Is the Image of Colour Science Used by Cognitive Scientists and Philosophers Pathological?

Barbara Saunders


The standard account of ‘seeing colour’ concerns a domain of species-specific
information-processing concerning surface reflectancies, metameric lights, and so on
(Byrne and Hilbert 2003; O’Regan and Noë 2001; Koenderinck and van Doorn 2003). This
standard account reinforces the attempt to give a purely physical account of
perception (MacLeod 2003). It then transposes ‘colour’ into the qualitative
dimensions of a conceptual space (Hurvich and Jameson 1955; Hardin 1988; Clark 1993).
On this basis the ‘natural properties’ of hue, saturation and brightness are adduced.
These are claimed to support representations of basic categorisations which maximise
the information per unit of perceptual integration (Fodor 1983, Gardenförs 2000). In
contrast I shall show this to be a ‘floating model’ (Brill 1997; Wyszecki and Stiles
1982) concerning primarily the detection of colour ‘differences’, almost wholly
disconnected from the lifeworld, even though it is claimed by many to be an
explanation of ‘seeing colour’. It runs by downplaying counterevidence, treating
evidence as more favourable than it is, selective focusing/attending, and selective
evidence gathering. It exemplifies a two-level breakdown in critical inquiry: Firstly
its hypotheses are accepted as true without serious attempts to examine them
philosophically; secondly this deficiency is ignored, so that the first breakdown is
not acknowledged. It is this that I refer to as its ‘pathology’, following Mitchell


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; information processing; exaggerated data; disconnection; pathology

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