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

From: Alexanian, Moorad <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Date: Tue Dec 02 2008 - 14:47:55 EST

Someone in another list brought in the notion of "qualia." Here is
something from Wikipedia. I hope it helps. It seems to be an old, though
problem. Moorad

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualia

"There are many definitions of qualia, which have changed over time. One
of the simpler, broader definitions is "The 'what it is like' character
of mental states. The way it feels to have mental states such as pain,
seeing red, smelling a rose, etc.'" [1].

Clarence I. Lewis, in his book [Mind and the World Order] (1929), was
the first to use the term "qualia" in its generally agreed modern sense.

There are recognizable qualitative characters of the given, which may be
repeated in different experiences, and are thus a sort of universals; I
call these "qualia." But although such qualia are universals, in the
sense of being recognized from one to another experience, they must be
distinguished from the properties of objects. Confusion of these two is
characteristic of many historical conceptions, as well as of current
essence-theories. The quale is directly intuited, given, and is not the
subject of any possible error because it is purely subjective."

-----Original Message-----
From: asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu [mailto:asa-owner@lists.calvin.edu] On
Behalf Of Murray Hogg
Sent: Monday, December 01, 2008 1:42 PM
To: ASA
Subject: Re: Polanyi on science (was Re: [asa] C.S. Lewis on ID)

Hi Moorad,

I'm at a loss as to the relevance of your hypothetical alien example.

True, different species might perceive yellow light in ways different
from us - but how does that demonstrate that OUR concept "yellow" is
subjective?

Let me demonstrate why I don't grasp the connection by appeal to the
following hypothetical;

A company designs a PC based spectrometer which uses a color sensor
linked to a digital input card to "see" light and can do so to a
resolution of 10nm. Further, the PC to which it is connected is very
highly advanced such that it appears to us to have the same level of
intelligence as our hypothetical alien.

In turn, say our hypothetical alien has a visual sense so finely tuned
that he does not merely see light in terms of "yellow", "blue", "red"
but in precise frequency values. Let's just say that the alien evolved
in an environment where being able to discriminate between colors was of
major survival benefit, and thus he is able to discern between colors
whose spectral wavelength varies by only 10nm. So he doesn't merely see
"yellow" when confronted with 590nm - he sees yellow of a particular hue
quite distinct from the similar yellows of 580nm or of 600nm.

Now, let's say we take our highly intelligent color sensing computer,
and our alien of highly attuned perceptual ability, place them in
individual sealed rooms after the manner of the famous Chinese room
thought experiment. Furthermore, we place in a third sealed room an
operator with a spectrometer.

Of course, each room has a slot through which we can pass colored cards
and a display on the wall which outputs three figure values. And, of
course, every time we pass a colored card through a slot in the wall,
and obtain a read-out on the wall display, the figures are so close that
there is NO way to distinguish between them.

Three things seem to follow;

1) Just as we have NO way of objectively distinguishing the three types
of responses forthcoming in the above, so we have no way of objectively
assigning the labels "subjective" and "objective" to the three
"measurements" of color appearing on the wall displays of the respective
rooms.

Thus;

2) Even after we learn which room contains the alien, which the PC, and
which the spectrometer, any subsequent ascription to their
"measurements" of the labels "subjective" vs "objective" is purely
arbitrary.

And;

3) As the only difference between the perceptual abilities of our
hypothetical alien and ourselves is a matter of precision of perception,
to ascribe to our perception of color the label "subjective" is likewise
purely arbitrary.

I don't expect, Moorad, that you will be moved by the above as it seems
clear that your claim re human subjectivity vs instrumental objectivity
is, to you, an unimpeachable definition. So I offer it only by way of
clarification as to why I remain unswayed by what is, to me, a quite
superficially reasoned and therefore uncompelling position.

Blessings,
Murray.

Alexanian, Moorad wrote:
> 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.
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
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Received on Tue Dec 2 14:48:27 2008

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