those situations, i.e. red ball under normal light is what we treat as a standard for that appearance, and the other requires a setup (possibility of which we might be ignorant of) we might falsely conclude that the case is the standard one, and that this wrong judgment is what happens in case of illusion.

However in order to say that something appears as a red ball, we need before that to be aware that a ball can be red. If not the whole “appears as a red ball” doesn’t make sense. So, “appears as a red ball” can come only after  “is a red ball”. That is, we can’t say that the ball is red because it appears as a red ball, because for that we need a concept of a red ball.  So where does “is red” come from? The answer to this question probably would also shine light on what “standard” means in the above paragraph about illusion.

I take it that teaching of words for colors almost always happens by ostension. Teacher points to some thing which has e.g. red color, and says “that thing is red”, at other time again points to some other thing and say “that thing is red”, and so on… What is needed is that the student becomes aware of what is pointed to. Through attention (which also means abstraction – i.e. ignoring other specifics of the object), we can become aware of the object qua object in specific color. And as I said in the post about common nouns, after through ostensive teaching being presented salient examples of objects in red color, we can become aware of the similarity between the pointed things, so that eventually we become aware of red objects in the world.

In doing this we find the objects’ colors and the similarity IN their appearing to us. What we can probably say here is that while this learning goes on, what we are aware of is the similarities and differences of the appearances of the objects pointed to. Whatever other conditions there are which might make an appearance similar or different, e.g. glasses, different light, being exposed to bright light before seeing etc… we aren’t in this case aware of them, and those conditions are in the normal cases such that the only difference of appearance is due to the differences of the objects (one can point here that we do tend to see red objects as red even in different light after some time, and that we tend to see the distant and the near trees of same height as being a same height, that we do tend to see the rotated coin as circular (and not elliptical), and so on).

So same as other common nouns, “red object” would require an awareness of multiplicity of objects that show some kind of similarity (in this case similarity of appearance). But isn’t this returning to “red objects appear red”? No, because here the meaning of “red object” is connected to the awareness of there being objects that show similarity of appearance given the background conditions and, and I think this is important, while we are being ignorant of the background conditions.

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