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Is color an abstraction?

  1. Dec 2, 2008 #1
    I just had a debate with my roommate who wouldn't agree that a color is an abstraction. I tried to explain to her that a property standing by itself is an abstraction, things that possess this property can be concretions. She would say "color is a wavelength" to which I answered wavelengths provide sufficient and necessary conditions as to when we perceive a certain color, but the color red itself, in other words the property "redness", is an abstraction.

    She finally ended up telling me that we have different definitions of abstraction and left at the debate at that. She told me that in my world "everything is an abstraction" which is obviously a gross oversimplification.

    But I did tell her that, for example, what makes a table a table, in other words its defining properties, as seen by themselves, is an abstraction.

    She didn't provide any convincing argument as to why I'm wrong, but if you can, by all means do.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2008 #2
    Comparing wavelength colour to preceived things is somewhat futile because we know perceptions are quite flawed.

    http://www.planetperplex.com/en/item35 [Broken]

    Good ole optical illusions.

    Or go Cheech and Chong and do a load of hallucinogens.

    We know colour can be defined by wavelength and thusly this isnt moving really.

    The virtual world that is created in our heads for each and every one of us is just that... virtual or abstraction. For many people they aren't colour blind; so in a way their abstraction-virtual world is correct.

    I think VS Ramachandran would interest you well.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  4. Dec 2, 2008 #3


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    I agree with you, Werg. We percieve 650 nm EM waves as the color red, but 650 nm EM waves are not the same thing as red light. It's how our brain organizes and stores the information that gives us the sensation "red".

    The same can be said about smells and tones. For instance, a dog stores smells in his brain like we store tones. They sense each aromatic as a separate tone and can tell what "tones" are occurring at the same time (the way a musician could tell the notes in a chord being played).
  5. Dec 2, 2008 #4
    Looking at the "basement" of the universe is quite funny. You get to understand how different the universe actually is compared to our perception of it. This newtonean world of ours is like a hologram arising in a dead world of quantum fields. It's unreal how life and death bring about very high self-orgnisation of charges at the quantum level. It's funny when you know you are dead in the quantum world and alive at the same time in the Newtonean. So yes, everything is an abstraction, that's just how we perceive reality.
  6. Dec 2, 2008 #5


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    Hi Werg,
    You're correct. Those experiences we have (such as the experience of the color red) are generally called "qualia". There is no debate that such things as the 'redness' of blood is not a property of blood, but an experience of it. The only real debate is how such experiences can be created by the brain.
  7. Dec 2, 2008 #6
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  8. Dec 2, 2008 #7


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    Abstraction or not, the "experience" of red can save your life. And that sort of abstraction becomes rather useful in a concrete way. Red stop signs, red stop lights etc.. come in handy. Brake lights help too. All of these traffic tools are actually calibered to accommodate the colour blind among us. There is a specific amount of yellow in the red lights and pigments on the road to get their attention... and there is a specific amount of blue in the green traffic light to keep them in the loop.

    As abstract as colour may seem, it has its practical uses. Similarly, the wave lengths of various coloured light also stimulate plant growth and reproduction. Various wavelengths of light act as stimulants that are specific to anatomical and tissue responses.

    http://www.syntonicphototherapy.com/online/page.cfm?Directory=42&SubPage=43 [Broken]

    When combined with photosenstive chemicals, red light is extremely effective in causing apoptosis (cell death) in targeted tumours.

    http://www.lsoncology.com/litx_therapy [Broken]

    Lastly I'll have to note that we have come to associate colours with certain conditions. If red liquid is spurting from your neck you know you're bleeding. If green liquid is sprouting from your nose, you know you should blow your nose. So, as abstract as you might think "colour" is, it remains a universally accepted measurement of a person's condition as well as having a universally recorded stimulation upon specific tissues, organs and organisms.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Dec 2, 2008 #8
    It's not just the red colour that's an abstraction. All the information in this thread, conveyed by contrasting colours and having implied/perceived meaning, is nothing but an abstraction created/deciphered by the mind.
  10. Dec 2, 2008 #9
    In fact, i'd be hard pressed to think of a single anything that's not an abstraction.
  11. Dec 2, 2008 #10
    I agree.

    To take this one step further though..

    There are many ways that reality could 'spawn' in our consciousness.
    We could for example be living organisms on planet earth who have been given a brain and sensory system that is capable of being (self) aware, and aware of its surroundings, or we could have been given this reality, maybe our consciousness exists elsewhere, and we are projected into the universe so that we create the entire reality.
    It could all be a dream..

    I've pondered over why neuroscientists haven't gotten any closer to actually solving 'the hard problem', nor find out what qualia really means.
    There's been so much discussion about subjective and objective, sensory perception, the brain and metaphysics even, yet nobody has come any closer to understanding how this works.

    But to be honest, I hope we do not figure it out.. If we could one day create consciousness at will, it would imo ruin everything that is beautiful about this place.
    Slightly off topic, but this topic is both mysterious and saddening at the same time.
  12. Dec 2, 2008 #11


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    well, allegedly, there's actually something out there that isn't an abstraction. The abstraction is a result of us sensing that thing (we call it reality, though some may confuse their abstraction of reality with the actual reality).
  13. Dec 2, 2008 #12
    Everything we know is an abstraction, so how can we prove reality is out there?
  14. Dec 2, 2008 #13


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    Oh, I see, this is another... "everything is a holograph" thread.

    Let's put it another way..... an "abstraction" compared to what? If you can call "everything" an abstraction... you must be using a comparable as a contrasting state...

    what is your comparable?
  15. Dec 2, 2008 #14
    Right but that doesn't prove reality is the comparable.. Reality could still be a dreamworld inside our heads, where the contrasting reality is outside of our senses reach.
  16. Dec 2, 2008 #15

    Comparable to all the things that we know through our consciousness from our everyday newtonian world.
  17. Dec 2, 2008 #16


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    While technically, it may be true, it's a useless point of view since nothing can be gained from it.
  18. Dec 2, 2008 #17
    But there needs to be a hiearchy of abstraction. At the very bottom, we would find the abstraction "object", color, shape, distance would be a little higher.

    But this brings an interesting point. Smell for example is a sensory experience. The word in itself, "smell", is an abstraction, maybe the best evidence to that is that we are capable of making smells defining properties of objects (for example, I could say a banana is that which smells thus, and I could identify more than one object fitting the description). Of course, smells are hardly defining properties of objects in an age where we can artificially reproduce them, but you get the point. Now some animals scavenge for food. It's important for these animals to be able to identify their food, and often they do so using their sense of smell. So even at the animal level, we find evidence of abstraction.
  19. Dec 2, 2008 #18


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    This doesn't answer the question I've asked...

    How is it that we can assign a word like "abstract" to colour or any other condition without using a universal comparison that isn't "abstract"?

    We have brains and we base our assumptions on the interpretations our brains make of nature. In fact we assume nature is "nature" based on what we are able to decipher with these brains.

    There is no other way to do otherwise. We build computers to do some interpretation for us but it is inevitably our brains that process that information.

    So, are there some "things" in nature that are more "abstract" than others, thus providing benchmarks for a reality of "less abstract" phenomena...?
  20. Dec 2, 2008 #19


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    Wrong; it is an extraordinarily useful point of view. For example, it serves to soundly refute many naïve philosophical positions.
  21. Dec 2, 2008 #20


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    One more point to consider... the concept of "abstraction" is probably the only real abstraction our brain will be able to identify edit... as an abstraction).
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2008
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