The Myth of ‘Phenomenal/Conscious Experience’

As I was saying in other posts, I’m skeptical that the phrase “phenomenal experience” refers to anything. That would go also for “conscious experience” as long this is taken to play similar role that the phenomenal experience is supposed to play.
In this post I will try to summarize the arguments (though probably I will miss some).

Firstly, I pointed in one post that the in the traditional use of the word ‘experience’ it refers either to events in the world in which we take part  and which affect us somehow (e.g. an “frightful experience of meeting a bear”), or to knowledge gained from such events (“From my experience, the boat can carry that much load”).
Secondly, if we buy into transparency of the ‘phenomenal experience’ (the claim that when we have experience of something, we are merely aware of what the experience is experience of), it seems that it is implied that we are not aware of the experience itself. I’m not sure how this can be made compatible with usual view of this “phenomenal experience” as something of which we are aware in some direct way – something about which we can’t be even skeptical about. I wrote about this being a possible consequence of misuse of the word “experience” here.
Thirdly there is particular work that “phenomenal experience” is supposed to doa)explaining the what-it-is-likeness which we never found in the ‘gray-goo’ of the world, and b) the cases of illusions, hallucinations, dreams and alike.
I argued that both those things can be explained without assuming phenomenal experience – a) the world doesn’t have to be merely a gray-goo, the gray-goo can be seen as just one aspect of the world that we approach by science. The colors, sounds, emotions, awareness and so on, can be seen as other aspect that we see, hear, or in general become aware of through some kind of access. And b) instead of talking about some phenomenal experience being veridical or not, we can talk about mistaking one experience (or aspect of that experience) for another, because of the limits of our perception (or limits of our awareness in general).
Fourtly, if we think just in terms of information, there is the question of economy also. Why assume that there is a phenomenal experience playing a role of a representation which provides information for other mental capacities, when such role (of providing information) can be played by the world itself? So to say, if the world is there “at hand”, why would there be additional representation of it?  Related to how this representation is supposed to work, I also pointed to some problems if we try to relate it to our everyday notion of representation.
Fifthly, if we have this phenomenal experience which is representation and which is characterized by what-it-is-like to have it, there appear issues of our knowledge of it (which is sometimes called introspection). For knowledge we need phacts (facts about the phenomenal experience) and access to those. But if we put attention on the words through which we are supposed to describe the phacts, we speak of lines, lengths of lines, colors, things – all external objects. And what kind of verb do we use for the access? We can see that something is the case in the world, but can we see that something is the case in the phenomenal experience? Sometimes we can speak about the properties of the visual field, and that really seems as talking about properties of the phenomenal experience? But when we are saying that the visual field is blurry on the periphery, are we pointing to anything but the fact (and not phact), that we can’t clearly see things which we don’t look directly at?

And in the end little explanation. It might seem that denying “phenomenal experience” or “conscious experience” is really absurd. After all we all have those things, right?

The answer would be that assumption of the “phenomenal/conscious experience” with the role it is supposed to serve is a theoretical account of what is happening; and that one can as well provide different story in which we do have experiences, and we are conscious, but in which we don’t have “conscious/phenomenal experiences”. The answer would be along those lines – We do take part in the events in the world, and we are aware of those events and their aspects (we see things, hear other things, etc.. .when participating in those events.). Further there are facts about our access to the things in those events. There are facts of us seeing something clearly, of hearing something in distance, and so on. And when we, participating in those events, are aware of them, we are also affected and/or learn from them.

This story, it seems to me doesn’t leave anything important of which we are aware of, and doesn’t have the problems of “phenomenal experience”. Though of course it has other problems.

How Does Yellow Brick Road Appear?

Few posts ago I wrote about what happened when my daughter, my niece and I were watching The Wizard of Oz. The girls noticed that the movie “doesn’t have colors” at the start, then failed to notice the moment when the things in the movie changed from colorless to colored, just to notice that fact few minutes further in the movie.

I wondered what happens to the what-it-is-likeness in the assumed ‘phenomenal experience’ of the girls…

  1. Did the what-it-is like of their experience changed when the movie changed from black and white to Technicolor?
  2. Did the what-it-is like of their experience changed after they noticed that “now the things are in color”?

Maybe the questions phrased in this way are not clear enough though. Because the what-it-is-likeness is taken to be a characteristic of the (phenomenal/conscious/what I called p-sense) experience, it being somehow and not other way, would be a fact about the phenomenal experience – a “phact” (to use the term Pete Mandik coined). Now, if we assume that there are such things as phacts, it is normal that in the ongoing conscious experience there are lot of such phacts. Instead of asking then the questions (1) and (2) in this general manner, we can concentrate on some specific phacts. We may talk about ‘how did the yellow brick road appear to the girls’. Maybe even more specific ‘did the yellow brick road appear yellow to them?’. It seems to me the ‘what-was-it-like to see the yellow brick road’ is related to same phacts as ‘how did the yellow brick road appear to the girls?’ (where ‘appear’ is not in taken in epistemic sense, but phenomenal sense).

You may, as I am, be skeptical of all this (p-sense) experience talk, and hence of existence of any such things as phacts related to the questions asked. But seems to me, even if one phrases the question wrong, there is some underlying thing that we mean to ask by the question, and which is of interest nonetheless. So, I will try to analyze this underlying issue, while I might not really answer it the context of assumptions in which it was phrased.

Let’s forget yellow brick road for a moment, and consider this…

We can talk to a certain person for a long time, and not notice the shape of her brows or shape of her mouth. But even we fail to notice and learn those things, we can in some other case (say, the next day) recognize that person again. I think it is safe to say that the person appeared somehow to us while we were talking. We weren’t aware of the shape of her brows or the shape of her mouth, but were those of different shape she would’ve appeared differently to us (or as we also say she would’ve looked differently).

If we talk about shape of the brows and mouth as aspects of the face, I think we can now say that we didn’t see those aspects. One might find this kind of talk weird, but think of this – would you say that you are seeing the hidden object in a newspaper puzzle (“find the hidden object” type of puzzle), just because you hold it in front of your eyes? I think not! But isn’t the same case where we don’t notice if the brows or the mouth have certain form and not other? Just that we are seeing the face doesn’t mean that we are seeing it’s aspects.

But even if we aren’t seeing those aspects, from another side we know that those aspects affect how the face appears to us! As pointed, given different shape of brows or mouth, person’s face would appear differently to us.

We can apply this kind of analysis to the yellow brick road now. We can say that the girls saw the yellow brick road without seeing its color. But this is not strange as it sounds, because immediately  we say that the yellow brick road still appeared in a specific way due to the fact that it was yellow. So, a yellow brick road whose color girls don’t see wouldn’t  appear to them same as a red brick road whose color girls don’t see (or don’t notice).

So, what would be the interesting conclusions of this kind of analysis? One of them is, I think, that neither the awareness of the aspects like the color of the thing nor possession of color concepts are required for a thing to appear to us in this way which is related to it possessing certain aspects. So, a thing may appear same to us, which have those color concepts and young kids. Of course the kid may be unable to focus merely on the color, and further to determine it, but as pointed this doesn’t mean that it isn’t aware of the gestalt look, which is related to the thing having certain color.
One can point to such things as Vygotsky block tests, where younger children didn’t sort blocks on dependence on one of those aspects (color, size or shape), but apparently based on some kind of holistic similarity. If this is true, it points to the direction of the conclusion that the gestalt appearance of the things is related to it having certain aspect. I’m not sure though there can be any kind of clear measurement of the similarities (what would this ‘holistic similarity’ even mean in terms of something testable?).

The other thing is, that instead of talking about any phacts when we talk about what-it-is-likeness, we can concentrate on the issue about what we are aware of/what we see (and further what we see clearly, vaguely, and so on). In this way we can talk about gestalt looks the things have in objective manner, and ask if the girls saw IT, or they saw some specific aspect and so on… I think phrased in that way we can analyze the issues better.

UPDATE:Richard Brown has a post in part of which he gives overview of Dretske’s distinction between thing-awareness and fact-awareness (which is supposed to explain change blindness). The distinction seems to me parallel the kind of distinction I’m drawing here between gestalt-look awareness and aspect awareness.

How to Download a Streaming Audio

There are lot of free streaming audio and video lectures on the net, be it on philosophical or other things. Currence recently reported of free audio lectures related to Wittgenstein for example.

But what to do, if you want to download those things for listening offline, for example on your iPod or similar device, and there is no link for downloading (you might want to try first if simply right clicking on the link and ‘save as’ or ‘save link as’ option work) ?

If it is a flash player (like they use on YouTube, Google Video, etc…) you can check my previous post about extracting the audio from those kinds of videos.

If it is “old-school” streaming audio however, you need to do following (as far as I know, this doesn’t work for real-audio and real-video! (.ram, .ra files)).

  • Download and install VLC Media Player. It is a free media player, which can handle most of video types. It has lot of functionality, which isn’t found in other media players, but that is another story…
  • Find the URL of the streaming audio that you want to download. For example, on this page, under “Wittgenstein’s unsolved problem: How to be guided by a rule”, the link to the quick-time lecture is this: . (If you get an embedded player, try right clicking on the player, and check if there is ‘Properties’ or some similar option. It should give you the URL there.)
  • Start VLC Media Player. Go to File->Open Network Stream. We are in the ‘Open…’ dialog.
  • Choose the HTTP/HTTPS/FTP/MMS option, and enter the URL of the stream in the URL text box. (In our example that would be the URL that I mentioned up there in bold)
  • In the same dialog, in the bottom, turn on “Stream/Save” check box, and press Settings…
  • The ‘Stream output’ Dialog should appear. Turn on the “File” checkbox, and then click the Browse button. In the ‘Save as’ dialog go to the folder where you want to save the audio, then write the name you want to give to the file in the File Name text field (e.g. test.mp4), and press Save.
  • In the ‘Stream output’ Dialog, in the part about encapsulation method choose what kind of the target file type you want (in our example “mp4“). Also, turn on the Audio Codec option, choose the codec (e.g. ‘mpga’) from the drop down list, and choose the other options (I went with 128kbps and 2 channels, and it worked OK with this options). Click OK.
  • We are back in the ‘Open…’ dialog. Just click OK. You should see the player starting to count the time. Given the example we mentioned, it says that it will be finished in an hour, and in the specified place you will have your ‘test.mp4’ media file.

BTW, you can use this way to extract the audio from the streaming videos also.

Gray, Colors and What-It-Is-Like, Oh My!

We were watching Wizard of Oz movie with my daughter (age 4) and my niece (age 5) the other day. They haven’t seen it before, so when it started my niece was little disappointed by the lack of colors. “Why doesn’t it have colors?” she asked. I just shrugged and didn’t respond anything. I was wondering how they will react to the scene when Dorothy comes to Oz, and the movie-world suddenly gets colored.
Anyway, that scene came, but neither my niece, nor my daughter commented anything.  From what I could tell, they were just looking in wonder what will happen next. I expected at least from my niece to notice that the things in the movie were now in color, but she didn’t seem to notice the switch.
That was confirmed to me that they didn’t notice it when maybe minute or two later my daughter said: “The movie is in colors now”, and my  niece said “Oh, right!”.

So, to recapitulate:

  • Both girls can distinguish colored from color-less (black and white/ gray-scale) things
  • The girls noticed that the movie is “without colors”
  • At the moment T1, the movie changed from “without colors” to “with colors”. Neither girl noticed it.
  • At the moment T2, when there was no apparent change in the movie in relation to colors, the girls noticed that “now, the movie is in color”

Instead of me commenting on this, let me try a little poll:

  1. Did the what-it-is-likeness of the phenomenal experience of the girls change at the moment T1?
  2. Was there a change in the what-it-is-likeness of the phenomenal experience of the girls at the moment T2?

UPDATE:I put my thoughts on those issues in another post.

Little more on Hegel vs. Kant – The Antinomies

I hope I did not bore anyone to death with those posts on German Classical Idealism, and didn’t took primacy as the dullest blog in the world. Anyway, risking to loose my remaining two (or am I too optimistic) readers, here is some more thoughts on the same topic. Please feel free to yell at me in the comments to stop this inexcusable behavior of mine.

In previous posts I compared few things about Kant and Hegel…

1.We can compare Hegel’s hierarchy of categories in Science of Logic to Kant’s pure concepts of understanding (categories) and pure forms of intuition. The similarity between those is that both of them are supposed to be a “diamond-net into which we bring everything in order to make it intelligible”.

2.One difference is that while Hegel’s categories form a hierarchy, with richer categories not being reducible to simpler ones, but yet containing them as moments (e.g. “change” is not reducible to “being” and “not being”, but in a change from X to not X, both being X and not being X are present), Kant’s categories and pure forms of intuition are nonhierarchic, and you get more complex concepts by “putting in those” the content which comes from the senses.

I mentioned one other difference..
While for Kant, categories and forms of intuition are functions of the mind, for Hegel the categories are abstractions from the reality. However in this difference there is again one analogy to point to. Abstraction for Hegel, is something that the mind does,

The thinking activity is Abstraction in so far as intelligence, beginning with concrete intuitions, neglects one of the manifold determinations, selects another, and gives to it the simple form of thought. If I neglect all the determinations of an object, nothing remains. If, on the contrary, I neglect one and select another, the latter is then abstract. – Hegel’s Philosophical Propaedeutics

In both Kant and Hegel, mind will necessarily fall into contradictions when thinking about the reality in terms of those (finite) categories.

In Kant this will be because the categories come from the mind and are hence not applicable to reality (which he goes to show through Antinomies of Pure Reason), and in Hegel because the more abstract categories are abstractions by the mind, and will fail to be applicable to richer categories (the richest of all coinciding with the Reality itself).  So, for example, being X, and not being X, being abstractions from change-from-being-X-to-not-being-X, leave the richer content of the category of change aside, and if we try to understand ‘change’ just in terms of ‘being X’ and ‘not being X’ we will get to contradiction of assigning those both apparently contradictory predicates to change.

In same way, says Hegel, the categories of continuity and discreteness are both abstractions from the category of quantity. And if we want to understand quantity just in terms of being continuous or being discrete, we will similarly end up with applying both apparently contradictory predicates to the quantity. So, the ‘Antinomy of the Indivisibility and the Infinite Divisibility of Time, Space and Matter’, will be simply about the possibility of predicating both more abstract categories (discreteness and continuity) to the richer category – quantity (which per Hegel, is a category under which Time, Space and Matter fall).

The problem that Kant locates then in assigning categories which are functions of mind to problems which go beyond the applicability of those categories, Hegel locates in assigning categories which are abstractions of mind to richer categories which go beyond simple combination of the former – more abstract categories.

However while for Kant this has as a result non-applicability of the categories of understanding outside of the realm of phenomena, for Hegel the source of contradiction is within the reason, which tries to think about a richer category through more abstract ones, and can be solved within the reason by taking the richer category as independent, and more abstract categories as moments of it.

Has Kant performed a Copernician revolution?

Kant, in what may have been little more than a throwaway line, referred to his own critical philosophical method, as achieving a Copernican revolution in philosophy. […] He was alluding to an analogy between the way that the positions of the sun and earth are reversed in the Copernican cosmological transformation and the way that the positions of knowing subject and known object are reversed in his own transcendental idealism. But, as Bertrand Russell complained, surely there seems something inappropriate about this metaphor – Kant should have “spoken of a ‘Ptolemaic counter-revolution’, since he put man back at the center from which Copernicus had dethroned him.” […]Russell’s charge had, in fact been anticipated and responded to by the more sympathetic A.C.Ewing. “Just as Copernicus taught that the movement round the earth which man had ascribed to the sun was only an appearance due to our own movement,” stated Ewing, “so Kant taught that space and time which men had ascribed to reality were only appearances due to ourselves. The parallel is therefor correct.

Hegel’s Hermeneutics, Paul Redding, p.4

I guess as it is an analogy, there is no truth of matter to it. In every case analogy will go just so far. It depends how far we want the analogy to go to call it good analogy. Anyway, I thought it was interesting explanation of the analogy.

No analogy between this picture and the post

The Differences of The Diamond-Net

In the post Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net I drew an analogy between Hegel’s hierarchy of notions and the pure concepts of understanding – the categories of Kant.

It was pointed that in this analogy, because notion like change can’t be reduced to the notions of being and not being (“is X”, and “isn’t X”), we are inclined to add the notion of “change” to our network of pure concepts, beside “being” and “not being”. If we go further with this analogy, Science of Logic, through series of arguments, shows how lot of richer notions can’t be reduced to the simpler ones, and thus will have to be accepted into the hierarchy of “pure notions of understanding”.

However the analogy goes just that far.

1. While categories in Kant form a basic set, in Hegel the notions from Logic form a hierarchy. In it every richer notion while seen as basic and irreducible, is related to the notions lower in the hierarchy. It was pointed how for example “change” would contain “being X” and “not being X” as moments.

2. Categories in Kant are functions of the Mind, which serve to organize the content from the senses. Instead for Hegel, who doesn’t accept Cartesianism, those “pure” notions are abstractions from reality.

black and pink diamond-net synthesis

One further note here should be added. In Science of Logic, Hegel doesn’t want just to point that things like change, can’t be reduced to being and not being; and that change will have to stand on itself as a notion, of which being and not being will be moments. Also, he goes to argue that those poorer, or more abstract notions, like being and not being, can’t be self-subsistent. Not just that the higher notions like change must be taken as irreducible, with being and not-being as moments, but that being and not-being can only appear as moments of those higher notions. Some kind of explanation of this, I gave a year ago, in this post.

This has an interesting consequence. For Kant the categories together with the pure forms of intuitions – space and time, are seen as a requirement for any experience, and everything in our experience will be determined in an absolute way by the a priori laws which are inherent to those categories and pure forms of intuition. On another hand for Hegel, because the notions from the diamond-net are abstraction from reality, they will fail to “capture” everything about it. The only exception is the highest and richest of the notions, which is supposed to coincide with reality. As a consequence of this, Hegel’s notions in which time and space appear merely as abstractions, don’t get into kinds of trouble in which Kantian system falls in relation to Einsteinian relativity. On the contrary.


Philosophy, then, according to Kant, is to abate its claims. It is warned off the premises of everything except immediate existence in space and time. It must give up all attempts to know reality, to penetrate behind appearances. But the effect of this solemn warning upon the philosophic world was truly astonishing. No sooner had Kant thus cried “Halt!” to philosophy than philosophy, forming its adherents into a sort of triumphal procession, proceeding, so to speak, with bands playing and flags waving, marched victoriously onward to the final assault, confident of its power to attain omniscience at a stroke, to occupy the very citadel of reality itself. And, strangest of all, this was to be done with the very weapons which Kant himself had forged. It was under the Kantian banner that philosophy moved forward. It was Kant’s own philosophy, hailed as the greatest discovery of all time, which was to accomplish this final and triumphant victory. Philosophy, instead of being sobered by the warnings of the master, rose at once to an exuberant ferment of enthusiasm. It set no bounds to itself. It was to accomplish the impossible, know the unknowable. Such is the confident enthusiasm of the philosophies of that time.

And one more interesting remark from that book (p.76)…

This idea [that there is an absolute separation between things and thoughts] was originated by Descartes and dominates modern philosophy until it culminates in Kant, whose philosophy is nothing else than the reductio ad absurdum of it.

Here the reductio that Stace has on mind is the notion of thing-in-itself, which on one side is supposed to be something which can’t fall under the categories, but which on other hand is described in the Critique as standing in the relation of cause and effect with the sensuous content which appears in the forms of space and time.

Hegel and Concepts – The Diamond-Net

In a bunch of posts I have wrote and which relate to Hegel, I am trying to explain in a clear way some of the basic ideas, especially the ones that I buy also. So, I’m not doing this because of some historical  relevance of Hegel, or defending Hegel, but mostly because of the ideas themselves.

Hegel is seen as very hard to understand, and for anyone who has read (or tried to read) his books it is hard to deny that it is almost impossible to follow his train of thought (I would add, if you already don’t understand what he is saying). As my friend said the other day “I was reading Hegel for 2 hours and 45 minutes, and afterward I had trouble forming any thought at all.”

Anyway, in order to explain some parts of Hegelian system, it might be good idea to relate it to some other systems. I will try to do something like that in this post.

In the last post, I gave one example of relation of concepts of change and being (‘is X’/predicating X to something). The simple argument goes like this. If we try to specify truths about change (changing from being X to not being X) in terms of being, the most we can do is predicate both being X, and not being X. And we can’t use “at time” to solve this apparent contradiction, because time as a concept is seen as abstraction from the concept of change. From here, we conclude that “change” as a concept can’t be reduced to the concept of “being”.

This conclusion taken by itself, separate from the rest of Hegelian view, can be analyzed in terms of other systems. For example, in terms of Kantian kind of systems where concepts are seen as functions of the mind, which serve to organize the information that come from the senses, this conclusion can be read as saying that concept of “change” should be part of the pure concepts of understanding, because it can’t be reduced to ‘being X’ and ‘not being X’. And maybe, that the schema of the concept of “change”, is such that includes the concepts of “being” and “not being”.

So, Hegelian arguments through Science of Logic, where Hegel goes to show that some richer concept can’t be reduced to poorer ones (or more abstract ones), can be in that sense related to some kind of drawing the map of the concepts of pure understanding. So, instead of a linear group of categories of pure understanding, Hegel’s arguments give us a hierarchy of categories, where each “higher” concept in its schema contains as moments the concepts from the lower/more abstract level. This kind of analogy makes further sense, because as nothing can appear in form of thought for Kant except in terms of those categories, same is true for Hegel – nothing can appear in thought for Hegel, except in a form of one of those categories which form the hierarchy in Science of Logic.

As Hegel says in Philosophy of Nature, Part Two of Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences:

metaphysics is nothing but the range of universal thought-determinations, and is as it were the diamond-net into which we bring everything in order to make it intelligible.

Also, that the notions are to serve such a role can is seen in the next paragraph from Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy:

everyone possesses and uses the wholly abstract category of being. The sun is in the sky; these grapes are ripe, and so on ad infinitum. Or, in a higher sphere of eduction [which is to say, in the sphere of concepts higher in Hegel’s hierarchy], we proceed to the relation of cause and effect, force and its manifestation, etc. All our knowledge and ideas are entwined with metaphysics like this and governed by it; it is the net which holds together all of the concrete material which occupies us in our action and endeavor. But this net and its knots are sunk in our ordinary consciousness beneath numerous layers of stuff. This stuff comprises our known interests and the objects that are before our minds, while the universal threads of the net remain out of sight and are not explicitly made the subject of our reflection.

However the analogy between notions in Hegel, and pure concepts of understanding in Kant goes just that far. In what way Hegelian diamond-net differs from Kant’s pure concepts of understanding will be subject of some future post.

Diamond-net of concepts applied to an arm.
(They have applied those to every part of female body)

Note:Both citations are taken from Robert Stern’s Hegel and the Phenomenology of Spirit.

Hegel and The Law of Noncontradiction

UPDATE: Realized that this is more about the Law of Noncontradiction more than about the Law of the excluded middle, at least the way I discussed it in the post. Maybe I will talk about the relation of Hegel and Law of the Excluded Middle in some other post. One more proof that I should read the posts before committing.

The Law of noncontradiction says that it can’t be both that a proposition is true, and also that its denial to be true.

Did Hegel deny this law? We can say both yes and no.
I guess, it is best to explain this on example.

Take for example the case of being (“is X”), that is – predicating X to something. Now, it is very normal, that either “is X” is true for something, or “is not X”.

And if we stay on the level of being, accepting both “is X”, and “is not X” would be contradiction.

However, think of the case of change. In the case of change, we have a case where both something is X, and is not X.

But, someone would say, that is different because something important is left outside of those propositions. Namely, in case of change, we have “is X at time t1”, and “is not X at time t2”; so those two are not contradiction.

On that we need to point to the notion of time, and where does it come from. For Hegel (and for me), the time is an abstraction from change (and more here, in my comment about SEP article on change). That is, what we have in world are changing things, or changing states of affairs, and ‘time’ is only one way to talk about the relation between two abstract states of the changing states of affairs. that is, we talk for example, which abstract state of affairs came before which other one, or how many times some change taken as a unit repeated while some (measured) change happened.

What Hegel says, then, is this: If you try to describe change through being, the best you can do is say about something that changes that both it “is X”, and that it “isn’t X”. But, this is contradiction, and that doesn’t show that change is impossible, but that simply change can’t be described through being (and non-being). As pointed you can’t use “at time t” to make the distinction between two predicates and avoid the contradiction, because the phenomenon of time is grounded (abstracted from) phenomenon of change.

So, we can point to the how the Law of Noncontradiction isn’t true for Hegel, because when relating richer notion (like that of change), to a poorer one (like that of being), and when thinking on level of the richer one, we can say that both “is X”, and “isn’t X” (or both predicates are contained in change as moments, as Hegel would say).
But also, on the level of the phenomenon of being alone, the Law of Noncontradiction, is seen as valid, and producing contradiction, which points that when thinking of change the notion of being (and non-being) is not enough.

What we can say, I guess, is then that, The Law of Noncontradiction is removed in Hegel’s system as some kind of absolute logical axiom, and is changed with somewhat richer dialectical relations among notions.

True Blue

Tye in his paper The puzzle of true blue presents to us the following puzzle:

Munsell chips of minimally different color are presented to John and Jane in standard conditions of visual observation. Both John and Jane have non-defective color vision, as measured by color tests.

Asked to pick-out a ‘pure-blue chip’, a chip that is blue, and is not tinged with any other color, John picks out Munsell chip 527. Jane, on other hand sees that chip as slightly greenish blue.

We are now presented with the following possibilities about John’s and Jane’s color experiences of the chip:

    (a) The color of the chip is both as it looks to John, and as it looks to Jane.
    (b) The color of the chip is as it looks to John, but not as it looks to Jane. (or other way around)
    (c) The color of the chip is neither as it looks to John, nor as it looks to Jane.

The puzzle is that none of those answers, on the face of it, seems plausible. Answer (a) is problematic, as it would mean that the chip is both true blue and blue tinged with green at same time. Answer (b) is problematic, as it is hard to see what would be the reason (positivist’ or metaphysical) to count John’s perception as “normal”, and not that of Jane. Answer (c) is problematic, as it would seem to require that nothing can be pure blue (or pure red, or pure green).

Attempts for solution of this puzzle range over views that nothing we see is really colored (something like Locke’s primary/secondary properties distinction), that we can in fact make sense of the idea that one of those perceivers is normal one, or view (like Tye’s) that the issue is one of precision. In that answer neither Jane nor John have been “designed” (by evolution) to get the color exactly right, but to pick out colors on course-grained level.


I want here to give an alternative solution to the puzzle, by picking out the choice (a). That is, I think that the color of the chip is (or can be) both as it looks to John, and as it looks to Jane.

First, it should be noted that it is not logically problematic that both A and B can be predicated to something, as long as A and B are not in contradiction. For example, there is nothing problematic in saying that something is both oval and green. So, the problem for the choice (a), is that the predicates ‘pure blue’ and ‘slightly greenish blue’ are apparently contradictory.

The proposal would be that objects have colors, but that we are seeing just an aspect of these colors due to the limits of our perception. John and Jane then when looking at the same color chip, are seeing different aspects of the color.

To make an analogy, it would be similar to a situation where we have a point on a plane, but we are limited to one dimensional projections. Usually such point, will be characterized by its projection on the x axis, in which we say that we get the x coordinate, and its projection on the y axis – y coordinate. But x and y axes are just one possible pair that covers the whole space – we can also imagine coordinate system rotated in the relation to that original one, with x’ and y’ axes. Given that there is nothing about the plane which gives primacy to certain coordinate system, there will be no reason to prefer the first over the second pair of axes.

So, staying with the analogy, we can use the following metaphor: the objects’ colors are two-dimensional (this has nothing to do with a usual categorizing of color along dimensions of hue, saturation and brightness, actually we are talking about hue solely here), but our perceptual systems are picking out just the coordinates in relation to a single axis (which axis would represent the linear space of all hues we can pick out). However relatively to this two-dimensional color space, there are infinity of possible hue axes, and there is no reason to give primacy to one over another. Applied to John’s/Jane’s case, it would look like this:

When John and Jane are looking at the same Munsell 527 chip, they are seeing two different aspects of the chip’s full-color. John is reporting true blue, and Jane is reporting slightly greenish blue. However John has never actually seen that ‘greenish blue’ that Jane sees, nor has Jane seen this ‘true blue’ color that John sees. So, even neither of them has better color sight than the other, the situation is not a contradiction. The property of John’s ‘true blue’ not to be tinged by any other color is a truth about this specific aspect of the color which John is picking out. The property of Jane’s aspect not to be true blue, is also truth about that specific aspect that Jane is picking out with her color vision. In such way, there is nothing problematic in the same Munsell chip being both John’s true blue, and Jane’s slightly greenish blue.

Even those aspects are different, if the hue-axes are not rotated much one to another, they will mostly overlap, and if we ignore those special cases, Jane and John will agree on the colors, especially as concepts like ‘blue’ cover not just a single coordinate, but a range of values.

Note:Of course this is a simplest aspect possible (projection from space to line), but the actual aspects that we pick out might not be so simple. For example we might pick out not one, but three aspects (relating to green, blue and red), which we would be able to relate easily to the known facts about eye, cones/pigments and functioning of opponent neurons. I just wanted to present how if we see the color that we see as an aspect of the richer color, it gives us a general way to solve the ‘true blue’ puzzle, while staying on color-realism side.

UPDATE: I first heard of the issue on Wo’s weblog, where Wo gave similar proposition with the one in this post.