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Do color or sound exist

  1. Sep 18, 2006 #1
    I've read somewhere around here someone saying that the color red is an abstraction and it does not exist on its own, which is to say, there can be a red car, but the red car is not the thing that makes up the color red.

    I went on to think about this, and what is then the color red? First I thought that perhaps it is everything that is red, so in short, red is everything that is red. Then I asked myself, is something that is red, but is outside your field of vision, still red? THere seems to be a great difference between something that you are directly seeing as red, and the redness that associates in your mind with your red car that is outside your field of vision.

    This point can be made a bit more clearer with the C note (any one of them, infact lets suppose there's just 1 C note). What is a C note? Everything that includes the C note? A music composition book that has C notes written on it does not contain The C note, and neither does the CD that contains digital imprints that suggest your cd player to recreate that C note. The Real C note is experiencing (hearing) the C note.

    So the big Red is really an experience that we get from seeing that color that we call red. Red and the C note do not exist on their own, until it is created in the mind, and can only exist in the now.

    now the real question is, what else (or does
    everything) simply exist in the mind
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2006 #2
    Like most discussions on this forum, it all depends on how you define the term.

    If you define red in 1st person perspective (subjective) terms as "the conscious experience that I associate with seeing a particular coloured object" then that "red" exists only in your conscious mind, and does not exist on its own (ie outside of your particular conscious experience).

    But if you define red in 3rd person perspective (scientific) terms as "the neurophysiological response within a conscious agent when the visual receptors of that agent are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength" then that red exists in all conscious minds with visual receptors sensitive to such radiation.

    So how do you define "red"?

    Best Regards
  4. Sep 22, 2006 #3
    I think graffix is getting at the problem of universals as well
    as the problem of qualia.

    And where does that exist?
  5. Sep 22, 2006 #4


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    What do you mean by "exist". Certainly "red" does not exist as a physical object the way a "red car" does- that's obvious- but the concept exists. That's also obvious- we are talking about the concept so the concept exists. I'm not sure what else you could mean by "exist".
  6. Sep 22, 2006 #5


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    And where does the concept exist? In your head or "out there"?
  7. Sep 22, 2006 #6
    if I look at a red object, and I consciously perceive the phenomenon of the colour red as a consequence, where/how does "concept" come into it?

    Best Regards
  8. Sep 22, 2006 #7
    The frequency of light is there. So if you see a red car, it is light of certain frequency. But your brain interprets this frequency as red. A color blind person might pick up the same frequency, but his brain will interpret it as blue or something like that.
  9. Sep 22, 2006 #8
    Yes, this is looking at and explaining the phenomenon from the 3rd person perspective : "the neurophysiological response within a conscious agent when the visual receptors of that agent are stimulated by electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength"

    But this 3rd person explanation does not (cannot) explain the 1st person subjective perception of red as "the conscious experience that I associate with seeing a particular coloured object"

    Most confusion about qualia (and inability of many people to understand qualia for what they really are) is caused by mixing up these 1st person and 3rd person definitions of "red".

    Best Regards
  10. Sep 22, 2006 #9


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    Thoughts exist only in your head, but....
    I think we can be quite a bit more concrete than that: For the purpose of science, "red" can be defined as 620-740nm electromagnetic radiation. So to say "That car is red" means "That car reflects light at frequencies around 620-740nm".

    So for scientific purposes, red most certainly does exist. If the OP is asking about the 'experience' or perception of 'red', well....that's something that can only really exist in your head. You can teach a blind person all about light, but that doesn't mean they can picture a red car in their head.
  11. Sep 22, 2006 #10


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    Isn't that a nice place to exist, then?
  12. Sep 22, 2006 #11
    Hi russ

    Exactly my point. The scientific (3rd person perpsective) definition of red can be specified objectively in terms that we can all understand and validate. But this definition of red tells us absolutely nothing about the 1st person subjective conscious experience or perception of red.

    What people like Chalmers would like (it seems) is to be able to develop a "whole new science" which would enable us to apply 3rd person perspective definitions to the 1st person subjective experience - but this (imho) is an impossible dream - it mixes fundamentally incompatible perspectives.

    Best Regards
  13. Sep 22, 2006 #12
    Yeah but MF, let's take an example..

    I look at a car and I see that it's red, now a bunch of physical events enable me to see this red, but nowhere does my perception of red exist. (Except as an experience in my mind.)

    Now as I understand it(and please do correct me if I am wrong) science is also a perspective, it is not a fully objective concept, because by definition something 100% objective has no viewpoint.

    But this doesn't mean that science and subjective perception is equal in objectivity of course.
    What this means is that the more you understand in a viewpoint, like science, the more objective and accurate it becomes.

    Now on to my main point.
    The problem with the fact that we cannot evaluate or research/predict subjective experience with science, is that by definition, science is a viewpoint that is created to understand all aspects of reality.

    Now, unless we are talking a magical entity, the subjective experience is indeed completely physical in nature, and science is the study of the physical.
    So why then are we unable to study it?

    I simply do not believe that there exists such a thing as "first person", it's simply our lack of knowledge about how things work..

    I'm certain that sometime in the future, when we are able to see things as the emergent patterns they are, that we will indeed be able to read with 100% accuracy, thoughts, emotions and so forth.

    I come to this conclusion because if you look at yourself, or any other human, you see that all that is on the surface are physical things.. A brain, a body, a sensosry system, veins, flesh, and so forth.
    Either consciousness is something magical and not considered physical, or it is everything we are seeing physically.

    Also as a sidenote, what I think Chalmers is trying to get at with the strong emergence thing, isn't that consciousness is outside of the physical realm, but rather that we cannot deduce it to its components.
    Like one of those cubes I can't remember the name of, an optical illusion where if you see it from one side you cannot see the other side, and vice versa.

    Edit: it's called a necker cube.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2006
  14. Sep 23, 2006 #13
    Then it does indeed exist, as an experience in your mind.

    On what basis are you suggesting "nowhere does my perception of red exist"?


    Science by definition views the world through the 3rd person perspective, which precludes any understanding of 1st person perspective phenomena.

    No, it is created to understand reality from a 3rd person perspective.

    Nothing to do with magic. "Physical in nature" is not symonymous with "completely understandable from a 3rd person perspective". The explanation is quite straightforward and simple. Science by definition views the world through the 3rd person perspective, which precludes any understanding of 1st person perspective phenomena.

    You don't? Then your phenomenal experience of the colour red does not exist?
    You will need to define exactly what you mean by knowledge. Knowledge in my book is based on perspective.

    From a 3rd person perspective you can read my thoughts etc yes. But not from the 1st person perspective, by definition.

    No magic involved. It is something we see physically. Indeed you see the colour red physically. But not all physical properties are necessarily accessible from a 3rd person perspective. I cannot see what you see as the colour red, by definition, because I am not you.

    I agree completely. I don't believe consciousness is outside the physical realm and have never claimed that it is. But it does not follow that every physical property is accessible from a 3rd person perspective.

    Best Regards
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2006
  15. Sep 23, 2006 #14
    Hmm, but how can something be physical, yet not accessible from a 3rd person perspective?
    How do you create a logical theory that completely covers this subject?
  16. Sep 23, 2006 #15
    Why not?

    Where is there a law which says everything physical is necessarily accessible from a 3rd person perspective? (this may be an implicit assumption in scientific experimentation - but there is no a priori reason to believe the assumption is always valid)

    I believe my consciously perceived phenomenal states are physical, but nobody else can access the same 1st person perspective properties of these states that I have access to.

    By accepting that not all physical properties are accessible from a 3rd person perspective. The idea may not sit well within the conventional scientific framework, but there is nothing at all illogical about it.

    Best Regards
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2006
  17. Sep 23, 2006 #16
    Ohh I think I see what you are getting at..

    If consciousness is some kind of physical state, then only the state itself can experience that state, right?

    But in theory this should be able to be researched from a 3rd person perspective, although, no other FIRST person observer can directly see those states.

    Or am I wrong?
  18. Sep 23, 2006 #17
    That's right. Conscious perception, by definition, includes the perceiver along with the perceived - they form an indivisible whole - you cannot separate the observer from the observed in conscious perception. Unlike the traditional scientific model where you have an observer which is quite separate from the thing being observed (such that in the scientific model you can approximate and say that the thing being observed exists in its own right, independently of the observer). In conscious perception, this separation is impossible.

    When you say "only the state can experience that state" it's not quite right, because this still implies there is some kind of observer which can separate itself from the conscious state. There isn't. Within consciousness, the observer does not exist as a separate entity "experiencing" conscious awareness, the observer IS the conscioius awareness. Observer and observed are inextricably bound up together.

    Yes it can be researched from the 3rd person perspective, but all you are ever going to "see" from the 3rd person perspective are those properties accessible to the 3rd person perspective, such as the neural corelates of consciousness, and the behaviour and verbal or written reports from the subject. You cannot, from the 3rd person perspective, get inside the conscious subject and experience his consciousness exactly the same way that he is experiencing it, from the inside. Such a thing is impossible in principle.

    Best Regards
  19. Sep 23, 2006 #18
    Yeah but my idea was that if the consciousness is physical in nature, a physical state, then there must be an emergent system that guides how it works.

    While I do understand what you are saying, it's kind of like, we know everything there is to know about a car and its physical state, yet we cannot become that car.
    We can create a car just like it but we'll end up with the exact same result.
    The only way for us to become that car is to have the exact same physical composition, right?

    So then in theory, we have lots of isolated humans with sensory systems, neuralnets/brains and bodies that each form their own isolated consciousness, of which is protected in the sense that to read the persons thoughts we would need to have the exact same physical composition..

    If I am correct so far, I have one more question..

    If we were to simulate planet earth and a human in a computer, would the computer also include conscious experience, thus enabling us to somehow see it as hard data? Assuming this world and the human is an EXACT 1:1 replica of the real world/human.
  20. Sep 23, 2006 #19
    If we want to become exactly that car, yes. Which of course makes the experiment impossible (because the only thing that can exactly be that car is that car).

    Yessssss, but. The "but" is that we would need to have the exact same physical composition in order to have the exact same conscious experience, but we may be able to get close to their conscious experience by simply having a similar composition (indeed this is what we normally assume - we assume other humans have similar conscious experiences to ourselves because they have similar compositions).

    Not necessarily, it depends on the nature of the simulation. A simulation is generally not a carbon copy, it is usually simply a mathematical model which approximates some of the properties of the thing being simulated. A simulation of a hurricane on a computer, for example, would not have the same physical properties as a real (physical) hurricane.

    Even if we could simulate a conscious human on a computer (such that the simulation reports to us that it is indeed experiencing consciousness), we would still be on the outside looking in - we would still be restricted from our 3rd person perspective from actually experiencing that simulated consciousness "from the inside".

    Best Regards
  21. Sep 23, 2006 #20
    Yeah but that's there the problem comes in..

    Computers by definition are closed systems, and any application running on the computer, in this case, must have been hand coded by a programmer.
    This means that unless you create code that transcends the binary file it is run from, the conscious experience will be seen as hard data somewhere in there.

    This is analogous to true objectivity to an object, where we ourselves are on a lower emergent level than our subject.
    We WILL have complete understanding of the subject application inside the computer by default, because no code can be invisible, nor can its output.

    My point here is that this is analogous to somehow getting objective non-perceiver data about something in the universe.
    Say take the monitor you are reading this post on, while we may not be able to exactly explain how it can exist, we can without a doubt explain all the emergent properties that WE created, aka the RGB tubes, the pixels, the screen, the plastic around the screen, and how all the data is ported to pixels on our screen.

    This is an emergent property of the atoms that make up the monitor.

    So my final point is that if we were to run even a remotly close to 1:1 replica of a human and world inside a computer, there would be no way that the conscious experience would not be outputted as pure data in the format we chose.

    Theoretically this means that either 1. We cannot make such a simulation ever, even in theory or 2. We can make such a simulation and if we know enough about the world, we WILL one day receive "qualia data" or subjective data, as it were.
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