Seeing what isn’t really there- 2

Seeing what isn’t really there 2

norway spruce christmas tree

“My experience of a tree is nothing like the tree itself. The colors we see are not really there — not there in the physical world, that is. Light reflected from the tree is composed of many different wavelengths, with most of the energy focused in what we call the “green” part of the visible spectrum. The cells in the eye detect how much light there is in three different parts of the spectrum (the three primary colors); and this information is then sent to the brain. But all that is passed on are electro-chemical impulses; there is no color here. The green I see is a quality created in consciousness. It exists only in the mind.’ (Seeing what isn’t really there. 2018. Seeing what isn’t really there. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 May 2018].)



Russell deals with Perception known as Visual Perception, also a form of Skepticism belonging to the field of Epistemology, which explores whether seeing is believing or whether we are participating in a  joint hallucination in which everyone has  the experience of somehow believing in something and giving that something a name which is shared by all who perceive this event or object. Arbre  and Tree refer to the same thing, just as Arbre  and albero are both nouns for Tree in French and Italian so the object we name Tree is something possessing trunk, branches, leaves of certain colours.

Russell’s argument begins with Trees he says “ My experience of a tree is nothing like the tree itself. The colours we see are not really there — not there in the physical world, that is.” So Trees in any language are experiential rather than physical. Can we actually know a tree? Russell is dealing with the way in which the mind deduces the shape and greenness of a thing we collectively call or believe is , a Tree. If we look at this greenness as the secondary colour in an artists pallet, a mixture of yellow and blue then we deal with a secondary colour , my opinion is that Newton may provide the better explanation since he deals with a primary colour – red.

HOWEVER, the reality is we are not dealing with the colours of a pallet but the Red Green and Blue of the colour spectrum- RGB, the proportional mixture yields 256+ colours and Black, which is absorbs all colour and White which reflects all colours.

Newton observed that colour is not inherent/inborn in objects. Rather, the surface of an object reflects some colours and absorbs all the others. We perceive only the reflected colours; He says ‘Thus, red is not “in” an apple. The surface of the apple is reflecting the wavelengths we see as red and absorbing all the rest. ‘

Russell says “The green I see is a quality created in consciousness. It exists only in the mind.”

So – Our perception of colour ,as far as Visual Perception, is determined by the processing of the electro chemical wavelengths by which we perceive the greenness. These electro chemical process  are processed through the Retina, which is considered to be part of the brain itself, the retina is covered by millions of light-sensitive cells, some shaped like rods and some like cones. These receptors process the light into nerve impulses and pass them along to the visual cortex of the brain via the optic nerve. Our Rods are responsible for transmitting both white and black to the brain and help us with our night vision and the blackness of a thing. Our Cones process light into the various colours we believe we see. The greenness is not in the tree anymore than the redness is in the apple. Both exist as the result of brain function from which we gather the sense of colour or greyscale – ness of the objects we think we see.

Damage or differences in each individual’s eyes guarantees that when all look at a Tree it is the individuals’ perception of a Tree each perceives. Therefore the Tree-ness of the object is perceived in as many different manners as there are people just as are the myriad of properties perceived by each one of us regarding the Tree  are different.

Someone colour-blind may not perceive the correct  difference between the green Tree and the red Apple, Red Green colour-blindness is the most common. Such a person my understand that Green and Red are different though have no perception, or limited perception of the difference.



Andrew James Blair BA Philosophy/Psychology Woolongong 1989


Reference to Newton







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