How, Exactly, Does Neuroscience Account for the Way We See Color?

There are no colors out there in the world, Galileo tells us. They only exist in our heads. In the first of our dialogues about the mind, Riccardo Manzotti and I established that by “consciousness” we mean the feeling that accompanies our being alive, the fact that we experience the world rather than simply interacting with it mechanically. We also touched on the problem that traditional science cannot explain this fact and does not include it in its account of reality.

That said, there is a dominant understanding of where consciousness happens: in the brain. This “internalist,” or inside-the-head, approach shares Galileo’s view that color, smell, and sound do not exist in the outside world but only in the brain. “If you could perceive reality as it really is,” says leading neuroscientist David Eagleman, “you would be shocked by its colorless, odorless, tasteless silence.” What Riccardo and I want to do today is ask how, in the neuroscientists’ opinion, we see color. What are the implications of believing that this experience is all inside our heads? And how have scientists reacted to the difficulties they have encountered verifying this theory?

Read the full excerpt here.

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