Author's Preface of Monograph:”Mystery of Color Vision and Fundamental Questions in Philosophy”

My Two Discoveries and Their

Philosophical Significance


As long as a person opens his eyes to face this world, he will meet the problems discussed in this book. Is the red color of flowers and the green color of grass displayed in front of our eyes only sensations in our minds or objective existence as the same as we see? Is a color perception similar to or totally different from a natural light that objectively exists? Further question is: Are red flowers and green grass just our sensations in minds or what objectively exist in the way as we see, or what exist in totally different way from our sensations?

As early as ancient ages of Greece, atomists gave us the answer that is rather scientific. It is said that what objectively exist is only the material world made of atomics. The motion of atomics causes human sensations. Color, sound, smell… are all human sensations, and related to human sense organs' conformations, and totally different from those atoms that cause sensations (I will explain why the answer is not completely correct later). The answer from the modern natural science is very similar.

However, this answer brings a series of philosophical problems that puzzle us. If red and green colors are only sensations in human minds, why red flower and green grass are not? If a sensation is totally different from the outside object or its property that causes sensation, how can we know appearance of the outside object itself?

The problems brought by atomists are just revealed by the philosophically fundamental questions proposed by Engels, i.e. the question about relationship between thinking and existence, which includes two questions: the question about original existence of the world and the question about whether the world is knowable.

I know there is a fashionable opinion: the fundamental question in philosophy, or the question about the original existence of the world, is a false question, and the argument between materialism and idealism is meaningless because there are no different sensations or experiences deduced from the affirmations about whether the world is made of matter or spirit.

But, I still persist in discussing the fundamental questions in philosophy. This is not because I have some faith and fight for the faith, neither because I have encyclopedical knowledge so that I can provide better summing-up. This is only because I happened to have two discoveries, which force me, and also force academeto review the fundamental questions in philosophy from new visual angle to get conclusions that accord with natural science better.

My first discovery is that idealism, positivismand materialism (mainly native materialism) all wrongly understand the relationship between language, sensations, and outside objects. In daily life, we define words "red", "green", "acid", "salt", "soft", "hard", "cold", "hot" and son on actually according to outside objects instead of sensations. The conformability of people's speaking language cannot ensure the conformability of their sensations (for example, it is possible that two persons conformably say "flower is red and grass is green" and have opposite color perceptions[1]). It is unfeasible to reduce the world with red, green, acid, salt, cold, hot, and other material properties into sensations as idealism does, into world-elements as Machism does, or into sense data as logical empiricism does. It is also unfeasible to affirm that a sensation is similar to a material property as inornate materialism does.

This discovery forces me to believe that 1) The world described by daily language is not natural world, phenomenological world, or presentational world proposed by Kant, neither neutral world or world made of elements or sense data, but material world that objectively exists as affirmed by materialism. 2) Atomists in ancient Greece and symbolists, such as Kant and Helmholtz, in Germany are correct in affirming the dissimilarity between a sensation and a material property that causes the sensation.

       Atomism and mechanical materialism represented by John Locke’s theory affirm that motion of Atoms or matter causes human sensations; yet, a sensation and a material property are totally dissimilar. However, symbolists represented by Kant and Helmholtz further affirm that the sensations in organs are only symbols, they are discretional, and there is no certain one-to-one relation between a sensation and a material property. This viewpoint is called agnosticism.

So far, my above conclusion is probably also thought of as agnosticism. However, I happened to have the second discovery.

My second discovery is that there exists a skillful mathematical model of color vision——the decoding model 810, whose principle is similar to the principle of 3-8 decoder in numeric circuits. The model can explain various phenomena of color vision, especially the evolution of color vision, better. We can conclude from the decoding model that 1) A color perception is only a symbol that can continuously vary. 2) A series of color perceptions contain information from outside objects since different color perceptions reflect different natural lights, even if a color perception is dissimilar to a material property. 3) The mechanism of color vision was continuously evolving for requirement of discerning outside objects. The presentational or phenomenological world was involving with the mechanism of color vision involving, by which the objectify theory developed by Feuerbach and Marx can be explained in the way of natural science.

The generalized information theory[2] I set up is tightly related to my second discovery. For measuring the information conveyed by color vision, I extended Shannon’s information theory to general information theory, which can measure and optimize sensitive information, as well as the information conveyed by language and forecasts. The results from the generalized information theory are consistent not only with common sense, but also with Popper’s philosophical theory. For example, according to this theory, the more necessary an occasional event is predicted as, and the prediction can be proved correct by facts, the more information the prediction conveys; a proposition that is true in any case provides no information; a lie or bad prediction conveys negative information; it will decrease the information we have had to believe a fortune teller running off at the mouth.

There are mainly two kinds of agnosticism. One is Kant’s agnosticism, which affirms thing-in-itself (or objective thing) is unknowable. Another is Hume’s agnosticism, which affirms the relationship between a cause and a result (or objective rule) is unknowable. Marx’s practice-testing theory and Popper’s knowledge-evolving theory can resolve the problem with Hume’s agnosticism. But, about whether the problem with Kant’s agnosticism has been resolved, there are still arguments. Kant would have said that what you have resolved is only the problem about whether phenomenological world is knowable; however you still cannot resolve the problem about whether the thing-in-itself, which is totally different from sensations, is knowable.

Now, with the help of my two discoveries and new information theory, we can have two ways to prove the thing-in-itself is knowable.

1) We know that the objects described by daily language are knowable. Yet, the objects pointed by daily language are just material objects themselves. So, material objects themselves are knowable, or say, the thing-in-itself is knowable. 

2) Although sensations are dissimilar to material objects or their properties, they contain information about material objects. This information can be measured by the generalized information formula similar to Shannon’s information formula. So, the material object or the thing-in-itself is knowable from the viewpoint of natural science.

Moreover, my research concerning lingual information also supports Mark’s practice-testing theory and Popper’s knowledge-evolving theory. So, the agnosticism does not fit my standpoint at all.

For explaining relationship between sensations and outside objects and summarizing up my research, I proposed analog-symbolic theory or analog-symbolism, which is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, the theories of color and color vision developed by Young and many later researchers, and also my theories on color vision and information. The analog-symbolism is also the extension of the relativistic principle from physics to philosophy. It accepts atomists and mechanical materialists’ view-point about relation between the sensation and the outside object (the motion of matter results in the sensation, however a sensation and a material property are dissimilar), affirms and extends Kant and Helmholtz’s symbolism, carries on the relativity thought in Feuerbach and Marx’s objectify theory (for resolving problem with Kant’s dualism), inherits Lenin and many materialists’ view-point that color, sound, smell…  objectively existagainst idealism and positivism.

This book has both scientific explorations and philosophical analyses. However, what it provides is very different from popular scientific philosophy. The popular scientific philosophy is supposed to sum up and guide science. But my effort is opposite. I always try to base philosophy on science. For example, I use mathematical model of color vision to explain that the sensations are analog symbols, use the information theory to resolve the problems with agnosticism, and extend relativity principle from physics to philosophy.

I have unified many very extreme standpoints together in my theory. These standpoints look mutually repulsive to other people; yet from my viewpoint, they are not contradictive with each other but very compatible.

The main purpose of this book is to eliminate the people’s puzzledom about the fundamental questions in philosophy. Before writing this book, I wrote another book: “Mystery of Beauty-feeling and Evolution of Demand”, whose main purpose is to eliminate the people’s puzzledom about problems with beauty-feeling and demand. It is also based on some discoveries— about the arising rule of pleasant feelings and avian esthetic interest. These two books respectively discuss cognitive relationship and motivational relationship between human and outside would. They are comprehensive summing-up of my many years’ researches.

If my effort is not ineffectual, I will be incomparably gratified.


Lu, Chenguang

Oct. 13, 2002


25 Later, I found the inverted sensations had been discussed by Americans. But they didn’t get my conclusions on linguistic definitions. See  S. Shoemakers article: The inverted spectrum, J. of Philosophy 79(1982),375-381


[2] Chenguang Lu, A generalization of Shannon's information theory , Int. J. of General Systems, 28: 61999),  453-490


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