The hint of a transcendent unity
Schrödinger, the physicist who discovered the matter-wave equation of quantum mechanics, has a great deal to teach us about color and its real existence.He outlines the following argument. “You and I [he says, in effect], both see yellow. But, according to the prevailing view of science, there is no way of knowing whether the interior experience you have when you see yellow is the same as the interior experience I have when I see yellow. Of course, we know that we shall both say the word yellow when we look at a buttercup, or at light of 5,900 angstroms. But this says nothing about the inner experience we have. You might have the inner experience A (a product of your neurological functioning when your eyes see 5,900 angstroms) and I might have the inner experience B (a product of my neurological functioning when my eyes see 5,900 angstroms). You have learned to call your A by the name yellow, and I have learned to call my B by the name yellow. Thus we both use the word yellow in a consistent fashion to describe wavelengths in the world. But there is nothing to guarantee that your inner experience of yellow, and mine, are the same.”
Yes, here it gets interesting! More interesting is the question what the range of wavelengths is that we would both still consider yellow, and — for instance — how much our culture influences that categorization, which is exactly what linguists have researched in depth.
-> Brent Berlin, Paul Kay, Basic Color Terms, 1969, mentioned in George Lakoff, Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, p. 47ff.
Schrödinger goes on to say that although this point of view is logically consistent, it seems intuitively absurd. Intuitively, it seems to him that the inner experience of yellow, its yellowness, is something real. He guesses that we all experience it in the same way — in short, that “your” yellowness and “my” yellowness are one and the same thing, not two different things. Most people probably share this intuition. Of course, it remains an intuition, or belief, not a demonstrable fact. Yet, as Schrödinger points out, within contemporary positivistic science, there is not even a way to describe the content of this intuition. If it is indeed true — as many people probably believe intuitively — that yellow — the yellowness itself — is the same for everyone, then this would imply that there is some domain where this yellowness actually exists. Where is it?
Here I think Alexander (and Schrödinger, too) makes a mistake. He is clearly still guided by a fundamentally objectivist world view and strongly feels the need for “yellowness” to exist as an external truth in a transcendent reality that exists independent of us and our perception. This is where Lakoff’s Experientialism model/world view provides a much better foundation for putting Alexander’s theory on a convincing scientific basis. Unfortunately, because Lakoff’s theory is also relatively new or at least not as wide spread as many folk theories, I think many physicists (and architects) reading Alexander still believe that there are only two choices — objectivism or subjectivism and (understandably) reject subjectivism as a realistic option. Experientialism is much closer to objectivism and Lakoff himself rules out subjectivism as a viable theory. It seems there is tremendous opportunity in looking at what is possible to infer from the overlap of Alexander’s theory of centers and Lakoff’s model of Experientialism.
After thinking carefully about this problem, Schrödinger says that he has been able to find no other possible way of explaining this except to say that there is, in the world, only one single mind where the yellow occurs, and that our individual minds are all part of this one mind, and somehow all have access to it. This would explain why we all have the conviction that the yellowness we see is not private, but objectively real and shared. It is the same yellow, because it is all seen by a single mind, of which our individual minds are merely parts.
I have always been deeply impressed by Schrödinger’s essay. His AB-experiment (only a thought experiment, of course) is convincing and unexplainable. But I interpret the experiment in a slightly different way. Instead of saying that we all share yellowness because we are all parts of one mind (as he suggests), I draw a slightly weaker conclusion — simply that, at the very least, his thought experiment gives us a realistic hint of the existence of some single realm of mind, which lies beyond normal experience and beyond our present-day mechanical conception of the world but which we do, occasionally, reach through sense impressions. Most important for my present argument, Schrödinger’s thought experiment strongly suggests that color — among all things — might be capable of directly penetrating this realm. This argument implies that the ground is — in principle — accessible to ordinary perception. Furthermore, it suggests that color is especially likely to be helpful in making a direct connection with this ground.
Ok, well, this sounds a little more reserved and careful. I do get the impression that Alexander uses a renowned physicist with an even “crazier idea” than his to make his theory sound more subdued and realistic. Or, perhaps in a less accusatory way, Schrödinger’s extreme conclusion allows Alexander to present his slightly less extreme theory in a more… favorable light.
Of course, the inner light I have been discussing is more complex, and more profound, than the simple yellow which Schrödinger discusses. But if it is true in principle that even a single color is capable of making a bridge between our normal experience and some realm of mind beyond matter — a kind of direct pathway, in which we see reality directly — then it is not hard at all to imagine that when the color becomes more intense, more harmonious, more whole — as it does in the case of inner light — this bridge might becomes still more effective, and our capacity to see the ground directly, might be intensified.
Schrödinger talks about color sensation in-general without reference to good or bad, shallow or profound. He says, in essence, that when we see color, we experience some domain beyond the immediately material one. He locates this domain in the great “self”, because it cannot occur merely in individual, private persons, and concludes that in some fashion we are all part of this great self, and that our individual selfness, as we experience it, is there by virtue of our participation in — and belonging to — the greater self.
I extrapolate from Schrödinger’s argument, go beyond it, and reach my own conclusion. I suggest that the inner light, which is revealed, seen, when very great color occurs — as it does in nature, as it does in greatest paintings — allows us to experience the great self, in greater degree or in lesser degree, and that our experience of inner light is the experience of the great self directly and openly seen, openly experienced.
In short, the experience of inner light reveals an ultimate world of existence as it really is, perhaps, and shows us a glimpse of a reality which is more profound, more beautiful, than the one we experience every day.