Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Living Color

The Phenomenology for East Asian CirclE has convened twice, once in Hong Kong, and once in Tokyo, each time harvesting a bumper crop of papers on phenomenology. Junichi Murata's contribution to the Hong Kong conference is called The Multi-Dimensionality of Colors (pdf). Murata favors a broad, pluralistic understanding of color that encompasses many types of visual recognition across diverse species of organism. Color vision uses a wavelength difference of light to gather information about the environment "in order to live in it" (p. 19, my emphasis). The ways to live in an environment are various. Therefore, Murata concludes that a wide variety of properties may be possibly considered as color, and a wide variety of ways of visually recognizing color may be considered as color vision (pp. 19-20).

In addition to hue, saturation and volume, Murata recognizes an affective dimension of colors, and, taking a cue from Michel Henry, he claims this dimension of color belongs to the world of life, which for Murata has a biological as well as existential meaning (pp. 12-13). (Murata refers to Michel Henry's Voir l’invisible, sur Kandinsky, though it is not listed in his bibliography.) Drawing on David Katz's The World of Colour, Murata says that the visual space in which color appears is intrinsically a kinesthetic space in which the movement of the body is realized (p. 14). He argues that the affective and behavioural dimensions of color are not independent of the spatiality of color, but rather that "how we are affected and motivated to a particular behavior is essentially connected with how the color appears" (p. 14).

So what can we say about the color vision of bees, one of Murata's examples? We don't quite know what it's like to ultraviolet light at the same time we see red, green and blue. Perhaps we know what it's like to be attracted or repelled by a color, and on this basis we can have understanding of what the bee sees. Possibly, however, human feelings of attraction and repulsion represent a quantum leap in feeling beyond what a bee experiences.

It's becoming clear to me that I will be having trouble with the phenomenological linkage between motility and perception on a number of different levels. Thinking about the evolution of color vision in primates, as I understand it there is an anatomical separation between the parvocellular system which processes colors and the magnocellular system which processes motion (see this post). The feeling that color happens in kinesthetic space could well be the product of a combination of several distinct neurological processes that could, in different circumstances, be arranged in other ways. More broadly, I am concerned with the reliability of our feelings. What do we know about the world on the basis of attending to our feelings? Well, I think there are some things we know surely becuase we feel them, and the validity of our feelings is not in doubt in my mind. Yet I'm not sure how this knowledge can be integrated with propositional knowledge. The lesson of feelings is probably one of inconclusiveness.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:54 AM.


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