For those who use their time more productively than in following internet bunfights, here’s the story:
I profess color realism, so I claim the dress has a color – two, actually.
It’s blue with black stripes.
However, the debate does provide insight into how we see the colors that really are there.
The argument for color realism is long, so consider the following ‘Ten Theses of Color Realism’ nailed, unargued-for, on the cathedral door.
1. An account of Everything That Is So must include not just physical things, but how they appear. To deny this is so costly that no consideration scientific or philosophical is powerful enough to compel it.So eliminativism is not in the running: it takes too much of Neurath’s Ship apart at one time.
2. If there were no living creatures there would be no appearances. But this does not imply that appearances are somehow derivatively real, like shadows or reflections.If there were no water there would be no living creatures either, but we’re not like shadows or reflections.
3. The concept of color incorporates two elements: one having to do with appearances, the other with whatever it is about the object’s possession of the color property that makes it appear that way. So our concept of color is of an objective property, the nature of which is revealed in its appearance.This twofold feature is the source of the ‘queerness’ arguments for error theory (see 5 below). Those arguments presuppose that all properties are physical, thus begging precisely the question at issue.
4. Reductive physicalism regarding color founders on a stark contrast with other reductive programs. Given the state of scientific knowledge, if water were not H2O, there simply is no other candidate. We would be completely at a loss. But for color there is a whole cat’s chorus of candidates, none strikingly more plausible than the others, all agreeing on which property goes with which color. Choosing one as the property necessarily identical with color would be arbitrary. Therefore none are.General agreement on the science combined with non-converging disagreement on the reduction shows that, short of a paradigm change in physics, the nature of color will not be settled by science.
5. Error theory, the standard view since Galileo, falters because it fails a presupposition necessary for stating the view. Error theory cannot supply an explanation, meeting current externalist standards, for how we can have formed the concept of ‘red’ in the absence of anything red.If a philosophical position must be statable, error theory is not in the running either.
6. A thing’s color supervenes on its physical composition. Since different physical arrangements may yield the same color, the supervenience relation is weak. It’s also not ‘physicalistically kosher.’ Physically indiscernible things could be different colors in other possible worlds with the same physical laws as ours, but different psycho-physical bridge laws.To use Terence Horgan’s term, it’s not a case of ‘superdupervenience.’
7. An explanation for a thing’s appearing red is that is, indeed, red. We can misidentify what color it is, of course, but getting it wrong presupposes that there is something to get right. This is relevant to the Dress Debate.
8. Facts about color are facts about an autonomous realm over and above the physical realm. In this it resembles evolutionary biology. The explanation for why I am seeing red in a given case cannot be given in physical terms any more than we can explain in purely physical terms why one phenotypic trait confers fitness and another doesn’t.
9. The color realm is autonomous because no consideration intruding from outside the forms of explanation peculiar to that realm can compel us to retract a color judgment. Coming to believe that we are being exposed to 650 nanometer electromagnetic radiation does precisely nothing to weaken our conviction that the object is red. This suggests a high degree of autonomy.
10. We can know objective truths about color by observation: red is more similar to purple than either is to green. We can formulate autonomous laws of color that express necessities, and even support counterfactuals. The laws will prescind from any physical base. Again, in this it is similar to the realm of evolutionary biology.An essay by psychologist Steven Pinker provides a brief explanation of the relevant autonomous laws of color. Notice that it is couched in explicitly psychological terms: “lightness constancy,” “color constancy.” Both are instances of representational constancy, for which there is no physicalist account. Pinker speaks metonymically of “the brain” achieving representational constancy instead of the visual system, but we shouldn’t be confused.
Pinker’s conclusion is congenial to the color realist: The color of an object can appear a different color under “extreme” conditions, conditions removed from those our visual system evolved to handle. We can then become badly confused over what color the object really is.
To be a realist regarding some realm is to resign oneself to imperfect epistemic access to it. That our access to real things, including colors, is fallible and imperfect was never a thesis in dispute.