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Beyond Pandora

Beyond simple curiosity, this is Thinking Too Much. If you're interested in philosophy and/or wild theories, you've come to the right place.

Name:
Location: Australia

Paddling somewhere between a mad scientist and an organisational artist. Indecisive, inconsistent and often incoherent.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Colourless

Today, while I was waiting for my sister to board a plane to Brisbane, I realised that I couldn't think in colour.

(Connection? What connection?)

Anyway, I was feeling very out of sorts and had a headache of the throbbing variety. My train of thought went something like this:

"Argh, my head... Maybe it's because there are so many things here happening at once. Maybe if I concentrate on nothing it will go away. So... think empty thoughts. White thoughts. But, hang on, I don't want to think too much about NOT having a headache, because that will make me think about having a headache. Not white thoughts, then. Blue thoughts, maybe. Hmm... blue, cold, other stuff... I associate too much stuff with blue. Maybe I should think orange thoughts, because I don't really associate anything with orange. Hmm... what does orange look like again?'

It was at that point that I began to realise that, regardless of what I had told myself when the question had popped up in English class in high school, I actually couldn't think in colour.

I kept looking around at different objects, like the bright blue bin next to the plane, and trying to reconstruct them with my eyes closed. I would get a quick impression of colour and shape, but I couldn't actually envisage 'blue'. It was more like I was seeing the bin and telling myself 'blue'. (For that matter, I probably wasn't actually seeing the bin, but that's a different discussion)

The most telling example was when I tried to envision the black strap of my camera bag on the faded black of my t-shirt. They are clearly different shades when seen with the eyes, but with my mind I cannot imagine different shades of black. I met with some success trying to tell myself that my shirt was a shade of grey, but trying to fix an image of two different blacks was just a mental impossibility.

Meanwhile, I've been reading a book, 'Out of Control', by Kevin Kelly, about concepts of future technologies. In the book, he presents the idea that complex systems do not have a central control system. Instead, each piece of the system merely does it's job independently of the others, and it is only to an outside observer that the system seems a unified whole. Like the Internet. Like a swarm of bees. Like our social heirarchy (Town, State, Nation). Like our own brains.

The idea that our minds are really just a bunch of independent associations seems to fit in with my lack of mental colour. My two black shades cannot be imagined as two different things because I only have a single set of associations that is 'black'. If I name both things 'black', the same associations will arise for both and I 'see' the same picture. I have no way of defining the difference bar visual inspection.

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