From eye to machine: Shifting authority in color measurement

In B. Saunders & J. Van Brakel (eds.), Theories, Technologies, Instrumentalities of Color: Anthropological and Historiographic Perspectives. Lanham, MD 20706, USA: University Press of America. pp. 289-306 (2002)
Download Edit this record How to cite View on PhilPapers
Abstract
Given a subject so imbued with contention and conflicting theoretical stances, it is remarkable that automated instruments ever came to replace the human eye as sensitive arbiters of color specification. Yet, dramatic shifts in assumptions and practice did occur in the first half of the twentieth century. How and why was confidence transferred from careful observers to mechanized devices when the property being measured – color – had become so closely identified with human physiology and psychology? A fertile perspective on the problem is via the history of science and technology, paying particular attention to social groups and disciplinary identity to determine how those factors affected their communities’ cognitive territory. There were both common and discordant threads motivating the various technical groups that took on the problems of measuring light and color from the late nineteenth century onwards, and leading them towards the development of appropriate instruments for themselves. The transition from visual to photoelectric methods could be portrayed as a natural evolution, replacing the eye by an alternative roviding more sensitivity and convenience – indeed, this is the conventional positivist view propounded by technical histories. However, the adoption of new measurement technologies seldom is simple, and frequently has a significant cultural component. Beneath this slide towards automation lay a raft of implicit assumptions about objectivity, the nature of the observer, the role of instruments, and the trade-offs between standardization and descriptive power. While espousing rational arguments for a physical detector of color, its proponents weighted their views with tacit considerations. The reassignment of trust from the eye to automated instruments was influenced as much by the historical context as by intellectual factors. I will argue that several distinct aspects were involved, which include the reductive view of color provided by the trichromatic theory; the impetus provided by its association with photometry; the expanding mood for a quantitative and objective approach to scientific observation; and, the pressures for commercial standardization. As suggested by these factors, there was another shift of authority at play: from one technical specialism to another. The regularization of color involved appropriation of the subject by a particular set of social interests: communities of physicists and engineers espousing a ‘physicalist’ interpretation, rather than psychologists and physiologists for whom color was conceived as a more complex phenomenon. Moreover, the sources for automated color measurement, and instrumentation for measuring color, were primarily from the industrial sphere rather than from academic science. To understand these shifts, then, this chapter explores differing views of the importance of observers, machines and automation.
Keywords
No keywords specified (fix it)
PhilPapers/Archive ID
JOHFET-2
Revision history
Archival date: 2019-07-01
View upload history
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Added to PP index
2019-07-01

Total views
9 ( #41,557 of 41,505 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
9 ( #36,519 of 41,505 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks to external links.