RE: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

From: Alexanian, Moorad <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Date: Mon Dec 01 2008 - 10:42:28 EST

Murray wrote " But in respects of color I'm sorry to say that our
regular usage of color terms is simply too tightly specified for there
to be much in the way of subjectivity involved. So when a person tries
to tell me that "yellow" is "blue" I don't simply shrug my shoulders and
put it down to subjectivity as I would when they claim a room I perceive
as "hot" is perceived by them to be "cold". Rather I say that they are
in error because we actually have an agreed standard of what constitutes
"yellow" - it may be ambiguous to some degree - but at rock bottom I
will maintain that there is no significant degree of subjectivity
involved in the ascription of color to an object. We simply don't USE
color terms in THAT sort of way."

I raised the issue that some aliens may perceive as "blue" what we
perceive as "yellow." Therefore, the physical description of 590
nanometers can be associated with the color "yellow" by beings that so
"see" it. There are others that do not. In fact, it is quite conceivable
that just as we cannot "see" the infrared, but feel it as heat in our
skin, there are beings that would see that longer wavelength and may
associate a color that is not even in our visible spectrum.

Moorad

-----Original Message-----
From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [mailto:asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On
Behalf Of Murray Hogg
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2008 12:48 AM
To: ASA
Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

Hi Moorad,

> Your statement, "yellow has an electromagnetic wavelength of 590
nanometers", is false. The correct statement is that most humans
perceive the electromagnetic wave of wavelength of 590 nm as a color,
which they call yellow. Notice that according to the Doppler effect,
such waves will appear shifted to the red if the source is moving away
from the observer. Therefore, one has to be rather careful in what one
says.

Correction in linguistic usage noted - apologies for the slip.

On the substantial content of the above, however, I'm not at all sure
why you introduce the Doppler shift into the discussion unless it is to
infer (you don't state it outright) that our description of a light
source as "yellow" is subjective because, under certain conditions
brought on by the Doppler shift, we can refer to the same light source
as "red" or "blue" or some other term. But I'll only say is that I
consider it weakens your case substantially.

Let me explain what I'm thinking;

Lets say I see a yellow light, pull out my specrometer and measure its
wavelength as 590 nm.

I then begin to move toward it at sufficient speed that it now appears
blue. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if at the moment of observing this
"blue" light I pulled out my spectrometer and took a reading of its
wavelength, would I not get a reading of about 450 nm as is appropriate
for "blue" light?

So, sure, the Doppler effect will alter the perceived color of a light
source - but that's because it alters the wavelength relative to the
observer. Such light sources don't just APPEAR shifted, they actually
ARE shifted - relative to the moving observer, anyway.

Thus the implication that human perception is subjective because we
refer to a light source as now "red", now "yellow", now "blue" depending
upon our relative motion in respects of it misses the blatantly obvious
rejoinder: a scientific instrument measuring the same light source
concurrent with our observations will read now "700 nm", now "590 nm",
now "450 nm".

So if we correlate color with EM frequency, it appears that our changing
perceptions accord pretty well with what you're calling objective data.

I'm not sure how this correspondence between a group of mental concepts
and the measured data HELPS maintain the distinction between one as
subjective and the other as objective.

Let me say, at this point, that I don't think you could have picked a
WORSE example upon which to build your case. Rather than arguing that
the concepts "yellow", "blue", "red" are subjective and measurement of
EM frequency using instruments objective, you would have been better
arguing a parallel case for concept pairs such as "hot - cold", "bright
- dark", "loud - quiet". In such instances you would have stood a far
better chance of making your point as people often disagree whether a
room is "hot" or "cold" even if they agree that it is 25 deg.C.

But in respects of color I'm sorry to say that our regular usage of
color terms is simply too tightly specified for there to be much in the
way of subjectivity involved. So when a person tries to tell me that
"yellow" is "blue" I don't simply shrug my shoulders and put it down to
subjectivity as I would when they claim a room I perceive as "hot" is
perceived by them to be "cold". Rather I say that they are in error
because we actually have an agreed standard of what constitutes "yellow"
- it may be ambiguous to some degree - but at rock bottom I will
maintain that there is no significant degree of subjectivity involved in
the ascription of color to an object. We simply don't USE color terms in
THAT sort of way.

Finally, I'd suggest this could even be determined by experiment: this
Christmas, as opportunity arises, we ask people to identify the colors
of a string of Christmas lights. If we get a significant variation in
answer with no consistency in the terms people use to describe the color
of the various lights, then the "color identification is subjective"
thesis wins. If people consistently refer to the light emitting EM
radiation at about 590nm as "yellow", at about 700nm as "red" and so on,
then the "color identification is objective" thesis wins. I know betting
is naughty, and if I do it Santa won't visit, but if I were a betting
man...

Blessings,
Murray.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to majordomo@calvin.edu with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Dec 1 10:42:55 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Dec 01 2008 - 10:42:57 EST