Research

color

I am a Philosophy Lecturer at the American University of Beirut since September of 2011.

I got my PhD in philosophy and cognitive sciences on culture and cognition in color categorization in 2009, from the Institut Jean Nicod, EHESS, ENS, CNRS, Paris.

Perception is an important source of knowledge, and the question of how we cognitively relate to the world around us has driven my research. The question I have mainly focused on pertains to how we form our categories and concepts, and I have specifically looked into the relationship of culture and language to perception in color categorization.

Color was thought to be a paradigmatic example of how culture and language determine perception. To the extent that observed lexical categories vary without constraint across languages, categorization of color was thought to be arbitrary, and exclusively determined by language use.

However, in 1969 Berlin and Kay lead a color survey on over 80 languages, some directly on the field, other through existing ethnographic data. They have found that color categorization was regular across languages. More specifically, there seems to be a small number of basic color categories (around 11), and these categories emerge in the lexicon following a partially constrained order (black and white, followed by red, then green or yellow, blue, brown, and finally grey, purple, pink and orange more or less at the same time). Cognitive mechanisms of color perception thus seem to determine color semantics.

The Basic Color Terms Theory had a revolutionary impact on the field of color studies, and soon became a research paradigm. The theory itself however, went through a series of major changes starting 1978, all through 2007, date of the latest noticeable theoretical shift.

Thus, to the question of how we categorize the way we do, mainly two answers were historically offered: according to some color categorization was culturally relative and determined by language use, while according to others, it was universal and ultimately determined by perceptual mechanisms. This second approach to color categorization however cannot account for the fact that some cross-linguistic discrepancies are nevertheless observed. While the first approach cannot account for the fact that there are regularities. I have been arguing for a few years that none of these exclusive answers to the question of categorization can be fully satisfying. I am currently working on an alternative route, involving the notion of dimensions of perceptual space.

Recently, I’ve grown interested in visual perception understood more broadly, and in the experience and notion of space more specifically. These questions connect to multi-sensory integration, cross-modal mappings, and sense individuation.

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