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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: February 2010

9 - Chimerical Colors: Some Novel Predictions from Cognitive Neuroscience



The qualitative character of subjective experience is often claimed to be beyond the predictive or explanatory powers of any physical theory. Almost equally often, conclusions are then drawn concerning the physical irreducibility and the metaphysical distinctness of the subjective qualia at issue. Resistance to such Dualist themes has typically focused on the dubious legitimacy of the inference just displayed. The present chapter, by contrast, focuses on the premise from which the inference is drawn. My burden here is to show that this premise is false.

I will illustrate its falsity by drawing a number of novel, counterintuitive, and, in some cases, patently paradoxical predictions concerning the qualitative character of certain highly unusual visual sensations, sensations produced under some highly unusual visual circumstances, sensations you have probably never had before. These predictions will be drawn, in a standard and unproblematic way, from the assumptions of what deserves to be called the Standard Model of how color is processed and represented within the human brain. I am thus posing only as a consumer of existing cognitive neuroscience, not as an advocate of new theory. But standard or not, this familiar “color-opponency” theory of chromatic information processing has some unexpected and unappreciated consequences concerning the full range of neuronal activity possible, in an extreme, for the human visual system. From there, one needs only the tentative additional assumption of a systematic identity between neuronal coding vectors, on the one hand, and subjective color qualia, on the other – a highly specific material assumption in the spirit of the classical Identity Theory, and in the spirit of intertheoretic reductions generally – to formally derive the unexpected but qualia-specific predictions at issue.

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