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REVISITING BASIC COLOR TERMS

by Barbara Saunders

All, at first, was vague in color, but gradually a difference was perceived, and men were compelled to find some term to express this newly observed appearance... green was for a long time regarded as yellow ... Not only was the sky not called blue, but nothing was called blue, and it was impossible to call anything blue .. the men of that time did not and could not call anything blue (Geiger, quoted by Hopkins 1883:184-5).

In this paper a historiography of colour science and a re-reading of Rivers and Lenneberg casts new light on Berlin & Kay’s Basic Color Terms. Unacknowledged commitments are presented, as too, are hints about links to a larger research programme, namely, Evolutionary Psychology. Throughout I claim that Berlin and Kay endow their ambitious project with an aura of strong prima facie evidence by fiat of colour science. Colour science in the relevant sense is not however an empirical but an a priori science, commitment to which fatally compromises Berlin and Kay's claims.

PART I

Introduction

To excavate the foundations of modern colour science we must return to Roger Bacon (±1220-1292), for whom to speak of colour is to speak of vision tout court. Because the explanans of vision is mathematical, vision is the model for all science, its causal processes following the pattern of optical phenomena, specifically of the rainbow (Kraml 1994). For Bacon, the rainbow held the key not only to an explanation of vision but to the whole of science itself.1. Though modern colour science is less candid about its goals, its ambitions are similar. Maxwell (1872) for example said: "All vision is colour vision ... only by observing differences in colour [can] we distinguish the forms of objects." 2. When colour vision becomes a discrete problem-solving device constituted by evolution in the brain, the hubris is clear. As Mollon (1989) says "the biological advantages of colour vision [lie] in detecting targets, in segregating the visual field and in identifying particular objects or states".3.  Though Bacon's candour is rare, his aspirations endure.

There are at least four heroes of early modern colour science: Descartes, Newton, Helmholtz and Hering. Descartes, accused of plagiarising Bacon, reacted against the Aristotelian distinction between spectral and object colour, to propose an out-of-the-hat metaphysics:4.  all properties which could not be described in purely quantitative or geometrical terms were banish from science. Sensations, acting as 'filters', account for how the complexity and diversity of physical light is translated into the simplicity of colour vision. That simplicity, like other central ideas of Cartesian science, is innate, God having implanted the laws of geometry that define its essence (Bermudez 1997). Against this background, Newton eradicated the last traces of Aristotelian distinctions between lights and surfaces by demonstrating that 'the colours are [specific] dispositions in the rays' - that is, the elementary constituents of light are monochromatic beams (though Goethe was to show that the unique relation of hue to refraction was not based on fact, both Newton’s prismatic spectrum and his own inverted spectrum being ‘spectra’ or ghosts).5.  Nonetheless the unity proposed by Newton led Maxwell to regard the composition of colours as analogous to the composition of forces in classical mechanics.

Helmholtz proposed the Cartesian-Newtonian geometrical thesis could be supported by physiology.6 The innate geometry was instantiated by three kinds of retinal nerve fibers corresponding to three basic colours, combinations of which account for all other spectral possibilities.7.  When any frequency of light within the visible spectrum strikes the retina, each retinal nerve fibre is activated selectively according to disposition. For Helmholtz a human being is little more than a wave length responder: three retinal nerve fibres suffice for colour vision.8.  But Helmholtz's 'fit' between spectral colour and neurophysiological filters was rivalled by Hering's account. He too pursued the innate (or 'intuitive'),9.  but focussed ‘higher-up’ in the neurophysiology, proposing a Cyclopean eye as the central innervation.10.  It coordinated eye movements and shifts in attention, to produce a unitary visual impression. It occured in neural tissue and embodied three qualitatively distinct processes, capable of opponent modes of reaction. Light entering the eye was absorbed by photosensitive material (Empfangsstoffe), which released energy that served as the stimulus for the neural response processes. These processes were bimodal electrical patterns which 'code' the incoming signal in opposed and antagonistic modes to provide sensory 'information'. Instead of Helmholtz’s three primitive colours, Hering proposed in addition to a basic light/dark (white/black) response, two opponent primitive pairs - red/green and yellow/blue.

In the 1950's when work on the physiology of isolated fish retinas suggested graded potentials whose signs reverse and whose amplitudes vary with wavelength, it was claimed Hering's opponent mechanism had been 'found'.11.  When similar potentials were claimed for neurons in the monkey-thalamus (in the 1960s), the Helmholtz and Hering traditions were merged into a single two-stage process: Helmhotz in the retina, Hering further up-stream. 12. 

 

The Spectral Creature, Phenomenal Subject and Normal Observer

The Helmholtz-Hering manifold instantiated by humans, is composite, in contrast to the simplicity of other creatures. Humans exist in three disjunct worlds: the outer world of physical impingement, the inner world of psychology, and the 'real' world of the decontextualised 'normal observer.' In the outer world, the spectral creature of Helmholtz, like other creatures, is responsive to wavelength and intensity of light impinging on retinal receptors. These responses are governed by the three types of cone filters in the retina which define the human creature as a 'trichromat'. Other spectrally responsive creatures are referred to as dichromats, tetrachromats, or even pentachromats according to the number of filters, and it is this cross-species 'fact' of spectral responsiveness that endows the evolutionary argument with plausibility.13.  As Descartes said, God designed spectral response for survival value (Cottingham 1988).14. 

In the inner world of Hering-opponency a 'subject' is constructed by phenomenal attributes with 'psychological' characterisation. 'Sensations', 'introspection', and 'experience' typify this subject constituting its 'psychological reality.' The Hering-world shows itself in modes of appearance, memory effects, light/dark adaptation, after images, attention, and preference. To be 'serious science' however, such effects must be quantified. 'Sensation' is expunged in favour of 'percept', characterised as a stimulus dynamically interpreted by the brain in combination with other physical attributes, to become the 'core' response an observer's percepts ideally approach (Johnston 1996).

When the spectral creature of the Helmholtz filters and the phenomenal subject of Hering opponency are tied together, a fixed relationship between wavelength and psychological reality results. First proposed in 1922 by the Optical Society of America (OSA), physicists and psychologists negotiated a definition of colour, inherent to which was the invariant percept-sensation common to the 'normal observer' (Johnston 1996). This 'normal observer', embodying the spectral creature and phenomenal subject, was in fact nothing more than a passively registering, trichromatic automaton - a photological apparatus instantiating what Russell was to call 'sensibilia.' 15. 

Another standardisation also took place. In the wake of Helmholtz, hue, saturation and lightness were derived by analogy from physical operations, allowing colour perception to become an engineering problem (Mausfeld 1997). Though 'saturation' was rejected by many, in the light of pragmatic results and need for a coherent narrative, caveats were forgotten. Hue, saturation and lightness became the defining characteristics of basic chromatic sensations, and with that came the 'intuitive' self-evidence of the three-dimensional 'colour space', providing the a priori essence of the colour world.

In the C19th colour-order systems too were developed. These were human engineered, physically exemplified databases of dye and pigment specifications, as well as proto-psychological colour spaces. The most successful is the Munsell system, introduced in the early C20th, now the national colour standard in America, Japan and Britain and accepted primarily for usefulness in commerce and industry. Organised according to Fechner's psychophysical law, Munsell was spaced according to hue-saturation-lightness 16.  and the principle of JNDs - its phenomenal motivation forgotten as it became a system of samples and stimuli (Sivik 1997). Plotted onto the physical Commission Internationale de L'Éclairage (CIE) system, all irregularities were smoothed out. In 1943 a renotation was carried out. Though psychologists objected that psychometric methods disregarded the phenomenal 'subject', the normal' observer' was reconfigured in CIE-terms. In consequence, 'dominant' wavelength, intensity and excitation purity - the physical analogons of hue, lightness and saturation - were calculated, and all Munsell codes tied to CIE parameters (Wysezecki and Stiles 1967). Henceforth linguistic response to the Munsell chart could be converted into physical magnitudes to create a 'linguistic optics'. It is this 'absolute' space 17.  that has become the most widely used apparatus in psychological research (Jameson and d'Andrade 1997; Jameson 1997). Its justification is to provide:

... [a] clear mental image of colour relations [that] must underlie any intelligent grouping of its hues in the best degrees of strength and light ... [and which] is best produced by using a sphere to represent the world of color (Birren 1969) (emphasis added).

It is of vital importance to recognise that the 'must' in this quotation is not a scientific hypothesis capable of explaining and confirming, or verifying and falsifying, but a necessity derived from Cartesian metaphysics and Newtonian mechanical laws. It is a priori because all normal humans are required to have this ability as the condition of possibility for 'seeing colour.' That the system is not empirical, but based on petitio principii (begging the question of 'colour'), is never noted.

PART II

Multiple Rediscoveries

Berlin and Kay, in their (1969) Basic Color Terms, propose an onto-methodology of cross-cultural colour research realised by the Munsell system. They claim the relation between Munsell, the workings of the visual system, and the colour naming behaviour of people, is so tight it can be taken to be a causative law. Diversity of colour-naming behavior is defined as a system-regulated stability evinced by Evolution. The full lexicalisation of the human colour space is designated Evolutionary Stage Seven, 18. as in American English; languages below this level are the fossil record. 19. 

Asserting this to be an 'independent rediscovery' of the problematic tackled by Rivers in his section on "Colour Vision" in Haddon's Reports of the Cambridge Expedition to Torres Straits, Berlin and Kay claimed the universality and evolutionary development of eleven Basic Color Terms (BCTs). Acknowledging Rivers drew similar conclusions, his concern had been to test both the mental characteristics of the natives and see whether there was a necessary connection between colour sense and colour language (Rivers 1901a; 1901b), while their concern was to refute Relativism.

Rivers

With regard to predecessors, Berlin and Kay (1969) accord Rivers a place in the proto-history of colour-naming due to his physiological explanation of "the colour defect".Just as Gladstone, Magnus and Geiger had proposed evolutionary stages in the lexicalisation of the spectrum (from long to short wavelength) to explain the colour deficiency of the Ancients, so Rivers experimentally established four evolutionary levels or stages of colour naming among the Torres Strait and Fly River people of New Guinea.

Using standardised materials 20.  for his experiments, Rivers came to the conclusion that lowest in Evolution were the Seven Rivers people, with terms for red, white and black. Then came the Kiwai people with red and yellow and an indefinite term for green - followed by the Murray Islanders with red, yellow and green, but a borrowed term for blue. The Mabuiag people were highest in evolution, having terms for both green and blue, though these were "confused". Rivers comments that:

... the order in which these four tribes are thus placed, on the ground of the development of their colour language, corresponds with the order in which they would be placed on the ground of their general intellectual and cultural development (Rivers 1901b:47).

The crucial categories Rivers found were red, green, yellow and blue, their ‘evolution’ being from long to short wavelengths (i.e. from red to blue), thus confirming the physiological explanation of Gladstone, Magnus and Geiger (Slobodin 1978). Geiger (1871; 1872) had examined Greek literature, the Vedic hymns and the Zend-Avesta amongst other writings, using the employment or non-employment of certain colour terms as an index of ocular development. With Gladstone (1858) and Magnus (1877), Geiger assumed the lexicalisation of the spectrum was based on physiological development, colour words being the 'reflex' of the spectral stimulus (and thereby exhausting the definition of 'colour'). Possessing a structure of its own, this reflex registered linguistically the spectral order in an additive progression of stages from long to short wavelengths. The last elementary colour term to develop was short-wave 'blue'. In proposing this, Geiger followed Gladstone in arguing that 'primitive' people had fewer colour names because they were physiologically underdeveloped. Having no word for blue meant that the person could not see blue. 21. 

It is not surprising that the four colours Rivers ‘found’ correspond to the four primitive colours of Hering. In his obituary (1923:xliii), Head said:

Rivers absorbed with avidity the views on colour vision and the nature of vital processes ... expressed by th[e] physiologist of genius [Hering] (quoted by Slobodin 1978).

It is the red/green and yellow/blue opponents of Hering that Rivers 'found', and to which he ascribed an evolutionary development (though internal analysis of the linguistic data reveals nothing but ad hoc coinage in the experimental situation (Hickerson 1971; 1975) - a situation also found in Rivers' so-called 'Eskimo' data (Rivers 1902). 22.  It is also clear that Gladstone et al.’s theories of physiological evolution provided the philological counterpart to, or convergence with, Hering's theory of opponency (Slobodin 1978).

Rivers' dwelt too on 'threshold' experiments noting that indigenous thresholds for red were "acute", whereas a blue spot close by was "confused" with black - the brilliant blue of the sky and deepest black receiving the same name. He speculated:

... the 'insensitiveness' to blue might depend on the lack of development of some physiological substance or mechanism... or it may only depend on the fact that the retina of the Papuan is more strongly pigmented than that of the European (Rivers 1901b:52).

Though a pigmented retina was probable, more noteworthy was that in the only ‘complete’ experimental study to date (i.e. his Torres Straits data), colour language was found to correspond to a "defect" in the colour sense - ie. to "insensitiveness" to blue (ibid.).

Berlin and Kay (1969) claimed Rivers' thesis of the pigmented retina was "almost certainly wrong" (1969:148). But when "yellow intraocular pigments" were proposed by Bornstein (1973a,b), Berlin and Berlin (1975) commended them as "nothing short of sensational" commenting that such "high concentrations of yellow intraocular pigmentation is found predominantly in highly pigmented peoples" (ibid.: 86n14). Thus intraocular pigments, responsible for the "black, blue, green confusion", were related to phenotypical features, namely, pigmented skin, 23.  an assertion statistically supported by Ember (1978), co-editor of the new Encylopedia of Cultural Anthropology (1996). To find correlations in support of the B&K evolutionary hypothesis, Ember (1978) argued that in thirty-one cases societies with six or more Basic Color Terms were more likely to be further distant from the equator than those with fewer terms. He suggested that complexity and distance from equator interact, both influencing the size of the colour vocabulary. In the Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology it was put like this:

Some anthropologists ... argue that languages with a large color lexicon should be found in places with considerable socioeconomic stratification and occupational specialization... Other social scientists have offered a biological explanation. They note that humans with dark eyes and dark skins are less able to make certain color distinctions than those with lighter pigmentation. Therefore, languages spoken by dark-eyed, dark-skinned peoples are likely to have small color lexicons. Because such peoples tend to live near the equator, there should be a relationship between latitude and number of basic color terms. Melvin Ember (1978) has examined these competing hypotheses cross-culturally ... He concluded that the cross-cultural evidence supported both the explanations (Chibnick 1996:1261-2).

Undiscussed, these issues continue to be a sub-theme of all colour categorisation research. True, Rivers later recanted his evolutionary views in favour of diffusionism (in his 1911 Presidential address to the Anthropological Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science), but it remains a moot point whether or not that extends to his colour naming data too. Amongst other colour naming researchers, the evolutionary hypothesis remains an integral feature.

Lenneberg's Methods

Berlin and Kay (1969) took advantage of advances made in the standardisation of colour science in the intervening years. A sophisticated methodology had been developed in the 1950s by Lenneberg (of MIT), to grapple with the 'Cassirer-Whorf' Weltanschauung thesis (Lenneberg 1953; Brown and Lenneberg 1954; Lenneberg and Roberts 1956). Lenneberg defined the "language of experience" as a linguistic "reflex" of sensory mechanisms which in every language would refer to elementary sensations. Stimuli could be ordered in systematic ways to provide precise descriptive frames. For colour the frame was hue, saturation and lightness of the Munsell system. Drawing on the Committee on Colorimetry of the OSA (1953), Lenneberg defined hue as the quality of sensation according to which an observer was aware of differences of wavelengths of radiant energy; saturation as the quality of sensation by which an observer was aware of different purities of any one 'dominant' wavelength (i.e. relative to human, as distinct from avian, etc. observers), and lightness (or brightness) as the attribute of sensation by which an observer was aware of differences of luminance. With this definition in hand, he reached for the Munsell system (Lenneberg and Roberts 1956).

Previously Lenneberg had asked five judges to pick out from the most highly saturated outer shell of the Munsell system - what he called "the best red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink and brown" (Brown and Lenneberg 1954). These were the "most frequent color terms in English" (ibid: 458n.17), referring to Thorndike and Lorge's Teachers' Wordbook itself derived (albeit indirectly), from standardised colour systems. With this apparatus he conducted a cross-cultural comparison of Zuñi and American English. Colour terms were elicited, reorganised according to Munsell, mapped onto the maximally saturated chart, and foci were indicated.

Aware of the limitations of the Munsell system, Lenneberg raised the question of how culture-bound its dimensions might be (Lenneberg and Roberts 1956). But just as C19th sceptics buried doubts about saturation, so Lenneberg claimed that though the Munsell dimensions were not "natural, logical or necessary" they did provide a pragmatic "measuring stick" to describe cross-cultural similarities or differences (ibid.).24.  However his refusal to grant epistemic priority to American English colour terms or the Munsell system has earned him the epithet of 'Relativist'.

Berlin and Kay of 1969

Disregarding Lenneberg's cautions, Berlin and Kay (B&K) took over his equipment, procedures, colour categories and foci. Other than to acknowledge the "classic" Zuñi-English study, they merely "reported" where the Munsell system could be bought, what its 1960's price was, and what kind of lighting had been employed in their tests (B&K1969:160n.3).

Twenty languages were mapped according to Lenneberg's procedures onto the Munsell chart. His American English categories were confirmed by these mappings (as 'universal') on the grounds that the foci of the colour categories clustered together. B&K then added data from a further seventy eight ethnographic accounts (amongst which Rivers' data figured prominently). On the basis of the initial 'universal' foci, plus the ethnographic accounts, they concluded there were eleven Basic Color Terms (BCTs), whose orderly emergence in the world's languages constituted an evolutionary law. The eleven BCTS were a metalanguage for characterising both the Munsell chart and the mysterious biological entities that emerged linguistically in response to it. These entities, which coincided perfectly with American-English colour terms, were recapitulationist pan-human universals based on species-specific bio-morphological structures underlying the 'perceptual-linguistic functions' (1969:109 passim). All that remained was to locate the cerebral structures governing them.25. 

Though Berlin and Kay insist their tests were 'empirical', it is worth looking at them more closely. There were labelling, transcription and factual errors, empirical deficiencies in the experiments, a language sample that was not random, and a bilingual and colonial factor that was ignored. The informants were narrowly homogenous, often with one bilingual speaker for each of nineteen language, all foreign students, presumably at Berkeley (Rosch 1972).26.  Finally, fifteen of the twenty mapped languages were at Evolutionary Stage Seven, meaning that B&K's hardest datum - the universal clustering of foci - was a foregone conclusion.

Among their peers the criterion of empirical adequacy was waived in favour of the 'simplicity' of the eleven BCTs, the 'coherent' clustering of foci, and the 'surprising' evolutionary sequence. Commentators prophesied Basic Color Terms would become one of the most remarkable discoveries of anthropology (Durbin 1972; Sahlins 1976), a 'bio-cultural' finding, merely awaiting its inevitable neuro-reduction (Hays et al. 1972). This suspension of critical faculties must be put down to such factors as weariness with the Relativist Zeitgeist, local factional politics, congruence with structuralist and Chomskian principles, the status of Berkeley Anthropology and a sychophantic adulation of scientistic methodology.

Problems and developments

Only a failure of nerve prevented specification of the neuro-reduction in 1969. But in 1978, Hering's opponent processes were wedded to the theory of BCTs. Unacknowledged of course was the opponency built into Rivers' Torres Straits data. Rather, it was claimed, on the basis of colour science:

... basic color categories ... can be derived directly from the neural response patterns that underlie the perception of color (Kay&McDaniel 1978:630) emphasis added .

Thus Basic Color Terms became Fundamental Neural Response Categories (FNRs). In contrast to the progressive encoding of foci, now the colour space evolutionarily split. Fissipating into warm and cool composite categories, into primaries (the Hering opponents), and into secondaries (orange, purple, etc), these three types of category have a two-fold purpose: they explain why the six unique hue sensations do not emerge all at once, and they save the original eleven BCTs which would otherwise be incompatible with the Hering unique hues.

Unfortunately the incommensurability of Munsell and Hering is evident the moment one steps outside its 'paradigm' (Sivek 1997). To balance their conflicting characteristics, Kay "hypothesised" that there may be a specific basis only for the primary categories, (white, black, red, green, blue and yellow), while in the case of derived categories (secondaries) and perhaps also the composites ("warm-cool" categories) it may rather be a matter of colour-specific hard-wired neural mechanisms interacting with some more general cognitive mechanisms that preside over category formation.27.  However in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, they abandon the assertion about "more general cognitive mechanisms", claiming that a recently published psychophysical model suggests how the early stage composites are hardwired). They say "... these two composites [red or yellow; green or blue] based on cross-language color naming data, correspond precisely to the two channels of hue information at one stage of a recent 4-stage model of color perception ..." (Kay and Berlin 1997:200 emphasis added). However, unless Kay and Berlin provide a similar neurophysiological-psychophysical model to explain the other composites - yellow-green, yellow-green-blue, blue-black, white-red-yellow, black-blue-green, and so on 28.  - these pronouncements fail in their own terms. This account merely raises more problems of reconciliation with Hering opponency than it can solve. The new position now constitutes a total volte face from the earlier pronouncement and seeks to vindicate the hardwired account of the evolution of Basic Color Terms. In the history of the colour naming/categorisation programme this means that B&K have 'found' (that is, have a model for) Geiger's, Magnus’ and Rivers' evolutionarily emergent physiological mechanisms.

Conclusion

Basic Color Terms (1969), derived from Rivers and Lenneberg, appealed to a priori biology and bio-physics for universality and perceptual evolution. With the re-discovery of Hering opponency, Rivers' conclusions were recapitulated. Differing only in method and scale,'better' method, derived initially from Lenneberg, allowed colour science to warrant claims, and Big(gish) Science to provide resources. What can now be anticipated for the future is that Munsell will be substituted by the Swedish Natural Colour System (NCS) - itself based on Hering opponency, a larger research group - probably the Max Planck Institute - will provide manpower and field-data, and Evolutionary Psychology will be the 'paradigm.' 29. The phenomena will be saved, the model simplified, the culture-boundness and fragility of colour science ignored, and faith and hope pinned on the redemptive science to come. 30. 

 

Paper presented to conference on ‘Anthropology and Psychology: The Legacy of the Torres Strait Expedition’, St. John’s College, Cambridge 10-12 August 1998. To appear in Science as Culture

Conference description: The 1898 Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait is widely recognised as having been formative in the development of anthropology and psychology in Britain. It was a turning-point in the careers of several participants who went on to found what have become highly specialised disciplines in the twentieth century [e.g., A. C. Haddon, W. H. R. Rivers, William McDougall].

The aim of the conference is to look forward by reflecting on the past, to ask whether the dynamic interaction of embryonic disciplines a century ago offers a useful framework for thinking about the possibilities for intellectual synthesis today. The conference will provide a unique opportunity for anthropologists, psychologists and historians of science to carry forward a conversation whose relevance is sharpened by widespread discontent with the forms of academic division of labour today.

Notes

1. Regarding himself as a pupil of the Arabs, in particular of Ibn al-Haitam (Alhazen), Bacon propagated the new science. contributing both to the history of science and to the theory of science. The explanation of the rainbow occurs in the 6th part (On Experimental Science) of his Opus Maius. See Kraml (1994:353).

2. Maxwell (1860) quoted in Koenderinck (1995/6:vii).

3. Others extend the biological theory of colour vision to account for basic colour categories (Hardin 1988) and unique hues (Shepard 1991).

4. Cottingham (1989/90:233).

5. Koenderinck (1995/6:62 ) says: If you look through a small light spot on a dark background you seen Newton's spectrum. If you look at a dark spot on a light background you see Goethe's 'inverted spectrum'. It behaves in many respects like the Newtonean one, the rays of diverse colours being at equal intervals unequally refracted. The interpretation of Newton's experimentum crucis (the monochromatic beams are the elementary constituents of light) is mistaken. The invariant correspondence between 'refrangeability' (refraction) and hue is unwarranted. Monochromatic colours are black, the purest beams being invisible because dark. If the colours of the inverted spectrum are purified they become invisible because they become equal to (white) light at the source. Thus both the Newtonean and the inverted spectrum are really 'spectra' i.e. ghosts, though Goethe's is the more elementary because more stable. Because Newton was so preoccupied with reduction, other kinds of experiments did not occur to him. The idea of using an opaque object and not a hole never occured to him. In geometrical optics the images from complementary apertures (such as a slit and a bar) will necessarily lead to complementary colours. Because of the similar status of the inverted spectrum, Newton's presumed one-to-one relation between hues and refrangeability (refraction) is not based on fact

6. Helmholtz adopted the Kantian metaphysic that the necessary order that we suppose to exist in nature is in some way identical with that which has been imposed by our cognitive constitution.

7. Helmholtz (Physiological Optics Vol. I.: 145; 162) notes that though the character of a colour is a function of only three variables, which three fundamental spectral colours are chosen is to a great extent arbitrary; any three that can be mixed to get white, might be chosen.

8. Helmholtz (ibid.1909: 142-4) says, "When we speak of reducing the colours to three fundamental colours, this must be understood in a subjective sense, and as being an attempt to trace the colour sensations to three fundamental sensations.... Young's hypothesis ... is [not] opposed to the anatomical facts..."

9. Hering's links to Kant were noted by Helmholtz in Section 26 of the Optics: "In its more recent development, especially as developed by E. Hering, there is an ideated subjective visual space, wherein the sensations of the separate nerve fibres are supposed to be registered according to certain innate laws. Thus in this theory not only is Kant's assertion adopted, that the general apperception of space is an original form of our ideation, but there are laid down as innate certain special space perceptions."

10. Hurvich and Jameson (1964:x; xiv-xv).

11. Hurvich and Jameson, (1964:xvi-xvii) refer to the "findings of G. Svaetichin and his collaborators on neural elements in the retina of the fish." See Svaetichin and MacNichol (1958).

12. See De Valois, Abramov and Jacobs (1966) and De Valois and Jacobs (1968)

13. See Thompson et al. 1991; Thompson 1995.

14. Shepard (1991) reiterates the point in a neo-Darwinian context.

15. Cf. Ayer (1971:57-65).

16. Munsell employs the terms Hue, Value and Chroma for what I have termed Hue, Lightness and Saturation.

17. This is a play on Newton's absolute (Euclidean) space used to represent his mechanical laws.

18. Reminiscent both of the seven bands of Newton's spectrum and Morgan's seven stages of civilization.

19. Broadly in what follows, 'Berlin and Kay' will cover all publications concerning colour, authored or co-authored by at least one of them.

20. Rivers explains that he "obtained the names of a set of papers, sold by Rothe, of Leipzig which ... [were] so widely used by workers on colour vision that they may be regarded as standard" (Rivers 1901a:53). These prismatic (or aperture) colours may therefore be presumed to have been axiomatic.

21. Interestingly among relativists there is a similar story that is told about 'justice': because the Greeks could not 'see' the 'injustice' of slavery, they could not formulate a critique of it (see Moody-Adams 1997 on Rorty).

22. Though a dictionary compiled by the Reverend MacFarlane may also have had something to do with Rivers' choice of terms.

23. In view of this textual evidence, it is difficult to see Hardin and Maffi's (1997:5) pronouncements on the innocence or disingenuousness of B&K (and their followers) regarding evolution, as anything but whitewash.

24. The implication of Lenneberg's cautions about the Munsell system was that the mental characteristics to be found were set against a series of categories embodied in test materials, held as an indubitable standard for evaluating or measuring development. See also Hickerson (1975) and Ratner (1989).

25. There is a sense in which these mysterious entities could be characterised as 'fragments of rationality' - though perhaps they are 'better than rational'. See Cosmides and Tooby (1994).

26. Kay, Berlin, Maffi and Merrifield claim that "the number of speakers interviewed for most of the languages was three or fewer..." (1997:22)

27. According to Maffi and Hardin (1997:362).

28. See Hardin and Maffi (1997:31-3).

29. This point was adumbrated but not fully developed in (Kay et al. 1991)

30. When the eliminativist metaphysics, tendentious opponent processes and flimsy scientific model are appreciated, the evolutionary thesis becomes an empty schemata, the cherished integrative causal model evaporates, and no conceptual orchestration is available for Evolutionary Psychology.

References Cited

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Berlin, B. and P. Kay (1969) Basic Color Terms. Their Universality and Evolution, Berkeley: University of California Press. Reprinted 1991.

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Bornstein, M.H. (1973b) The Psychophysiological Component of Cultural Difference in Color Naming and Illusion Susceptibility, Behavior Science Notes, 8: 41-101.

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Brown, R.W. and E. Lenneberg (1954) A Study in Language and Cognition, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 49: 454-62.

Chibnik, M. (1996) Statistical Methods, in (eds. D. Levinson and M. Ember) Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology, New York: Henry Holt and Company, pp1257-1262.

Cosmides, L. and J. Tooby (1994) Better than Rational: Evolutionary Psychology and the Invisible Hand, American Economic Review, pp. 327-332.

Cottingham, J. (1989/90) Descartes on Colour, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, pp. 231-246.

De Valois R.L. and G.H. Jacobs (1968) Primate Color Vision, Science, 162:533-540.

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Copyright: The Author

Address for correspondence: Barbara Saunders, Departments of Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Leuven, Belgium email: pop00127@mail.cc.kuleuven.ac.be


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