Popper's Milestone
DS Apathy

Colour Faiths

Pf_917521colourstudiesposters What alternatives are there to a basic truth value system such as 'true, false and meaningless?' One such system (and there are potentially many) is that of colour faiths, which allocate a degree of confidence that reflects a person's belief in a certain proposition.

I should prefix this piece by explaining that I invented colour faiths for my second novel, Dreamtime (ISBN 1 74100 176 5, currently out of print). This book, set at an inspecific time in the future after mankind has spread out among the stars, concerns a diverse group of visitors who arrive on a lost colony where heterosexuality is a crime, and society is built upon a history of deception. I wanted the language of the visitors to reflect possible cultural changes in future societies, and one of the several new mechanisms I added to their language was the colour faith system, as it suggested a more philosophically advanced culture where archaic notions of absolute truth and falsehood had been successfully dispelled.

Despite some people's conviction that the keyword 'faith' implies religion, most dictionaries reflect a much more general meaning for 'faith', such as "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing." (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000) . Certainly, no-one who reads it will mistake Dreamtime for a religious novel!

The colour faith system is relatively easy to understand, being a method of assigning a degree of belief to a statement. We all know how to say if we believe something is 'true' or 'false', but with colour faiths one makes an assignment from a range of values, rather than a binary assignment. A comparison can be made with fuzzy logic, which is another alternative to naive truth values  but with greater application to engineering than to human communication.

The sequence of colours used in Dreamtime is essentially a short spectrum with black and white used as bookends. It runs from black (essentially no belief) through red, orange, yellow, green, blue and finally white (near-certainty) as follows:

  • Black faith: no belief in a statement or model (equivalent to 'false').
  • Red faith: a small degree of belief in the plausibility of a statement or model.
  • Orange faith: marginal belief in the plausibility of a statement or model.
  • Yellow faith: general uncertainty or agnosticism about a statement or model.
  • Green faith: a reasonable degree of belief in a statement or model.
  • Blue faith: considerable belief in a statement or model.
  • White faith: near-certainty of belief in a statement or model (equivalent to 'true').

The system allows a person to ask, for instance: "what degree of faith do you assign to Lemaître's Big Bang cosmology?" To which one might reply: "I have green faith." (As an aside, it is not widely reported that Lemaître, who formulated the Big Bang theory from Einstein's general relativity equations, was a Roman Catholic priest).

My wife and I occasionally use the system to communicate the strength of our convictions to each other, particularly as regards to problems of navigation. For instance, while hiking we might have the following conversation: "Which way do we go from here?" "I think we go this way." "How sure are you?" "I don't know... green faith?" "Hmmm... I have blue faith that it's this way". "Okay, we'll go that way."

I'm not suggesting that you adopt the system to communicate with other people (it requires that all parties have learned the mechanism), but I would suggest that you can productively explore your own belief systems using this method. (By belief systems, I mean to say the position you hold on all the concepts of which you are aware).

Which propositions and models do you have absolute belief in (white faith)? Which do you absolutely disbelieve (black faith)? Where are you rather uncertain (yellow faith)? What issues fall between these extremes? By exploring your own belief system in this way you will be better equipped to communicate with other people with different belief systems. Also, if you find that your belief systems consist solely of black and white faith responses, you have problems that you could use to work upon.

For instance, when an atheist and theist talk together there is an inherent problem when using a basic truth value system in that the proposition 'God' is True for one and False for the other. Since naive truth values presume that True and False refer to an objective reality, any communication on this subject is likely to be unproductive, to say the least. But if one can accept that the atheist has black faith in God and the theist has white faith in God, we have at least removed the appeal to an objective external reality (which for an unfalsifiable proposition such as God is an appropriate step!) Although conversation may still be difficult, at least the cognitive dissonance each may suffer facing their antithesis might be somewhat reduced.

It is perhaps appropriate at this point to mention Clarke's First Law: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong." I could restate this in the colour faith system as: "Scientists should be wary of assigning black faith to any model or proposition."

I hope you will take the time to explore your own beliefs - linguistic, scientific and metaphysical - by this or another system. There's much we can learn simply by exploring our own minds.

The opening image is Colour Studies, by Kandinsky.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

What situations can you think of that would lead to an actual change in rather than a re-phrasing of a "faith value" (re-phrasing certainly is a big first step forward though)?

To which extend are you interested in the connections between aesthetic evaluation and reasoning? Seems to be a "hard problem" in philosophy ...

As you demonstrate an "aesthetic" re-phrasing helps to "mollify" a debate turning a "rational judgement" into something hybrid between "rational" and "aesthetic". And in sharing an aesthetic experience "mutual recognition" of beliefs maybe easier to share as well.

And this then leads directly to the shared aesthetic experience during the "play" mode of action which may help to accept actions otherwise regarded as offensive. It's only a game after all...

I'm afraid that I fail to see the value in color faiths. You're describing them as basically being how likely you consider an idea to be true or untrue. We already know that some things are probable and some things are improbable - there's no use for a system like this.

"We already know that some things are probable and some things are improbable"

Yes, but we rarely communicate that knowledge to others. This can make it more difficult to pool knowledge and/or expertise. Equally, I'd contend that under most situations, most people would have a vested interest in communicating their position as "white"...

" - there's no use for a system like this."

... like that. Which is not, in my view, much of a help in a discussion or dialogue.

Malky: I appreciate this system seems arcane, and I don't really expect anyone to use it practically (although it's interesting to note that my wife and I do actually use it from time to time - it does have it's moments!)

As Peter suggests, the value is in expressing information that would otherwise be unstated. It only works if people develop the ability to assess the strength of their conviction - and it is this ability that is the real value. You could express it in numbers, of course, but that loses something. :)

Anyway, if it doesn't click with you, ignore it. It was a throwaway post anyway, but I thought it might be interesting to some people.

Peter: as you suggest, if people only ever express their position as 'white faith', you'd get problems - but then, those making the decisions may quickly discount someone who only has total faith in their own judgement! :) I know I would!

translucy: I really haven't dug into aesthetics at all; it's a bit out of my reach at the moment. :) I'm not sure the value is in changing people's strength of belief so much as it is being able to communicate it at all. And as you say, the rephrasing alone might be beneficial as it escapes the unspoken assumptions of words like 'true', 'false' and 'is' which can trip people up. :)

But this still doesn't change anything. If people are inclined to communicate their position as being true, then they will continue to do so. If they want to communicate their position as being potentially untrue, they will do so.

The problem isn't communication. We can already communicate just fine.

I was replying to Peter, by the way. Didn't expect anyone to beat me to it.

My point is that simply formalizing a system doesn't make communication any easier. People who want to communicate their position as being certain or uncertain can already do that. The same goes for self-analysis.

While I suppose some people (like yourself) may enjoy using an abstract system like this, I don't see it bringing anything new to the table.

Side-stepping the religious implications into an application to game design, I can see fuzzy logic as neatly being presented as adverb quantifiers (neatly in the UI, an engine interpreting such input might use no fuzzy logic manipulation in its algorithms). In Fianna, I want to express this symetrically (feedback to reflect the input's effect) with a coloring system, as I've stated earlier. I'm thinking I'm going to break the color sphere into four quadrants (for each of the four symbol forms) and then grade them along a similar scale of five color variants of increasing intensity. Or maybe the same color scale will be used for all four, but different "spin" effects will exist on the "anima" representation. Even more imporant is the main cursor used to select direct objects in the game world will be constructed of a similar particle effect, the wisp I call it, and will change colors and densities depending on what its selecting, for instance red could be a soldier, yellow a civillian, or whatever, depending on context. By grading these different representative mode it'll be possible to represent degrees of belief to the player, in this case regarding agency rather than deity. But I don't see why the different degrees of religiousity in the different characters can't be done along the same lines, one Fenian is agnostic, another is militant but only slightly religous, another is totally faithless and just wants to carry a vendetta, and so on.

I think it slightly unreliable to grade belief values based on colour, as colour is a subjective qualia with emotional import. Thus even if the system (of colour-gradation) is universally recognised and understood, some individuals may be biased toward (or away from) assigning a certain colour to a degree of belief. The only example I can think of right now is that a person may feel great passion connected to their belief in something, but have an emotional dissonance (is that the right phrase?) with associating that belief with white (not even a colour, according to designers). They may feel 'redly' about this belief, and yet that contradicts the colour faith system.

I would propose a 'shades of grey' system. How to easily communicate shades of grey? RGB values, expressed in Hex - #BBBBBB - and abbreviated (as there's only one value for each grey) to B...
"I have about a 4 belief in the value of my grayscale faith system, since I have a B belief nobody's going to take it up"

Or something like that...

I do feel "emotional" about shades of grey, especially about very "light" and very "dark" shades ;-)

I believe this is what one calls an "aesthetic impression", which is primarily subjective, but not entirely so on closer inspection... which then leads to "normal" v. "pathological" judgement (as in "this piece of "art" is making me sick) and so forth...

ZenBen: black and white can be understood as achromatic colours, eliminating the 'not a colour' argument (which is rather facile anyway). :D Technical arguments for the use of words can never overrule everyday use anyway. :)

As translucy observed before, part of the value in the system is in sidestepping the usual language (and the assumptions entailed in the usual language). The details of how this is then expressed is rather less important. But, like translucy, I would find shades of grey considerably more emotionally evocative than colours, personally. Does it not feel that the "light grey" should defeat the "dark grey"? :)

Also, the system purposefully avoids numerical expression; numbers favour certain personalities over others. The colour system was designed to by as psychologically neutral as possible. (The details of this issue are rather too complex to go into briefly!)

However, in terms of exploration of one's own mind, any similar system will do. You just need to 'install' an appropriate idea in your head, and practice using it to assess degrees of confidence relating to memories, models and conjectures. Being able to finely gradiate the space between both kinds of 'sure' and the uncertain state of 'not sure' is an interesting ability to add to one's cognitive suite. Feel free to use numbers if this is more comfortable for you (and you fancy giving it a try!) This process can be particuarly revealing with recalled memories, which people often take as being absolute, but of course, may be constructed or distorted.

Take care!

I would like to know how the use of colours can be psychologically neutral, since after all this is the root of my objection. maybe you have a reference?
I am not well read on the subject, and personal intuition suggests that any particular grading system is bound to be less utile to some people than to others. Numbers would be my choice because that is how I think. Linking them to colours* seems a neat way to serve both number-oriented and visually-oriented brains. Maybe you could extend this link to include other forms of representation, such as the sound of the phonemes you use to represent the names of the colours/numbers?
I'm making shadow-plays here, not really sure what validity any of it has!

* Even achromatic colours, the comment on which wasn't really an argument, more of a throw-away reference to the preferred way of thinking about colour in some professions, although it was still facile :D

I think 'psychologically neutral' was an asinine choice of wording for what I meant. :) I'm not sure I can get this idea out clearly, but I purposefully chose the paradigm that would favour the less argumentative personality profiles. Number representations et al favour Thinking-preference personalities, who are more argumentative in general than their counterparts. The idea was to provide some small support for the participants with a disadvantage in a disagreement. I hope that is in some way clear... but I doubt it. :)

Indeed I am of blue faith that there are subtleties to the issue that I won't pick up on unless I look into the matter myself, but I understand the gist.
Again based on intuition, I would posit that this difference in argumentativeness you speak of isn't a matter of greater or lesser degree, but of flexibility of position. I would say that number-oriented thinkers would be more convinced of the certainty of their positions, since they believe they are dealing in 'hard fact'.
In any event, thanks for the debate :D

ps. I know what you mean (though its a little harsh) in saying that 'psychologically neutral' was an asinine choice of words - one of the reasons I don't post regularly on my own blog is because I despair of writing cogent correctly-worded argumentation in a short time, without peer review to 'weed the garden'. Its a medium unforgiving to ambiguity of phrase.

As with much of life, you have to take a leap of faith. I write most of my posts quite rapidly, and in doing so I occasionally make careless word choices which I later kick myself about. But one can't be afraid to take action because of the risk of failure - we have to be willing to fail so that we can learn from our mistakes.

The way I see it is: these are our blogs. We aren't publishing books or magazine articles here, and we have to count upon our readers to remember this and treat us kindly in the inevitable event of a misstep.

Best wishes!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)