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An argument for a new definition of color (nautil.us)
13 points by dnetesn 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 7 comments



Everything we interact with has an effect on us. We name the causal origin of these effects, we do not name the effect.

When I say "the flag is white", I mean that it is causing a white-effect. Whiteness is the property which causes the white-effect (ie., a perception of white).

By communicating to you that it is so-causal, I am saying that it will cause you to experience the same thing. "White" isnt just any part of the process we want to choose it's the feature of the object which does the work. Communication is incohrent and impossible if "white" is naming something radically subjective like my state which is private.

There is then the open question about whether what causes my white-perception now is the same as what caused it earlier, and whether the defintion of the kind "white" can therefore be performed by a physicist alone.

Probably, it cannot. Our sensation of colour is provoked by different stimuli.

That doesnt make colour relational, or physiological, or necessarily anything of that kind. It simply makes it plural. There are several ways to be blue, though we detect them all as-if they were the same.


>By communicating to you that it is so-causal, I am saying that it will cause you to experience the same thing.

It'll cause me to experience what I normally think of as white. Which isn't to say that our experiences will match exactly because they include subtle associations. Some we will have in common, say a blank sheet of paper. But if I live near the equator then snow may be one of many associations we do not share.


I meant something narrower by "experience". Not that you will be in the same mental state in every respect, but of the state you are in, it will have the feature of "seeming-to-see-a-white-thing" which I also share.

Causes carve experience into pieces which we communicate.


Sorry if I paraphrase or if I sound confused. But... I would rather take it the other way for the discussion. :)

I would rather say that we name the effect it has on us (this looks "white" to me / I like this food), that we associate by simplification with the causal origin (it _is_ white / it is good).

So when I say "the flag is white", I mean what I see, and communicate it in a way that invites someone's perception language to adjust to mine "yes, it is white". That is, two people adjust their own perception of the same causal property by the mean of their common language: we call white what we see as white.

Although that could sound obvious, it introduces the possibility that the causal origin may behave, or be perceived, actually differently by two persons. And in this case, we face a potential misunderstanding between these two.

Or am I mistaken?

(edited for clarification/readability)


> we call white what we see as white.

Yes, but we're not naming our private sensation.

We arent saying "the flag is me feeling a particular way". We're saying "the flag has the relevant feature of making me feel a particular way".

The word "white" refers to a feature of the object. If I say, "is that paper white?" I am not asking if it is a feeling. I'm asking if it will cause one.


This is very reminiscent of another article on the philosophy of color, from last month: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15910332

In both cases, the most interesting thing about the article is the artwork used to illustrate it!


"My response is to say that colors are not properties of objects (like the U.N. flag) or atmospheres (like the sky) but of perceptual processes—interactions which involve psychological subjects and physical objects."

I don't see a nod to Robert Pirsig in the article, but it reads like a textbook example of Dynamic Quality.

"I don't know how much thought passed before he arrived at this, but eventually he saw that Quality couldn't be independently related with either the subject or the object but could be found only in the relationship of the two with each other. It is the point at which subject and object meet."

Of course, he goes a little bit further after that. :)




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