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  1. #1
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    The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers

    The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers.

    3 round debate followed by a poll.

    Vandaler: Advocate for an evolution in color perception over time
    Pervituous: Opposed.

    Introduction.

    In this debate, I will demonstrate the likelihood that color perception of ancient Greek writers may not have been the same then what we experience today. I will rely on ancient writings which many researchers have analysed before.

    Since these researches have occurred, the science of how we perceive colors has evolved and may breathe new life to the debate.

    Ancient Greek writers perplexing choice of words.

    It has been studied and catalogued that ancient Greek writers described colors in manners that is perplexing to us modern readers.

    Homer (8th Century BC) : Homer only used 4 colors in his writings roughly translated as black, white, greenish yellow and purply red. (1)

    Empedocles (490-430 BC) : An early color theorist identified between light or white, dark or black, and red and yellow which is fairly consistent with Homer. (2)

    Aristotle (384-322 BC) : He described all colors to be gradations of light and shadow. (3)

    Xenophane (570-480 BC): described the rainbow with three colors; a purple, a yellow green, and a red (4)


    Colour wheels








    It's plain to see that the bluish color is ignored altogether by those writers.


    How we perceive colors

    Color vision is the capacity of an organism or machine to distinguish objects based on the wavelengths (or frequencies of the lights they reflect or emit. The nervous system derives color by comparing the responses to light from the several types of cone photoreceptors in the eye. These cone photoreceptors are sensitive to different portions of the visible spectrum. For humans, the visible spectrum ranges approximately from 380 to 740 nm, and there are normally three types of cones. (5)


    Graph showing the receptivity of all three cone photoreceptors.







    The graph demonstrates, all three receptors do not account for the whole range of the spectrum. In spite of this, we can seamlessly see all colors. This is because the information from these cones are relayed to the brain and interpreted. This is an important point since color perception is not only dependent on the receptors in the eyes but also in the “decoder” in the brain which interprets what the eye sees and how the brain processes the information the eye perceives. (6)


    The possibility in a Darwinian shift in color perception.


    The information above to the effect that color perception is effectively as much a matter of the brain processing then it a matter of retina perception of wavelength is important since a Darwinian shift in the color perception does not imply necessarily a mutation of the eye over time but rather a refinement in the code that processes the information sent to the brain.

    Also considering that the color perception has mutated rapidly among primates (7) we can see that an evolution is in fact a very interesting likelihood.


    Conclusion.


    There is enough information to hypothesize a conclusion.

    Consider the case were two color axis interpreted as conjoined by the brain, supposing the red/green axis were at some point aligned with the blue/yellow. The result would be a perceived range of colors going from a purply-red to a greenish-yellow. The result would be the now-familiar color scheme of the early Greeks. (8)



    Sources


    (1) (2) (3) (4) (8) Language and Perception of Color among the Ancient Greeks - Rebbeca Bird
    (5) Wikipedia
    (6) Thompson, Evan, Color Vision; A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (London, 1995), 53
    (7) Thompson, Evan, Color Vision; A Study in Cognitive Science and the Philosophy of Perception (London, 1995), 164

    Last edited by Vandaler; January 12th, 2009 at 07:40 AM. Reason: Optimized the sources section.
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vandaler View Post
    The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers.

    3 round debate followed by a poll.

    Vandaler: Advocate for an evolution in color perception over time
    Pervituous: Opposed.

    Introduction.
    Let me take a moment to congratulate V on having the gumption to take a debate from a thread and bring it to the next level. I am impressed and honored he would select me as an adversary. I will do my very best to obliterate his arguments, nothing personal.


    I am going to make an opening statement here as if I did not see V's opening statement beforehand. Then I will do a short rebuttal at the end, in keeping with an actual formal debate. I do not feel it is fair for me to spend my first post as all rebuttal, as that puts him at a disadvantage.



    I shall demonstrate in my posts that all the scientific psychological research on focal colors being a physical experience and not a sociohistorical phenomena is misguided. I will show that all color perception from color boundaries to primary focal colors can be explained wholly with cultural and psychological principles.


    Focal color - A paradigm example of a member of a basic color category

    Basic color term - A color word (a) that is monolexemic (unlike "reddish-yellow"); (b) whose extension is not included in that of any other color term (unlike "scarlet", whose extension is included in "red"); (c) whose application is not restricted to a narrow class of objects (unlike "roan"); and (d) that is psychologically salient (unlike "puce"). A basic color term names a basic color category.


    Let's start with the idea of focal colors as presented by Berlin and Kay in a study from 1969.

    From Wikipedia.

    Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution (1969) (ISBN 1-57586-162-3) is a book by Brent Berlin and Paul Kay. Berlin and Kay's work proposed that the kinds of color terms a culture has, such as black, brown or red, are predictable by the number of color terms the culture has.

    There are seven levels in which cultures fall, with Stage I languages having only the colors black and white. Languages in Stage VII have eight or more basic color terms. This includes English, which has eleven basic color terms. The authors claim that as languages evolve, they develop color terms in a strict chronological sequence; if a color term was found in a language, then color terms from all previous stages would also be present. The sequence is as follows:

    Stage I: Dark-cool and light-warm (this covers a larger set of colors than English "black" and "white".)
    Stage II: Red
    Stage III: Either green or yellow
    Stage IV: Both green and yellow
    Stage V: Blue
    Stage VI: Brown
    Stage VII: Purple, pink, orange or grey

    Though the work has achieved widespread influence, it is not without its critics. Barbara Saunders has questioned the methodologies of data collection and the cultural assumptions underpinning the research.[1]


    There are two possible likely explanations for this seeming homogeneity. The first would be V's thesis that color perception is indeed biological in nature and that humans then create a language to describe it. Let's however look at some dissenting information on the subject.

    From: http://www.humboldt1.com/~cr2/colors.htm

    Suspicion about the universality of the basic colors starts with the subjects who provided the information for generating the basic colors. The subjects were asked to state the names of colors most salient to them, and to identify these on a color chart. Although supposedly representing diverse cultural groups, they, in fact, were bilingual foreign residents of San Francisco. Their obvious social and linguistic enculturation would be expected to make their color perception continuous with native Americans, and any similarity cannot be presumed to be due to universal biological processes. Compounding this cultural restriction in the subject population is Berlin and Kay's homogenizing of the data they produced. From the numerous colors the subjects selected as salient, Berlin and Kay arbitrarily decreed that what qualified as a basic color were only those colors whose verbal description was a single, abstract color word. Colors whose names were also object names were excluded. This arbitrary criterion excluded 90% of the colors with which subjects are familiar. Moreover, the restriction contained a crucial cultural bias: abstract color names (like all abstract stimuli and concepts) are characteristic of modern society, which means that Berlin and Kay's criteria necessarily biased the selection of colors to those that are noticed in our culture. Berlin and Kay's calling these colors "basic" is therefore quite ethnocentric. It also creates the false impression that they are naturally salient when, in fact, they were simply imposed by the authors. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the basic colors from which focal colors were later selected, were arbitrarily selected by Berlin and Kay from a larger list of colors provided by the subjects.

    Barbara Saunders agrees with this: http://www.human-nature.com/science-.../saunders.html

    Unacknowledged commitments are presented, as too, are hints about links to a larger research programme, namely, Evolutionary Psychology. Throughout I claim that Berlin and Kay endow their ambitious project with an aura of strong prima facie evidence by fiat of colour science. Colour science in the relevant sense is not however an empirical but an a priori science, commitment to which fatally compromises Berlin and Kay's claims.

    So there is much dissent in the scientific community about the actual existence of focal colors at all. If that is not the explanation for cross-cultural color reporting differences then what is? I will demonstrate that the complexity of color description is primarily a function of language itself. The more advanced the society, the more advanced their language and, therefore, the more advanced their color descriptions.

    To me, the entire debate hinges upon two things:

    ONE) Is V's sample of Greek writers large enough to eliminate the possibility that the writers suffered some kind of color blindness or cultural bias? There were thousands of ancient Greek writers whose works we have access to. Does V quote any women writers from the period, such as Sappho? Being women we know they would not suffer color blindness. I would think to make a case that involves the evolutionary process one would have to demonstrate that the majority of the population experienced color the way V describes, not just a handful.

    TWO) Is the research on focal colors comprehensive and trustworthy. We are dealing with human judgments based upon language. To truly claim the existence of focal colors one has to eliminate environmental, linguistic, and cultural bias satisfactorily in order to get reliable results. Even if this can be done currently, I fail to see how we can effectively do so for the ancient Greek writers.

    As I read through V's impressive opening statement, I am struck by the small number of Greek writers quoted and also struck that none of them are women. Is a study of four writers enough to justify the conclusion that an entire race experienced color differently? With a number as small as four, and it was reported Homer was blind, it could easily be accounted for by color blindness. This, by itself, is not proof of the failure of V's argument. It does, however, diminish the likelihood very significantly.

    The next thing I notice is that each of the color wheels is decidedly different. This does not suggest a physical evolutionary position of ancient Greeks which has evolved to a different evolutionary position of today. It is just the opposite. It leads us to believe that each was color blind in different ways or from a culture where color descriptions were different. Keep in mind that Greece was a large place riddled with small culturally independent kingdoms and not a large homogeneous society.

    Lastly, V theorizes that there is an evolutionary (Darwinian) shift that could either be caused by changes in the eye mechanism or the interpreting brain mechanism. Unfortunately the only actual evidence cited for drawing this conclusion is:

    "Also considering that the color perception has mutated rapidly among primates (7) we can see that an evolution is in fact a very interesting likelihood."

    I would tend to agree with V's wording of that information. It is an interesting likelihood, but I think the interesting part is far more probable than the likelihood part. What exactly does "mutated rapidly among primates" mean? I did several queries on the subject, including using the footnoted text, and found no information to support the use of the term "rapidly". What is rapid for evolutionary terms? I believe a mutation over 10,000 years is considered rapid, is it not? We are discussing Greeks who lived roughly 3,000 years ago. Wouldn't that be faster than rapid? Wouldn%2
    Last edited by PerVirtuous; January 14th, 2009 at 12:59 AM.

  3. #3
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    Re: The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers

    Round two...

    Rebuttals to your objections.

    Quality of the sample (is four writers significant enough ?)

    I would say yes, most definitely, but not without good reasons.

    • Those writers were people who enjoyed much reputation and who's writing have been widely distributed. If their odd use of color terms would have been peculiar to other Greeks in ancient times, that fact would have been related in other works as peculiar just as much then it is today in modern scholarship.
    • You claim with good reason that many others writers from ancient Greece may contradict these four writers in that they perceive the full range the colors like we do. Be my guess, in fact if that is the case, it should be relatively easy to find and entirely refute my argument in one swift motion. Consider it a Challenge to support a claim. to you to find in ancient Greece a writer that uses the term which means blue to describe something blue in the same manner then we do. (which would be consistent with the color wheel that show a weakness in that area)
    • Since I don't want to rely on your possible lack of resources or motivation to provide any meaning to your anticipated failure to meet the challenge, perhaps people who have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy on the subject could shed some light. People such as P. G. Maxwell-Stuart who wrote: Studies in Greek Colour Terminology: bibliotheca classica Batava. One must surely ask why all the fuss if odd color naming is just the peculiarity of four writers.
    • Your failure to meet the challenge and the wide ranging studies of the odd color description in ancient Greece should provide enough evidence that while I only quoted 4 writers they are representative of ancient Greece usage for describing colors.

    Women are not color blind and should have written differently about colors.


    • The hypothesis forwarded is not of color blindness, a medical affliction that is indeed very rare in women but rather and I quote my previous post "Consider the case were two color axis interpreted as conjoined by the brain, supposing the red/green axis were at some point aligned with the blue/yellow. The result would be a perceived range of colors going from a purply-red to a greenish-yellow."
    • The condition above is an hypothesis that neither men or women today experience to the best of my knowledge.
    • Given both premise above, the writings of Sappho are interesting, but not more then any other men or women who wrote back then.

    On Homer being blind.

    Perhaps he was, it's a possibility. However, That possibility was advanced mostly on account of his name which could mean "blind". There are other competing hypothesis on his name.
    From Wikipedia

    "Many scholars take the name of the poet to be indicative of a generic function. Gregory Nagy takes it to mean "he who fits (the Song) together".Hmr", another related verb, besides signifying "meet", can mean "(sing) in accord/tune". Some argue that "Homer" may have meant "he who puts the voice in tune" with dancing. Marcello Durante links "Homeros" to an epithet of Zeus as "god of the assemblies" and argues that behind the name lies the echo of an archaic word for "reunion", similar to the later, denoting a formal assembly of competing minstrels."
    It's also questionable why a blind person would write about colors in ways that do not conform with accepted conventions.

    On the color wheels being different.

    You may choose to focus on the differences, but there is a glaring similitude: The failure to address adequately the entire blue spectrum. That similarity is clear enough not to be ignored and provides the fodder for all the research and speculation on the matter.

    Evidence for mutation in color vision among Primates and the mutative process.

    Abstract

    "The past 15 years have brought much progress in our understanding of several basic features of primate color vision. There has been particular success in cataloging the spectral properties of the cone photopigments found in retinas of a number of primate species and in elucidating the relationship between cone opsin genes and their photopigment products. Direct studies of color vision show that there are several modal patterns of color vision among groupings of primates: (i) Old World monkeys, apes, and humans all enjoy trichromatic color vision, although the former two groups do not seem prone to the polymorphic variations in color vision that are characteristic of people; (ii) most species of New World monkeys are highly polymorphic, with individual animals having any of several types of dichromatic or trichromatic color vision; (iii) less is known about color vision in prosimians, but evidence suggests that at least some diurnal species have dichromatic color vision; and (iv) some nocturnal primates may lack color vision completely. In many cases the photopigments and photopigment gene arrangements underlying these patterns have been revealed and, as a result, hints are emerging about the evolution of color vision among the primates."

    All 5 pages can be read in PDF viewable only online.
    I concede that this link does not account for the speed of the process, but it does however show that the mutation mechanism is fairly well understood and not the product of blind speculation.









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  4. #4
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    Re: The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers

    Quote Originally Posted by Vandaler View Post
    Round two...

    Rebuttals to your objections.

    Quality of the sample (is four writers significant enough ?)

    [COLOR=Navy][SIZE=3][COLOR=Black][SIZE=2]I would say yes, most definitely, but not without good reasons.

    I am going to go ahead and concede this point as it is really immaterial to my best argument. In the interest of not boring anyone to tears, I will simply allow your evidence from these writers to be accepted as representative of the Greeks of the day.


    Evidence for mutation in color vision among Primates and the mutative process.

    Abstract

    "The past 15 years have brought much progress in our understanding of several basic features of primate color vision. There has been particular success in cataloging the spectral properties of the cone photopigments found in retinas of a number of primate species and in elucidating the relationship between cone opsin genes and their photopigment products. Direct studies of color vision show that there are several modal patterns of color vision among groupings of primates: (i) Old World monkeys, apes, and humans all enjoy trichromatic color vision, although the former two groups do not seem prone to the polymorphic variations in color vision that are characteristic of people; (ii) most species of New World monkeys are highly polymorphic, with individual animals having any of several types of dichromatic or trichromatic color vision; (iii) less is known about color vision in prosimians, but evidence suggests that at least some diurnal species have dichromatic color vision; and (iv) some nocturnal primates may lack color vision completely. In many cases the photopigments and photopigment gene arrangements underlying these patterns have been revealed and, as a result, hints are emerging about the evolution of color vision among the primates."

    All 5 pages can be read in PDF viewable only online.
    I concede that this link does not account for the speed of the process, but it does however show that the mutation mechanism is fairly well understood and not the product of blind speculation.



    Since this is about the level of vision reached by primates and not at all about the speed at which they have developed, I do not see how it supports the idea that evolutionary processes caused a change in the vision of Greeks of Homer's time to people of today.

    But I do not see any need to delve further into the science of evolution either, except to say that it certainly does not favor the idea of such rapid changes as you seem to be championing. Instead, let me put forth alternative explanations for the differences which are much more compelling for bridging an apparent gap between the color descriptions of then and now.

    In 1878 Dr. Pole, an English physician, wrote a series of articles explaining away Homer's use of color descriptions to color blindness. Upon researching further, I have discarded his claim in light of recent, much more definitive evidence which concludes that the explanation was cultural. I found this very debate has appeared a few places on the web, although more of a letters to the editor frenzy regarding articles supporting your claims. I would like to submit two of those letters here.



    http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1878Natur..19..119P

    `Are there in Homer more anomalies in the nomenclature of colours than may be accounted for by the vague use of words? Are there more than we should find in this country among uneducated men of the labouring class?'' About two years ago I made extensive inquiry as to the prevalence of colour-blindness among children, and in the village schools of this part of Somersetshire I found that the girls could name the neutral as well as the other tints readily and correctly, but that many of the boys had but about half-a-dozen words to use, and would refer orange to red or to yellow, and purple to brown or to blue, merely for want of terms; for they could match the test papers with other papers, or with the girls' dresses.


    What is important to note is that even among those who could not name shades outside of primary hues, they could match them to other things of the same hues. This shows that it is a cultural phenomena rather than a physical phenomena. They could see the colors, but not name them.



    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal.../019032a0.html

    WITH reference to Dr. Pole's valuable papers on Homer's colour-blindness, it may interest your readers to learn that I have now nearly completed a work on “The Origin and Development of the Colour-Sense”, which will be shortly published by Messrs. Trbner and Co. In it I have endeavoured to show (inter alia) that the use of colour-terms in the Homeric poems is strictly analogous to that of other races, existing or extinct, at the corresponding stage of culture; and that both depend, not upon dichromic vision, but upon a defect of language closely connected with the small number of dyes or artificial pigments known to the various tribes. To establish this result I have sent a number of circular letters to missionaries, Government officials, and other persons having relations with native uncivilized races in all parts of the world; and their answers to my queries, framed so as to distinguish carefully between perception and language, in every case bear out the theory which I had formed. As my results will so soon be published elsewhere, I shall not burden your columns with them at present, but may add that my researches lead me to place the origin of the colour-sense far lower down in the animal scale, as evidenced both by the distinctive hues of flowers and fruits, and by the varied integuments of insects, birds, &c, so far as these are the result of sexual selection, or of mimicry and other protective devices.



    This study also attributes Homer's limited descriptors for color to a cultural rather than a physical phenomenon. It claims that races have been found in the world who perceive color the same way as the Greeks did, and that they show no physical differences to anyone else.

    The most compelling evidence of all was from a study of the Maori tribe of New Zealand by James W. Stack. Dr. Stack found that the Greek descriptions of color were not akin to color blindness, as Pole suggested, but due to cultural ignorance of color. He cited the similarities in the uses of color descriptors in the Maori to those found in Homer's writing. He finds it in keeping with the psychological definitions of color development of cultures as put forth by M. Gladstone:

    http://rsnz.natlib.govt.nz/volume/rs...00_001430.html

    It may help to render my paper more intelligible, if I state briefly what Mr. Gladstone calls the stages of the historical development of the colour-sense.

    The starting point is an absolute blindness of colour in the primitive man.

    The First stage attained is that at which the eye becomes able to distinguish between red and black.

    In the Second stage, the sense of colour becomes completely distinct from the sense of light; both red and yellow, with their shades, are clearly discerned.

    In the Third stage, green is discernible.

    In the Fourth and last stage an acquaintance with blue begins to emerge.


    He goes into depth on the use of color descriptors of the Maori, but I will not bore anyone with all of the details, but get to the point.

    The sensations produced by colours upon the organs of the colour-blind, are thus described by Mr. Pole:—“They see white, and black, and grey, just like other people, provided they are free from alloy with other colours. Yellow and blue they see, if unalloyed; and these are the only two, excepting black and white, of which they have any sensation. Red is merely yellow, shaded with black or grey; and green, orange, and violet, are confounded with black, red, white, and grey.”

    On comparing Mr. Pole's remarks with the evidence submitted in this paper, it will be seen that the Maoris were not colour-blind. For although, in common with the colour-blind, they confounded the lighter tints of several different colours, they, unlike them, could distinguish red and green, and were blind to blue.

    The rapidity with which they have learnt to distinguish the colours unrecognized by them till pointed out by Europeans, seems to indicate that their want of previous perception was not the result of imperfect organization, but only of imperfect education. The only apparent difference between the Maori organ for discerning colour and that of the European was, that it was less cultivated.


    Lets be clear what this says. It says that they also, like the Greeks, had no real understanding of blue, however, as soon as they were exposed to European culture and given a word for blue, they had no problem seeing blue and accepting it as a focal color. This is compelling evidence that they, like the Greeks, could see blue just fine, but their culture had not advanced to a place where they came into contact with enough blue objects that a descriptor had become necessary. Here we have three different studies done independently which all reach the same conclusion:

    The descriptors for color are more a reflection of the importance of color to the culture than of an actual physical defect of the seeing apparatus or corresponding brain functions.

    Since we have a case of a culture which closely corresponds in how they viewed color to the Greeks as described in your OP, and since they have been shown to have retarded culture regarding language of color and not physical anomalies, we have compelling evidence that such an explanation is likely to also explain the phenomena of Homer's color descriptions. I do not believe that showing a gap in terminology between the ancient Greeks and our understanding of color today necessitates the conclusion of an evolutionary shift when a far more simple, reasonable and compelling explanation is available.
    Last edited by PerVirtuous; January 15th, 2009 at 12:36 AM.
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  5. #5
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    Re: The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers

    Round 3. - Closing word.


    First, I would like to congratulate Pervituous on his great form and inspired opposition. I have very much enjoyed his argument and the quality of the research. I will use this last post in trying to better define where I feel I have not done a very good job so far and in commenting the well researched alternative the Maoris provide.

    What is a Darwinian evolution in the context of this discussion?.

    I wrongly paraphrased Rebecca Bird (1) in stating the rapid evolution of primates. The speed of that process by which this occurs is immaterial to the argument which is not that the eye mutated (like primates) but rather that an improvement may have occurred in the decoding that occurs in the brain from information the eye already perceives. I concede an error in the OP in introducing the notion of speed where it is not necessary.

    The hypothesis under consideration is:
    Consider the case were two color axis interpreted as conjoined by the brain, supposing the red/green axis were at some point aligned with the blue/yellow. The result would be a perceived range of colors going from a purply-red to a greenish-yellow. The result would be the now-familiar color scheme of the early Greeks.

    So in essence, for the purpose of this discussion, what is advanced is not a biological evolution but rather Evolutionary Psychology which also occurs through the process of natural selection, Darwins theory.

    From Wikipedia (2) :
    Evolutionary psychology (EP) attempts to explain mental and psychological traits - such as memory, perception, or language - as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection.

    What the primates provide evidence for, is the confirmation that evolutionary pressures favor the development of the skill of detecting various colors, to be an advantage over those who do not.

    The Maoris

    What the Maoris seem to provide, is support for an evolution of focal colors recognition like you outlined in post one. Blue seem to be the last color recognized after having progressed through yellow and green and having started with red. This is, by the way, a gradual recognition of the frequency spectrum in descenging wavelength (see graph below) not a random order or an order justified by color exposition in regards to a particular culture. Indeed, which culture has not been exposed to, or have not seen the relevance of a blue sky and the relevance in describing it?



    Since color recognition is as much a matter of brain interpretation then it is a matter of the eye being able to detect the various required wavelength, it is not outside of reason that the Maories have been to see blue after it has been pointed out to them by others who were aware and sensible to it.

    I have no objection to the idea that ancient Greeks would have been able to understand blue if it was pointed out to them back then. But to our knowledge, no one was there to do just that. The gradual detection of blue had to follow a process other which is not contaminated (to our knowledge) by outside information. Either way, even if Ancient Greeks where thought blue by another culture, there had to be one first culture to discover it and that process was one, I contend that was a gradual process of natural selection as described by evolutionary psychology.

    Its worth noting that Barbara Saunders (3) , which you have quoted has an authority in the course of this debate agrees.
    What can now be anticipated for the future is that Munsell will be substituted by the Swedish Natural Colour System (NCS) - itself based on Hering opponency, a larger research group - probably the Max Planck Institute - will provide manpower and field-data, and Evolutionary Psychology will be the 'paradigm.' The phenomena will be saved, the model simplified, the culture-boundness and fragility of colour science ignored, and faith and hope pinned on the redemptive science to come.
    (1) Language and Perception of Color among the Ancient Greeks - Rebbeca Bird
    (2) Wikipedia: Evolutionary Psychology.
    (3) Revisiting basic color terms - Barbara Saunders

    Last edited by Vandaler; January 19th, 2009 at 10:25 AM.
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    Re: The development of color perception and ancient Greek writers

    Quote Originally Posted by Vandaler View Post
    Round 3. - Closing word.


    First, I would like to congratulate Pervirtuous on his great form and inspired opposition. I have very much enjoyed his argument and the quality of the research. I will use this last post in trying to better define where I feel I have not done a very good job so far and in commenting the well researched alternative the Maoris provide.
    Vandaler has also done a great job writing and supporting his points. It has been an entertaining and informative debate.

    What is a Darwinian evolution in the context of this discussion?.

    I wrongly paraphrased Rebecca Bird (1) in stating the rapid evolution of primates. The speed of that process by which this occurs is immaterial to the argument which is not that the eye mutated (like primates) but rather that an improvement may have occurred in the decoding that occurs in the brain from information the eye already perceives. I concede an error in the OP in introducing the notion of speed where it is not necessary.


    This appears, to me anyway, to be a major shift in your position and not a simple clarification. An evolutionary change and a psychological evolutionary change are not the same thing at all. It is like the difference between being a girl and being dressed like a girl. They may wear the same clothes, but I am only taking one kind home.

    More easy to recognize would be a computer analogy where a true Darwinian shift would be a hardware adaptation complete with software to run the adaptation, whereas, a psychological change would be a software update only. This is not the point I thought I was debating against, but now that you have made it, I shall oblige you.

    The hypothesis under consideration is:
    Consider the case were two color axis interpreted as conjoined by the brain, supposing the red/green axis were at some point aligned with the blue/yellow. The result would be a perceived range of colors going from a purply-red to a greenish-yellow. The result would be the now-familiar color scheme of the early Greeks.

    So in essence, for the purpose of this discussion, what is advanced is not a biological evolution but rather Evolutionary Psychology which also occurs through the process of natural selection, Darwins theory.

    From Wikipedia (2) :
    Evolutionary psychology (EP) attempts to explain mental and psychological traits - such as memory, perception, or language - as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection.

    What the primates provide evidence for, is the confirmation that evolutionary pressures favor the development of the skill of detecting various colors, to be an advantage over those who do not.
    If this is the case, then it is your responsibility to suggest by what means such "natural selection" took place. Did the women prefer to mate with the men who could recognize the color blue? Did this cause them to have more children indoctrinated into the color blue? I don't see how this can happen. I think it is more likely that a culture such as the Phoneticians taught them about colors, which again is not a form or Evolutionary Psychology, but a matter of being educated.

    From Wikipedia.

    These people did not call themselves "Phoenicians" - that name was given to them by the Greeks, the root word of which means "purple", (see also: phoenix) and refers to the brilliant purple pigments (derived from shellfish) and cloth these people created and which were so valuable as trade goods.

    The Phoenicians had rare pigments no other ancient civilization had. Therefore, it would make sense that they would have names for primary colors others would not. We know that the Greeks traded with everyone in the Mediterranean. It would certainly make more sense that they would be educated about color from other cultures, which would be a lightning fast change, rather than a gradual evolutionary psychological adaptation.





    The Maoris

    What the Maoris seem to provide, is support for an evolution of focal colors recognition like you outlined in post one. Blue seem to be the last color recognized after having progressed through yellow and green and having started with red. This is, by the way, a gradual recognition of the frequency spectrum in descenging wavelength (see graph below) not a random order or an order justified by color exposition in regards to a particular culture. Indeed, which culture has not been exposed to, or have not seen the relevance of a blue sky and the relevance in describing it?
    But since the sky is always the sky, why would they need the word blue? Just the word sky is enough. It tells the object complete with color. Same with ocean.

    It is when merchandise needs a color description, the blue pot, the red urn, the pink tiles, that a culture takes an active interest in color. The orange dress, the brown shoes, etc. This is not a shift of natural selection, but a change in the business climate. I see how you can make a case that such things happen through natural selection, but I do not see how you can make a case for this particular phenomenon to be accounted for my natural selection. Would a Greek woman prefer a man who knew his colors? Thus by mating with him he would produce more offspring that also knew their colors? By what logic or evidence would we prove such a case?

    If you look at the merchandise of any culture, which is also commonly its currency, you will find that most foods are red, orange, yellow or green. There are almost no blue foods. Since the foods were the natural currency, it would make sense that they would have primary colors for meat (red and pink) and vegetables (yellow, orange, green). If something new was brought to market, such as blue cloth, then and only then would the color blue become part of the business world and need a descriptor.





    Since color recognition is as much a matter of brain interpretation then it is a matter of the eye being able to detect the various required wavelength, it is not outside of reason that the Maories have been to see blue after it has been pointed out to them by others who were aware and sensible to it.
    Or perhaps it was there all along but they had no reason to name it because it happened in their lives in such rare instances. If they have no blue pigments, the only blue things will be sky and water. Why do they need a color descriptor for something so universal? It is a matter fo practicality of language, not of being able to mentally distinguish. As soon as the Maoris had blue merchandise given to them by foreigners, they now needed a descriptor for the color. Since they had nothing blue before to trade or buy, there was no need for the term.


    I have no objection to the idea that ancient Greeks would have been able to understand blue if it was pointed out to them back then. But to our knowledge, no one was there to do just that. The gradual detection of blue had to follow a process other which is not contaminated (to our knowledge) by outside information. Either way, even if Ancient Greeks where thought blue by another culture, there had to be one first culture to discover it and that process was one, I contend that was a gradual process of natural selection as described by evolutionary psychology.
    I agree this is a possibility, however, it seems remote considering we have evidence to show that education overcomes the lack of understanding almost instantly. There would be no need to have the process take generations of natural selection to occur when other cultures of the day did have pigments the Greeks did not, and therefore, had descriptors for them. As soon as any commodity would come on the market that needed a descriptor for blue, such as blue plates and bowls as opposed to red or brown ones, the term would be developed immediately and require no evolution.


    Its worth noting that Barbara Saunders (3) , which you have quoted has an authority in the course of this debate agrees.
    What can now be anticipated for the future is that Munsell will be substituted by the Swedish Natural Colour System (NCS) - itself based on Hering opponency, a larger research group - probably the Max Planck Institute - will provide manpower and field-data, and Evolutionary Psychology will be the 'paradigm.' The phenomena will be saved, the model simplified, the culture-boundness and fragility of colour science ignored, and faith and hope pinned on the redemptive science to come.
    (1) Language and Perception of Color among the Ancient Greeks - Rebbeca Bird
    (2) Wikipedia: Evolutionary Psychology.
    (3) Revisiting basic color terms - Barbara Saunders


    "What can now be anticipated for the future... will be substituted... will provide manpower and field-data... The phenomena will be saved, the model simplified, the culture-boundness and fragility of colour science ignored, and faith and hope pinned on the redemptive science to come."



    Keep in mind she was speaking against the concept of focal colors being physical or psychological, and against the idea of Evolutionary Psychology put forth by Berlin and Kay, which she believed they skewed their results to prove. Notice she is saying that:

    "...the culture-boundness and fragility of colour science ignored and faith and hope pinned on the redemptive science to come."

    This is a critique of evolutionary psychology. She is saying scientists will ignore the cultural causes of the color difference issues of different peoples and attribute it to evolutionary psychology anyway, without real compelling evidence, using faith and hope alone. Barbara is a stickler for science. If she says "pinned on faith and hope alone", she is slamming them for ignoring real science and substituting belief and wishful thinking.

    In other words, she is predicting scientists will do the same thing I am accusing you of: Looking for a complicated evolutionary answer when there is a simple, well documented, cultural one staring us in the face.
    Last edited by PerVirtuous; January 19th, 2009 at 12:43 PM.
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