CFP: Objectivity, Space and Mind

2015 BPPA Masterclass: Objectivity, Space and Mind

Bill Brewer, King’s College London
M. G. F. Martin, University College London/U. C. Berkeley

Institute of Philosophy, London, 14th-15th May, 2015

We are glad to announce that Institute of Philosophy will host the BPPA (British Postgraduate Philosophy Association) masterclass on objectivity, space and mind. Two renowned philosophers on this theme, Professor Bill Brewer and Professor M. G. F. Martin, will lead the class. We warmly invite graduate students to apply for participation.


To apply for presenting your work, please prepare these documents:
1) Cover letter: Name, Academic Affiliation, Email Address, and Academic Interests.
2) Either an abstract from 200 to 800 words, or a full paper less than 8000 words.

Due Day: 10th of April
Result available: Late-April
Submission to:

The decision will be based to the quality and relevance of the abstracts or papers. We will make our best effort to secure funding to cover the expenses of the participants, however participants are encouraged to apply bursary from their home institutions.

Tony Cheng, University College London
Vanessa Carr, University College London
Alisa Mandrigin, University of Warwick

For further details on the themes of the masterclass, please visit


Two new journal symposium series at the Brains blog

I am very excited to announce that in addition to the symposia on papers from Mind & Language that we have hosted since 2013, beginning in the coming months the Brains blog will host regular symposia on papers from Ergo and Neuroethics:

  • 10408957_637970006295161_1280406507623971351_nThe Ergo symposia, which will be organized by students in the graduate department of philosophy at the University of Toronto, will target all papers on topics in the philosophy of mind that are published in Ergo, an open access journal that publishes papers in all areas of philosophy. The first symposium, on “The Logic of Mind-Body Identification” by Bernard Molyneux (UC Davis), with commentaries by István Aranyosi, Liz Irvine, and Jonathan Simon, is being organized by Elliot Carter. It will be held in late April or early May. (A draft of the target article is available here, and we’ll provide a link to the published article when it is available.) We are grateful to Ergo‘s editors, Franz Huber and Jonathan Weisberg, for their support of these symposia.
  • 3The Neuroethics symposia, which will be organized by Katrina Sifferd (Elmhurst College), will target one paper from each issue of the journal, which is published three times a year in April, August, and December. The first symposium, on “Moral Enhancement: Do Means Matter Morally?” by Farah Focquaert (Ghent) and Maartje Schermer (Erasmus MC Rotterdam), will be held in August. (The target article is available here as an Online First publication, and will be available as an open access article during the symposium.) We are grateful to Neil Levy, editor of Neuroethics, and Springer Publishing for supporting these symposia.

Finally, it’s a real pleasure to welcome Katrina Sifferd as a new Contributing Editor at Brains. Be sure to check our calendar and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep abreast of these and other upcoming events.


CFP: Buffalo Annual Experimental Philosophy Conference 2015

Conference dates: Fri., Sept. 11 – Sat., Sept. 12, 2015

Keynote Speaker: Thomas Nadelhoffer (College of Charleston)

Prof. Nadelhoffer’s main areas of research include free will, moral psychology, neuroethics, and punishment theory.

We invite submissions for paper or poster presentations on any topic pertaining to experimental philosophy. Submissions can report new experimental results or contribute to broader philosophical or methodological debates over existing or possible results. Both XPhi-friendly and XPhi-critical papers are welcomed. For paper submissions, we prefer to receive complete papers, but we will also accept extended abstracts. For poster submissions, please submit an extended abstract. Continue reading CFP: Buffalo Annual Experimental Philosophy Conference 2015


Interview with Dan Kelly in Emotion Researcher

Andrea Scarantino (Georgia State) is the editor of Emotion Researcher, the online newsletter of the International Society for Research on Emotion. The most recent issue includes an interview with Dan Kelly (Purdue), discussing his work on disgust. Here’s a bit from Dan’s description of his research:

DanMaroonLakeI often find myself searching for points of contact and common ground between different insights and theoretical approaches found in philosophy, psychology, anthropology and other areas of research, and looking for ways in which they can be synthesized to paint a more complete picture of the Who We Are and How We Got Here and to formulate and address pressing questions about What It All Means.

Obviously this all covers a lot of ground, and in practice taking this interdisciplinary angle can be demanding. For instance, doing it right requires that one be conversant in each of the different disciplines on which one is drawing, and able to competently navigate their proprietary concerns, methods, and dialects. It also means taking on the typical dangers associated with pursuing breadth rather than aiming primarily for a narrower depth. But I believe that this kind of integrative and interdisciplinary research is crucial, and so worth the effort and risk.

You can read the whole thing here. Andrea’s editor’s column on emotional intelligence is also a good read, and a helpful introduction to what else is in the issue.


The Myth of the Great Divide

Science is descriptive. It tells us what is the case. All matters normative are found within the confines of philosophy. The human sciences can tell us about the content and evolution of our moral practices. But only philosophy can tell us what our moral practices should be. Psychology can tell us how we reason and come to believe what we do. But only philosophy can tell us how we ought to reason and what we are justified in believing.

This week I’ll argue that this is a myth, the Myth of the Great Divide. Continue reading The Myth of the Great Divide


Introductory Stuff: Michael Bishop

I’m Mike Bishop. I teach philosophy at Florida State University. And I thank the editors for inviting me to cause trouble here at The Brains Blog by writing about The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy & Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford University Press, 2015).

TGL tells a story: Once upon a time, Philosophy and Psychology were inseparable. But in the 19th century, they went their own ways, sadder, lonelier, but confident they’d be fine on their own. Continue reading Introductory Stuff: Michael Bishop


Upcoming Featured Authors at the Brains Blog

Following the past week’s visit from Dan Zahavi we have three more authors slated to blog about their new and forthcoming books in the weeks before our next Mind & Language symposium:

If you aren’t doing so already, remember that following Brains on Facebook and Twitter is a great way to keep up with these and other upcoming events.


Upcoming Calls for Papers and Abstracts

Several recent calls for papers and abstracts are likely to be of interest to readers of the Brains blog:

  • The 11th annual conference of the American Synesthesia Association will be held at the University of Miami, October 2-4, 2015. Abstracts of 250 words or less should be submitted by May 15. To submit abstracts, and for further information, see
  • A conference on Imagination and Mental Imagery will be held at the University of Antwerp, June 9-10, 2015. Submitted papers of 3,000 words or less are due by March 19 to Bence Nanay, For further information, see
  • The Open Minds X conference will be held at the University of Manchester on July 3, 2015. The conference is intended to provide a supportive and stimulating environment for postgraduate students and early career researchers to share and discuss their work. Submitted papers suitable for a 20-minute presentation are due by April 13 to For further information, see
  • A conference and summer school on Mind, Value and Mental Health will be held at the University of Oxford on July 25, 2015. Submitted abstracts of 300 words or less from graduate students, recently completed PhDs, and postdocs are due by April 17 to For further information, see

The Interpersonal Self

In part three of Self and Other, which carries the title The Interpersonal Self, I return to the earlier established contrast between the experiential self and the normatively enriched and narratively extended self. We are here dealing with two notions placed at each end of a scale. On the one hand, we have a minimal take on the self that seeks to cash it out in terms of the first-person perspective. On the other hand, we have a far richer normatively guided notion that firmly situates the self in culture and history. Whereas the former notion captures an important but pre-social aspect of our experiential life, the latter notion most certainly does include the social dimension, but it does so by emphasizing the role of language. Given the difference between the two notions, it is natural to wonder about the developmental trajectory. How do we get from one to the other? A possible answer, that simultaneously suggests that the two notions are in need of a supplement, is to point to pre-linguistic forms of sociality with a direct impact on the formation and development of the self.

In Self and Other, I propose that our experience of and subsequent adoption of the other’s attitude towards ourselves, i.e., our coming to understand ourselves through others, contributes to the constitution of a new dimension of selfhood, one that brings us beyond the experiential self, while not yet amounting to a full-blown narratively extended self. Following Neisser, we might call this dimension the interpersonal self, i.e., the self in its relation to and interaction with others (Neisser 1991). We develop as interpersonal selves, not only by experiencing ourselves in our interaction with and emotional response to others, but also by experiencing and internalizing the other’s perspective on ourselves. The interpersonal self has clear presuppositions of its own, including the possession of a first-person perspective and a capacity for empathy. But it also feeds into the subsequent development of a more normatively enriched and diachronically extended narrative self, and can thereby serve as an important bridge between the two previously discussed dimensions of self.

Although there is still some disagreement about how early the infant is able to be aware of itself as the object of the other’s attention, there is widespread consensus that this understanding is manifest in a whole range of emotions. The presence of emotions such as shyness, coyness and embarrassment indicates that the infant has a sense of herself as the object of the other’s evaluation, and that that evaluation matters to her. Although emotions like these have often been called self-conscious emotions, it might ultimately be better to call them self-other-conscious emotions, since they make us aware of a relational being, that is, they concern the self-in-relation-to-the-other (Reddy 2008).

These considerations lead me to shame. What can shame tell us about the nature of the self? Does shame testify to the presence of a self-concept, a (failed) self-ideal, and a capacity for critical self-assessment, or does it rather, as some have suggested, point to the fact that the self is in part socially constructed? Should shame primarily be classified as a self-conscious emotion or is it rather a distinct social emotion or is there something misleading about this very alternative? I explore these questions, differentiate various forms of shame, and argue that shame exemplifies an other-mediated form of self-experience and can therefore serve to pinpoint one of the limitations of the experiential notion of self. Fundamentally speaking, shame testifies to our exposure and vulnerability, and is importantly linked to such issues as concealment and disclosure, sociality and alienation, separation and interdependence, difference and connectedness. The shamed self is not simply the experiential core self; or to put it more accurately, a self that can be shamed is a more complex (and complicated) self than the minimalist experiential self.

In the concluding chapter of the book, I basically ask whether the preceding investigation of self and other might help elucidate the structure of the we. The we is not some entity that is observed from without, but rather something I experience from within in virtue of my membership and participation. When adopting the we-perspective, we do not leave the first-person point of view behind; rather, we exchange its singular for its plural form.

In my analysis, I suggest that the second-person singular might be crucial for an understanding of the first-person plural. In contrast to empathy, second-person perspective taking involves a reciprocal relation between you and me, since a unique feature of relating to you as you is that you also have a second-person perspective on me, that is, you take me as your you. To that extent, there cannot be a single you: there always has to be at least two. In short, to adopt the second-person perspective is to engage in a subject–subject (you–me) relation where I am aware of the other and, at the same time, implicitly aware of myself in the accusative, as attended to or addressed by the other. I suggest that this process is required in order for me to identify with a group and to become aware of myself as one of us.

Drawing on resources found in early phenomenologists such as Scheler, Husserl, Walther and Schutz, I end up proposing that the we(-experience) is not prior to or equiprimordial with self(-experience) or other(-experience), but that prototypical forms of we-intentionality are founded upon empathy and joint attention and require the adoption of a second-person perspective. The self–other differentiation, the distinction between self and other, consequently precedes the emergence of, and is retained in, the we. (For a bit more on this latter idea, see also Zahavi 2015 and the virtual lecture The Phenomenological We).


Neisser, U. (1993), The Self Perceived. In U. Neisser (Ed.), The Perceived Self: Ecological and

Interpersonal Sources of Self-Knowledge (New York: Cambridge University Press), 3–21.

Reddy, V. (2008), How Infants Know Minds (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press).

Zahavi, D. (2015), “You, me, and we: The sharing of emotional experiences.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 22/12, 84-101.


Another Look at “The Dress”: A Guest Post by Justin Broackes

The following is a guest post written by Justin Broackes, who is Professor of Philosophy at Brown University, and has published extensively in the philosophy and science of color, among many other subjects. We’re very pleased to publish it here as a follow-up to yesterday’s roundtable discussion of what “the dress” has to teach about the philosophy and science of color and light.

Black and White, Light and Dark

Fig. 1: Original Tumblr image of "The Dress"
Figure 1: Original Tumblr image of “The Dress” (click to view full size)

This is a fascinating image! First, it may be worth mentioning that many of the basic questions are not specially to do with colour but with lightness. Take the original Tumblr image (Fig. 1, right) and take one of the publicity photos from Roman Originals of someone modelling the dress (Fig. 2, below), and print them both in black and white–and the first could easily be a picture of a basically white dress (with some second colour, darker), and the other could only be a picture of a basically dark dress, perhaps blue (again, with some darker colour).

Fig. 2: Publicity photo of "The Dress"
Figure 2: Publicity photo of “The Dress” (click to view full size)

The way we ‘read’ such images is extremely interesting—and instructive about the visual system in general. But it may be worth mentioning—in the face of some people who’d like to use them to make big philosophical points way too quickly—that the ambiguities and difficulties with perception of light and dark certainly don’t show that light and dark are an illusion — and the original Tumblr photo doesn’t show that colour is an illusion. They shows that dark things can sometimes be made to look lighter than they are (and sometimes lighter to some people, and properly dark to others)—and that similar difficulties can arise with colours.

Colour Correction and the extremes that can be treated as ‘White’

It’s worth seeing out how special are the conditions in which these kind of difficulties can occur. To get a picture like the original Tumblr photo, one recipe would be to overexpose the picture, and have the camera ‘correct’ or neutralize most of the blue of the dress by setting its “white balance” to something that is almost as blue as the dress itself. You can get pretty much the same effect, starting with an ordinary photo of the Dress — say, the publicity photo in Figure 2 above. If you try adjusting the ‘white’ (using Photoshop or Image Correction in Apple Preview), you can make the appearance of the dress a pretty good match for its appearance in the original puzzle photo. (It helps to zoom in and reduce the two windows, so you see just a middle portion of the dress in each photo: and have the two images next to each other on screen.) Once you’ve imposed the necessary ‘correction’ to the publicity photo, if you then zoom out and see what you have created, you will find that you’ve given the whole picture an extreme yellow tinge. The arms are now much closer in colour to the white background, the lighter regions of skin are so pale they look almost transparent, the contrast between light and shade in the hair is terrific — like a 1960s Pop Art image. That’s what the original Tumblr image would have looked like, if the same exposure had been used and a person had been wearing the dress.

Of course, if a person had been wearing the dress, the camera actually wouldn’t (without a special override) have chosen such an extreme setting for the white point: it’s precisely because the scene is so special that it worked as it did on the camera, and why in turn it poses such difficulties for the viewer. About two-thirds of the image is taken up with a minimally colour-varying object (alternately blue and black), there is a second object (the jacket), but it’s almost the same blue, and those two objects are the only things in their ‘space’ (or lighting environment); there are no flesh colours anywhere; there are surrounding objects, but they are in a completely different ‘spaces’: out of focus, far behind, with evidently totally different lighting (on the right), and almost impossible to ‘read’ (on the left). The dress itself does not become less puzzling: though at first it might seem that a person was wearing it (just with arms and legs out of view), a second look shows it to be almost flat (and sometimes concave), perhaps hanging on pole with a T-bar at the top. These are just the kinds of scene for which we should expect colour constancy to be impossible. Think of photographing large expanses of uniform (or two-coloured) curtain material (each in particular shade of red, orange, etc.), from close up, using a camera that automatically compensates for any general tinge in the image.

Colour Constancy: Two possible rules

The interesting thing is not, I think, that in these circumstances colour constancy breaks down, but that so much is maintained at all. But how does colour constancy operate when it does, and on what bases? In the following figures and commentary, I’ve given the beginnings of an account of why people looking at the Dress photo sometimes see white-and-gold and sometimes see blue-and-black.

Left Figure: CIE 1931 x, y Chromaticity diagram, showing the chromaticity of colours in the spectrum (on the curve, running from 400 to 700 nanometres) and the purples got by mixing the extreme blue and red (on straight line closing the curve). Less saturated colours are inside the curve—I’ve inserted labels for the most salient regions, with arrows to show lines of increasing saturation from White towards the four ‘unique’ hues. Right Figure: Chromaticity of colours in the Dress photo. The triangle encloses the range of colours available on a standard computer screen. The darker stripes are very similar in chromaticity (a pale slightly orange yellow), and so are the lighter stripes and the jacket (a pale blue). I’ve inserted a standard white (D65) as a reference point. What we see depends on what we might call the white balance correction made in the visual system. If the visual system treats the brightest things in the field as white (something that Edwin Land, of Polaroid camera fame, favoured as a general hypothesis), then the jacket and the lighter stripes of the dress come out as white, and the darker stripes come out as gold, or orange-yellow (and one may have the impression of looking through a sort of bluish-tinge or sheen on the picture). (Think of drawing a line from the lower-left cluster of points to the upper-right cluster: the direction corresponds to a slightly orange yellow.) If the system treats the darker stripes as black (resetting the neutral point, so to speak, in the region of the upper right cluster of points) then the jacket and the lighter stripes come out as a moderately saturated blue. (Think of drawing a line from the upper-right cluster to the lower-left cluster: the direction (and distance) corresponds to a good blue.) But this is only a part of what we need to think about: e.g., there’s also the lightness (as well as colour) perception, and the spatial segmentation of the scene. (My calculations from the Photoshop RGB values given in WIRED.)
Figure 3: Two rules for colour constancy. (Click to enlarge figure and caption. ) Left side: CIE 1931 x, y Chromaticity diagram, showing the chromaticity of colours in the spectrum (on the curve, running from 400 to 700 nanometres) and the purples got by mixing the extreme blue and red (on straight line closing the curve). Less saturated colours are inside the curve—I’ve inserted labels for the most salient regions, with arrows to show lines of increasing saturation from White towards the four ‘unique’ hues. Right side: Chromaticity of colours in the Dress photo. The triangle encloses the range of colours available on a standard computer screen. The darker stripes are all very similar in chromaticity (a pale slightly orange yellow), and so are the lighter stripes and the jacket (a pale blue). I’ve inserted a standard white (D65) as a reference point. What we see depends on what we might call the white balance correction made in the visual system. If the visual system treats the brightest things in the field as white (something that Edwin Land, of Polaroid camera fame, favoured as a general hypothesis), then the jacket and the lighter stripes of the dress come out as white, and the darker stripes come out as gold, or orange-yellow (and one may have the impression of looking through a sort of bluish-tinge or sheen on the picture). (Think of drawing a line from the lower-left cluster of points to the upper-right cluster: the direction corresponds to a slightly orange yellow.) If the system treats the darker stripes as black (resetting the neutral point, so to speak, in the region of the upper right cluster of points) then the jacket and the lighter stripes come out as a moderately saturated blue. (Think of drawing a line from the upper-right cluster to the lower-left cluster: the direction (and distance) corresponds to a good blue.) But this is only a part of what we need to think about: e.g., there’s also the lightness (as well as colour), and the spatial segmentation of the scene. (My calculations from the Photoshop RGB values given in WIRED.)

The first option is actually perhaps the easier one to understand: setting a ‘white point’ to the brightest region in the scene is the kind of strategy that often works (and that Edwin Land, in his famous Retinex theory (Scientific American, December 1977) thought we standardly employed—perhaps more than we actually do). There are technical and principled difficulties with the theory that Land presents, but it may yet be a good start. On the other hand, when people see blue and black (correctly, as it happens), how are they doing it? Land’s rule certainly gives us the wrong answer in this case. One option is that they use the darkest regions (from the ‘black’ of the dress) to set the neutral point: and maybe that’s the right answer. (We might therefore try a kind of ‘inverted Retinex’ rule: take the darkest region, or some average of the several darkest regions, (which of course typically in a real scene won’t have a zero score in the R, G and B channels, but will be tinged in some way), and set that to some standard and low ‘neutral’ value (say, R = 0.05, G = 0.05, B = 0.05).) That is the kind of suggestion I’ve worked with in my caption to the Figure, and it seems to fit the people seeing blue and black. But whether the visual system really does more generally operate according to such a rule is another matter—something for which I don’t have the empirical information.

Often, with natural scenes, the difference between the implications of the Retinex and the ‘inverted Retinex’ rules will be small; but with scenes like this (where the general coloration is very marked, but the darkest regions have a different colour character from the remainder of the scene) there is a big difference between the implications of the two rules. And this very wonderful image suggests that, even if neither rule has much chance of being simply and straightforwardly correct (there are so many additional factors that Land omits and this isn’t the time to mention), yet there may be some significant truth to be found in both of them.


Empathetic Understanding

Today I will continue my discussion of Self and Other, and move on to the second part of the book which carries the title Empathic Understanding.

My defence of a minimalist conception of experiential selfhood doesn’t merely target no-self accounts, but also the kind of social constructivism according to which the self is through and through socially constructed, and for whom all self-experience is intersubjectively mediated. But here is a worry. Isn’t the notion of an experiential self overly Cartesian and doesn’t a strong emphasis on the first-personal character of consciousness run the risk of prohibiting a satisfactory account of intersubjectivity? Shouldn’t one rather argue for the co-constitution of self and other or perhaps opt for the view that one only obtains the self-relation constitutive of selfhood by being socialized into a publicly shared space of normativity? I reject these proposals, and the task of the second part of Self and Other is to show that a defence of experiential selfhood and a focus on first-personal self-acquaintance doesn’t have to go hand in hand with the view that the experiences of others are not manifest or present or given in any straightforward sense to us. In fact, rather than preventing a satisfactory solution to the problem of other minds, I would consider the notion of an experiential self a precondition for any plausible account of intersubjectivity. Continue reading Empathetic Understanding


Philosophers on #thedress: a Brains Blog roundtable

Click to view full size
Click to view full size

Unless you have the good fortune to be shielded from the latest obsessions of social media, you heard last week about “the dress”, an image of a dress that some people see as white and gold while others see it as blue and black, with a few able to switch between the two interpretations.

A week or so late to the game, and now that everyone has made up their minds about what color the dress is and moved on to discussing other matters, the Brains blog is pleased to be hosting a roundtable discussion among several distinguished philosophers, who address the science of the phenomenon as well as deeper questions about whether this all just goes to show that everything is, like, only your opinion, man.

Contributing to the discussion are Kathleen Akins (Simon Fraser University), Keith Allen (University of York, UK), Brit Brogaard (University of Miami), Alex Byrne (MIT) and David Hilbert (University of Illinois, Chicago), Jonathan Cohen (University of California, San Diego), Carolyn Jennings (University of California, Merced), and Yasmina Jraissati (American University of Beirut). [UPDATE: See also the recent guest post by Justin Broackes (Brown).] To expand their contributions, just click their names below. And feel free to continue the discussion in the comments!

Header image source: @budoucha, via Kathleen Akins

Kathleen Akins

A neuroscientist and friend Bevil Conway has written a nice piece on this, which you can find on Wired: Excellent diagrams!But for the record, here is on my own take on The Dress. There are a number of different things going on in this image that lead people (or more precisely, their visual systems) to see the dress as having different colours. I suspect the central mechanism that explains much of the disagreement is just colour constancy. Throughout the day, the colour of the light which illuminates any natural scene changes in predominant wavelength. So, outdoors, the colour of sunlight reflected from an object depends upon the time of day, position of the sun in the sky, position of the viewer relative to the sun and so on. Indoors, in artificial settings, the colour of light depends upon which artificial light source you are using—incandescent (yellow), fluorescent (a variety of colours given filters), halogen (very intense light across the whole spectrum), etc. Just as the human visual system adapts for changes in light intensity, the retina and visual brain adapt to these changes in predominant wavelength through adjustment of contrast mechanisms. You, the person, rarely notice these adaptations, unless it’s too dark to read, or someone has suddenly turned on the light at night—or someone asks you about The Dress. So, for example, even though an incandescent light is predominantly yellow/orange, when you turn on your incandescent desk lamp, you don’t think that your shirt has suddenly turned orange, even though, in fact, your shirt now reflects predominantly yellow-orange light. If you were to take a photograph of your white shirt, and then cut a small window into a piece of white copier paper, and place it over the image of the shirt, you would be able to see that the shirt really does reflect mostly orange-yellow light. You can see this clearly in the Wired illustrations.

As I said, there are a number of things going on in this photograph, but colour constancy is the main one. I myself see The Dress as white and gold. I’m just that sort of person (no, that was a joke). In the Wired article, you can see that the jacket is reflecting mostly blue light. My visual system interprets the jacket as white but as illuminated by blue light. If you shone a blue light on a white and gold dress, and then took at a photograph of the dress, you would see that the white stripes of the dress reflect blue light (because the light is blue) and the gold stripes would reflect a very dark, muddy colour, a mixture of blue and yellow light at a low intensity. Actually, the light reflected from a shiny gold material would also have white ‘glints’—specular reflectance from the gold material, another ‘hint’ in The Dress photograph that the dress is gold. This is why I see The Dress as white and gold, because a white and gold dress, seen under a dim blue light, would look just like this in its image (or photograph).

Other people see the dress as black and blue because their visual systems makes a different ‘guess’ about the colour of the light. Their visual systems interpret the light as white, as emitting all wavelengths of light equally. Given an actual black and blue dress and ‘white’ light source, a photograph of the this dress would show the blue stripes as reflecting blue light, and the black stripes as reflecting almost no light. The photograph would be much closer to the true colours of the dress: there would be blue and black stripes in both.

As you can see from the Wired photograph, both of these interpretations work, more or less, just as a (rare) matter of chance. If your brain interprets the light as blue, you see a white and gold dress; if your brain interprets the light as white (or ‘colourless’) then you see the The Dress as black and blue. In fact, the fact that the dark stripes are shiny, adds to the plausibility of the gold/white interpretation. And because the viewer has never seen The Dress before, it’s up to the brain to figure out which interpretation is more likely. Both interpretations work, so some brains see one thing, and some brains see the other. In fact, some people can make the dress switch back and forth in colour at will, just like some people can make a Necker cube, switch back and forth. It is nice colour illusion, one of the very few natural illusions of this kind.

One reason why we rarely have colour illusions is because, in any natural scene, the scene is complex enough to yield a stable interpretation of object colour. The standard artificial illusions for shape and size depend upon reducing the information within the scene (e.g. Necker cubes have no shading information, and the Ames room reduces depth perception). The Dress manages to do much the same thing simply by ‘hogging’ the photograph — taking up most of the photograph—and thereby providing very little background information.

As any philosopher will have noticed, the above interpretation depends upon a realist view about colour. (Shockingly, I think that the dress is either black and blue or white and gold — and that facts about The Dress’s colours warrant specific shoe/accessory choices.) However, this realism follows from some complex views about human colour vision, namely: (1) Seeing object surfaces as having colours, just like seeing surfaces as light or dark, is a complex task, one that usually occurs sub-personally but can at times require our conscious attention (witness ‘reversing’ the dress colour combination); (2) the luminance and chromatic systems both begin with contrast encodings, the most useful and most general form of visual information for seeing objects; and (3) from these luminance and chromatic contrast encodings, various properties of the world are discerned — and; (4) it is from these properties, not from sensations (be they colour of grayscale), that we come to see surface colours and object albedo (surface lightness/darkness). In other words, seeing surface colour is a high-level cognitive achievement, one that children ‘grow into’ at the ancient age of 3 and onwards, given suitable training with colour names.

Where does this leave us? On the one hand, the cognitive nature of colour perception is what makes it immune to illusion in the ordinary case, when viewing complex natural scenes. This is why The Dress is so…shocking. There are usually too many properties of the scene that coalesce around a single interpretation of object colour. On the other hand, this is what makes colour perception such a prime subject for colour illusions. If we have no access to the properties of scenes that would normally allow us to see stable surface colours, we are easily ‘fooled’ by these artificial stimuli. Notably, no one about to buy The Dress, or to try it on, would be in any doubt about its colours—or be able to convince their shopping partners that The Dress is gold and white when it is black and blue. But the photograph of the dress is another story.

Keith Allen

Do the radically different experiences of ‘the dress’ show us that things aren’t really coloured—that colours are ‘invented by the brain’—or else that colours are relational properties—that the dress is white-and-gold-for-me, but blue-and-black-for-you? However tempting these responses are, the details of the case don’t really bear them out. The issue isn’t really the dress, but a photograph of the dress—and a poor quality photograph at that. Everyone agrees (or would agree, if they saw it in different conditions) that the dress itself is black and blue. And since many people won’t have seen the dress ‘in person’, but only better photographs of the dress, there’s no reason to suppose that there is a general problem about photographic representations of colour. An obvious explanation of this widespread agreement about the colour of the dress itself is that colours are non-relational properties of things that we all, more or less successfully, perceive.But what about the photograph? It might be suggested that those (myself included) who see the photograph as representing a white and gold dress at least can’t be wrong about that. But we are familiar with visual illusions in which things appear other than they really are. One of the striking things about the photograph of the dress is that it is an illusion to which only some people are susceptible. But although admitting that only some of us misperceive the photograph is unsettling, it is not ad hoc, since everyone agrees on the colour of the dress it represents.


Brit Brogaard

Colors are not really low-level properties. They are computed rather late in the visual system. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that they are generated outside of the visual cortex (see Brogaard, B & Gatzia, DA, “Is Color experience Cognitively Penetrable?”, Topics in Cognitive Science, In Press). So, when light reaches out eyes, we don’t automatically see colors. Our brains need to go through a lot of processing and interpretation of what the environment is like. A great example of this is the checker illusion.This illusion occurs because our perceptual system adjusts for changes in the “the spectral power distribution” (SPD) of the illuminant, thus treating an image the same way it would treat an object in natural illumination conditions. In our environment the level of energy of the light at each wavelength in the visible spectrum (SPD) varies greatly across different light sources (illuminants) and different times of the day. Cool white fluorescent light and sunlight have radically different SPDs. Sunlight has vastly greater amounts of energy in the blue and green portions of the spectrum, which explains why an item of clothing may look very different in the store and when worn outside on a sunny day. The SPD of sunlight also varies throughout the day. Sunlight at midday contains a greater proportion of blue light than sunlight in the morning or afternoon, which contains higher quantities of light in the yellow and red regions of the color spectrum. Sunlight in the shade, when it is not overcast, contains even greater amounts of blue light.

In the picture of the dress the environment is clearly presented to us. It is left vague whether we are seeing the dress in bright sunlight, inside illuminated by artificial light or in the shade. But our brains fixates on one of those environments. When our brains interprets the background as being sunny, we see the dress as blue and black. If our brains takes the dress to be in the shade, then it will be more likely to look white and gold.


Alex Byrne and David Hilbert

Three observations and one recommendation about the dress.1) The question of why it looks different to different people (and changes appearance for some) is a question for color science, not philosophy. It is a question about the workings of the human visual system, not a question about color language, color concepts, the inverted spectrum, or anything else for which the tools of philosophy might be relevant.

2) There is widespread lip service (among both philosophers and non-philosophers) paid to the claim that color is a subjective phenomenon, on the grounds that color appearance varies with the characteristics of the perceiver. Despite this, the reaction to a convincing example of such variation in color appearance was alternately (a) disbelief, and (b) a massive investment of time in trying to understand how what everyone professes to believe happens actually happened.

3) People have an intense commitment to knowing the real colors of things. The debate was not only—or even primarily—about the interesting questions concerning color appearance. People wanted to know the color of the dress.

Recommendation: philosophers should stop saying that color is subjective. It’s not true in any interesting sense and, although we can coerce lip service by sophistical argument, the vulgar really don’t believe it.


Jonathan Cohen

Explaining why the dress looks two different ways is straightforward, at least in broad strokes: there’s bluish chromatic content in the picture, but too few cues to establish whether that content should be assigned to the surface (which would mean treating the dress as blue/black) or the illuminant (which would mean describing the dress in a way that discounts for the chromatic content, hence as white/gold). Hence there are two stable interpretations available to the perceptual system.What makes the case interesting in ways that go beyond this familiar phenomenon is the difference it highlights between perceiving the world and perceiving pictures. Perceptual ambiguities like that involving the dress do arise in the world, but (at least, outside the controlled conditions of the lab) are rarely so persistent. After all, in the world, visual systems have or can easily obtain (when we walk around or shift our gaze) more cues about both surface and illuminant — e.g., data about how the illuminant affects objects of known colors (familiar fruit types, familiar clothing items, our own skin), statistical relations between chromatic content and lightness, etc. And these data can resolve outstanding ambiguities. The persistent ambiguity of the dress is in this way essentially pictorial: it depends on the relative unavailability of such additional, disambiguating data under conditions of picture perception. This is an ambiguity not about the dress, but about “The Dress”.


Carolyn Jennings

For most of us, #dressgate is not about an actual dress, but about an ambiguous image of a dress, and about the source(s) of that ambiguity. Any of the following factors may be relevant: a) physiological differences in the eyes and/or sensory system, b) differences in the prior light setting of the viewer, c) differences in the image and/or viewing screen, d) differences in pre-conscious assumptions, e) differences in attention/focus, and f) conceptual/linguistic differences. For those who can see both versions of the image, the crucial factor between white/gold and blue/black is likely d and/or e. These factors best explain why the same person can look at the same image in the same lighting conditions and see the dress as “100% blue and black” in one moment and “gold and white…100%” in the next. Yet, there is more to this debate than color constancy and assumptions about light. For one, these factors do not appear to make much of an impact on those who see the dress as only blue/brown. For another, they do not tell us why some cannot see both white/gold and blue/black, despite trying the many different techniques. The remaining conflict probably comes down to either f) or some combination of a), b), and c). It is f) that I find the most interesting and which I think has been discussed the least.Here is the problem: most of us come into this debate first hearing that there are two options: white/gold or blue/black. Since the dress has neither white nor black in it, our willingness to side with one or the other camp may come down to the flexibility of our white and black color concepts. Some may have an inflexible white concept: In one video, the speaker “proves” that the dress is blue and black by selecting shades of blue and brown and arguing that shades from light to medium blue cannot be taken to be white (“it’s never white”), whereas shades from light brown to dark brown can be taken to be black (“it’s like a brown color. So I say it’s black”). Others may have an inflexible black concept: In my own experience of viewing the image, it is much more difficult for me to see the dress as blue and black than white and gold. But I have found that I often take items sold as black to be non-black (usually dark blue). Thus, I suspect that my concept of black is less flexible than for others. So different color concepts are likely playing a role. Yet, I don’t think there is one true cause of #dressgate. If anything, I think it is because so many factors involved and are so difficult to tease apart that this controversy has had so much purchase.


Yasmina Jraissati

If you hold a burning hot pot, its energetic property causes activation of specific sense organs, and you feel a burn in your hand. Non-realist views on color (to roughly refer to a range of views) often imply that unlike the case of the pot, the experience of the energetic property of color is dependent on viewer and context, and is therefore unreliable. To use a distinction Garner makes in his book (1974): while energetic property does activate sense organs, “it is stimulus information or structure that provides meaning and is pertinent” to perception, where structure is understood as “a complex system considered from the point of view of the whole rather than of a single part”. In other words, it is precisely the relation of an object’s color to viewer and context – lighting and surrounding objects – that is relevant to our experience of the object’s color.The Dress episode straightforwardly shows that taken out of context, the energetic property of the color of the dress is literally meaningless. Perhaps this should encourage us, in our discussions on the nature of color, to consider it as having an informational property along with an energetic one.



CFA: Cognitive Science Stream at AAP 2015

Hi all, this should be great this year, Macquarie has a lot of good theorists in cog sci and psychology as well as philosophy:

This year the Australasian Association of Philosophy meeting is being hosted by Macquarie University (July 5th-9th), which also boasts a philosophy friendly Department of Psychology and an interdisciplinary Department of Cognitive Science.

This year we will continue to run an Advances in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science and Psychology stream in partnership with the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science:

In recent decades philosophers taking a rigerously naturalistic approach to the mind (broadly treating minds as natural phenomena open to empirical investigation) have made considerable advances in our understanding of phenomena such as consciousness, memory, delusions and mental representation to name just a few. This stream aims to showcase the newest work in this area.

Registration/Conference info:

Early registration closes Friday May 15th

Please direct any questions specific to the stream to me, general questions about the conference should go to Jeanette Kennett

all the best


The Experiential Self

Self and Other is divided into what at first might look like three distinct parts. There are, however, a number of interlocking themes that run through the book and makes it into one interconnected whole. Let me today present some themes from the first part of the book that is entitled The Experiential Self.

If we compare the anti-realist position defended by some philosophers with the realism about self that we find in the work of various cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists, there is a striking mismatch between the self that is rejected by the skeptics and the self that is accepted by many empirical scientists. Such a finding makes it urgent carefully to distinguish different notions of self. By way of illustration, consider two very different theoretical conceptions. According to social constructivism, one cannot be a self on one’s own, but only together with others. According to a more experience-based approach, selfhood is a built-in feature of experiential life. Importantly, both of these approaches would reject the definition of the self espoused by many anti-realists, i.e., the view that the self – if it exists – must be some kind of unchanging and imperishable soul-substance.

A substantial portion of the first part of the book consists in an exploration and articulation of the experience-based, phenomenological, approach to self. Phenomenally conscious episodes, episodes characterized by a subjective what-it-is-likeness, are not merely episodes that happen to take place in a subject, regardless of whether or not the subject is aware of it. Rather, such episodes are necessarily pre-reflectively self-conscious in the weak sense that they are like something for the subject. Indeed, for every possible experience we might have, each of us can say, it is for me that it is like that to have the experience. To that extent, what-it-is-like-ness is properly speaking what-it-is-like-for-me-ness. This for-me-ness does not denote a specific experiential content; rather, it refers to the first-personal presence of experience. It refers to the fact that the experiences I am living through present themselves differently to me than to anybody else. When I have experiences, I have them minely, so to speak. The claim I am defending in the book is that this first-personal presence, this for-me-ness, amounts to a primitive and minimal form of selfhood. This is a view with a venerable phenomenological history to it. As Sartre once put it, “pre-reflective consciousness is self-consciousness. It is this same notion of self which must be studied, for it defines the very being of consciousness” (Sartre 2003: 100).

Obviously, a view like this has not gone unchallenged, and in chapter 3 and 4 of the book, I consider various objections that has been and might be raised against the notion of an experiential self. One set of objections might be seen as different versions of what might be termed the anonymity objection. They basically deny that experience per se entails subjectivity, first-personal givenness and for-me-ness. One version argues that consciousness on the pre-reflective level is so completely and fully immersed in the world that it remains oblivious to itself. There is at that stage and on that level no room for any self-consciousness, for-me-ness or mineness. On this view, experiential ownership is the outcome of a meta-cognitive operation that involves conceptual and linguistic resources. Another version denies that one is ever directly acquainted with one’s own experiences, i.e., not only pre-reflectively but also when one engages in reflection and introspection. According to those who defend the transparency thesis, phenomenal consciousness is strictly and exclusively world-presenting. It only presents us with external objects and their properties. In the book, I argue that both versions of this anonymity objection have some very unattractive implications. The first version has either to deny phenomenal consciousness to pre-linguistic creatures or it has to show that phenomenal consciousness can lack subjectivity and experiential perspectivalness altogether. The second version has difficulties distinguishing convincingly between conscious and non-conscious intentional states and has occasionally even argued that we cannot know, at least not in any direct manner, that we are not zombies (Dretske 2003).

Another set of objections does not question the existence of experiential subjectivity, but the identification of the latter with selfhood. According to one criticism, experience might indeed be characterized by subjectivity, but this in no way warrants the claim that there is also a unified self. Indeed, to interpret the intrinsically self-reflexive stream of consciousness as an enduring self-entity is, according to some Buddhist critics, to engage in an illusory reification. The assessment of this objection once again makes it clear that the current debate is complicated by the co-existence of quite different notions of self. As I see it, the self that is denied by these Buddhist critics differs markedly from the experiential self that I am defending. But this is where another objection might take over. It rejects the minimalist notion of an experiential self and argues that the self rather than simply being equated with a built-in feature of consciousness must instead be located and situated within a space of normativity. To put it differently, the requirements that must be met in order to qualify as a self are higher than those needed in order to be conscious. Who we are is not constituted by intrinsic features of experience, but by our normative commitments and endorsements. Rather than simply being a brute fact, rather than simply being something waiting to be discovered, who we are is a question of our self-interpretation, of who we take ourselves to be. I do think an exhaustive account of human selfhood would also have to include a consideration of the role played by our ongoing self-interpretation, but I would dispute that any such normative account can stand on its own. As I see it, it necessarily presupposes the dimension of selfhood that is targeted by the experience-based approach or, to put it differently, I would claim that experiential ownership remains a pre-reflective and pre-linguistic presupposition for all normative commitments and narrative self-interpretations. In recent years, this point seems to have been conceded by at least some narrativists, who now explicitly concede that any plausible account of selfhood must respect the importance of the first-personal character or subjectivity of experience (Rudd 2012).

Rather than seeing the two outlined notions of the self as alternatives that we have to choose between, it might consequently be better to see them as complementary notions that each capture something central and important. Indeed, we should not accept being forced to choose between viewing selfhood as either a socially constructed achievement or an innate and culturally invariant as a given. Who we are is both made and found. Why is there no incompatibility or straightforward contradiction involved in embracing both views? Obviously, because they target different aspects or levels of selfhood, and the minimalist notion of an experiential self is fully compatible with a more complex notion of a socially and normatively embedded self. What at first sight looked like a substantial disagreement might in the end be more of a terminological dispute that can be resolved the moment we discard the ambition of operating with only one notion of selfhood.

In the blogs that follows, I will discuss whether a commitment to a minimalist notion of selfhood impedes a plausible account of intersubjectivity and interpersonal understanding or whether the former might rather be a necessary condition for the latter.


Dretske, F. (2003). How Do You Know You Are Not a Zombie? In B. Gertler (Ed.), Privileged Access: Philosophical Accounts of Self-Knowledge (pp. 1–13). Aldershot: Ashgate.

Rudd, A. (2012). Self, Value, & Narrative: A Kierkegaardian Approach. Oxford University Press.

Sartre, J.-P. (2003). Being and Nothingness: An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology. Trans. H. E. Barnes. London and New York: Routledge.

Zahavi, D. (1999). Self-awareness and Alterity. A Phenomenological Investigation. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Zahavi, D. (2001). Husserl and Transcendental Intersubjectivity. Athens: Ohio University Press.


Dan Zahavi: An Introduction

Thanks to John Schwenkler for offering me this opportunity to share some thoughts regarding my new book Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame (OUP 2014). Before going into some details about the book, let me just say a few introductory words about my own background.

I have been Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen since 2002. The Center for Subjectivity Research which was also established in 2002 has since then carried out research on the self and its relations to others and the world from an interdisciplinary perspective. Its exploration of subjectivity has explicitly sought to further the integration of different philosophical traditions, in particular phenomenology, hermeneutics, analytic philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion. At the same time, however, much time has been invested in promoting the dialogue between philosophy and empirical science, in particular psychiatry and psychopathology, but also clinical psychology, cognitive science and developmental psychology.

As for my own research, I have been working on the topics of self and other for more than 20 years. Continue reading Dan Zahavi: An Introduction


Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015

Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015

Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen

Place:  Copenhagen University, Njalsgade 134, Aud. 22.0.11, 2300 Copenhagen S

Time: 10-14 August, 2015

Deadline for registration and submission of abstract is May 11, 2015 Continue reading Copenhagen Summer School in Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind 2015


CFP: Special issue on Mind and Folk Psychology

CFP: Special issue of ‘Studia Philosophica Estonica’ on Mind and Folk Psychology, ed. by Bruno Mölder

Folk psychology is commonly understood as a conceptual framework that is comprised of concepts for making sense of people’s actions. Sometimes it is assumed that folk psychology fixes the meaning of mental terms. Some assume that social cognition is enabled by our implicit grasp of folk psychology. Supposing that folk psychology plays some such fundamental role, what does that tell us about the concepts of mind and mental states? Is a mental state a folk psychological construct? Are there aspects of mind that extend beyond the purview of folk psychology?

We welcome papers on this broad theme. Continue reading CFP: Special issue on Mind and Folk Psychology


Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference

Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference

23 – 25 July 2015: St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford

Two linked events exploring areas in which the philosophy of mind and ethics or the philosophy of value make contact with issues about mental health.  Continue reading Mind, Value and Mental Health: Philosophy and Psychiatry Summer School and Conference


CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self

CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self

Deadline for Applications: Monday 2nd March 2015

Further information and applications forms can be found here: 

“The social self: how social interactions shape body and self-representations”

An Interdisciplinary Summer School
June 21 – 27, 2015, Hotel Apollo, Aegina, Greece Continue reading CFA: Aegina Summer School of the Social Self


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