One function technology has yet to mimic is the brain’s ability to see color. Yes, machines can identify wave lengths associated with color, like 400 nanometers for violet and 590 for red, but the optical illusion the human brain creates to interpret the environment can’t be replaced by a machine, raising the question: Is there color if there is no eye to see it?
In her book, Outside Color, university professor M. Chirimuuta reasons that color “hovers uneasily between the subjective world of sensation and the objective world of fact.” (“Color Correction,” by Malcolm Harris, The New Republic, June 2015, pg. 80.) Recently, for example, press stories appeared about a dress which to some folks was blue with black lace, while to others, it was white with gold lace. (Copy) Scientists had to step in to settle the brawl, explaining the dress’s color depended upon the way a light wave entered the eye’s retina.
The question of what Is real and what is illusion has long been the speculation of philosophers and was the theme of my novel, Trompe l’Oeil. But scientists aren’t content with speculation. They want to know how, like an artist, the brain mixes color. So far, they’ve failed in their quest. Technology lacks the right tools, the same way a blind man shouldn’t be sent in search of a rainbow.
The miracle of the human mind is that it has adapted so well to its environment, it interprets external signs in ways that allow us to both interact and manipulate that environment. This mojo is powerful magic and beyond the limits of science and technology. Where we stand, where we have always stood but little knew it, is at the precipice where reality and illusion mingle, a place as fluid as the elements of a quantum world. How we treat this confluence depends less on what we think we know and more on who we are as a species. Can we recognize an inconvenient truth, for example, and act upon it? Or will our brains accept only data that pleases us? That question makes philosophers of us all.