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Philosophy of Mind: Mysteries of Color


By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents the 24-part Great Courses series Philosophy of Mind: Part 20, “Mysteries of Color,” at 5:30pm, Thursday, October 19. In this lecture, data from both psychology and the neurosciences are used to reveal the complexities of color perception, but both lead to a basic philosophical question regarding subjective experience. Do you see the same color I do? How do I know that your subjective experience of red things is the same as mine?

On an objective view, colors are properties of the world. On the subjective view of Galileo, Descartes, and Locke, colors are mind-dependent secondary qualities. On a relational approach, colors exist only in relation to a color perceiver. On a dispositional approach, colors are tendencies to produce subjective experiences in an observer. Everyone agrees that color consciousness and color perception involve both objective features of the world and the experience of observers.

Much of what we know about color vision has come from the interaction of science and technology. James Clerk Maxwell showed that our visual system would need only three types of color receptors to capture the full spectrum of colors we see. There are three types of cones in the retina, each of which uses a different pigment to respond to a different wavelength of light: long, middle, and short.

The basic philosophical problem arises concerning our subjective experience at the end of the process. All of our data on color perception are behavioral. But couldn’t your behavioral response be identical to mine yet our subjective experiences be radically different? John Locke phrases the problem in terms of the inverted spectrum. Might not the spectrum of your color experience be directly inverted from mine? The technical term for subjective qualitative experience is qualia. If qualia exist in this sense, they pose a real problem for both Behaviorism and Functionalism.

Professor Patrick Grim, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 20, “Mysteries of Color”

By Frank Simons

Thu, Oct 19, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejón Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted


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