We Don't Know if We See the Same Colors

the colours that we finally think we see are labels used for convenience by the brain. I used to be disappointed when I saw 'false colour' images, say, satellite photographs of earth, or computer-constructed images of deep space. The caption tells us that the colours are arbitrary codes, say, for different types of vegetation, in a satellite picture of Africa. I used to think false colour images were a kind of cheat. I wanted to know what the scene 'really' looked like. I now realize that everything I think I see, even the colours of my own garden through the window, are 'false' in the same sense: arbitrary conventions used, in this case by my brain, as convenient labels for wavelengths of light. Chapter 11 argues that all our perceptions are a kind of 'constrained virtual reality' constructed in the brain. (Actually, I am still disappointed by false colour images!)

We can never know whether the subjective sensations that different people associate with particular wavelengths are the same. We can compare opinions about what colours seem to be mixtures of which. Most of us agree to find it plausible that orange is a mixture of red and yellow. Blue-green's status as a mixture is conveyed by the compound word itself, though not by the word turquoise. It is controversial whether different languages agree on how they partition the spectrum. Some linguists aver that the Welsh language does not divide the green and blue region of the spectrum in the same way as English does. Instead, Welsh is said to have a word corresponding to part of green, and another word corresponding to the other part of green plus part of blue. Other linguists and anthropologists say that this is a myth, no more true than the equally seductive allegation that the Inuit ('Eskimos') have 50 different words for snow. These sceptics claim experimental evidence, obtained by presenting a large range of coloured chips to native speakers of many languages, that there are strong universals in the way humans partition the spectrum. Experimental evidence is, indeed, the only way to settle the question. It matters nothing that, at least to this English speaker, the story about the Welsh partitioning of blue and green feels implausible. There is nothing in physics to gainsay it. The facts, whatever they are, are facts of psychology.


Folksonomies: perception color

/business and industrial/chemicals industry/dyes and pigments (0.606024)
/science/physics (0.532148)
/technology and computing/consumer electronics/camera and photo equipment/telescopes (0.444200)

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Africa:Continent (0.707489 (neutral:0.000000)), virtual reality:FieldTerminology (0.700945 (negative:-0.532456)), Inuit:Country (0.666533 (positive:0.484829))

Color (0.943644): dbpedia | freebase
Red (0.655801): dbpedia | freebase
Green (0.608932): dbpedia | freebase
Yellow (0.603361): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Spectrum (0.600625): dbpedia | freebase
Light (0.580987): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Complementary color (0.573349): dbpedia
Psychology (0.572004): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Dawkins, Richard (2000-04-05), Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Mariner Books, Retrieved on 2011-09-21
Folksonomies: evolution science