Philosophical Studies

, Volume 175, Issue 8, pp 1963–1983 | Cite as

A new inverted spectrum thought experiment

  • Richard MontgomeryEmail author


A version of the inverted spectrum thought experiment that disconfirms functionalism for the case of humans’ color experiences has typically been thought to require a certain kind of balancing act. What one needs, it has typically been thought, is a mapping of color experiences onto other color experiences that preserves the similarity and difference relationships among those experiences and the aspects of perceived colors underlying those similarities and differences. However, there are good reasons for being suspicious about whether that is possible when the palette of color experiences is that available to humans with normal vision. The new version of the thought experiment constructed here doesn’t depend on preserving those relationships. I argue that there is a coherent, metaphysically possible scenario in which two human color experiences—any two—can be seen to be functionally equivalent. The upshot is that functionalism fails for all human color experiences.


Inverted spectrum Functionalism Color vision 



Many people have affected my thinking about this topic, including an anonymous referee for Philosophical Studies. I especially wish to thank Joseph Baltimore, Larry Hardin, and Adam Podlaskowski for their diligent readings of earlier drafts and their perceptive comments. Adam, in particular, has read and commented on more drafts of this paper than I can remember.


  1. Block, N. (1990). Inverted earth. Philosophical Perspectives, 4, 53–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Block, N. (1995). On a confusion about a function of consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 18(2), 227–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boring, E. G. (1942). Sensation and perception in the history of experimental psychology. New York: Appleton-Century.Google Scholar
  4. Broackes, J. (2007). Black and white and the inverted spectrum. The Philosophical Quarterly, 57(227), 161–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Byrne, A. (2016). Inverted qualia. In E. N. Zalta (eds.) The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (Spring 2010 ed.).
  6. Byrne, A., & Hilbert, D. (2006). Hoffman’s “proof” of the possibility of spectrum inversion. Consciousness and Cognition, 15(1), 48–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Churchland, P. (1985). Reduction, qualia, and the direct introspection of brain states. The Journal of Philosophy, 82(1), 8–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Clark, A. (2010). Color, qualia, and attention: A nonstandard interpretation. In J. Cohen & M. Matthen (Eds.), Color ontology and color science. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Crane, T. (2001). The elements of mind: An introduction to the philosophy of mind. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Crick, F., & Koch, C. (1990). Towards a neurobiological theory of consciousness. Seminars in the neurosciences, 2, 263–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Decock, L., & Douven, I. (2013a). Qualia compression. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 87(1), 129–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Decock, L., & Douven, I. (2013b). Qualia change and colour science. In V. Karakostas & D. Dieks (Eds.), EPSA11 perspectives and foundational problems in philosophy of science (pp. 417–428). Springer.Google Scholar
  13. Dennett, D. (1978). Brainstorms. Montgomery, VT: Bradford Books.Google Scholar
  14. Fodor, J. (1983). The modularity of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gibson, J. (1966). The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.Google Scholar
  16. Gibson, J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  17. Hardin, L. (1988). Color for philosophers: Unweaving the rainbow. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.Google Scholar
  18. Hardin, L. (1997). Reinverting the spectrum. In A. Byrne & D. R. Hilbert (Eds.), Readings on color, volume 1: The philosophy of color. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  19. Harman, G. (1990). The intrinsic quality of experience. Philosophical Perspectives, 4, 31–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haugeland, J. (Ed.) (1998). Representational genera. In Having thought: Essays in the metaphysics of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Hering, E. (1964). Outlines of a theory of the light sense (trans: Hurvich, L. & Jameson, D.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1920.)Google Scholar
  22. Hilbert, D. R., & Kalderon, M. (2000). Color and the inverted spectrum”. In S. Davis (Ed.), Color perception: philosophical, psychological, artistic, and computational perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Hoffman, D. D. (2006). The scrambling theorem: A simple proof of the logical possibility of spectrum inversion. Consciousness and Cognition, 15(1), 31–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hurvich, L. M. (1981). Color vision. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.Google Scholar
  25. Jameson, D., & Hurvich, L. M. (1955). Some quantitative aspects of an opponent-colors theory. I. Chromatic responses and spectral saturation. JOSA, 45(7), 546–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuehni, R. (2004). Variability in unique hue selection: A surprising phenomenon. Color Research and Application, 29(2), 158–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kuehni, R. (2010). Color spaces and color order systems: A primer. In J. Cohen & M. Matthen (Eds.), Color ontology and color science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. Kuehni, R., & Schwarz, A. (2008). Color ordered: A survey of color order systems from antiquity to the present. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lewis, D. (1980). Mad pain and Martian pain. In N. Block (Ed.), Readings in the philosophy of psychology (Vol. one). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. MacPherson, F. (2005). Colour inversion problems for representationalism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 70(1), 127–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Melgosa, M., Rivas, M. J., Hita, E., & Vientot, F. (2000). Are we able to distinguish color attributes? Color research and application, 25(5), 356–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Myin, E. (2001). Color and the duplication assumption. Synthese, 129, 61–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Niccolai, V., van Leeuwen, T. M., Blakemore, C., & Stoerig, P. (2012). Synaesthetic perception of colour and visual space in a blind subject: An fMRI case study. Consciousness and Cognition, 21, 889–899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Palmer, S. (1999). Color, consciousness, and the isomorphism constraint. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22, 923–989.Google Scholar
  35. Prinz, J. (2007). Mental pointing: Phenomenal knowledge without concepts. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 14(9–10), 184–211.Google Scholar
  36. Saunders, B., & van Brakel, J. (1997). Are there nontrivial constraints on colour categorization? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 20, 167–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shoemaker, S. (Ed.) (1984a). Functionalism and qualia. In Identity, cause, and mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Shoemaker, S. (Ed.) (1984b). Some varieties of functionalism. In Identity, cause, and mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Speaks, J. (2011). Spectrum inversion without a difference in representation is impossible. Philosophical Studies, 156(3), 339–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sperling, G. (1960). The information available in brief visual presentations. Psychological Monographs: General and applied, 74(11), 1–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Sternheim, C. E., & Boynton, R. M. (1966). Uniqueness of perceived hues investigated with a continuous judgmental technique. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72(5), 770–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Steven, M. S., & Blakemore, C. (2004). Visual synaesthesia in the blind. Perception, 33, 855–868.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sundström, P. (2002). An argument against spectrum inversion. In S. Lindström & S. Sundström (Eds.), Physicalism, consciousness and modality: essays in the philosophy of mind. Umeå: The Department of Philosophy and Linguistics.Google Scholar
  44. Takenaga, R. (2002). Inverting intentional content. Philosophical Studies, 110, 197–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Zhang, H., & Montag, E. D. (2006). How well can people use different color attributes? Color Research and Application, 31(6), 445–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.West Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA

Personalised recommendations