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Dressgate: Is Perception Reality?

Dressgate

Philosophers are a maligned group these days. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, suggested that the paradigmatic philosophical question is not “Why is there something rather than nothing?” but “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” (Cute idea, in other words, but let’s not waste our time.)

So when the internet exploded into a full-blown panic over whether a dress was white and gold or black and blue, I know philosophers everywhere slept well that night. No one knew, because everyone was sure—but evenly split. Raw feels set sons against fathers, wives against husbands. “It’s obviously blue and black,” Taylor Swift tweeted. Another actress declared, “If that's not white and gold, the universe is falling apart.”

Exasperated, people turned to neuroscientists for answers, finding little consolation. “A color only exists in your head,” explained one neuroscientist. “There’s such a thing as light. There’s such a thing as energy. There’s no such thing as color.”

So colors aren’t real qualities of things? But then, how does a secondary quality like color appear to me at all? What does it mean for color to exist in my head? Is it in my brain? Or in my consciousness? Is consciousness real? If not, how do we make sense of the feeling of seeing white and gold? Help us, philosopher man!

John Searle seems to have a point: other subjects make sense “only in relation to their philosophical implications.” In fact, there’s a sense in which philosophy is “the only subject.” Color is one of those unique cases where the inevitability of philosophy becomes apparent very quickly.

Vox.com sympathizes with the materialist position and concludes that, where the “mystery” of color and the brain is concerned, “it’s extremely likely that an explanation will be forthcoming.” Psychedelic futurist Jason Silva agrees that color is “not an objective feature of reality,” but argues that color does exist as part of the Cartesian “theater” of consciousness which “sits in our brain.”

Not unexpectedly, the rival positions of reductive materialism and substance dualism quickly come to the fore. For the former, color is a “trick” of the brain; for the latter, it’s the within the purview of incorporeal mind-stuff. For the former, we land in a strange kind of anti-realism about color; for the latter, color is shoved (with all other qualia) to the mind side of the body-mind divide.

But enough about color. The Independent made the interesting point that the “perception is reality” phenomenon of “Dressgate” is bigger than optics:

"You probably had an argument with a friend, colleague or stranger this morning about what colour the dress was. They said one combination, you said another—and then nothing happened.
 
Because there are some things that will never be objective. And since they’re not in the external world, you can never properly argue about them.
 
This is true, of course, of issues bigger than the dress. God, morality, truth: ultimately you can never convince anyone of anything about them, because your language can’t make reference to things that can’t be seen in the world (or so say some philosophers)."

In other words, the phenomenological quandary of Dressgate is a perfect analogy for a broader cultural situation. On ultimate questions—like Does God exist? How should I live? and What is truth?—we are sharply and intractably divided. We see what we see and can’t imagine how anyone could see it otherwise. We point to our picture of the world: “Look. That’s white. And that’s gold. Are you blind?” Another person points to the same world. “No. That’s blue. And that’s black. What’s wrong with you?” Our experience of the way the world is feels so immediate, so incorrigible, precisely because it’s our own.

From a bird’s eye view this certainly looks like relativism, but in reality, there are very few relativists. The great myth of the age is that we’re all happy to sit back and say: “Well, I guess what’s white and gold for you is black and blue for me, and that’s all there is to it.” We’re clearly not. We can’t do this with a stupid dress, much less God! We’re subjectivists, to be sure, but we believe that our “subjectivity is objective,” to quote Love and Death. We wouldn’t believe what we did if we thought it were just one viable path among many. Even when we’re modest (“well, of course I could be wrong”), ultimately we believe we’re more likely right than not.

So it goes with God, the good life, and truth. “All religions lead to the same God” is a truth claim that overrides all the truth claims of all those religions. Quantum indeterminacy would appear to create an atmosphere congenial to ethical relativism—yet, as CS Lewis pointed out, people are always quarreling and point to an external standard of fairness. “There is no objective truth” is self-refuting, because apparently there’s at least one objective truth. We can’t help but state a fact of the matter. The only apparent alternatives are skepticism (doubt) or agnosticism (ignorance). But the pressure to decide catches up to us eventually. We are already adrift on the sea of life; we need to believe and to know our belief is correct. How many people feverishly took to Google to find out what color the dress really is? Or looked up articles about what color really is, feeling a little freaked out by the whole thing?

Here’s the truth: the dress really is black and blue, even though it looks white and gold to me.

There is a fact of the matter about God and morality too. Like Dressgate, there’s real colors behind the divided perceptions. By the law of non-contradiction, not everyone can be right. Thankfully, where the autonomic processing of rods and cones is beyond our control and leaves little to debate, there are fascinating arguments about God and morality that we can tease out with our minds and respond to with our wills. More importantly, dialogue can change our perspective (if not our mind).

From a certain angle, the dress all of a sudden looked blue and black to me. I could see and appreciate the other side, if only for a second. It’s the same with dialogue. Argumentation is not a mere language game, and listening to other perspectives is not an exercise in futility. On the contrary, it’s one of most enriching activities there is (which might explain why, day in and day out, people who disagree fiercely still hang around Strange Notions).

In the end, though, whenever I get out of bed for the day, dialogue recedes into the background, and I have to make the choice for myself. “The search” in the ethical and religious domain is like a Google search for the color of the dress: I set aside what my lazy inclinations tell me and what others have shared and set out to find out what’s really the case. And while the colors of a dress have no bearing on our lives whatsoever, with this search—where the colors are life’s meaning—a change in perspective can change us forever.
 
 
(Image credit: Huffington Post)

Matthew Becklo

Written by

Matthew Becklo is a husband and father-to-be, amateur philosopher, and cultural commentator at Aleteia and Word on Fire. His writing has been featured in First Things, The Dish, and Real Clear Religion.

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  • William Davis

    Here’s the truth: the dress really is black and blue, even though it looks white and gold to me.

    There is a fact of the matter about God and morality too. Like Dressgate, there’s real colors behind the divided perceptions. By the law of non-contradiction, not everyone can be right. Thankfully, where the autonomic processing of rods and cones is beyond our control and leaves little to debate, there are fascinating arguments about God and morality that we can tease out with our minds and respond to with our wills. More importantly, dialogue can change our perspective (if not our mind).

    First, the statement about black and blue is not correct. In general, there is a certain frequency of light that corresponds to a certain color in MOST people. The frequency of the light is an objective fact, but the color is a product of how our nervous system models that particular frequency. I happen to be one of those individuals who is color deficient, specifically the red/green cones in my eyes are very insensitive compared to a normal person. I can tell the difference between red and green, but I cannot see purple (which is a reddish blue). In my world, purple simply does not exist, and I have been corrected many times when I call purple blue, because purple and blue look exactly the same to me. The difference between me and normal person is NOT philosophical, it is a hardware problem with my body. We know exactly the material where the problem lies. I think it is perfectly fair that "purple" is a subjective experience, and for better or worse, I will NEVER experience purple. To say something is purple is an objective fact is wrong. To say there is a particular frequency of light that USUALLY gets translated into the experience of purple is correct.

    I agree there is a matter of fact about God, but there is not a matter of fact about morality, just read the darn Bible, morality has always been in flux. Morality is like art, it makes no more sense to say there is one perfect morality, than to say there is one perfect all encompassing moral stance. It does make sense to say some art is better the others. One major difference between morality and art, however, is that morality has a strong and extremely important functional component, it the set of rules we devise to have a functioning society. To say one moral system is better than another most consider how well a society that embraces those morals functions. We can also two different moral system that are functionally the same, but different on a number of issues. Comparing the two starts two feel like comparing a wolf to a bear. Both are valid, both work, but both have unique characteristics. There are clearly some moral systems that do not work, and most of these only live in history books, they have been overrun by superior moral systems.
    It is also important to recognize that the human brain is geared toward certain standards of morality. To kill another human is usually wrong, but only if the one killed has not committed a serious crime, and only if the other human is part of the "in" group. One of the great moral advances of Christianity is to consider all humans as children of God, and thus part of the "in" group, I do believe that Christianity is the first to do this other than Buddhism. Buddhism never had the might of the Roman empire behind it, however. I choose to embrace this humanistic view from Christianity and Buddhism, and look at all humans as "me" with variant causation (genes and experience). The only real difference between me and Hitler is that I embrace all humans as part of the same family, and Hitler looked at only Aryans as part of "master race". Within the Aryan race, Hitler enacted a very Christian sense of morality, including making abortion of an Aryan baby a capital crime, something many Christians to this day seem to agree with (think of all the slayings of abortion doctors). The Jews of course, were not only subhuman, but a genetic plague that could ruin the pure Aryan race. If you look at things like Hitler, it makes perfect sense to get rid of a "genetic plague" because of the problems it could cause for the real humans down the road. This is a path would could go down again in the future, because we are actually hardwired to be tribalistic. Christian tribalism that looked at Jews as the "people who killed and rejected Christ" played right into Hitlers hands, though most of these Christians did not know he was actually massacring the Jews.
    I think not both Hell, and Christian exclusivity are remnants of tribalism that is still alive and well inside Christianity, thus Christianity still operates on some flawed morals, not completely consistent with it's own advances. Some Christians are not like this, I'd like to name David Nickol and Johnboy Sylvest as two Christians I greatly respect and who seem to understand the folly of religious dogma. They are evidence that Christianity can change and fix it's internal problem.
    In the end, I declare that I debate on this site for moral reason. I declare that Christian condemnation of non-believers as inferior and deserving of hell to be highly immoral. I am completely convinced that if God exists, he is displeased with Christianity for it's mistakes and obvious tribalism. Let's work together to fix it :)

    • "Morality has always been in flux. Morality is like art, it makes no more sense to say there is one perfect morality, than to say there is one perfect all encompassing moral stance."

      So in your view, would seemingly moral absolutes like, "Murder is wrong" or "People have inherent dignity" be absolute (i.e., objective and unchanging) or are these moral claims actually in flux? Could they change?

      "It does make sense to say some art is better the others."

      But only if you have a "best." The word "better" presupposes a gradation of excellence. You can only be "better" in reference to some single ideal. So what's the ideal of art? What's the ideal of morality?

      "This is not to say there is NOT a fact about God, but it is truly a product of intellectual arrogance to pretend I'M THE ONLY ONE WITH THE TRUTH."

      But this is not what Catholics claim at all. Perhaps you're confusing the Christians on this site with other Christians.

      "I declare that Christian condemnation of non-believers as inferior and deserving of hell to be highly immoral."

      As do Catholics. Again, where are you getting these ideas from? Certainly not from the Catholic Church."

      • David Nickol

        So in your view, would seemingly moral absolutes like, "Murder is wrong" or "People have inherent dignity" be absolute (i.e., objective and unchanging) or are these moral claims actually in flux? Could they change?

        The problem with claiming "murder is wrong" is a moral absolute is that murder is wrong by definition. Murder is wrongful killing, and to say that wrongful killing is always wrong is tautological.

        Going from biblical times to the present, I think there has been a very great change in what is considered wrongful killing. We do not execute witches any more, for example.

        • Damon

          We do not execute witches any more, for example.

          Not the best example. C.S. Lewis would reply that the reason we do not execute witches anymore is not because we believe executing witches is a form of wrongful killing, but because we do not believe witches exist. A better example would be that we do not execute heretics anymore.

          • The Burger King

            A better example would be that we do not execute heretics anymore.

            Much to the chagrin of many people in this group.

          • David Nickol

            but because we do not believe witches exist.

            Many of us may not believe witchcraft "works," in much the same way we don't believe astrology works, but that does not mean there are no witches any more than there are no astrologers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church condemns various occult practices:

            2116 All forms of divination are to
            be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.48 Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last
            analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

            2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.

            In the last few years, Saudi Arabia has executed at least two people for sorcery or witchcraft. As far as I know, these people believed themselves to be practicing sorcery. There are palm readers all over the place in New York city. Whether or not they actually believe they have some kind of psychic powers or they are deliberate frauds, they are still practicing divination.

          • Damon

            If you define a witch as one who attempts to harness magical forces, then of course you will say witches exist regardless of whether you believe magical forces exist.

            Lewis' point still stands though regardless of definitional disputes. The reason England (and the rest of the western world) no longer executes witches is because we no longer believe it possible to harness magical forces, for malevolent purposes or otherwise:

            But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did—if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather—surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did?

            - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

            What I am more interested in is why we do not execute heretics anymore. Surely if we believed there existed individuals who are actively leading others down the path to eternal damnation by convincing them of false beliefs we would want these individuals executed? If I believed that such individuals existed, I know that I would want them executed.

          • Papalinton

            C.S. Lewis would reply that the reason we do not execute witches anymore is not because we believe executing witches is a form of wrongful killing, but because we do not believe witches exist. A better example would be that we do not execute heretics anymore.

            Then perhaps when Catholics stop believing that homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God all unjust discrimination against gays will cease?

          • Damon

            Not if Christians believe homosexuality is objectively immoral, which they do. You'd have better luck convincing them that homosexuals don't exist.

          • Michael Murray
          • Damon

            Touché, the stereotype is unfair. I've retracted the statement.

        • "The problem with claiming "murder is wrong" is a moral absolute is that murder is wrong by definition. Murder is wrongful killing, and to say that wrongful killing is always wrong is tautological."

          Good point, David. I'm not sure I agree that murder is best (or legally) defined as "wrongful killing", but I should have been clearer. For argument's sake, the question could be better posed: "Is the intentional killing of an innocent person absolutely wrong, now and forever, or just temporarily?"

        • William Davis

          That is what I'm getting at. Every generation thinks they have the perfect morality. Even going back 100 years we can see a massive difference, it's just history. I think it is important to struggle toward the best morality as much as possible, but I don't think it is possible to have the "perfect morality" much like it is impossible to have the "perfect island." There is always some way to make it better.

      • William Davis

        So in your view, would seemingly moral absolutes like, "Murder is wrong" or "People have inherent dignity" be absolute (i.e., objective and unchanging) or are these moral claims actually in flux? Could they change?

        In general I'd say murder is wrong, but I can think of some exceptions. Let's say I knew the Timothy McVeigh, and knew what he was planning. I had informed the police, but they thought I was crazy. Let's say I knew for a fact he was going to detonate his bomb the next day, killing thousands. Would it be right to kill him to stop it? Kidnapping him wouldn't work, as you'd eventually have to let him go, and he would turn you into the cops. Then you'd be in jail, and he'd be free to finish his mission. Ethics is full of quandries like this. Is it wrong to kill one to save thousands? Some would say yes, others no, I have no idea what is absolutely right here, but I know what I would do, I would sacrifice one to save thousands. You may not, that is your choice.

        I would like to think the concept "people have inherent dignity" is absolute, but that is a relatively recent concept that Christianity did help bring into reality. I hope it stays forever, but no one can see the future.

        This relates to a complex moral issue that is very much at debate today. Is it "moral" to take from some people to ensure that the poor have a basic sustenance consistent with human dignity. I think that it is, but you cannot deny the Republican point that it is possible to take this too far, and may it far to easy to be "poor" on purpose to avoid working. Unlike what many Republicans believe (not all), I do not think most of the poor are lazy, but work opportunities are far better than handouts. Like many ethical questions at stake today, there must be some balance struck between opposing moral extremes. Morality can become quite complex

        But only if you have a "best." The word "better" presupposes a gradation of excellence. You can only be "better" in reference to some single ideal. So what's the ideal of art? What's the ideal of morality?

        Who is the better composer, Mozart or Beethoven? Both are clearly great, but I like them both, I can't decide which is better. Do you propose a metric to measure which one is better? If not I don't know how we can say which one is "best", it depends on who you ask. I think art contains a subjective component (though the beauty of art may not be completely subjective) that cannot be extracted.

        But this is not what Catholics claim at all. Perhaps you're confusing the Christians on this site with other Christians.

        1037 God predestines no one to go to hell;620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want "any to perish, but all to come to repentance":

        http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a12.htm

        Does simply not believing count as "turning away from God?" I'd suspect most Catholics would say yes. I do not disbelieve out of anger, or desire to sin, I disbelieve because I honestly do not think God exists, or if he does, his motives are so far beyond us that it is impossible to understand them. Also look at this

        http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-hell-there-is

        What am I suppose to think when Catholic sites clearly affirm Hell? If Catholics do not believe any of this, perhaps the internet texts should be updated. Are Catholics free to have a variety of views about hell?

        Good questions, btw :)

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      By your own account, your eyes are deficient. But the deficiencies of an instrument do not affect the reality of the object. You could use a color meter, but if it is not properly calibrated, it won't tell you the right frequencies, either. One would not casually include all meters, calibrated, uncalibrated, damaged, etc. in citing the unreality of light frequencies.

      • William Davis

        I thought I made it clear in my post that light frequencies and color are separate things. The vast majority of light frequencies are invisible, and have no color, but they are still essentially the same as the light frequencies that do have color. What if the majority of people had my red/green cones? Then I would be normal, and those who saw purple would be "defective". There probably would not be a word for purple, and the "defective" people would call purple by some other name. See what I mean? Dogs have no color vision, yet they still see. Dogs eyes aren't defective, they are just different. Dogs "see" with smells, it is their primary sense. We will never know what it is to be a dog, and build an "image" with smells. I've watched my dog do this every time I take him for a walk.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          What if the majority of people had my red/green cones? Then I would be normal, and those who saw purple would be "defective".

          That is mixing the impression of the thing with the thing itself. All sensation is a mixture of the two, including whatever sensations are involved in measuring light frequencies. The Greeks had no word for blue. Does that mean they could not see blue? (They had no word for velocity, either.) Such perceptual lacks may affect our abilities to discuss such things, but they do not affect the things. The apple is red regardless whether you or I or a dog can "see" red. "We see a yellow flower; a bee sees many contrasts in the infrared light."

          We will never know what it is to be a dog

          Or what it is like to be a bat.

          If we argue from the
          fact that certain animals do not have light-sensitive cones in their
          eyes, we can't prove that there are no colors in the world,
          only that certain animals can’t see certain colors. By this argument, the whole world becomes colorless whenever you blink.

          • Damon

            The apple is red regardless whether you or I or a dog can "see" red.

            We can say "the apple is red" because we know that the apple reflects light with a wavelength between 620–750 nm, and that is what we collectively refer to as red light.

            But to say that red as a color exists as an intangible object is simply not a factual statement. Red objects exists, but red itself exists only as a linguistic construct.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But the only reason we know that light with a wavelength between 620–750 nm is red is because we experience "red" first, and then we determine which light frequencies produce that experience.

            Red does not exist as an intangible object. It exists as an accident in (iirc) the category Quality. It is not itself a substance, but must exist in a a substance. If we see a ripe apple rolling across the ground, we do not say, "There goes a red." We say "There goes an apple."

            Red exists as a universal, or ousia deutera (substantia secunda in Latin). It is no more a linguistic construct than "frequency" or "nanometer" -- and no less. The apple really is red, even if some animals or people cannot see it: for example, myself when I close my eyes.

          • Damon

            But the only reason we know that light with a wavelength between 620–750 nm is red is because we experience "red" first, and then we determine which light frequencies produce that experience.

            Right, the definition of red in terms of light wavelengths merely corresponds to our experience of those things, as opposed to actually being those things. 620 - 750 nm is the range of light wavelengths that most people would agree is red (or rojo, rouge, rubrum, rauður, 紅 etc.) But this does not mean that the light itself is red, only that a human brain equipped with human eyes will experience it as red.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But then if our experience of red is somehow unreal, then the "scientific" definition of red, being based on this, is also unreal. (And it is the apple that is red, not the light. The light is red (or "contains red") only in the eminent, not the formal sense.)

          • Damon

            Who said anything about our experience of red being unreal? Our experience of red is subjective, not unreal.

          • William Davis

            The metaphysics of color are quite interesting, and the situation is arguable. My view is held by some intellectual greats, the view that color is not a property of the object, but a property of the perception of the object. The frequency of the light that is emitted by that object is clearly a physical property, but I think color is something else.

            "Sounds, colors, heat and cold, according to modern philosophy are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind. (Hume 1738/1911, Bk III, part I, Sect. 1, p. 177; Bk I, IV, IV, p. 216)

            Physicists who have subscribed to this doctrine include the luminaries: Galileo, Boyle, Descartes, Newton, Young, Maxwell and Helmholtz. Maxwell, for example, wrote:

            "It seems almost a truism to say that color is a sensation; and yet Young, by honestly recognizing this elementary truth, established the first consistent theory of color."

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/color/#Col

            The article is a good read, if you haven't read it before. For the record, I used to think about it just like you, before I read discussions of the philosophy of color (I never knew there was such a thing). I discovered this a couple years ago, it changed my mind.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hume followed Galileo in this. They took the Aristotelian concepts of common and proper sensibles, renamed them as primary and secondary qualities, then as objective and subjective qualities. Their new way of doing science was to subordinate her to the goals of engineering and industry so that wonderful inventions could be made. (E.g., Bacon, The Masculine Birth of Time) Therefore, they restricted their focus to just those aspects of reality that were amenable to measurement and control. Hence, they discarded color, sound, and the rest.

            That is, their statements about color (or whether the proverbial tree falling unobserved made a sound) were not a fact of Nature, but a methodological choice. The "qualia" (as we call then today) were not useful in extending Man's mastery over the universe and so were dropped by the wayside. The problem comes, as Schroedinger noted, when you realize that it extends to unobserved cats as well unobserved trees and that even the objective qualities contain a subjective element.

            I used to think as you do -- that color was entirely in the perception of the subject and not in the perceived object. But taking it further than the Revolutionaries, we now believe that being subjective makes them unreal.

            That's why the Aristotelian approach is more coherent. It includes the Modernist approach but is broader. The red exists in the mind of the observing subject, but there is something real in the observed object to which the mind is responding.

          • William Davis

            That's why the Aristotelian approach is more coherent. It includes the Modernist approach but is broader. The red exists in the mind of the observing subject, but there is something real in the observed object to which the mind is responding.

            My view agrees that there is something real in the observed object, the frequency of the emitted light. What your view fails to take into account is the fact that perception is a construct and subject to errors that can easily cause it to diverge from reality. That is what happened with the dress discussed in the article

            "Usually that system works just fine. This image, though, hits some kind of perceptual boundary. That might be because of how people are wired. Human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color. That chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight. “What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis,” says Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College. “So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.” (Conway sees blue and orange, somehow.)"

            Aristotle did not take perceptual boundaries and other biological components into account. My philosophy does. We have the real thing, the light with a specific thing, and then we have the perception of the thing, the color. The perception is subject to problems that the object is completely oblivious to. We are really working to describe what is happening. Separating the color from the light frequency allows for a much more detailed and accurate account. Aristotle was not "wrong", but his view was overly simplistic in my opinion. I find neurology fascinating.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            What your view fails to take into account is the fact that perception is
            a construct and subject to errors that can easily cause it to diverge
            from reality.

            I don't know why you think that unreliable observers were unknown to the ancients and medievals. In fact, Aristotle took into account the fact that all sensation possessed a subjective element.

            Instruments are also subject to errors, but we don't disregard them. Example: a densitometer used to measure color of a printed sheet of paper will give false readings when used to measure the color of the label on an aluminum can -- for precisely the same reason as the eye is fooled by the dress: substrate and background (or "context") matters.

          • This sounds like the improvements on realism made by Scotus via his formal distinction, which was improved by Peirce's pragmatic semiotic, at least to the extent a mediation is involved in an irreducible triad, of course in a fallibilistic sense.

          • William Davis

            After rereading, I think we are saying the same thing, just struggling over the semantics of how we define "color". We are both visualizing the same process, your definition of color is simply broader, mine is more narrow. When I talk about things scientifically, I greatly prefer mathematical precision over qualitative observations like color. The mathematical precision seems to eliminate the subjectivity. I recall reading that Plato was one of the first feminists because women came to the same answers when doing math that men came to, it would be interesting to see what Aristotle would think now that we can quantitatively measure light.
            Just fyi, I thought this was interesting:

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The Modern Scientific Revolution privileged precisely those aspects of Nature that were metric and controllable, so we are accustomed to regarding the mathematical over the qualitative (except in evolution). That's fine. A great many useful products have been made that way. The error lies, I think in confusing this methodological choice with the whole of Nature. Physics (meaning the science of the physical) cannot be entirely reduced to mathematics, even though mathematics is very useful in approximating the physical.

            It is not a question of abandoning the quantitative approach. It is a question of not abandoning the qualitative approach. A total approach takes both into account.

          • William Davis

            That's reasonable. One last thing with color, there are 3 components involved, the object, the observer, and the light source. We often forget how much the lighting source (assuming the object isn't a light source itself) can affect color. My mom is a camera freak and is always complaining about bad lighting.
            I agree that there are some thing that require qualitative descriptions, math just doesn't cut it. I'm probably biased about color because of my color vision. I always had to use a volt meter to figure out what kind of resistor I had, I could never tell by the little color lines, lol. Someone who can't see color well naturally tends to avoid using colors for information except when required.

  • Damon

    Our minds are not transparent windows into authentic reality; when you look at the picture of the dress, just as with any object, you experience not the dress itself (or even the picture itself) but your mind's representation of the dress picture, reconstructed from photons bouncing off its surface. Color doesn't exist in the territory, it exists on your mind's map of the territory.

    Also, this is a relevant link for the common fallacy at play here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_projection_fallacy

    • Luke Cooper

      I'll add one additional layer of abstraction:

      but your mind's representation of the dress picture reconstructed from photons bouncing off its surface

      ...as projected through one's oftentimes customized digital or analog display.

      • William Davis

        That's a good point. Some monitors do not display color correctly, and that would through the observer off. Measuring the frequency of light is the only way to get it "right".

    • Damon - I think the most salient problem that dogs a representationalist or indirect realist account of perception which would make the mind a little movie theater of the real is that "the real" (or the "thing in itself") then necessarily eludes us. If something as rudimentary as color is a "mirrored" reality, just another picture on the mind's "map" of the territory, what about something less determinate in that map - say, beliefs about the world "out there," starting with the belief that there is an "out there" to begin with? Thoroughgoing empiricism in the vein of Locke - a "veil of ideas" where everything our mind sees and does is a representation - ends in the idealism of Berkeley and the the skepticism of Hume. How can we really know anything about the world itself - or that there even is a world to begin with - if our every experience is swallowed up in the self-contained sphere of mind?

      • Damon

        If something as rudimentary as the color red is a "mirrored" reality,
        just another picture on the mind's "map" of the territory, what about
        something less determinate in that map - say, beliefs about the world
        "out there,"

        Any belief about the world is, necessarily, part of our maps. Beliefs are subjective, they don't exist outside our own minds.

        starting with the belief that there is an "out there" to begin with?...How can we really know anything about the world itself - or that there even is a world to begin with - if our every experience is swallowed up in the self-contained sphere of mind?

        Well we can't be certain, after all "we" are both brains which, as near as we can tell, are housed inside of a skull, in total darkness. So there is a shred of possibility that nothing we experience corresponds with anything real, unless you can definitively prove that at least some of your subjective experiences correspond with something "out there." I'd be interested in an attempt at this.

        Yet when my friend asks me, "how many fingers am I holding up?" my brain will conduct a series of physical processes to generate a "map" that shows my friend holding up a certain number of fingers, let's say five. So then my brain will send signals to my mouth and voice box to produce sounds that convey to my friend that I see five fingers. My brain will then interpret sounds from him in which he confirms, yes, he was holding up five fingers. Other people around us will send out similar sounds that my brain interprets as confirmation that they saw five fingers too. As far as I'm concerned, this is enough evidence to conclude that my friend was, in fact, holding up five fingers. I therefore believe that my "map" of five fingers was an accurate map that corresponded with the territory at that time.

        So I believe that, in general, our brains build useful and accurate (to an extent) maps of the territory. The important thing to remember though, is that even though our maps may be accurate and useful most of the time they are still just maps, not the territory itself.

        As the saying goes, "The map is not the territory, but you can't fold up the territory and put it in your glove compartment."

        EDIT: Also, Becklo, thanks for sticking around in the combox. It makes for a better discussion when the OP responds to comments.

        • Where else can an average guy talk about God and human existence with intelligent and civil people who disagree enormously? Strange Notions is the best. (By the way, I didn't realize I was talking to Matt Damon. How about a celebrity endorsement for the site?)

          • Luke Cooper

            Strange Notions is the best.

            It'd be much better if all of the atheist commenters who were banned en masse and without warning were allowed to return here. Otherwise, I wouldn't have to go to the other Notions site for the entire perspective.

          • I try covering all the bases. I guess there's just no satisfying some folks. ;-)

          • Damon

            By the way, I didn't realize I was talking to Matt Damon.

            Yeah, well, how do you like them apples? ;)

            Actually the new photo is a bit of an inside joke. IRL I go by Damon MacDonald but friends will often call me "Mac Damon" due not only to my name but also my supposed "uncanny resemblance" to the character Will Hunting.

      • We could draw a distinction between what is real and what exists. ;-)

  • Doug Shaver

    Here’s the truth: the dress really is black and blue, even though it looks white and gold to me.

    The truth of the matter is that the dress reflects electromagnetic radiation of certain frequencies, and with appropriate instruments we can identify those wavelengths rather precisely. The truth of the matter also is that your brain interprets those wavelengths as white and gold. The truth of the matter also is that other people's brains perceive those wavelengths as black and blue.

    • Are you getting paid each time you say "the truth of the matter"? If so, the truth of the matter is I want in. ;)

      • Ezra Casa

        Low blow.;-)

      • Michael Murray

        Just put advertising in the column on the right.

  • Arjun Singri

    You mentioned that the dress really is 'black and blue' and provided a link to the video, I saw the video and it talked something about 'color constancy'. It showed a cube which had a color that looked different on two different sides. Then the video removed the context, replaced it with a white context and proved that the two colors are the same. My question is: why should a white context be picked? If the colors look different in two different contexts, how does a white context prove that they are the same color? What is the right context anyway? Is white the color of the context with which we view all objects in this world?

    • Damon

      The point of the cube demonstration is to show how your mind will interpret the same light waves bouncing off the surface of the same object differently depending on how it interprets the light waves bouncing off the surface of the object's surroundings.

      The National Geographic Channel put together a rather illuminating and entertaining show about this and other optical illusions that our brains are especially susceptible to. You can watch it here:

      http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1zww4z_brain-games-watch-this-s01e01_shortfilms

      • Arjun Singri

        My point was that there is no color out there. Its all just interpretation of the reality that shows up as color in our consciousness. So there is no true color for the dress!

        • Damon

          Correct!

  • Doug Shaver

    By the law of non-contradiction, not everyone can be right.

    That depends. If you say, "It looks blue to me" and I say, "It looks gold to me," we can both be right.

    • Justin V

      These two statements are not contradictory since they're are not held by the same speaker, they are simply two beliefs from different speakers. A contradiction (for the purposes of the Law of Non-Contradiction) would more so be if the same person somehow held both these beliefs at the same moment.

      • Damon

        they are simply two beliefs from different speakers

        Not quite, they are two different facts about two different speakers.

        Fact 1: Jack sees the dress as blue
        Fact 2: Jill sees the dress as gold.

        If Jack were to say, "I believe the dress is, in fact, blue" and Jill were to say, "I believe the dress is, in fact, gold" then that would be two contradictory beliefs that cannot both be true. In this scenario, however, both beliefs are incorrect since the perceived colors do not have a real existence outside the speakers' minds.

  • David Nickol

    Are there colors that no human being can see?

    • Luke Cooper

      I see no reason why new "colors" couldn't be associated with the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum. It seems that some animals "see" infrared and ultraviolet frequencies at the least, but what qualia their perceptual and physiological systems "create" is surely an interesting question :)

      Edit: Slight wording change.

      • David Nickol

        I see no reason why new "colors" couldn't be associated with the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum.

        I think you are acknowledging by the use of scare quotes around "colors" that associating a name to, say, the electromagnetic waves in a microwave oven (2,450 MHz) would not really make "microwavish" a color. A color that cannot be seen by a human being is not (in my opinion) a color.

        Also (and I had to do some brushing up on the physics of color vision), it would be very limiting to associate one color with one wavelength or frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum. Human beings do not perceive just the "spectral colors" (basically, the colors in the rainbow). A "non-spectral color" (such as brown) does not correspond to a specific frequency or wavelength of light. It is what is perceived when the human eye sees a combination of wavelengths (red and green, in the case of the color brown).

        It seems to me that even spectral colors do not exist "out there," even though we can objectively measure the wavelength of, say, red, and detect red light without seeing it. But I think the case is even stronger for saying non-spectral colors do not exist "out there," since it seems possible to me for a visual system to exist that did not perceive a mixture of red and green as brown.

        • Luke Cooper

          I think you are acknowledging by the use of scare quotes around "colors" that associating a name to, say, the electromagnetic waves in a microwave oven (2,450 MHz) would not really make "microwavish" a color.

          I used the quotes to acknowledge that I was using color differently than usual. And no, I do think it's possible that if human eyes had photoreceptor cells that responded to microwaves (in addition to our current photoreceptors) and an upgraded visual cortex to handle the additional complexity, that the felt experience of a microwave could be of a "color" that is currently indescribable. Just a possibility, though; I'm not sure. However, I do think it's plausible that, if we had photoreceptors that responded to more electromagnetic radiation, that it might require more "colors" for us to be able to visibly differentiate them.

          A color that cannot be seen by a human being is not (in my opinion) a color.

          Hm. Okay. Then I'd need a new term!

          it would be very limiting to associate one color with one wavelength or frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum.

          I don't understand why, but I'm guessing this comes down to our different ideas of what the word "color" could potentially refer to.

          it seems possible to me for a visual system to exist that did not perceive a mixture of red and green as brown.

          It's possible for me, too.

          As far as any colors existing "out there," I'll defer to this comment by Doug: https://strangenotions.com/dressgate-is-perception-reality/#comment-1901538466 I don't think any color exists independently of lifeforms with the biological hardware and software to transduce it.

    • Damon

      The critical words here are colors and see.

      • David Nickol

        The critical words here are colors and see.

        And human beings.

    • William Davis

      I found this interesting. What does this person call the colors only she can see? I'm color deficient, this person has super color vision

      http://discovermagazine.com/2012/jul-aug/06-humans-with-super-human-vision

  • Ezra Casa

    Reality is, at the human level purely subjective, and our five senses are nortoriously known for deceiving us, and hence true reality itself, for obvious reasons to do with our "sense" interpretation, has to be outside the realm of those five senses. so that reality as such, exists outside of our subjective experiences of our five senses as interpreted by our consciousness. The example of the dress color can only be interpreted within the subjective, and not anything to do with objective reality at all.

    • David Nickol

      Reality is, at the human level purely subjective . . .

      Wouldn't that mean that "reality" is meaningless?

      • Ezra Casa

        No....reality is what it is....I was trying to say that at the human level we experience reality as subjective. True reality is something else. Reality would still exist if you and I ceased to exist. Perhaps reality itself really is meaningless or absurd from the human philosophical perspective.
        I have lived on this planet now for seven decades and am almost done, and I have considered the clouds from both sides now. Perhaps you should consider what Camus has to say on the matter.
        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/camus/

        • Thanks for your comment Ezra. Maybe the most absurd thing of all would be for this absurd life turn out not to be absurd at all, in the end? "I believe it, because it is absurd"... Camus, at least, seemed to step in that direction toward the end: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cosmostheinlost/2013/06/30/the-christianity-of-camus-famous-atheists-who-werent-atheists-2/

          • Ezra Casa

            Maybe the most absurd thing of all would be for this absurd life turn out not to be absurd at all, in the end?

            Well we can always hope that will be the case eh?

            Camus, at least, seemed to step in that direction toward the end.

            He seemed to indicate that when faced with the absurdity of existence it would be best to accept that absurdity instead of denying it, and that we should find ways to live in the face of it.

            I think that some of those ways can include accepting life within the context of certain cultures and or religions.I think that some of those ways can include accepting life within the
            context of certain cultures and or religions and philosophies such as Buddhism etc. I think Camus at the end of his life would have agreed. Most non theists recognize the fact that many people derive a measure of hope and meaning in life from their culture and religion, and are fine with that, as long as these cultures and religions are not trying to impose their beliefs and traditions on others.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            The source for Camus supposed conversion is questionable. A Christian Camus would have very different beliefs than that which is held by the Catholic Church. In general, it is best to stick with what somebody wrote, instead of creating fanciful conversion stories.

    • William Davis

      I would not say it is purely subjective, but there is a large subjective component. What we perceive is a construct based on objective reality, but it is not objective reality itself. Some people on drugs and/or with mental health problem have a perception much further divorced from reality than a normal person. One of the key purposes of mindfulness meditation is to train the mind to perceive reality itself, and not operate on the reality we preconceive.

      • Ezra Casa

        I was not saying that reality itself is purely subjective, but only that what we perceive of as reality is such, as per each individual. Reality itself does not depend upon our individual experience of it. Reality still exists even after you and I cease to exist. I don't think you quite understood what I was getting at.

        • William Davis

          Subjective:based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

          purely:entirely; exclusively

          To say it our experience is "purely subjective" is to say it has absolutely no basis in reality. That is my point, purely subjective is not accurate for conscious experience. It would be accurate for a dream. I'm just suggesting a more careful wording :)

          • Ezra Casa

            To clarify :
            I was saying that our perception of reality is purely(completely) subjective and is only an interpretation of reality that we perceive through our senses, and said interpretation is not actually objective reality. This is essentially the gist of what I think I said in the first place. Hope this makes what I said more comprehensible:-) I will try to be more clear and precise in future.

            subjective: relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind

            objective : existing outside of the mind : existing in the real world.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    Of course, the problem of the proper sensibles was known to Aristotle, so this is no new thing. As Chastek observed several years ago:

    Some things can be sensed by only one sense (proper sensibles), others
    by more than one (common sensibles). Examples of the first are color,
    sound, smell and taste, examples of the second are shape, number,
    motion, etc. The benefit of the second kind is that they can be
    confirmed by more than one sense, and each of them can, more
    importantly, be confirmed by touch. This naturally leads to the idea
    that these sorts of sensibles are more reliable and more certain, even
    though, oddly enough, they are not the first things we know we sense.
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2006/03/15/the-givenness-of-the-proper-sensibles/

    The problem is that once we have denied the reality of the proper sensibles, the reality of the common sensibles falls as well, since the common sensibles are in fact based on the proper ones. To determine that such and such a wavelength of light is red, one must first have an experience of "red." But more fundamentally, one must rely on sight, period. Reading an instrument is not especially different in principle from seeing a color. And think how much chemistry is based specifically on perceiving colors as when doing a litmus test or burning a substance in a flame.

    The Modern agenda as preached by Bacon, Descartes, Hume, and the rest is to extend Man's dominion over Nature though new inventions. This requires a focus on exactly those aspects of Nature that are metric and controllable, and consequently to Descartes' program of mathematizing physics. Ultimately, Nature was defined as only that part that was metric and controllable. So color became the reflection of photons, sound became compression waves, and so on, because particles in motion could be handled by Cartesian mathematical methods. Everything else was swept into the closet of the mind.

    But sensation is always a compound of what is external to the observer with the observer himself. Not just in Quantum World, but in normal experience.

    Further comments here:
    "Note on sensation"
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/note-on-sensation/
    "The Cartesian/Modern problem of objectivity in Aristotelian terms"
    https://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/07/20/the-cartesian-modern-problem-of-objectivity-in-aristotelian-terms/

  • Particularly interesting for me. I’m a development manager for a large imaging company. We’re all about color. Any color can be quantified under standard lighting, so there is no debate between us and a client if a color is “right” or “wrong”. There are things called contract proofs that negate the perception of color and use only the reality of color. Whether colors or morals, our concepts of right vs. wrong are tied up in something that ought to be, or ought not to be. For that concept to make any sense, you actually need an “ought” (some outside system to refer to).

    A marketing director once told me, “You just get me the facts, and I’ll come up
    with the lies”. The same person says, “Perception is reality.” My response always
    is, “Perception is not reality; perception informs your response to reality.”

    • William Davis

      I agree with you here. I'm color deficient, and never could identify the darn resistors in electrical engineering school without a meter. The numbers on the meter were may saving grace.

  • William Davis

    I found this and thought I should post, as this conversation seems to be focusing much more on the metaphysics of color than anything else, I'll quote a short but relevant section:

    "Usually that system works just fine. This image, though, hits some kind of perceptual boundary. That might be because of how people are wired. Human beings evolved to see in daylight, but daylight changes color. That chromatic axis varies from the pinkish red of dawn, up through the blue-white of noontime, and then back down to reddish twilight. “What’s happening here is your visual system is looking at this thing, and you’re trying to discount the chromatic bias of the daylight axis,” says Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies color and vision at Wellesley College. “So people either discount the blue side, in which case they end up seeing white and gold, or discount the gold side, in which case they end up with blue and black.” (Conway sees blue and orange, somehow.)"

    http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress/

    We must include the science of neurology in our discussion of color at this point.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    Perception of color is simply an evolutionary advantage.

    http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/27/health/science-of-gold-blue-dress/

    Color is not a universal, but rather emergent from our evolutionary path.

    Exasperated, people turned to neuroscientists for answers, finding little consolation. “A color only exists in your head,” explained one neuroscientist. “There’s such a thing as light. There’s such a thing as energy. There’s no such thing as color.”

    Or in other words: Color is not some kind of Platonic Universal. The neuroscientist is correct.

    • The evolutionary advantage of perceiving color doesn't offer much of an explanation about what color is, except as a kind of brute fact. We're faced with a similar problem with regard to consciousness itself. How can the evolutionary advantage of something decide one way or another whether that something is in the mind or in the world, or real or unreal?

      • Ignatius Reilly

        The evolutionary advantage of perceiving color doesn't offer much of an explanation about what color is, except as a kind of brute fact.

        Color is how we perceive light waves and their combination in a certain frequency band.

        How can the evolutionary advantage of something decide one way or another whether that something is in the mind or in the world, or real or unreal?

        The dress example only tells us that our senses can be unreliable. A straight object (say straw) in water is an old example of the unreliability of our senses. Color is a property of the world, because animals have evolved eyes capable of perceiving color.

        • Luke Cooper

          The dress example only tells us that our senses can be unreliable.

          And that if agreeing on the colors of this dress were a survival issue for our ancestors, we might not be here today!

          • William Davis

            I'd be screwed, with my "defective instrumentation" eyes (as Ye Olde Statitician says).

        • William Davis

          I think he is looking for a why answer instead of how. I think why questions are meaningful, but they have little relevance to objective reality. The core problem with Christianity (in my opinion) is that it presents its answers to why questions as objectively real. This is a misrepresentation that creates all kinds of problems. It's a great thing to give meaning to life beyond what we can know through science, we just need to realize that we are creating this ourselves. Since God didn't actually give us a story, we should make our own story, just realize that is what we are doing. I never thought the why answers from traditional Christianity were any good. This is what I was taught:
          Why did God make man? So we could sing to him and praise him for eternity for making us.
          My translation: We exist because God is a narcissist...Yeah

          I realize there are better modern Christian answers, but only so much better. I've never seen any good answer to why we exist, and it's ok. I'm content to be.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think it is a why answer. Why do colors exist?

            Answer: Because it was beneficial to our evolution. Demanding anything more than that is philosophical question begging.

          • William Davis

            In the beginning, Man was colorblind, but the gods could see in color. Problems ensued as the gods could identify the good gods (they were blue) and the bad gods (red) but human could not. The red gods would continually deceive the humans and convince them they were good, then talk them into doing evil things. Eventually, the blue gods came together and gave the gift of color vision to man. Since then, man has not been deceived by the red gods.

            Don't know why we can't have our cake (study of objective reality) and eat it too (live in a partially imaginative world). Not everyone is interested in the imaginative side, but I've always been into stories. I just think it is important not to confuse the two :) Philosophy can probably do a better job, but not everyone is into philosophy.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            That adds narrative, but only pushes the question one farther. Why did the gods see in color?
            I know this isn't the point of the narrative, but the gods gifting us color does contradict the evolutionary account. Color perception slowly evolved over the course of millions of years through a variety of species.

          • William Davis

            At some point we always have to come to a brute fact. You and I are comfortable with the universe being a brute fact. Some people really seem to need a narrative. I think scientific training has something to do with the difference, but there may be a fundamental difference in the hardware (brain) of some people. What is satisfying to me is not satisfying to others and vice versa. My interest is in how to make the narrative harmless for those who need a narrative. I think many of the brighter Christians share this interest.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I think the universe still has a narrative - it just isn't a divine one. Religions do capture something about the essence of humanity, and their texts are at times works of art. The problem is that people take it as the word of God instead of man.

          • Ignatius Reilly

            I would also say that sometime the why question is not necessarily coherent. I do not ask what is the volume of triangles?

            Edit: Sometimes supposing that the question has an answer is philosophical question begging.

      • William Davis

        I agree that there are many important questions that methodological naturalism can never answer by the very nature of the philosophy and its approach to reality. The advantage of naturalism is that we can be very confident of it's truth with respect to objective reality because it's findings are testable. When we use philosophy to answer important questions outside of naturalism, we can enjoy the answers, but I don't see how we can be confident about how much these answers correspond to objective reality. This isn't to say that we shouldn't ask and think about these questions, but I do say dogma about these answers is very misguided (not that I think you are dogmatic, I liked your article). The Bible does tend to be quite dogmatic in its claims, causing the majority of Christians to be dogmatic in their stance. I wonder if it will be possible to extract the dogma from the "Jesus fan club" to allow for more reasonable and important conversations in a secular society. I respect Christian philosophy, but only when it is presented as philosophy, not as objective fact. There is an objective fact about God, but if he does exist, I think we are like bacteria trying to contemplate a human. Perhaps that is why so many Christian doctrines seem incoherent to me (i'm not trying to be offensive, it is genuinely the truth).

      • Marc Riehm

        Light of different frequencies exists. Our eyes and brain have evolved to differentiate between light of different frequencies, because that capability bestows evolutionary advantage to the creatures that possess it.

        But the system is not perfect. The dress illustrates that. So do the RGB screens that all of us here on SN sit in front of. But it works well enough for the vast majority of situations.

        What is "colour"? Nothing but the label that we attach to our sensory perceptions of light of different frequencies. There is no mystery here. Really.

  • >>> Pragmatism is a way of establishing meanings, not a theory of metaphysics or a set of truths - Charles Sanders Peirce <<<

    Peirce's "pragmatic semiotic realism" --- not like the vulgar pragmatism of Rorty --- approaches reality as a vague phenomenology, ontologically, as an axiological venture, epistemologically. In other words, it involves epistemic risk amplifications ordered toward value-realization augmentations. More simply, it involves what Viktor Frankl called "wo/man's search for meaning."

    It intuits essentialism's aspiration for conceptual correspondence with reality as a meaningful theory of truth and social constructionism's (and nominalism's) aspiration for conceptual coherence as a meaningful theory of knowledge, transcending the pseuodo-problems that pit empiricists and rationalist, realists and idealists, Aristotelians (empirical realists) and Humeans (empirical idealists) probing our conceptual distinctions for the differences they make (or not) in our human value-realizations like beauty, goodness, freedom and love. When these other value-realizations are augmented, our epistemic risk ventures, in a weak truth-indicative way, have a higher chance of being truthful. (This is quite different from saying that what is useful is what is true.)

    The dress was, among other things, beautiful.

    Matthew's article was meaningful.

    Our Great Traditions are polydoxic.

    Often, I try to write in E-Prime, which eschews all verb forms of the infinitive "to be" and especially "is." It helps us cut to the metaphysical chase.

  • JohnnyVoxx

    Good post. I had the same thought. The dress meme does illustrate the idea that perception is not reality. It is possible to perceive something as though it were absolute truth and be wrong. The dress is black and blue whether some perceive it to be white and gold (in spite of what some posters here are saying about the subjectivity of color).