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The Philosophy of Color

For us to think about or talk about color we must reflect on the reality of our unique personal perception of what color is.

Do each of us see or perceive a specific color differently?

The word used to describe this is "qualia" which refers to individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.

Qualia is private. My qualia is a feature of my experience, and you or no one else can ever directly access those perceptions and vice versa.

There are many who argue that qualia is not a valid concept.

"Daniel C. Dennett claims qualia is a faux pas, a logical fallacy, held by the philosophical community, but this is based upon specific sources that remove some "qualities" of qualia. For instance, not all thoughts apply as qualia. If we think of qualia in terms of a computer it seems like qualia is analogous to pointers and data and the representation of that data in a medium that is human understandable (a monitor, for instance, to represent data within a jpg needs translation of a jpg, pointers to a jpg, drivers for the monitor, and the jpg data itself). If we represent qualia as software versus the physical reality would this address Dennett's concerns for the reality of qualia?" from the article: Dennett's claims on Qualia (based upon Sweet Dreams)

Qualia and Raw Feels Chapter 5


"As I sit writing this sentence, I am enjoying a wealth of experiences. In front of me, the sky is full of the pink and blue hues of approaching sunset dashed with white clouds. Tropical birds chitter in high-pitched trills, while a pair of dogs utter guttural barks at each other. My skin alternately prickles with the last lingering heat of the day, interrupted by the pleasant coolness of an evening breeze.

The scene I have just described is full of experiences with distinctive qualities—colours, sounds, and physical sensations. These qualities of experience are known to philosophers of mind as qualia, an oddly obscure term for an aspect of our lives that could scarcely be more familiar to us. Every waking moment of our lives, we are experiencing various qualia associated with sights, sounds, or feelings. Sometimes, we deliberately seek out new qualia, as when we order an unfamiliar dish at a restaurant, eager to learn what it tastes like. On other occasions, we seek urgently to put an end to some quale (the singular of “qualia”) or another; for example, when we take an aspirin to relieve the throbbing sensation of a headache.

Qualia have been the focus of intense interest in philosophy of mind and cognitive science for several decades. They possess several apparent features that make them both fascinating and hard to explain. All of these properties are controversial (see section 4 below), but they certainly seem to capture several of the intuitive features of qualia.

First, qualia seem to be private: my qualia are a feature of my experience alone, and you can never directly access them. You may have wondered in the past whether other people experience colours in just the same way you do, or whether my blue may be your green. These questions arise precisely because of the apparent privacy of qualia. We can never know which qualia other people are experiencing.

Second (and related), qualia are arguably ineffable; that is, they cannot neatly be put into words. Imagine trying to explain to a person who is blind what red looks like, or (a less extreme example) conveying to a lifelong vegetarian what tuna tastes like. While in both cases, we might attempt to use metaphors (“red is like a trumpet”) to convey the character of the experience, our attempts to do so will inevitably fail to do justice to the relevant sensation.

A final alleged property is that qualia are immediately and fully apprehensible to us just by experiencing them. In this respect, they are distinct from the objects of our experience. Imagine that you are lying in bed at night and hear a soft thud. You may well wonder what the noise was: a falling object, a door slamming in the wind, or perhaps your housemate returning home. What you don’t have to speculate about, however, is what the noise sounded like to you. This is something you grasped simply by hearing it. More strongly and more controversially, some philosophers have suggested that we can never make errors of judgment about our qualia. If I say something feels painful to me, for example, then it is nonsensical to suggest I might be in error.

QUALIA AND THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM.." from the article: Qualia and Raw Feels Chapter 5

Video from Duncan Clarke

The Philosophy of Color

Is color real? If so, what is it? Why does this matter? This video explores the ancient debate between Newton and Goethe to answer these questions and shed some light (pun intended) on why we have certain associations with different colours. Sources: Brent Berlin, Paul Kay - Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Kay, Berlin, Maffi, Merrifield, Cook. - The World Color Survey Josef Albers - Interaction of Color Kurt Nassau - The Physics and Chemistry of Color: The 15 Causes of Color Evan Thompson - Colour Vision: A Study in Cognitive Science and Philosophy of Science James J. Gibson - The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception Henrik Moetius, Marie Louise Lauridsen - Light. Darkness And Colours (1998 Documentary about Goethe's colour theory).

Chapters: 0:00 - Intro 2:35 - Color associations 4:06 - Overview of color science 5:24 - Goethe's theory of color 8:43 - Experiments and illusions 11:22 - Color Dispositionalism 12:31 - The Ecological View 16:27 - Non-human animal color perception 17:03 - The argument from perceiver relativity 17:40 - Evolution" from video introduction

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