Monday, September 25, 2017

Why neither Buddhism nor Robert Wright is true

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of EnlightenmentWhy Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Enlightenment by Robert Wright
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Wrong from the title on

Ignore the blurbs, it’s still a bad book

There are several reasons for that.

First, IMO, Wright is overrated. I rated “The Evolution of God” as a one-star. This one had a chance to get lucky, even though it was starting minus 1 star due to the title alone. That title, and ding, along with puffery from too many others, though, cost it that chance to do better.

Now, within specific reasons it’s a bad book.

First, ev psych isn’t nearly as true as Wright claims. And, as I said in the review of “The Evolution of God” if you want to apply something like that to religion, try the evolutionary anthropology of Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer.

Second, the Stephen Batchelor denatured, demetaphyticized “Buddhism” that Wright presents isn’t Buddhism. (Wright even backhandedly, and out of the side of his mouth, admits this in the first chapter.

Third — or, if it is, then Unitarianism is just as much Christianity as is what Wright et al call “Buddhism.” And, it’s not.

Fourth — If Unitarianism WERE that, yet, nobody writes a book called “Christianity is true” unless they’re a fundamentalist.

That alone should show what’s wrong with the book.

But BuJews like Sam Harris on one said, and BuGoys like Wright et al on the other, find millions of people who can still be conned this way.

Fifth, it is possible, indeed, that Buddhist secularism has special mediation insights derived from its religious roots. It’s also possible Christianist secularism does, too. It’s also possible neo-Stoicism does, and derived from its original philosophical roots. Maybe self-hypnosis does, derived from original empirical results followed by trial-and-error fine tuning. Or that modern science does, and influenced by a Buddhist-derived general idea of mediation, but NOT by anything specific.

(From what I know, there is indeed at least some degree of truth to all of the above. That’s from reading a new bio of Rorschach, on precursors to modern science; from some experience with self-hypnosis; from a philosopher friend who teaches neo-Stoicism counseling; and more. And, much of these things started happening before Batchelor, or precursors, started popularizing Buddhist-derived meditation ideas in the west.)

Sixth, note my adjectives two paragraphs above. Non-metaphysicians within Unitarianism would practice Christianist secularism, not Christianity. (Not all Unitarians are non-metaphysical.)

Wright seems to make the assumption that only Buddhism, among world religions, has unique insights that can be secularly distilled. Tosh. I haven’t even mentioned Taoist secularism. (Confucianism? I agree with many philosophers of religion that it’s a philosophy, not a religion.)

None of this is to say that meditation is bad. I think it can be good, indeed, for reasons in the book and beyond. So, don’t feel discouraged if the meditation Wright derives from Buddhist secularism doesn’t float your boat.

Seventh, Wright ignores the irony of people — selves — reporting on the idea that there is no self. This is part of a larger issue that certain Buddhist principles should be ineffable. Wright also ignores this connection to karma, vis-à-vis what is, and is not, reincarnated, and why the whole idea of karma is senseless at best and repulsive at worst if there is no “self” yet we have punishing karmic reincarnations based on actions of past selves.

Of course, he ignores it in part by presenting Buddhist secularism as “true,” and as true without having to look at its religious and metaphysical background.

In fairness, he does note that issues related to this are raised by “maverick” Buddhists.

Eighth, Wright, like other BuJews and BuGoys ignores that real, actual Buddhism has its own version of fundamentalism, violence against other religions, etc. Take the 969 Movement, leading the attack against Muslim Rohingya in Burma.

And, no, please no “no true Scotsman” claims that this is modern, and just one small offshoot. Before Buddhism in its Indian homeland went over the mountain to China and then was pushed out of India by a new, reformed Hinduism (Vedism or Brahamnism or similar are better terms for the main religion of India at the time of Siddhartha Gautama), Buddhists are documented as persecuting Jains.

Beyond Buddhism, he gets things wrong elsewhere. That includes muddling emotions and instincts, which he does so baldly and badly.

Finally, the title.

Often, it may be an editor at a publishing house that chooses a title. In this case, I highly doubt it; I’m sure that’s Wright’s baby. It is provocative and smug as well as wrong.


If Wright were just offering up a book called “Buddhist-based meditation tools and ideas,” he might get another star. But, he earned the low rating.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 04, 2017

Philosophy food fight falls flat

A favorite modern philosopher of mine, Massimo Pigliucci, on his blog, runs a Friday links roundup. This one, per a link of his about ethical eating, has exploded in comments.

Massimo, per that link, is a "reducitarian." So am I, but for different reasons and for a different moral compass. And, he's very ardent about it.

Fueling the comments fire was, first, Rita Wing, a hardcore vegan, and second, and interesting, or sometimes "interesting," but not-favorite philosopher, philosophical friend, and sparring partner of Massimo's, Dan Kaufman. He's not a philosopher enemy; he's more a semi-frenemy.

And now, our philosophers, with their "philosophy food fight falls flat."

Massimo comes off as defensive, and very defensive for an admirer of Stoicism who even has a second blog about modern Stoic-based advice, "How To Be a Stoic." It's an "if you're not for me, you're against me," defensiveness.

Dan comes off as smug. (That's not new, even more so on his own blog site, The Electric Agora.) That said, Dan seems to largely reject animal rights issues, and not just an extreme, Peter Singer version of them, but all of them. (More on that below, though.)

Behind the "smug," I think Dan's stance is twofold:
1. People can become preachy on this issue without warrant;
2. This isn't that big of a deal for him.

Now, to comments.

First, Wing comes off as sanctimonious, especially when she appeared ignorant about Jainism, notably, "sky-clad" Jains and the most rigorous of them starving themselves to death because they believe even plants have some senses.

I mentioned that vegans, without supplements, have Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Massimo, after critiquing her for an appeal to nature fallacy, called mine a naturalistic fallacy.

I think not, when I unpack the shorthand.

Yes, I can get B-12 from a pill. But that's coming from animal products that, if the whole world went vegan, we'd have to raise just for that purpose. That would be costly, wasteful and have environmental burdens. (More on that in a minute.)

Let me state one other thing for the record, before I dive into the two protagonists.

I'm not a moral realist, but, if I'm presented that as an issue of two polarities, moral realism vs. "moral non-realism," I reject that.

I consider myself some sort of moral semi-realist.

I don't think empirical facts, whether findings of science, recordings of history or other things, should control moral investigation, articulation of positions and stances, etc. I do think, though, that empirical findings should guide such things, and on a case-by-case basis.

As I told Ms. Wing, I'm a definite Humean, and with him, I affirm the "is ≠ ought," IF that means, "an is doesn't necessarily imply an ought." Because an "is" may imply an "ought," and certainly, the extreme idea, that any "is" should have zero consideration on any "ought," is flat wrong.

Back to Massimo, and first with a prelude.

He called extreme Jainism's belief "bizarre." Yeah? So are other religious and quasi-religious arcane dietary beliefs. Kosher rules are just such an example. And I believe veganism is just such a quasi-religious system.

Per the matter at hand, and animal pain, that means getting the best scientific information, and interpretation of it, on what animals can feel pain, or something like it. The "interpretation" issue means no anthropomorphizing.

That also includes the "folk science" issue of knowing that, if an animal is capable of feeling pain, it's not just factory farming that causes pain. The act of killing an animal, unless you've shot it up with morphine or gassed it with ether first, also inflicts pain.

Massimo also didn't really like this observation. Nor various spinoffs, largely from me, but also from others.

On the commercial side, of empirical facts in record, for reducitarians to ponder, it is to be noted that major fish, such as salmon and catfish, are factory farmed. Therefore, above and beyond the note above, a reducitarian, for even a partial moral cover, must logically avoid factory farmed fish as well as beef, hogs, etc. (And, I'm venturing that a significant minority, at least, do not.)

One smaller note on issues of philosophy, and even more, of psychology, THEN the protagonists.

I see scales and shades of gray in many things, not just what I mentioned above.

Fernando raises an interesting aside in comments there. We have pretty good reason to be sure that any mammal feels pain. And, beyond the idiots in the cosmetics industry, a fair amount of “legit” scientific research causes lab rats pain, let alone dogs, doubly let alone primates.

It seems the only way to justify such research is to be a utilitarian, but of a different stripe of what one’s utilitarian canon contains than Singer. But, Massimo in general is a virtue ethicist.

However, Massimo rightly calls out Kaufman for calling Peter Singer shallow. And he's right. Dan unconvincingly appeals to other philosophers. I disagree with Singer less than Dan — and probably find him a bit more discomfiting. Shallow, though, he is not.

That said, given the degree of Massimo's emotional angst, I suspect Singer hits kind of close to home for him, and he'd like to dismiss him.

As for claims I'm committing the naturalistic fallacy? I suggest a little MatthewArnold. Or if that's not good enough, I'll riff on that and suggest that Arnold was saying, contra Hobbes, we can never totally rise above a state of nature. In other words, the only good Buddha is a dead Buddha. With that, if I am still committing somebody's definition of that, then, I'm definitely making only a non-Edenic appeal.

What I see Arnold as saying is that we're never going to truly transcend "it ≠ ought" issues, and we're certainly not going to expand our addressing of them, on natural issues, if our attempts to transcend a Hobbesian state of nature remain selective. And, yes, that's what I think Massimo is doing.

Contra sky-glad Jains, I do not think plants feel pain. Therefore, if one wants to be vegetarian, as long as they don't preach at me, I think they've got a pretty strong moral standing.

Veganism? Milking a dairy animal causes no pain, per se. Factory dairy farming may, but that's a different critter. Therefore, if one "sources" one's cheese, butter, etc., one can make a legit claim to dairy products. Eggs? It's possible a hen feels a psychological pain from egg theft, so, maybe leave them out. Clothing? If the cow's dead for other reasons, don't waste the leather. Wool-shearing, as long as sheep aren't too exposed to elements, is not painful. Down? If taken from natural molting, no pain.

So, one can certainly ethically wear animal-based clothing. Ms. Wing is wrong, and sanctimonious.

Finally, the issue of animals suffering pain ANYWAY. A leopard or lion would kill a wild cow. Something might kill a wild hog. Varieties of animals kill wild sheep and goats. Bears kill wild salmon. Etc., etc.

Other animals don't have a second-level sense of others, like we do. Even if it cared, an obligate carnivore leopard, can't stop killing a cow anyway.

Is the fact that we can sense pain of other creatures of itself enough reason to stop?

Back to utiltarianism.

What if ... ants and flies sensed pain.

Are sprays and swatters always OK, or, how do you justify it? I'm sure many vegans who aren't sky-clad Jains haven't thought about this and would prefer not to.

Some opponents of factory farms will talk about broader "quality of life" issues rather than pain.

Quality of life is itself a quasi-anthropomorphizing concept when applied to animals. I mentioned free-range cows to Saph. We don't build barns for free-range cows. Millions of them died on the US High Plains in the blizzards of 1886-87. Barning free-range livestock would be pretty silly, in my book.

Dan's blog discusses a piece by Cora Diamond which partially, but not entirely, parallels my thought.

However, without reading Diamond's original, I think Dan's piece isn't totally relevant to Massimo's piece, as he is not adopting a quasi-Singerian position. And MPBoyle in comments is one reason I not only stopped writing for Dan but largely stopped reading.

I do think he in particular, Boyle, misses friend Thomas' points. And, one of those is that Diamond, and from her, Kaufman, may push some things too far.

On the other hand, Massimo's own stance is presented largely in terms of the western world, and beyond that, a more privileged subset of it.

And, I mean that. Not all Americans, with our factory agriculture, can afford to pay to be vegetarians, let alone vegans. Many can't easily even afford Massimo's reducitarianism.
Finally, in an interesting sidebar from the non-human portion of the natural world: sometimes vegans, under duress, become cannibals!


As noted, my animal ethics is based on environmentalism, and two subgrounds.

One is that it takes 10 pounds of food to put a pound of weight on a cow, about 8 for a hog, etc. Except in places, like savannah plains that are semi-dry, and not suitable for much agriculture, where we should ranch animals like cows (or better, in the US, the native bison), we have too much livestock. We can feed people better with a more vegetable-based diet.

This is even more true in places in the world where most cannot yet afford the Western hankering for meat.

Second is global warming, and things like cow farts.

Too much livestock is killing our future. And, killing it more rapidly than most conservative-minded scientists want to admit — along with all the other causes of global warming.

Finally, there's good non-ethical reasons to avoid not meat in general, but modern factory farmed meat, especially in the US, or countries making special trade with the US. Food safety reasons. That article ignores the fact that the USDA's own stateside food safety programs suck as is.

There's yet other issues.

A stance like Massimo's, to get back to capitalism, involves a certain amount of privilege. I mentioned that in a late comment that he didn't address. So, too, do other moral issues that are in part, aesthetics issues in disguise.

Next, it's not just veganism, or even vegetarianism, that are arcane dietary systems. Some, as those of a Kamchatka Peninsula people, are culture-wide.

Finally, one last thought.

Massimo, it's OK to be non-Stoic once in a while.

Friday, July 28, 2017



He has six months left,
If it's even that.
What can I say to ease his pain?
We're both secularists; we both accept
The reality that presents itself to us.
Why do I feel the need to speak?
Is it to ease my pain, not his,
To ease my frustration for him?
He is not the first secularist friend
That I have had die.
But, he’s the first for whom
I’ve had this much advance notice.
Sitting shtetl is about listening.
Only then about speaking.
I can ease his pain best
By dealing with mine in other ways.

But, I’m still talking about me.
What, other than listening,
Will ease his pain?
I hope he knows of what will help
And reaches out
To one or more of his listeners.

It doesn’t have to be me.

“Control freak” is just a label that
I don’t have to use.
Others surely feel the same.
Helpless, frustrated, angry.

I’m sorry.
Rest in peace among the living,

For as long as you can.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Luther legend shitstorm about to hit

I blogged nearly three years ago about myth vs reality on Martin Luther, well in advance of the 500th anniversary of his allegedly doing something with some theses. Indeed, I started with that legend, for legend it is, that he nailed them to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church.

And, I was already planning on starting a series of blog posts with the anniversary nearing vision.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think that a liberal American opinion magazine would be the spark for my memory, to get started.

But, it is.

The Nation uncritically repeats the legend about the 95 theses (It's unclear whether any of the books it reviews have this, or just itself) in a review of several new biographies about Luther and/or his times.

The 95 Theses has been refuted here and here.

Luther also did not say, as best as we know, "Here I stand, I can do no more," at the Diet of Worms in 1521. The "Here I stand" legend is refuted at the first of the two links in the paragraph above and also here.

Beyond that, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US rejects or questions some Luther myths, including the 95 Theses and the Here I stand.

And, as noted in that original piece, Luther’s virulent anti-semitism is no legend at all.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Say goodbye to History for Atheists

I keep a fairly slim blogroll, as well as general webroll, on this and other blogs. But, blogs I link to, or even incorporate into my feed list, aren't necessarily ones I totally agree with. I'll keep ones that I find stimulating when in disagreement, especially if the disagreement is more on matters of philosophy rather than empirical facts in the hard or social sciences, or interpretation thereof. That's especially true as long as exchanges between me and other authors remain halfway personable.

Well, Mr. O'Neil's History for Atheists blog, which had been linked here, is gone again. (He'd originally been placed here and one other blog after he'd commented favorably on something I wrote.)

His blog is primarily about refuting Gnu Atheist claims about religious figures and ideas in history. And, on people such as Giordano Bruno, he has some good refutation. (And he's not alone in that.)

I won't link to him, though.

When he's wrong, he can sometimes be howlingly wrong.

And he was, a month ago, in trying to defend the papacy in general, and Pope Pius XII in particular, against charges of anti-Semitism.

One medieval papal bull he cited was honored as much in the post-Crusades-era breach as in the observance. And

He refused to even discuss the much later, 1860s-era, Papal States kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. And, it's hugely relevant to refuting his claims.

So is Catholic hierarchy in the US ignoring physical anti-Semitism as late as World War II. (About halfway down the piece.)

He refused to discuss books by professional historians — non-Jewish as well as Jewish — that undermine his claims about Pius XII. And, I've read several such books.

One such book is "The Popes Against the Jews," just read and reviewed by me here. Its author, David Kertzer, previously wrote "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" and "The Pope and Mussolini," both of which I have read, and reviewed the latter here. (Pius XI comes off as better than Pius XII, but that's praising with faint damns one of the worst popes of the last 200 years or more. And don't forget that Pius XII, as Vatican Secretary of State, negotiated and signed the Reichskonkordat.)

Then, he says, after I told him I hadn't listened to his podcast attached to the post — but without answering at all to Mortara, high-placed priests' post-WWII involvement in the "ratline" and more — his only answer is "go listen" to the podcast" followed by a stream of insults.

Well, Tim, I've got one back for you.

Go fuck yourself.

Beyond that, my most charitable explanation is that, even though he's an atheist himself, he's still some sort of "cultural Catholic."  Or, more accurately, given his much higher regard for Rodney Stark than I have, perhaps he's a "Christianist" in the same vein as Samuel Huntington et al.

If it's the same Tim O'Neill being referenced here on an online forum, he's also wrong about other issues related to the Holocaust. Among them? Hitler did not come to power via a "backroom deal." Instead, he was duly accepted as chancellor by President Hindenburg as the agreed-upon representative of a parliamentary coalition. That's the way chancellors, premiers and prime ministers are selected. And, his particular selection, as far as negotiations between coalition partners, was no more of a backroom deal than with any other parliamentary colaition in Germany or any other country.

Monday, March 27, 2017

#Philosophy can't justify dumb wars, setting the issue of justice aside

That said, the issue of just war is itself problematic, and has other "baggage," even if its separated today from its religious roots.

NOTE: This is an updating of a 2011 blog post about the Libyan bombing campaign and a philosophical attempt to justify it. What follows is a lightly edited version of the original, along with extended follow-up.

You can slice and dice logical arguments to support all sorts of claims. That includes what evidence you include as warrants vs. what countervailing empirical evidence you exclude from discussion.

Especially in real-world informal logic, how you frame the parameters of the argument is another way of slicing and dicing an issue to an already-held conclusion.

Take Massimo Pigliucci's argument for bombing Libya.

Sure, in a vacuum of Libya and no other foreign policy worries, might be great. But, why Libya and not Yemen? Or, why not Cote d'Ivoire a year ago?

Massimo goes on, in what is nearly 100 posts down the list, in response to me, to say he has non-humanitarian reasons, as well, to support intervention in Libya. I've asked what they are, because I don't see any that aren't either directly or indirectly related to oil. Terrorism? Since we intercepted the ship with nuclear supplies headed to Libya several years ago, Gadhafi had become "our guy," so scratch that, even if Massimo makes that claim.

Massimo also limits the parameters of the argument by saying his support for air strikes doesn't mean support for intervention. But, given criticism of the Obama Administration, that it doesn't have an exit policy, and that our British and French allies have pushed going beyond air strikes, if necessary, that "restriction" might work in formal logic, but, in a real-world political situation, doesn't.

Massimo also, basically, tried to claim in his last comment to me that I didn't know what I was talking about on just war. Actually, I do. But, since he apparently cares not to read Walter Kaufmann's "Without Guilt and Justice," which I highly, highly recommend, he doesn't really understand where I'm coming from. (Should Massimo see this, I'll leave it to his personal judgment as to whether or not he was trying that hard to understand, wanted that much to understand, or wanted to try that hard to understand.

That said, I'm going to further deconstruct, or just plain refute, some of his claims.

The idea that the air campaign was supported by the UN is tenuous at best, per Wiki's piece on the intervention in Libya. That "at best" would be seeing the air strikes as one interpretation of how to support the no-fly zone the UN called for.

First, going beyond philosophism to actual political science and geopolitics, Massimo should have recognized that the likelihood of a successful denouement to the Libyan bombing was about as likely as a similar result for the Iraq War. Related to that, I did a separate blog post about some of his just war claims.

That said, in brief, I believe, per Walter Kaufmann's evisceration of "justice" as an abstract concept, that "just war" as an abstract concept is a mix of philosophical non sequitur and invitation to political mischief in democratic or quasi-democratic societies, especially when inveighed with religious overtones.

Per that separate post, and comments on three different incarnations of his blog home, I realize Massimo apparently has no interest in Kaufmann's book. That said, a number of left-liberals might not like the book any more than interventionist liberals, given the degree to which Kaufmann crushes John Rawls.

Second, if we are going to speak of colonialism, it's fair to ask if Massimo, as a native Italian, might have additional reason to support the bombing of Libya.

That said, let me further deconstruct his actual claims.

Just cause? If we did that all the time, we'd be Wilsonian interventionists to the extreme. And, what if other countries made similar claims about the US, or Italy. I mean, vis-a-vis the US, that's what al Qaeda itself claimed as its reason for 9/11. And, "just cause" also falls prey to some of the same issues as does "just war."

Last resort? That's a judgment call, one based in part on how willing one is to support the use of force in the first place.

Legitimate authority? Is NATO, or a hived-off portion of NATO, a "legitimate authority"? (Per what I said above, with the Wiki link, I did not, and still do not, consider the bombing campaign, certainly not in toto, and even more the deliberate killing of Muammar Gaddafi, then beyond, to be a correct and legitimate extension of the UN's no-fly and cease-fire call.

Proportionality? Failure to include things like "collateral damages" and "unintended consequences," as well as failure to appreciate the difficulty so far in seeing Arab states of the Arab Spring actually transition to democracy, means that, again, proportionality will be calculated differently by different people.

I could be accused of hindsight, but in reality, I had all these thoughts to some degree six years ago. I'm just elaborating now because I happened to come across this post a couple of days ago.

I also forgot to add in my original blog post that Libya had Africa's most vibrant economy at the time, with a per-capita income of $14,000. It also had a higher literacy rate, equal rights for men and women on divorce, and life expectancy almost as high as the U.S., all per Wikipedia. Wiki also notes that on this, and general human development, Libya was ahead of neighbors and Arab Spring predecessors Tunisia and Egypt.

Massimo also refers to the bombing of Serbia over Bosnia, then Kosovo, as a success.

However, he ignores the geopolitics behind this.

Even as Serbian paramilitaries were pulling their horns back from Bosnia, Croatian ones were sticking theirs out. And, we did nothing. (Counterpunch, among others, has covered this.)


Because Croatia was being lined up for NATO membership, as far as part of why we did nothing.

Don't forget that this was another violation of the US's (presumably good for all then-current NATO members) promise to Boris Yeltsin in 1990 not to expand NATO eastward.

And, with that, at least in the U.S., that's the difference between a liberal, on the one hand, and a left-liberal or beyond, on the other.

I visit, and comment on new posts, at Massimo's blog regularly, and have totally agreed with his take on people like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt.

But here? Being logical isn't the same as being right.

At the least, without engaging in serious multi-valued logic, with answers that would include things like "maybe" and "maybe not." With that in mind, I wouldn't say Massimo is wrong on his support for Libyan air strikes. I would say that, to use the old Scottish jury verdict, he's only reached the "not proven" state.

And, I wouldn't say I, or others, are "right" to argue against air strikes.

At bottom line?

Not only is being logical not the same as being right, the use of bipolar western logic to try to "prove rightness" is often wrong.

Arguably, such situations are even a good example of Hume's famous dictum: "Reason must be the slave of the passions."

Again, there's not necessarily a "right" or a "wrong" involved. But, in this particular case, since Massimo is claiming non-humanitarian reasons for Libyan intervention, and I doubt he can name a good non-oil-related one, I think, on the passions, he's wrong. (That said, some Humeans forget that he still called on reason to take a role in guiding the passions.

I should note that I've hinted before that Massimo practices "philosophism," the hyper-philosophic parallel to scientism. And, I think it sticks here. I don't know if Massimo would go as far as Dan Kaufmann in admitting that philosophy doesn't have final answers for many of the questions it addresses. But, maybe that would help. At a minimum, non-classical Western philosophies reject such certainty.

I mean, per the above, I probably could invent a multidisciplinary, intersectionality-driven new discipline called "the philosophy of political science" or something, but why? It wouldn't add anything significant to the academic study of political science as currently constituted.

Or, per that piece linked above, and again here, on refuting his claim on just war, maybe he needs to expand his Weltanschaaung to include non-Western philosophies.

Per Iranian philosopher Idries Shah's famous dictum (he himself being non-Western, of course):

“To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.”
I noted that I could find seven or eight "sides" either directly involved in the Libyan Civil War or else playing bank shots.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

"What color are these strawberries?" is ultimately a philosophical question, not scientific

A lot of people have probably, via Facebook friends or whatever, seen the photo of strawberries at left, whose production is described here.

I haven't actually opened the picture in Photoshop, but I'll take at face value the claim it has no red pixels.

But, what does that actually mean?

Photoshop's default on color pictures is to present a photo in "RGB" format. That's Red, Green, and Blue — the three primary colors. But, many Photoshop commands let one manipulate not only those three colors, but the three commonly accepted secondary colors of Cyan, Magenta and Yellow, plus a channel for Black. If you've ever heard of CMYK (B already used for Blue) photo editing, that's where it comes from. The Black channel is necessitated by the conversion of primary colors back to secondary.

Anyway, back to RGB colors. Several thoughts here.

First, many colors, even in "normal lighting," whatever that is, aren't what we think. If you use Photoshop much, you'll see that the "green" in grass is about one-third yellow.

Second, does Photoshop's 256-bit format for each color channel imply a level of digital accuracy that doesn't exist? I mean, we can peg light to 500 nanometers. But, is that blue or is that cyan, or turquoise, if we use a non-technical color, or what? Wiki has a full piece on "spectral color" which raises such issues.

And, with that, we're into various issues of philosophy.

Setting aside some aspects of epistemology, we've got what would be either informal logic or linguistic philosophy, first. That is the issue of categories and definitions.

Per what I posted above, where does one color "stop" and another "begin"? That's not a science issue, that's a philosophy issue.

We also have linguistic philosophy issues on how one defines color. Setting aside the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is nonetheless of a certain degree of strength, some languages distinguish between more colors than others. Isaac Newton, with the rainbows produced by his prism, famously distinguished indigo as a seventh color of the spectrum.

To the degree the above photo is an optical illusion, it trades on something else which is related to epistemology, and to David Hume's project of empiricism. That is the idea of qualia, or why do things seem to be the way they are.

The idea of qualia, if accepted in one of its several forms and definings, undercuts the "blank slate" idea of human perception stressed by Hume, and to fair degree by fellow empiricists. A child old enough to point to a red splotch in normal light, when shown this picture above, would not be able to point to claim it has a color similar to that red splotch on the blank slate theory of the human mind. (I frame the example this way to try to bracket the issue of the baby's mind being "contaminated" by explicit written or oral conversation.)

As to opponents of the idea of qualia? As I've gotten older, and more read in modern philosophy, I find Dan Dennett's arguments more and more lacking. The more and more we do current research in robots, artificial intelligence and similar, the more and more we realize human minds don't work that way. Dennett's other objections are somewhat functionalist in nature.

A side issue is that discussions of qualia often get wrapped up with issues of ontological dualism, even though in reality the two are separate items.

There is no logically necessary reason to invoke ontological dualism to explain qualia. That's doubly the case if one understand consciousness and the mind through the lens of embodied cognition and not Dennett's crudely mechanical and scientism-driven computer models.

Let's take this in terms of color. My cone cells in my eye may have slightly different wavelength sensitivities than yours. My optic nerve neurons may respond slightly differently to my cone cell impressions than your neurons do to your cone cells. That's a thumbnail on embodied cognition and color.

Next, let's head to psychology.

If your father, or mother, was a firefighter, your "suchness" of the color red will be far different than mine, at least if their fire department still uses traditional fire-engine red colored vehicles.

Or, as an adult, let's take yellow. If you're a salesperson for French's, as in French's mustard, your "suchness" for yellow will be different than mine if I'm a salesperson for Dole banana. Or for Sunkist, and Sunkist lemons.