Words for colors--Can Russians see the color blue?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Magical Realist, Nov 24, 2012.

  1. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    I am very skeptical about this.

    How do people propose to know what goes on inside an animal's head? By taking a very specific set of human standards, testing animals by those standards, and then extrapolating the findings?

    And how does Grandin, as an autist, propose to know what non-autist thought is like?

    What she says there is just a particular neuro-linguistic theory speaking.

    Then there is the question of what psychological ego defense mechanisms does a famous (fame-seeking?) autist have and how do they manifest? It's not like autists would automatically be beyond ego defense mechanisms.

    What if all human thought is principally the same, and the differences are only in how people explain and justify their thinking, esp. in social situations where they try to maintain a particular self-image and evoke a particular image of themselves in others?

    To me, Grandin's self-descriptions spell "I'm really cool, you know" between the lines.

    Or, calling upon a different neuro-linguistic theory, we can conceive of the whole matter differently.

    I remember reading in an old Hindu text about pigeons, and how a pigeon thinks about how to mate, raise their young, how to feed etc. And it seems evident that the text is clearly referring to pigeons, the birds, that it's not a metaphor, not a fable, and it ascribes animals the ability to think, feel and will, just as humans think, feel and will.

    In the West, it has been Christianity that popularized the divide between animals and humans - the famous "animals have no souls." In some other cultures, all living beings are considered essentially the same, they just happen to be outwardly in different bodies - some as birds, some as plants, some as humans, etc..

    Imagine how different our approach to neurolinguistics would be, if we had started out with ontological positions like the Hindus.
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  3. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Of course, how else?
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  5. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    I've yet to come across a fully clear or satisfying account of how an aphasic person "thinks", despite both such "patients" (via their trained mediators) and their doctors routinely trumpeting that they do so. Which doesn't mean that the world is bereft of such illuminating research in that area, but for just once I'd like to stumble over it. And I don't for an instant believe that Temple Grandin is thinking totally with "photo-realistic pictures" as she seems to claim, since she communicates linguistically with people.
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  7. leopold Valued Senior Member

    it doesn't.
    tell me how language changes the definition of the meter?
    this is essentially must be done if you change what color you see.
    a wavelength X will be a certain color whether perceived by you, me, the russians, or a dog, unless you are colorblind.
    a colorblind person does not change the wavelength of the color, nor does language.
    it doesn't matter what i define as real.
    colors are defined by a wavelength.
    when you "see" that wavelength you will experience that color unless you are colorblind.
    if you actually see green when you look at blue then your eyes or brain is screwed up.
  8. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Interesting. Ofcourse we must always be wary of anthropmorphizing animals too much. Much of what looks like thought-out behavior is actually just learned or even instinctive ritualized activity. A spider builds its web. A bird builds its nest. A beaver builds its dam. A human performing any of these tasks would definitely be exercising some high level cognitive skills. An animal? Not so much...
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

  10. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    To first clarify that I'm also indulging in reference to color as an experience, not "color" used as label for a narrow range of EM frequencies or reference to abstract science description in that area....

    There's a clinical condition where the "patient" has colors appearing that do not stem from the perceived outer object, but are added by the brain: Ideasthesia holds that color events of certain types of synesthesia are actually corresponding to the meaning of a symbol rather than the symbol itself. Which seems at least tentatively to reinforce an argued relation between concept and quality descended from the Wilfrid Sellars' tradition, which some eliminativists of psychological folk-theory bandy about.

    "Evidence for grapheme-color ideasthesia comes also from the finding that colors can be flexibly associated to graphemes, as new meanings become assigned to those graphemes. In one study synesthetes were presented with Glagolitic letters that they have never seen before, and the meaning was acquired through a short writing exercise. The Glagolitic graphemes inherited the colors of the corresponding Latin graphemes as soon as the Glagolitic graphemes acquired the new meaning." Link
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2012
  11. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Who's to say that animals are not using some "high level cognitive skills"? Human pride?

    When humans do something, we, as humans, tend to project onto them that it must be that they are doing it using some "high level cognitive skills".
    With animals, we don't tend to project like that, so they appear to us "merely instinct-driven" and such.

    On the other hand, assume that an animal is rational, and one can get along with them quite fine.
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    It is typical for the Western approach to be extroverted - ie. attempting to explain only as external observers what is by its nature a private, personal experience.

    And since many people seem to internalize this externally provided self-image and consider it their sense of self, it's no wonder that when their brain is damaged in a way that impairs the functioning of this external self-image, they are as if left in a void, disabled and miserable.
  13. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    So then, how come you disagreed with what I said earlier: "What they make of it in their head is actually not relevant"?
    Obviously, you do agree.
  14. leopold Valued Senior Member

    the connection is what we say is the color.
    if we say wavelength X is equal to the color blue then whenever we see that wavelength we see blue.
    if however we say the same wavelength is aquamarine then whenever we see that wave length we say aquamarine.
    when you see the wavelength corresponding to green then it's green.
    the primary colors have all been defined as a particular wavelength, i would guess that the entire color spectrum is well defined.
    if you see colors other than the standard set then you need to see an optometrist or psychiatrist.
  15. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I have only read a few recent posts and made basically the following comments some where before (hope not this thread).

    Humans have three different retinal cell types (unless "color blind" and then only two usually) Each responds best (least light energy to excite the cell) at a particular wave length. In English called red, green & blue, or RGB cells. Interestingly there are two types of humans with slightly different G cell chemistry.

    Most if not all perceived colors do not need any of the wave length associated with the perceived color to be present for its perception as all three cell type respond at least slightly to every visible wave length. Thus strong "yellow wave lengths" (about 590 nm) can excite the G cells (green light being about 510nm) more than weak green light does (or R cells more than weak red light (range of longer wave lengths about 650 to 700 nm) does. Note all numerical values given are from my memory for illustration only. Point I am trying to make is that what color you perceive is computed from the relative strength of the neural activity in ALL THE THREE CELL TYPES. If you get these ratios right you will seen that color whether or not the wavelength associated with it when only it is present is present or not. Note you can get G cell active level I´call 5 with intensity I´ll call X of 510nm light OR with 2X of light at say 580 or 2X intensity at 480nm and any of these three will make the G cell equally active. (again only making up numbers to state my point.) I.e. there are lots of different combinations of pure wave lengths and intensities that can make you perceive same "blue" even if none of the wave lengths present is 590 (corresponding to blue as a single wave length present) and that is only the start of this color perception flexibility as the next paragraphs discuss.

    Not only is the perceived color determined by the relative activity in the RGB cells, but it is also determined or at least perceived as different when the color of the surrounds is different, as is contrast intensity. (A small piece of grey paper cut into two pieces has one looking darker if surround by white and the other looking lighter if surrounded by black.)

    Further more, even if only red wave lenths are present you will still see/perceive tree leaves as green, etc. when viewing a natural scene - i.e. when known objects with differences in their wave length reflectivities are present. The brain is far more clever in these color computations than most imagine!

    Now a few words about color names:
    Different cultures have very different named colors. I´m not speaking of fact Germans have differ word for same wave lengths as Brits call blue, but about the fact different cultures divide up the visible spectrum into differ named bands. Some very primative cultures only have one named color and interestingly it is always associated with wavelengths we call red. For them, there is this named color of blood and non-blood color. What we distinguish as yellow, green & blue is all just "non-bood" to them. Having different names makes for more refined perceptions too. Some cultures and sub parts of most advance cultures have several times more named colors (divisions of the spectrum) than most modern people do especially if they earn their livings with color choices and they can separate different color chips more accurately into separate groups than the average person can. I.e. they can perceive differences you cannot as they have names you don´t.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 27, 2012
  16. leopold Valued Senior Member

    billy t,
    how does language change anything you have said about color perception?
    other than the words of course.
  17. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Wow. Extremely interesting! I wonder if this relates to the experience, or at least my experience, of various days of the weeks and numbers being associate with various hued shades. For some reason I associate Wednesday with yellow. Saturday is more green. And 9 is always darkest, like a bluish or purple. I cannot conceive how color should so attach itself to a symbol unless there was a connection between color and language. Then again maybe I have mild case of ideasthesia.
  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I seem to recall also an effect from staring at a spinning wheel of black and white patterns. It too will generate the perception of colors. This too suggests some sort of relativistic relationship between photoreceptor firings, perhaps one based more on luminosity and contrast?
  19. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member


    As far as interpersonal interactions are concerned, whether two people have the same things going on in their minds or not may indeed be irrelevant, as long as the two both feel they are "getting along with eachother well."

    As far as an individual person's actions are concerned, what goes on in their mind is of vital importance for what that person does.
  20. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Not if those actions are dependent on how one perceives the color blue (meaning light of wavelengths in a specific range) if indeed one can differentiate it from the other wavelengths.

    Now that we've established that, how do you reckon one needs a word for something in order to see it?
    As a newly born, everything one sees is new and without any words attached. As one gets older one learns how the things one has already been seeing are called. That's when one attaches words to objects; by learning what things one already knows are named by others.
    It's not the other way around.
    An infant does not first learn the words for some unseen objects and then see the objects. That would be absurd.
    When, as an infant, one learns what others call blue one is already familiar with the color. Otherwise it's impossible to learn what others mean when they say 'blue'.
    It would be like trying to teach colors to a blind person.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No, it's elementary biology. (BTW, we're "animals" too. Last time I checked myself I saw no signs of photosynthesis taking place.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    ) The human forebrain is something like four times as large as the midbrain and hindbrain combined. We have entire brain centers that other mammals don't, such as the speech center. This is why dogs struggle to understand a few hundred words at most--they have no specialized brain region to facilitate the process.

    Non-human animals have fewer high-level cognitive skills because they have less hardware to host those skills. They operate more on instinct and on the pre-programmed behaviors in their midbrain.

    The other apes have large forebrains too, larger than the combined midbrain and hindbrain but less than half the relative size of ours. This is why chimpanzees and gorillas have been able to develop large vocabularies in ASL as well as mastering the grammar to build sentences out of those words. They can't speak orally because they have no speech center (or perhaps a very rudimentary one) and they lack the complex musculature to move their tongues and lips to form words, Much less no voice box, a mixed blessing that makes us the only mammal who cannot breathe and swallow at the same time, resulting in the occasional choking death--they all must think we were incompetently designed to allow that to happen!

    Instincts play a larger role in the behavior of other animals because they simply don't have the brain cells necessary to provide those high-level cognitive skills. Besides the more advanced primates, obviously a few other mammals also have impressively large forebrains that give them impressive cognitive skills, such as elephants, pinnipeds and many if not most cetaceans. This is also true of some birds, notably corvids and psittacines.

    Just go into a paint or fabric store.

    This is true of everything, not just colors. It is far easier for us to think about and talk about things that we have words for. That's why every class we take as children or adults teaches us new words.

    Show a scene containing a semi-regular tesselation to someone who doesn't know that term. Will he see it?
  22. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Will he see it? Yes.
    Will he notice it? Probably not, but it's not impossible that he will.
  23. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Yes. I have long had such a wheel, in the form of a small disk top. The colors are not strong but exist in your perception. The back is in annular bands and most importantly not continuous black rings. I.e. there are white spaces separating the black segments (perhaps 3 or 4) of each band segment.

    How it produces perceived colors from only spinning black broken black annular segments on a white (natural wood color in my top´s case) is not 100% understood but mainly due to the fact the time response characteristics of the three color cells are not identical. I.e. after a step function stimulation by the white (which excites all RGB cells briefly and then stops when the next black segment´s image falls on the cells that were "step function excited" they don´t lose their neural activity immediately and do so at different decay rates. Thus when the first mm or so of the next black band falls on the cells that were shock excited, there is still some decaying neural activity and IT IS NOT BALANCED to make the perception of fading white light, so you perceive the weak color associated with this unbalanced quasi-white residual stimulation.

    What is not known, I think when I investigated this ~30 years ago, is: Where is this unequal decay rate effect taking place. I suspect it is in that part of the brain called V4 where color is represented by the neural activity in two different sets of brain cells. Most brain cells are always firing at some background rate which for V4 cells, I´ll call 5. One of the two sets is the blue/yellow axis (other is green red) I forget if firing rate of 7 in the blue yellow set corresponds to blue or yellow, but will just continue this discussion by assuming it is blue you are then perceiving. Firing at 3 rate is to perceive yellow. I suspect that step function excitation of white light causes 5 discharge rate to be established very quickly in both these V4 color axis but in one (or probably both) there is a slight shift away from 5 for fraction of a second – weak and some strange color is perceived.
    You can, as many know perceive strong false colors also by long (minute or so) fixation on red spot (say a triangle) on a white wall especially when well illuminated. The when you shift fixation to some other spot on the white wall, you perceive green spot of the same shape. There are many demonstrations of this in the internet – search under “color fatigue after effects” Sort of what is happening is if staring at the red spot initially makes activity level 8 in the red green axis, those active cells run out of energy to keep firing at that high rate so at end of minute they fire at only 6, but you don´t notice this 25% decrease in their firing ability until you fixate on the white wall, which should produce 5 but those cells that are 25% fatigued have not recovered yet so only 4 is produced.

    This is all over simplified and false, just to give some idea of what is happening. (Why I said: “Sort of what is happening …”) You can see that if the spot were green in my story, giving a firing rate of 2 instead of 8 and then when fatigued by 25% the rate is 1.5, which is not red but “greener.” To get a little closer to the truth, think of white perceptions as 5r + 5g +5y + 5b firing rates in each half of the cells in both color axises. Then staring at red spot converts this balanced rate set when red 5r has fatigued to 4r into 4r + 5g +5y + 5b and 4r no longer offset the 5g so you see green. That description is as close to the truth as I can (or at least care to) go, but the true story is more complex still as to even set up these two (R/G & Y/B) axis form the retinal triad of RGB cell activity there are several intermediate computational transforms of what mathematicians would call the descriptive “basis set.” Like switching from Cartesian to Polar Coordinate basis. Years ago, I knew the equations telling / making these basis transforms, but have forgotten them now and am far too lazy to look them up. The activity in the bright/dark axis, which is like the two color axis but contains intensity information, enters into these basis transform equation also. (and they are only good linear approximation to what the brain is doing in V4 (and some in other parts of the visual system) plus the effects of the surrounds and knowledge that tree leaves are green I mentioned in may earlier long post.

    BTW everyone has seen green tree leaves when the sun is dipping below the horizon and bathing the scene in only quite reddish light, but few are amazed by this every day occurrence – an example of known knowledge strongly affecting your perceived color. There is some green light falling on the leaves from solar rays that wnet straight to high atmosphere and then scattered down to the leaves but not nearly as much as the direct reddish rays nor even as much as the scattered down blue rays. This scattering cross section is inversely proportional to the fourth power of the wave length and blue being shorter wavelength is the dominate color scattered down from high air – why the sky is blue (still shorter purple scatters better but our sun is too cool to make much of it).

    The brain is much more complex and interesting than physics. I have a “crackpot” (I.e. non standard POV) about how perception “works” which easily explains dozens of observation the POV accepted by cognitive scientists cannot and would be expected to be how evolution would have created perception and permits free will to exist without being in conflict with science which tells the firing of every nerve is deterministically by the laws of Chemist & Physics which I also believe.

    Perhaps some may want to read about this POV which is much more in agreement with the know neuro-phyology and behavior of humans than the standard POV (“Perception ‘emerges’ after many stages of neural computational transforms of the sensory inputs.”) which is clearly false in several circumstances, for example visual dreams with eyes closed and many other false predictions of the standard POV. If interested, read:

    http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=905778&postcount=66 and some posts in a thread on free will, especially this one explaining in more detail my RTS concepts:
    http://www.sciforums.com/showpost.php?p=2644660&postcount=82 but be warned, they long especially the the first as I try to show with supporting data that my POV must be more correct than the more widely held POV.

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