Perpetual Illusion And Abilities

I keep thinking about the perpetual illusion scenario. That is the scenario where baby’s brain is put into a vat and connected to a sources of random electrical impulses. It so happens that by mere chance, the impulses happen to be such that the baby is under illusion of living normal life within society. So, in few last posts I was defending the possibility that I am such brain, and I also was discussing different issues related to this, like:

  1. How is this possible? I pointed that while the subject doesn’t become aware of anything real while subject of perpetual illusion, she may become aware of different possibilities. For example, she may become of the possibility that there are things, movement, multitude of things, possibility for there to be certain number of things, and so on…
  2. Related to this, I pointed to the principle that if she can think of those things, she can also think a priori about those things. The easiest to point to was the example with the numbers, where proofs of mathematical theorems that she learns (comprehends) while being subject of perpetual illusion, will be the same proofs that we comprehend in real world.

Here, I want to discuss another issue related to the scenario, and that is, if we become aware of those possibilities while not being presented with real instances of those possibilities, does that mean that we have innate ideas of those possibilities (e.g. possibilities of things, motion, numbers, language, colors, and so on)?

It is pretty attractive idea I think. We would say that because in the illusion those notions were not present, it can’t be that those notions came from “outside”. So, those ideas must have been in “our minds” even before we became aware of them. I guess, for the last sentence to make more sense, we would be inclined to say that we remember them, or recognize them. That would take care of the issue of how could they be “in our minds” but we weren’t aware of them.

I don’t buy this story. When I become aware of something new, I don’t remember it. It is a fact that I was never aware of it before. And in the phenomenology, I don’t experience it as something that I recognize, but I’m usually mesmerized – I feel that my awareness of the world is getting bigger – I’m now aware of something that I wasn’t aware of, something which I had no idea of before, something that I wasn’t expecting before also. Take a case of the subject of perpetual illusion for the first time seeing an illusion of red thing. From that experience she becomes aware of the possibility of there being red things (even not seeing a real red thing), but is she really remembering the possibility that there be red things? I think not, I think this new color is that – new color for this subject. It is not something which was there in her mind the whole time, it is something which she became aware of only in virtue of this experience.

So, the phenomenological description doesn’t imply at all that we are remembering or recognizing in some way those notions. We become aware of those in virtue of the experiences. But, we are back to the problem that those notions (or as I said possibilities) are not there in the experience itself.

To me it seems that good way to approach this issue is to relate this to innate abilities. While we might not have those notions in ourselves as such, we might be born with the abilities to become aware of those things (‘be born with’ should be taken in a loose way, as those abilities might be developed also automatically later in life, e.g. in early childhood). It seems that this is pretty common-sense approach. We aren’t aware of things before we are born, but when we are born we can become aware of the things through our perception. It is our perception which is this ability to become aware of things. We also have the abilities to become aware of colors, sounds, movement, multitudes of things, numbers of things, and so on…

This can be related to this different approach to the issue of other minds, that I’m pointing to from time to time. One of the approaches to other minds issues (the issue of how do we know that other people are conscious) is analyzed through the idea of theories which relate the behavior of the people as a thing that we see directly to the “invisible minds” which are behind those actions. But, why not say in this case also that we are born with the ability to see subjects qua subjects. To see them as acting with intentions, to see them as aware of things that we are aware of, and so on (one can point to the researches here which show that we can be very precise in figuring out where the other person is looking at.)…

Anyway, back to the topic. The general idea is then, that our abilities are such that we easily become aware of some things. Be that the objects around us, where they move, what other people look at, what they are doing and so on. Simply said, we are born as beings which can become aware of things. And this our ability is limited, and focused – we become aware of some things more easily than of another things.

But we are not out of the woods yet, as even we allow that we are born with abilities to become aware of those notions, it doesn’t answer the question of how come we become aware of those, when they are not even there (in the case of perpetual illusion)

I will think/write on it in the next post I guess…

Can We See What Will Happen In The Future?

We shouldn’t mix up what is seen with the mechanism of seeing. We shouldn’t mix what is seen with the light waves/photons which are part of this mechanism.

We don’t see light waves/photons.

One possible misconception based on not making this distinction is that because light get focused by our eye lenses and hit our retina, that what we see is light.

This is connected to something else I think. We create a sharp limit between ourselves and the world, on “our body” and “not our body”. And then, we consider the perceptual and other activities as connected merely to something going on in our body. It is “normal” then that seeing then, considered as something which is going on in ourselves, will find it most external point, in the eyes. And we know that in that “perceptual border” what the body get in contact are the light waves. So… if seeing is something that happens in the body, than what is seen will be those light waves.

But when people see a tree, we can’t pretend that the tree isn’t a constituent of “people saw the tree” sentence. The seeing is in the world, and both the tree and the brains of those people are part of that event of seeing a tree.

And when we remove the false idea that what we see are light waves/photons, and see those merely as a part of the mechanism of seeing, we see how it is normal to say that what we see are the objects. Also, the colors of those objects. That just light waves of certain frequency get reflected by certain object, doesn’t mean that it is those lights which are colored. Within the mechanism of seeing, they carry information about the color of the object. We know that even when there is ambient light of some color, e.g. red light, after some time we see blue things as blue, red as red, and yellow as yellow. That even the frequencies of the light waves are predominantly around the frequency that we associate with red. That is because the color opposition mechanism, which is part of the brain, is also part of the seeing. It is not just that event where photons get in contact with the retina.

OK, so we can say this, in the contents of our seeing a tree, we can analyze what goes on in the mechanism of seeing. In that mechanism we find entities which causally connect the thing that is seen to our eyes. We can say that those are the entities that carry some kind of information. Other part of the mechanism of seeing is the extraction of information from this medium in our bodies. (For the record I’m not saying that the seeing IS this extraction of information. Just that this is part of the mechanism of seeing. That is, that we what we find if we analyze the event of us seeing something).

Now, there is different thing we can point to. This extraction of information can be learned or innate. The innate extraction will be related to an innate ability to see certain things. By innate there, I mean both ability that we are born with, but also which develops in early childhood more or less ‘automatically’. There is no reason to put some extra significance on the moment of birth as the last moment for counting something as “innate”. If in the normal development of the person, some ability automatically appears when the person is 40, there is no reason to not count that as innate ability too. (‘Automatic’ would there mean that the causal explanation of appearance of the ability wouldn’t include anything but normal requirements for the development of the person and facts from that person’s body). Anyway, back to the topic…

Now we can ask what are the innate abilities that we have in relation to seeing. Or – what we can see, without having any training? Or differently – when analyzing the working of the brains, what kind of information is automatically extracted there?

I think it is safe to say that we see objects – their three dimensional shape, and their color. That we see their distance from us, and their size.

But also, I think it is safe to say that we see their movement, and as part of it we see where they will go. I don’t think this is problematic. If the brain based on the photons falling on the retina, also extracts information about where the object will go, there is no need to treat the aspect that is related to this information (which is… where the object will go) differently from other aspects as color, size, shape, etc…

What else? Well, in my thinking we probably have abilities to see lot of different things. Like things causally affecting other things, what other people are looking at, and that we can even intentions of other people. I don’t think that those abilities are result of training. I think those are innate, and I would think that good argument could be made for those, based on cog.sci. researches.

Are White Things Red?

I wrote that color is one aspect that we see of the things.
We also know that the color of the objects correlates with the reflectance characteristic of the surface of the objects, and our capacity to see certain colors correlates with the make up of our visual system.
From this correlation we can assume that certain beings are possible which can see just red, and that those beings when see white things will see them as red.
If what we see is an aspect of the thing, that ‘being red’ will be aspect of the white things.
If this is an aspect of the thing, and if we know that we CAN see red, then why don’t we see white things as red?
The explanation would be that our seeing is limited in that way, that in certain cases we can’t see the red aspect of the thing. This is the case when the thing has also the green and blue aspects (which in this case we don’t see also).

An interesting consequence from here would be that beings with less limited perception, will see white things not as colorless as we see them, but will see them as red, green, blue, etc… at same time. (I think it would be similar to how when we see purple things, they are kind of both blue and red).
This would mean that a color which is both red and green is not impossible, and in fact what we see as white is both red and green. It is just that our perception is limited in a way that WE can’t see the color aspect of those things.

I’m not sure about the perceptual systems of other animals, but I guess it would be interesting if there are some animals which doesn’t have this kind of limit.

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.

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.

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.

Scientist Mary and Causal Theories of Reference

I want to draw some connection between the Jackson’s Knowledge Argument and the causal theory of reference. I will probably say lot of problematic things on which people don’t agree, without saying that those things are problematic. That isn’t because I’m sure those things are as I say they are, but just so that side comments don’t obscure the relation I want to draw. So here it goes…

To be red is to appear somehow in specific circumstances. Let’s leave aside what are those specific circumstances. My inclination is to talk about “uncomplicated” circumstances, but maybe it should be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ or ‘optimal’ or something else. People became aware that some things have some specific appearance which they also could remember and recognize, and used ‘red’ to refer to it.

I can’t say that “to be red is to appear red (in specific circumstances)”, because I take it that to say that something appears red (in some situation) is like saying that the thing appears same as red things appear (in specific circumstances). And so that would render “to be red is to appear red” circular.

Scientist Mary knew about red color (e.g. that there is some color which is referred by the word ‘red’), knew how to recognize red things (using technology for example – a red things detector) and so on, but she is not acquainted with red things’ appearance in terms of their color. She might have seen red things, but she never have seen their color (say, red things were presented to her, but because of some operation on her eyes she was temporarily fully color blind). What she learns then when she lives the room is how red things appear (in uncomplicated circumstances). But Mary doesn’t learn just that. Because she knows that red things in uncomplicated circumstances appear same as white things appear when shined by red light, she has also learned how white things appear when shined by red light.

But one can do the things the other way. By presenting Mary with a white ball shined by red light, she can learn what white ball shined by red light looks like. But as she knows that white ball shined by red light appears as a red ball in uncomplicated circumstances appear, she now has learned what red things in uncomplicated circumstances look like.

But if to be a red thing is nothing more than to appear somehow in uncomplicated circumstances, there is nothing more to learn about what ‘red’ refers to than what Mary became aware by seeing a white ball under red light. Or maybe red things don’t enter the story anyway, even red lights. Maybe Mary was presented with a green circle and then was asked to look at a white wall. The wall because of the afterimage illusion will appear same as a wall with a red circle on it. So Mary can become aware of red, being presented with situations in which there are no red things nor red anything.

Let’s change the scenario a little, and say that people were hiding the names of colors from Mary. After seeing the red afterimage, Mary can form idea of things which appear in uncomplicated circumstances as the wall appears with the afterimage effect, name the color of those things ‘red’, and ask ‘are there things with red color?’. So, now Mary has a name for red color (a property that red things have) without ever being acquainted with things with red color (nor anything red). (Of course, she might not call it ‘red’, but the fact is that she has word for red, without ever being causally related with anything red, nor is the meaning of the word borrowed meaning.)

What if she didn’t know about afterimage illusion, so that she wasn’t aware that she is seeing just a wall in “complicated” circumstances. As in the previous case, she is aware of everything that one can be aware of about red, can continue using ‘red’ to refer to red things, and might in fact after some time come to know, that what she saw the first time was not a red thing, even she did the baptizing on base of something that was not red, nor was causally related to anything red. She can say “I thought it was red thing, but it was just an afterimage”.

Is this scenario compatible with causal theories of reference?

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

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.

Green Looks Like Yellow-Under-Blue-Light

Does yellow ball under a blue light look like a green ball under white light? Or is it the case that green ball under white light looks like yellow ball under blue light?
One might be inclined to say that if one sees yellow ball under blue light, he will see the color of the ball “wrongly”, but why assume that the experience of looking at a green ball under white light is somehow right, and the experience of looking at a yellow ball under blue light somehow wrong? There is no reason I can see to give some kind of primacy to the experience of the green ball under white light over the experience of the yellow ball under blue light. We can say that yellow ball under blue light looks like a green ball under white light, but there is nothing wrong to say that in fact it is green ball under white light that looks the same as blue ball under yellow light.

But don’t we learn what “green” means based on our experience of green balls under white light? We probably do, but one can imagine learning what “green” means by ostensive teaching by showing yellow ball under blue light (things can be arranged so that effects of neural adaptation don’t enter the equation). After being taught green in that way, that person can join the linguistic community which has learned “green” based on looking at green things under white light, and there will be no problems. We can imagine even special case in which green color is taught to a student through after-images. And both those “nonstandard” teachings are possible, because learning the word “green” is based on looking somehow of the object; person is not learning word “green” by examining the reflectance properties of the object – and the green ball under white light and yellow ball under blue light look the same.

Saying “yellow ball under blue light” looks the same as “green ball under white light” (and vice versa) we acknowledge an identity. We use “looks the same“, so there is something identical in both situations. Some would say that it is some private mind-thing, i.e. qualia, but we don’t need to imagine existence of such things as qualia. It is the green ball under white light, and the yellow ball under blue light that look the same. So in that simple sentence we see where the identity lies, it is in the looking somehow of the things – Two things can look the same, and there is hardly anything problematic in that.

However some would insist to connect this looking somehow to an objective property, (e.g. reflectance properties of the surface of the objects). But why give primacy to the reflectance characteristics of the green ball over those of the yellow ball, when both, the first under white light, and the second under blue light, look the same? We don’t even need to change the light, we can look at both balls under white light, but take a look at the green ball first, and then look at the yellow ball wearing blue-glass sunglasses. Green ball under white light, and when one doesn’t wear glasses, looks same as yellow ball under white light when one wears blue glasses. And again, there is no reason to put “the way green ball looks under white light if you are not wearing sunglasses” in privileged position to “the way yellow ball looks under white light to one who is wearing blue eyeglasses”.

Thus the first thing that should be acknowledged, in my opinion, in order to clear up this confusion about colors, is that words for colors are based on things looking somehow. As said, nobody gets to analyze reflectance properties of the surface of the objects in order to learn colors. Through ostensive teaching things which look somehow are shown to the learner, and there is nothing but that looking somehow on base of which “the student” learns colors. And because there is nothing else, there isn’t any problem in learning “green” by showing a yellow ball under blue light.

But how are then sentences like “It looks green, but it is really yellow!”, possible?, or which is same – how come we can use colors in sentences like “green ball under white light looks the same as yellow ball under green light”, if the color concepts are learned based on looking somehow of the things ? I will put my thoughts on this issue in some next post…

For now, here is something very rare! A lime looking like a lemon under blue light:

What Is It Like To Be A Human Brain Attached To Bat’s Senses?

If I haven’t seen red, and somebody tells me that there is color I haven’t seen, and that it is called red – I don’t imagine red color as something which is there in me. It is for me empirical matter… to see red is to become aware of something new.  Not merely to become aware of something that already belongs to me. As I can’t know how Bach’ fugues sound like until I have listened to them, and as I can’t know how Monet’s Sunrise looks like until I have seen it, I feel exactly the same way about the color I have never seen.
If I reflect on possibilities to imagine or remember it, I find it a pointless work – What am I trying to imagine, what am I trying to remember? I don’t know!

But why is it the same case with the colors and with those “complicated” things? For sure there is no reason for Bach’s fugues and Monet’s paintings to be there in my awareness until I have seen them – there is infinity of possible paintings and infinity of musical pieces. But if my brain is hardwired to be able to “receive” this specific number of colors, and there is specific experience “connected” to each of those, why do I see them as empirical? How come I am not aware of them and their possibility from the very start?

Can it be that our mind is universal “experience machine”? If we see simple colors and sounds as empirical, maybe it is because they are really not belonging to the limits of our mind? Can it be that the limits of our eyes, ears, skin etc… are not the limits of our phenomenal experiences – can there be other phenomenal experiences open to our mind?

Maybe those mice will tell us.

Modus Purpureus

I’m presented with two colors today, and I learn them.
I can learn them because they are different, but mere difference is not enough to learn those colors, as if the first is different from the second, the second is in the same way different from the first; and one can’t say which is the first and which is the second if that difference was all there was to them.
The colors are not merely different, but they are somehow, and they are different because they are not same somehow. And in their being somehow, they are not merely different from one another, they are also different from other colors, more similar to some and less similar to others, in their being somehow they are also colors in general.

When I’m recognizing colors, it is because this looking somehow is repeated. Without this looking (or being) somehow which I can recognize, there can be no other base for sameness. Separate “cognitive comparing mechanism” done outside of this looking (being) somehow, can’t provide semantics of being same (or being similar, nor being different for that matter), nor account for our direct awareness of something being same. I don’t passively receive this fact that the color I’m looking at is same with the color I have already seen. This looking (being) somehow is not communicable, it can only be shown. It is not describable in terms of numbers, or in other such abstractions. So again, the recognition of colors can’t be done somewhere else, in some “unconscious” otherness , from which I merely passively receive the result of comparing; recognition is done on this level of looking somehow, I’m aware that it is looking same, and judge it to be looking same, as they do look same, in fact it is the same looking somehow. It transcends my multiple encounters with it.

This possibility for recognition, gives possibility for ostensive teaching. One can’t communicate colors to me, I must notice their looking somehow, and through repeated showing, start to recognize them in their reappearance.

Neither does other kind of relation between colors happen on other level then the awareness. I notice that purple is more similar to red then to green. That fact is there available to my awareness, again not as result of some outside comparing, that color (purple) is more similar to that color (red) than to that other color (green).

This intuitive knowledge is direct and clear, and without need of logical or physical reduction as much as modus ponens.

Examples of Neural Adaptation – Visual Illusions

If you look at one of the white X-es in the colored circles (just look at the X, nothing else) on left side for 15-20 seconds, and then look at the X on the right side, you probably will see an afterimage, which will be in what Paul Churchland calls chimerical colors. Those are colors which can not appear to you in the normal looking at the things (for explanation of why afterimages happen, you can check this post at Mixing Memory, or check the page with videos on this blog, for a link to a presentation of Paul Churchland). Anyway the short story is that there is neural adaptation, a process where the neuron after given period of being excited with certain input, will “get tired” and go, all by its own, to its “normal” state. If after that the excitatory input goes away, there will be aftereffect such that the neuron will go to inhibited state, even that there is no input which inhibits it. Or the other way around, if inhibitory input is present for a longer time, and then removed, the neuron will go into excited state even there is no excitatory input.

As explanatory model it explains the afterimages (though of course doesn’t explain the phenomenal “look” of the colors, and taken by itself doesn’t explain some other visual illusions). But what is interesting is that this kind of aftereffects can be seen not just in case of color, but also other “more complicated” features. In the following picture there are faces of prototypical female on left side, prototypical male on the right, and a female/male morph image in the center. Try and concentrate on the left picture first (for e.g. 30 seconds), and then look at the center picture. Does it look as male or female? Then concentrate on the right picture for 30 seconds, and then look at the center picture. How about now?

If all is successful, this should show gender adaptation phenomenon, and if we connect this to the theory about how aftereffects in colors happen, should mean that probably there are also neurons in the brain which are used for recognition of gender. (also check Mixing Memory post for more).

BTW, I took the pictures for the second example from the Beauty Check site. It is about how morphing of multiple faces affects attractiveness of the face. Check it out here.

Qualia and Natural Science

Over at Brain Hammer, Pete Mandik asks the question How do you know that you know what you are talking about when you talk about qualia?

I commented there, but I want here to expand on the connection between natural science and the concept of quale.

I find it hard to think of a qualia as some private things… In most cases I notice things in a publicly accessible space, i.e. in the world.
For example in the case of the neon color illusion presented on Brain Hammer, I’m noticing a translucent cyan-colored forms “floating” over the background containing black circles there (points to the monitor).
If someone asks me “what are you talking about?” in normal circumstances, I would use pointing, but my attention wouldn’t be to something  phenomenologically in me, but something which exists outside of me, and is publicly accessible, hence accessible to other’s attention too. In that act of pointing I would expect that other (having access to the same thing) possibly has same sort of “what that neon color spreading illusion is like” including “what that translucent cyan form is like”, including “what that specific cyan color is like”, etc… Again, because I see the thing in its specific appearance outside in the world.
After all it has to appear somehow, it can’t just appear and not be anyhow.

I guess the issue of qualia necessarily appears, because we use abstract concepts to cover the concrete experience. This being like specific something of the things we see, is necessary for recognizing the things, and building concepts. It is unimaginable how we would have concepts of different colors like red and green, if the colors we cover with concept red didn’t appear differently  then the colors we cover with the concept green. But once  the abstraction is built, and the the phenomenal world is conceptualized, it is easy to forget that concepts are built on the basis of that “appearing like specific something” of the things.
Further through mixing of the subject/predicate relation with that of equality, the problem is made bigger, as these (now abstract, and removed from being) concepts are further theoretically put in the relation of identity (instead of subject/predicate relation) with other concepts.
So, not just that is said that the things are e.g. a configuration of its parts, but that the things are merely a configuration of its parts.
In doing so, the “last pieces” of the starting qualitative appearance of the things in our being-in-the-world (how things appear to us in our lives) are removed. And of course the theory which does such reduction, when it completes the circle and through such theoretical analysis of the nature returns to the issue of perception stumbles with that fact that things are being like something which can’t be described with the theoretical concepts it ended-up in its reductionistic analysis.

Merleau Ponty has put it much more nicely in Phenomenology of Perception (1962):

The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at a precise assessment of its meaning and scope, we must begin by reawakening the basic experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression. – (preface, ix)

And on topic more closer to the issue of qualia in this context:

The traditional notion of sensation was not a concept born of reflection, but a late product of thought directed towards objects, the last element in the representation of the world, the furthest removed from its original source, and therefore the most unclear. Inevitably science, in its general effort towards objectification, evolved a picture of human organism as physical system undergoing stimuli which were themselves identified with their physico-chemical properties, and tried to reconstitute the actual perception on the basis… (p.13)

Note that this doesn’t render natural science “wrong”, just as providing the subject/predicate propositions in which of course subject can be more then what predicate says about it. Though of course the same issue appears even in the conceptualization itself,e.g. where the color’s appearing as specific color is not fully reducible to the fact that it is covered by the abstract concept (e.g. red, green and so on).
To end with yet another quote of Merleau Ponty (which includes little overstretched analogy for my taste, but I take it to be more metaphorical):

To return to the things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the country-side in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a prairie or a river is. (preface, viii)

Two things about colors worth considering (the second thing)

Specific colors transcending time and space

If I see green thing now,and if I see it again later, I can recognize the color as the same. Recognizing as same must come before learning the word for the thing and later recognition of sameness based on abstractions.
Namely, it is true that today I can see a green thing, and remember that it is green, and then tomorrow when I see other green thing, to say “this things is same color as the other thing I saw yesterday”, without even remembering what is the color I saw yesterday. But the learning of words can’t come before recognizing the color I see today as same with the color I saw yesterday. I must become aware of the repeating identity to which the word refer, to become sure that it is the thing to which the words is supposed to refer.
I’m mixing communication and words in the argument here… but the words are not necessary for that. I might have not seen cyan and magenta in my life. And today I might see cyan… there it is – a new color for me, color that I haven’t seen. Tomorrow, I can see cyan again, and recognize it as the same color; not just that it would be abstractly same, but it would hold identity in its givenness  so to say. I might see magenta (other color I haven’t seen), and it will not be same as cyan to me, even abstractly (or based on language), it would be just “not one of the colors I know”.

So, those specific colors (maybe I should put “phenomenal” as distinction, but I would argue saying “colors” is enough) transcend time. Of course the power to recognize different colors is fallible, and person can be trained to recognize bigger or smaller differences. What I want to point to is that without this first kind possibility of identity (or maybe similarity is better word)  there is no way for either abstract account of colors, nor fallibility (what does fallible mean if not failing to do what is seen as  possible?).

It is much more easier to point to the specific colors transcending space. One just need to look at a patch with certain shade of color (without shadow/3d rotation complications), to be confronted with a specific color appearing across the space. In fact there is no reason why it should be one patch, there can be two, three or more patches one beside another, all being in same specific color. And as we see them, the color is the same color all across – it transcends space.

Two things about colors worth considering (the first thing)

The identity of intentional matter can be discussed in different contexts. For example the issue of transcendence of intentional matter might be seen as other way to refer to the identity of intentional matter across different intentional acts (see here for example). Here I will put attention to two intra-subjective cases of transcendence connected to the concept of color.

Concept of color transcending specific colors

We may learn what color is from experience. People point to things and say “This is green color.”, and “This is red color.”. Of course there are lot of things about the things they point to, and on which you might focus. It might be the color, but also it might be the shape, it might be the distance from some other object, it might be the left-right position if both objects are in front of us, and so on. Obviously the part of learning is to find in the experience what the words mean.
If I’m to teach my child, I will talk about most salient features of things, those things, properties that attract the child focus. Of course I can even do it other way, I can check what the child is looking at, and say the word for it.
What seems to make it easy is that what is salient is going top-bottom, from the gestalts to the separate properties and so on. If a rabbit runs in front of us, if the child looks at it, I know its focus is on the rabbit, and not on the color of its fur. So, this makes it easy… I can say “rabbit”, and be pretty sure that from the whole situation the child will notice my saying “rabbit” when I see one.

Now, colors are little more problematic then rabbits, I thought for example that it would be easy to teach my child to colors if I show her shining lights in different colors on the Christmas tree, and tell her the words. But not so… while she was learning names for other things easily, it was not so for those different colors. After some time when she saw a colored thing she would say one of the colors “green”, “blue”, “red”… just random any… Obviously she was noticing that there is something about the colors, but seems she experienced them as colored things, that being colored was the salient feature which they all shared. I think she couldn’t focus on the specificity of the colors, and that’s why those “green”, “blue”, “red”… they were all used for what we would call “color”.

But how can child notice color if not as specific color?

This is not something specific for children though. Imagine that you haven’t seen e.g. cyan color whole your life… And then you see a cyan object… And you say “Wow, strange color, it is like green, but then it is like blue also”. But if you have never seen that color, how do you know it is a color?

So, from those two examples it seems that identity of concept of color doesn’t belong to some kind of set of experienced colors. Even if we learn the use of the word “color” only connected to a specific colors, we still see some new specific color as color. It seems even that we learn that word “color” refers to that salient feature of being in color which we can extract from the gestalt, before even being able to put attention on the specificity of the color.

So there are two (seemingly contradicting) things – the identity of color is not based on specific colors, but it is always some specific color (or several of them) on base of which we can understand the concept of color.