The Dress: A Philosophy Problem Gone Viral (a few updates)

The Dress: A Philosophy Problem Gone Viral (a few updates)


Making the rounds yesterday was the dress. Take a look, and figure out which two colors it is:

dress 2

Some people see the dress as white and gold, others see it as blue and black. Which do you see it as?

The phenomenon is interesting and fun, and there are explanations of it at Wired (more science-minded), Vox (more philosophical), and elsewhere. Millions of people are currently obsessed with discussing the dress and figuring out why there is such disagreement about it. This is a kind of philosophy problem gone viral, and it’s an opportunity for philosophers to speak up publicly and provide some insight into the phenomenon and—since people are curious—-actually be listened to.

Is there a lesson here for those concerned with outreach and public philosophy? Are there other such problems that could gain such traction so quickly in social media? Should we try to take advantage of the momentum? What should next week’s viral philosophy conundrum be? Discussion and ideas welcome.

And by the way, it’s blue and black.

UPDATE: Buy it here (read the comments!)

UPDATE 2 (2/28/15): “What would Wittgenstein say about that dress?” by Barry Smith (University of London) at BBC News.

UPDATE 3 (3/3/15): The Brains Blog hosts a philosophical roundtable on The Dress.

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Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
6 years ago

To me the most interesting thing has been watching how most people argue about it. Briefly, it seems like the following things tend to happen:
1) the first debate is over what color the dress really is, not what the colors in the picture are
2) but once they’ve been told it, people will be willing to grant that the “real” dress is blue and black.
3) the question then becomes whether the picture is “really” white and gold or blue and black.
4) eventually pop-science is brought in to explain why our eyes might “over compensate” for a “bad” picture.
5) at this point, both sides can see how the other side can hold their “mistaken” views, and can identify the terms of the “debate,” without being able to actually make their eyes see it. [I know what the brains of the white-Goldies are doing, but try as I might I can’t make my brain do it.] except for a squishy middle who now says they can see both (or sometimes vacillate between seeing both.)
6) descent into aporia ensues (LOLs, emojis, etc.
7) consequently the linguistic turn is never made, whereby people realize that the problem is with the realistic and normative biases in our ordinary concepts.
8) and the realization that “debate” is less important than the education/expirementation of one’s aesthetic sensibilities.
9) my prescription is that people ought to read more Protagoras, Hume, and Nietzsche.Report

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

Here’s another take on the phenomenon: seen in a certain light, it’s kind of sad that when a plainly philosophical question publicly grips millions of people, no-one, and I mean NO-one, stops to say: “Hey, why don’t I ask philosophers what to make of this?”

I don’t mean to suggest that we should be seen as having the final, correct answers to such questions, but at the very least, wouldn’t it be amazing if we were seen as having the authority to guide the discussion? Has ANYONE received a request for clarification, a route into the literature, etc?Report

Daniel
Daniel
6 years ago

For me it said more about my priors about the internet than about philosophy. When I first saw the dress, it looked gold and white (now I see it as black and blue most of the time), and when I saw that the Buzzfeed poll was 75-25 in favor of gold and white, I really thought that it was more likely that 25% of Buzzfee readers were just trolling than that 25% of people perceived the dress differently. Only when my girlfriend insisted she saw it the other way without knowing it was an internet meme did I start to think more about what was going on.

Also, Joe – did you click on the Vox article? It didn’t interview everyone but was by a philosophy major.Report

David Hilbert
6 years ago

I’ve published a fair amount about color and sometime receive requests to comment on issues like this but I heard about this one from my daughter, not a reporter. There are two separable questions here. Why does this picture look so different to different people and why do the people discussing it online say the things that they do? If it’s the first question that we want answered then I think that consulting experts on the science of color vision is probably the way to go. From that point of view, I’m not sure that it’s really a problem that Wired, for example, contacted two very good (and imaginative) color scientists, Bevill Conway and Jay Neitz, rather than someone like me. Even the Vox, article which brings in some philosophy, ends up concluding that it isn’t really a philosophical issue and clearly has the first question in mind. If Ammon Allred means to suggest that the phenomenon is primarily about how we talk about pictures rather than about how the picture looks then I think he is probably wrong. I also think that the Vox article is probably unhelpful in dragging in qualia and the inverted spectrum problem which, interesting as they are, are not really relevant here (although it’s not just about the cones as Yglesias suggests). I think there is a place for philosophy in discussions like these (although I’m not sure I’m personally fast enough to contribute) but we have to be careful not to make it always about the questions that we have special expertise on. I really don’t think that Hume or Nietzsche provide the basis for a satisfying answer to the question about why it looks one way to one person and a very different way to another. I do think reminders of the complexities of the relation between how things look and the things themselves in something a philosopher can help with and might even be interesting to those obsessed with the dress.Report

Alan White
Alan White
6 years ago

In all honesty, before I read any comments I saw the dress as gold and blue, and viewing it on different devices after having read the comments, I can’t see it any other way–certainly not black. So for me the disjunction needs at least one more disjunctive possibility.Report

Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
6 years ago

Hi David,

I completely agree with you that the question about how we perceive the image is the one that most people are talking about. And as you point out, the “how we perceive” question has gotten a lot of attention from the media. I’m making the claim (in an admittedly contrarian way) that that’s not actually the most interesting question (but this is very much a matter of one’s personal philosophical proclivities), and that philosophy might have something to say about other questions that people ought to be asking but aren’t.

So I’d admittedly changed the question “why is there disagreement” [presumably about our perception] to “how do we disagree? And how do we talk about how we disagree?” Roughly, I unsurprisingly see a lot of realism in the way that folks are talking about this. I also see that realism shared by many philosophers of course, but I personally think realism is wrong. What I’ve enjoyed in observing the arguments about this picture across social media is how it can be made to highlight what happens when we misapply our realist intuitions. And Hume and Nietzsche remain entirely relevant to that question.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Ammon,

Like others, I don’t see how specifically Nietzsche is related. My impression is that he would, like Wittgenstein, be related if this were a paradigmatic case of disagreement about color concepts, a fuzzy case that can’t be resolved by linguistic usage. That’s usually the case in disagreements about color. But this case is interesting precisely because it’s not the usual color-dispute example. It’s a matter of physiology not concepts. If those disagreeing about the picture saw the dress in person, they would likely come to agreement, so it’s about qualia, not language.

Having said that, while the turn to the sciences is justified, it doesn’t resolve the questions people are asking, and so it is indeed sad that the appeal to scientific resolution was made *against* rather than in tandem with a philosophical clarification of the different questions and possible answers at stake.

For example: assuming the “rods and cones” solution is correct, it’s still unclear whether commentators even know if they’re asking 1) “what color is this photograph of a dress” or 2) “what color is the dress that has been photographed”? The debate is only interesting because most are trying to answer (2).

And (2) is philosophically interesting because only (1) is strictly about qualia. Question (2) is about an inferential judgment from qualia. (2) asks: “Given that the photographed-dress causes qualia x and y, what qualia would the dress cause in person under different conditions?” And so option A or B is correct, the dress “really is” A or B. But that’s interesting because it transforms the winners into losers: in order to be right, they have to give up the part they wanted to be right: they wanted the dress to “really” have qualia A or B, not potentially have that qualia under different conditions. They wanted their *experience* to be right, but instead it was only their *inference* that is right.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Shorter version: if you win #dressgate, it’s because you’re right about a color you didn’t experience, and wrong about the color you did experience.Report

Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
6 years ago

Anon @7: To clarify, I wasn’t appealing to a scientific resolution against a philosophical clarification — It’s pretty clear that to any questions about the perception of color philosophy and science will work “in tandem,” as you say. But I actually don’t think that most people are trying to answer (2): Or, even if they are at first, they can very quickly be shown what the answer to (2) is. And in fact, as I watched people argue about it, this happened pretty quickly (everyone agreed that real dress was blue and black or, if you prefer, that most of us would agree that the physical dress was blue and black if we saw it.) But this doesn’t resolve their puzzlement. Indeed, it seemed to heighten it (as would, for example, showing them what the pixels’ colors were isolated out of context.). What I saw people stumbling with was then articulating how the answer to the question of what the dress “really” was didn’t solve the problem of the heterogeneity of their experiences. What I find fascinating about that (but which I suspect based on your last set of comments, you’d disagree on), is that it depends upon a notion of my experience being right at the expense of other experiences. The tradition I’d flipply pointed to calls into question that conception of experience.

Or, assuming that the shorter version at 8 is a summary by the same anon: my point is that many discussants seemed to share a desire to “win,” which forces one into the dilemma that Anon @7 & 8 pointed out. One thing [again, not the only thing] that philosophers can do is to help people give up on that desire to win…Report

Ammon Allred
Ammon Allred
6 years ago

I try to articulate the point I’m making here about anti-realism better here: http://doctorideas.blogspot.com/2015/02/in-lovely-blueness-protagorass-revenge.html. I suspect that this won’t make some folks any happier because I appeal to sophists, poets and other partisans of the image (to steal a theme from Plato) — it certainly doesn’t say anything about the very important question of color perception, but as a committed pluralist, I’m comfortable accepting that philosophy can find multiple points of entry into debates both serious and silly.Report

Robert Yost
6 years ago

I think this speaks to the dearth of philosophy in the public sphere in general. Students aren’t taught philosophy in high school (in most of the US anyway), and most students don’t take philosophy in college, so many people don’t even think about philosophy as an option for having some explanation for these phenomena. This is where philosophers should take to social media and other news outlets to say “Hey! We have something of value to say about this!”
Sitting back and complaining that people don’t consider philosophy when these types of things go viral certainly won’t do anything. Additionally, philosophy and philosophers have to be willing to work quickly. In the media age of buzzfeed and facebook, putting out a journal article in a few months (or a year) won’t garner anyone’s attention. The black and blue dress will have been long forgotten, along with philosophy.Report

Sigrid
Sigrid
6 years ago

I’m wondering why the Wired article is titled “the Science of why no one agrees….”, when clearly, lots of people agree on the color of the dress.Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
6 years ago

The dress debate is truly fascinating to me. Of crucial importance, to me, is the point that color or wavelength is approximated through the use of different cones. As is described beautifully in a paper by Kathleen Akins and Martin Hahn, having three cones helps us to see wavelength more accurately than 2 cones (or one cone!), but we do not perceive those wavelengths directly: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7262488&fileId=S0140525X0006725X. “Metamers” are made possible by this fact: “Observer metameric failure can occur because of differences in color vision between observers. The common source of observer metameric failure is colorblindness, but it is also not uncommon among “normal” observers. In all cases, the proportion of long-wavelength-sensitive cones to medium-wavelength-sensitive cones in the retina, the profile of light sensitivity in each type of cone, and the amount of yellowing in the lens and macular pigment of the eye, differs from one person to the next. This alters the relative importance of different wavelengths in a spectral power distribution to each observer’s color perception. As a result, two spectrally dissimilar lights or surfaces may produce a color match for one observer but fail to match when viewed by a second observer” (from Wikipedia on “Metamerism (color)”). Thus, a biological difference could allow one person to see colors in the dress that are similar to those of the Facebook logo, whereas another person could see the colors of the dress and the colors of the Facebook logo as distinct (likewise for the “gold” color). This potential biological difference could easily be causing some confusion here, along with other factors.

Here is a list of possible factors, all of which may be playing a role in this debate: a) biological differences (e.g. different distributions of cones in the eye), b) adaptation differences (e.g. different prior lighting conditions that lead to the eyes adapting to ), c) screen differences (e.g. differences in tilt and/or brightness of screen), d) gestalt differences (e.g. different pre-conscious presumptions about light and shade), e) conceptual differences (e.g. different assignation of color terms).

Personal history with the dress: last night I saw it as being a white/gold dress in shade or backlit, while nonetheless seeing the white as appearing to be light blue in isolation and the gold as appearing to be tan in isolation. I took the issue to be a hoax until I showed the image to my friend, who said that she saw it as light blue and gray, perhaps a faded blue and black dress. Seeing the dress in natural lighting conditions and a more standard white balance does not resolve this debate for me, nor does seeing the isolated color swatches. The debate is not about the source dress, nor the isolated color swatches, but about how the dress appears to be to different people, and whether these differences come down to one or more of the above factors. For me, to see the stripes as black I have to make it the case that I cannot see yellow, which means looking at the dress from a distance. I do not have the same need to remove the blue color in order to see the rest of the dress as white.

That the issues comes down to blue and yellow makes me think that biology might be playing a role, which would make this case different from other color illusions. How this debate is settled might well be fodder for those working on epistemic disagreement, introspective accuracy, and other such issues in philosophy.Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
6 years ago

This was definitely the ideal week to begin teaching Berkeley in my Empiricism course!Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

“The debate is not about the source dress, nor the isolated color swatches, but about how the dress appears to be to different people, and whether these differences come down to one or more of the above factors.”

This case is interesting in part because it complicates this binary between the “source dress” and “the dress as it appears,” since the dress as it appears is not equivalent to the colors of the swatches. At the same time the dress as it appears is also not identical to the qualitative effects of the colors of the swatches combined. For example, I see a white dress, but not because the bluish swatch-color and the brownish swatch-color produce a white effect in a certain combination. On the contrary, it is my *knowledge* that it is a photograph of a dress that allows me to see the bluish color as white. If it were an abstract composition from the same swatches, I’d see light blue and brown.

So, between the source dress and the photograph dress (the dress of the color swatches) we have a third dress that is neither one nor the other, which is a combination of qualitative and conceptual effects.
Between seeing color and seeing an object of color there is “seeing as.” I can switch between them. I can see it “as” blue or “as” white. But when I see it “as” blue, I no longer see it as a dress. The third dress is a product of the qualia and inference from the context.

That’s where I agree with Ammon that part of the interest is the “realist” element of the debate, though for different reasons. The impassioned defenders of the “correct” answer want their answer to be correct about the “third dress,” the “seeing as” dress, when we can only be “correct” about the other two: the color swatch or the “real” dress.Report

Kathleen Akins
Kathleen Akins
6 years ago

So, I had a philosophy friend notify me about The Dress last night; then this morning there was a request from a reporter. I wrote to the reporter and then sent to another friend, and well, then was asked to post here. So here it is, my very serous take on The Dress.

There are a number of different things going on here, that lead people (or more precisely, their visual systems) to see the dress as having different colours One mechanism, that explains much of the disagreement, is colour constancy. Throughout the day, the colour of the light which illuminates any natural scene changes colours. So, outdoors, the colour of the light depends upon the sun, and sunlight actually changes its predominant wavelength, hence, colour throughout the day; Indoors, the colour of light depends upon which artificial light source you are using—incandescent (yellow), fluorescent (a variety of colours given the filters), halogen (very intense light across the whole spectrum), etc. We also have to adjust for different intensities of light, whether we’re outdoors at noon in the sun playing tennis, or sitting under cover in the shade watching the game, or at home reading with a bedside light.. In human vision, our brain automatically ‘adjusts’ for both these dimensions of light, for light intensity and predominant wavelength, which means that you, the person, rarely even notice these adaptations, unless it’s too dark to read 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 mostly yellow-orange light. If you were to take a photograph of your white shirt though, and then cut a small window into a piece of white 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.

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 that scene, then you would see that the white stripes reflect blue light (because the light is blue) and the gold stripes would reflect a very dark, muddy colour, a mixture of blue and dark yellow light. 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.

Other people see the dress as black and blue because their visual systems make a different ‘guess’ about the colour of the light. Their visual systems interpret the light as white, as emitting all wavelengths of light equally. If this were true, then in your photograph of the black and blue dress, the blue stripes would reflect blue light, and the black stripes would reflect almost no light. The photograph would be much closer to the true colours of the dress, blue and black.

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. And because the viewer has never seen The Dress before, it’s up to the brain to figure out which colours are 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, just like some people can make a Necker cube, switch back and forth (that would be my husband, not me). It is nice colour illusion, one of the very few natural illusions of this kind. (There are also effects from the background, and from the specular reflectance of the material which is shiny and thus ‘metallic’ but I think we’ve done this one to death..)Report

Chris
6 years ago

John Morrison (Barnard) spoke about the issue on MSNBC earlier today. The show was called “Now: with Alex Wagner”. Can’t find a clip yet. But at least one philosopher was contacted by the media.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
6 years ago

My colleague, Justin Broackes, was also asked by a local television station to comment. (He declined.)Report

Carolyn Dicey Jennings
Carolyn Dicey Jennings
6 years ago

I found Kathleen’s account even more convincing when I took a look at the graphics in the New York Times article, which others might find to be helpful illustrations of how far color constancy can go in this case: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/28/science/100000003540586.mobile.htmlReport

JPL
JPL
6 years ago

Alan White @ 5 above

Yes. My kid showed me the picture yesterday, and I said without hesitation that the colours were light brown and light blue. Although I’m not an artist, I come from a family of artists, and I’m used to seeing colours and remembering them in terms of how they look, not in terms of linguistic categories or conventional ideas of what the colours “should” be. The difference between the way the colours of the dress “look” in normal light (say, sunlight) and the way it “looks” as recorded by the camera lens in this case is probably due to distorting effects of the ambient light (colour, angle of illumination, intensity, etc.) between the dress and the eye or lens. The dress has a single objectively determinable reflectancy profile in both cases, but the nonnormal ambient light in the photo situation creates a difference in the pattern of wavelengths that hit the lens or retina, and perhaps this effect could be described by mathematical laws. This difference in “looks” could be tested by having subjects choose from a set of Munsell colour chips to match what the colours “look” like to them (in a controlled situation). Perhaps Tim Crane or Tyler Burge could chime in. (This explanation seems preferable to me to one in terms of an abnormality or structural difference in the physiology of the visual perception system in different subjects.)Report

JPL
JPL
6 years ago

I’ve just looked at the Wired article. The picture in question looks like the one in the middle; it does not look like the ones on the left or right (of the three images at the top of the post). Are you telling me that some people say that the picture in question looks like the one on the left and that others say that it looks like the one on the right, and that only me and Alan White say that it looks like the one in the middle? That is weird. The Wired staff did the colour matching (in the image below), and indeed all the matching colour swatches are various shades of light brown and light blue. No black, no white. So what is the problem? It looks like it’s in the way people talk about colours, the language that they use, or what they think the questioner wants.Report

Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

Andrew Moon (Rutgers) thought The Dress was a good real-live case to illustrate puzzles in the epistemology of disagreement. What to do when you have a perceptual difference with an epistemic peer? Upon first seeing the dress, which I saw as white-gold, I learned that many people saw it as black-blue (which is after all how I learned about it). Christensen would say it’s rational in this case to suspend judgment about the color of the dress in this case, which is what I did. Suppose you saw the dress on the Tumblr page (as a very early adopter) unawares there’s such a controversy, and your friend, sitting next to you sees something else than you do. Would it be reasonable to remain steadfast in this case, when the dress seems perceptually gold-white, and try as you might, you can’t get to see it another way? I think so. If you know you have normal color vision, it seems reasonable on this occasion to think your friend has a temporary lapse (or maybe he is color-blind after all – a hypothesis that isn’t unlikely if you don’t know him that well – I’ve certainly discovered about some people that they were colorblind after months of knowing them). So you can in that case downgrade your prior belief in P (you are epistemic peers) and keep your belief B (the dress is gold-white). But if you know many people believe -B, it’s unreasonable to downgrade your belief in P, and instead you should suspend judgment – at least for a simple, perceptual case like this were everyone has roughly similar background knowledge etc. This illustrates that it can make a big difference about what is the rational response in a disagreement when you disagree with one person, or with a whole group of people.
When I learned about the true color of the dress by other pictures of the wedding and the amazon page, I realized it was unreasonable to believe that the dress was blue. And after a while, I started to see it as blue and black. Somehow, my knowledge of the dress (higher-level conceptual knowledge) influenced my lower-level visual experience – this is not uncommon. However, when asking other philosophers (I happened to be at Texas A&M with many of the faculty there present), they did not experience this – the gold-whiters just continued to see the dress as gold-white, in the knowledge the dress has a different color. (This was disappointing since I thought it would be kind of neat if our lower-level perceptual processes could easily follow our higher-order beliefs that we adopt in disagreement situations).Report

Helen De Cruz
6 years ago

To follow up: I’ve now written a post on this for the Dutch philosophy blog Bij Nader Inzien, which aims to bring philosophy to a broad audience: http://bijnaderinzien.org/2015/02/28/de-jurk-en-de-epistemologie-van-de-onenigheid/ – the Google autotranslate gives some rough idea about the contents: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fbijnaderinzien.org%2F2015%2F02%2F28%2Fde-jurk-en-de-epistemologie-van-de-onenigheid%2F&edit-text=&act=urlReport

Andrew Moon
6 years ago

I like what Helen De Cruz says . =)Report

Andrew Moon
6 years ago

One unfortunate thing that I think we see is people violating David Christensen’s very plausible Independence principle, which says, “In evaluating the epistemic credentials of another’s expressed belief about P, in order to determine how (or whether) to modify my own belief about P, I should do so in a way that doesn’t rely on the reasoning behind my initial belief about P.” Unfortunately, we see people using their reasoning in favor of believing it’s color X in order to demote the epistemic credentials of the other’s belief that it’s not color X. (I’m using “reasoning” loosely here.) As Independence says, this is a no-no.Report

Andrew Moon
6 years ago

also, i’m quoting from p. 1 of Christensen’s paper here: http://www.brown.edu/academics/philosophy/sites/brown.edu.academics.philosophy/files/uploads/DisagreementQuestionBeggingAndEpistemicSelfCriticism.pdf The paper is a full-scale defense of Independence.Report

Jonathan Cohen
6 years ago

As a philosopher who has written a fair amount about perceptual variation wrt color, I certainly don’t want to downplay interest in the case. But the strangest thing about the whole episode for me has been: why the widespread interest all of a sudden in *this* instance of chromatic ambiguity? Yes, when there’s a chromatic response but too few visual cues to determine whether the chromatic content should be assigned to the surface or the illuminant, there are going to be two solutions available to the visual system. Surely that part is not news? (I think there are some residual interesting issues, such as why it has turned out to be unusually hard for perceivers to switch interpretations as one can with other ambiguous perceptual configurations; but that doesn’t seem to have been the focus of popular interest as far as I can tell.)

While I think there are plenty of interesting philosophical issues in the vicinity that could be raised, the question that has shown up in the popular press seems to be mainly: why do people see the dress differently? And to answer that, presumably you want to say something about what kinds of cues perceptual systems use to solve the inverse problem and arrive at stable surface descriptions, and what explains why different perceivers get different answers. If those are the questions, then I’m with Hilbert and Akins in thinking that it’s perfectly sensible to consult good color scientists like Conway and Neitz rather than philosophers. Now, if some media outlet wanted to move from those issues into surrounding philosophical territory, it would be appropriate at that point to talk to good color philosophers like Hilbert and Akins. But it seems pretty clear that this would count as an extension of, and departure from, what seems to have initially interested folks in the dress. No?Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Helen,

“gold-whiters just continued to see the dress as gold-white, in the knowledge the dress has a different color. (This was disappointing since I thought it would be kind of neat if our lower-level perceptual processes could easily follow our higher-order beliefs that we adopt in disagreement situations).”

Do you mean it would be more reasonable for the “gold-whiters” to stop seeing the dress as gold-white? Wouldn’t it be, in some strong sense, irrational for them to inaccurately report their qualia simply because their knowledge that contradicts them? For example, how would it be rational for a color blind person to say: “I now see that these Christmas decorations as red and green, since I know they are red and green?”

JPL,

“Although I’m not an artist, I come from a family of artists, and I’m used to seeing colours and remembering them in terms of how they look, not in terms of linguistic categories or conventional ideas of what the colours “should” be.”

This makes me wonder what percentage of artists see it as white-gold. It is, indeed, one of the challenges of an amateur artist to paint what they see rather than what they *should* see. In this case, the blue and blackers seem to be seeing what they should see rather than what they do see.

It seems important to me that *both* sides are on some important level mistaken:
W-Gers mistakenly think the dress is white and black, but are basically right about what they see.
B-Bers mistakenly think they directly perceive B-B, when instead they’re seeing it *as*, interpreting or inferring its real color as, B-B, while directly perceiving different qualia (as the swatches make clear).

Everybody’s right, because everybody’s wrong.

I’m beginning to think what’s most interesting about this debate is those who to desperately insist on a simple, singular, correct conclusion on the one hand, and those who, on the other hand, overly demonstratively stifle their yawns: “nothing strange or interesting to see here, it’s all too obvious.” What are they afraid of?Report

Helen De Cruz
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Anon: Since I don’t think switching is under direct voluntary control (as several of the Texas A&M faculty gold-whiters were unable to do this even after seeing pictures of the dress on Amazon), I don’t think it’s irrational for them to do so. The rational thing is to suspend judgment when the color is unknown, while accurately reporting your qualia (this also shows there were several positions, e.g., people who saw blue and orange), the rational thing when you know what the color is, is to adopt that belief.
Why I was disappointed is that I had hoped that everyone – like me – who saw the dress as gold-white would see it as blue-black once they knew it, the lower-level perceptual process following the conceptual knowledge. That would be cool, but it didn’t happen. Then again, when I see a Muller-Lyer pair of lines I see them as equal in length.Report

Angra Mainyu
6 years ago

I see it as blue and gold – as Alan does -, though it looks like a light blue.Report

JPL
JPL
6 years ago

Have we established that the picture actually looks different to the different people who have said what they have said about it online or elsewhere? Shouldn’t we ask people to match the colours in the picture to colour chips or swatches without asking them what colour they see (or worse, “what is the colour of this x”)? (And also to do the same with pictures of that dress in different illumination conditions?) I would predict more uniformity of response on this task than what we find in the current discussion. As I said in a comment below, the Wired staff have done such a task, and the result is the array of swatches pictured, all of varying shades of what I would call light brown and light blue, but all seemingly accurately matching the picture. Do people also disagree about the swatches, taken out of context? Do experts disagree? (The bottom dark stripe clearly looks darker than the broad top one; I would still say dark brown for that bottom one, but I could also believe that it could look black (I didn’t say”is black”) under other lighting conditions. BTW, and this could be significant for the discussion, I would say that an object “looks black” to a subject if the subject chooses a matching chip previously categorized as “black” by the observer-scientist.)Report

Farzana Haniff
Farzana Haniff
6 years ago

When I first looked at this dress, I saw white and gold. However, a few hours after when I looked again, I saw blue and black. Now every time I look, it switches back and forth between both colors. I was very confused at first because no one else was seeing both colors. However, after doing research I realized that few people were also seeing both colors at different times. Research shows that the reason everyone sees it differently is due to the way their eyes adapt to dimness and light. I am not really sure if that is true because I am usually in the same light setting everything I look at the dress. Others say that everyone sees a different color based on their mood and how they feel in the moment when they look at the picture.
I think this entire discussion is so interesting because everyone is looking at the same picture but seeing different colors. I have never seen a controversy like this before but I think its so fun to see how different everyones brain works.Report

Deb
Deb
6 years ago

As the article states -“Interestingly, scientists don’t know much about individual differences in perception, Riener said”. This in itself highlights the existing rocky theories on cognitive perception, top-down, bottom -up, or otherwise. This begs the question – is there any?
Brings to mind the Eminent Mr Hume’s “bundle theory” and Mr Nagel’s “What’s it like to be a bat”. Enough said..
Best Regards to my fellow Philosophers.Report

JPL
JPL
6 years ago

The fly and the chameleon are in agreement about the colour of the leaf when the chameleon can sneak up on the fly and eat it. And we can observe the little drama and understand it.Report

Jonathan Westphal
6 years ago

The texture of the dress – polyester or nylon – my have a role, this material has a kind of sheen that can look black or white in full sunlight.Report