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there's even evidence that our stone age brethren would walk 25 kilometers (more than 15 miles) to find ochre with different hues. and the "paints" made with the materials left behind by our ancient ancestors could have been used to colorize and decorate just about anything, from hair and skin, to everyday items from a favorite spear to a favorite clay pot.
scientists think that we started using ochre as long ago as 164,000 years ago, but virtually all that we colored is lost. but according to the smithsonian "the world’s very first picture" is a cave painting on the island of sulawesi, in indonesia, and it's believed to be at least 35,400 years old, even older than the lascaux cave paintings in france.
it's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it: just about everywhere on the globe, we've been "communicating with color" for millennia. so finding the perfect color for your outfit or your home isn't new – using color to express who you are, or to communicate something important is very deeply embedded in the human experience.
feeling inspired? feeling like finger painting with ochre is just what you need to unwind? here's a link on how to make ochre paint. now go paint the town ochre.
and here's the smithsonian article the oldest cave paintings. and a wikipedia page on ochre.
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so... this sounds unbelievable – how could they not see blue? after all, we have cells in our retina that are basically "programmed" to perceive blue lightwaves...
but this "discovery" has been making the rounds on science shows, and in magazine and newspaper articles for a while, but it keeps popping back up to the surface – i think because it just doesn't seem possible! right!?
everyone on earth lives under a blue sky, so why then are there no records of a word that describes blue until the egyptians named it in 2500b.c.? to put that in perspective, "modern humans" have been around for 200,000 years, but for first 197,500 they didn't really "see" blue. and historians believe that even after the egyptians came up with a word for blue, they still may not have recognized the sky as blue. it's enough to make your brain hurt!
i think it strikes at the core of how humans perceive color, and how we incorporate our knowledge of color into our lives. going back before the egyptians, cave people (well, probably cave women, since they were the "gatherers" in a hunter/gatherer society) had to be able to know which berry or seed was yummy, and which could kill you.
for the real housewives of cavemen, color wasn't a "choice" you made about your outfit, or your new cave-chair you read about on apartment therapy; color wasn't frivolous – it was an important part of staying alive. so, how then, did they miss blue?
of course, like many things from the way-back days, no one knows for sure. but one theory is that it turns out that human experience and language have a funny connection – and unless we have a word for something, we may not recognize it.
we're starting to get into deep philosophical questions, and folks way smarter than i have written whole books on the topic. but i think malcolm harris (no relation) in describing university of pittsburgh professor m. chirimuuta's book on color Outside Color said it best "neither scientists nor philosophers know for sure what color is."
boom. mind blown.
as always, links for you find out more:
they didn't see blue
mark bradley's thesis Colour and meaning in ancient Rome
radio lab episode why isn't the sky blue?
erin hoffman's article the wine-dark sea
kevin loria's article no one could describe blue until modern times
garrett robinson's you tube video ancient cultures didn't see blue
philosophy of color
malcom harris's article does color even exist?
m. chirimuuta's outside colour website
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so, in my previous post, we talked a bit about what IS color?
and now i thought we could just ponder a bit on the mechanics of how humans see color.
you may remember learning about the different parts of the eye that we use to see color: the retina (in the back of your eyeball) has two types of photoreceptor cells that respond to light: rods and cones. the rods and cones transmit information about what we're seeing to the brain, and voila! our visual cortex interprets light bouncing off of objects in our world into things we recognize like red apples or yellow bananas, etc.
so, the rods are very sensitive to low-light conditions, and while they don't register color, they are what allow us to see in the dark by creating a world in shades of grey.
the cones, on the other hand, are the key to seeing color and function very differently than rods. most folks are "trichromats" meaning we have three kinds of cones, with each cone being sensitive to a specific wavelength (red, blue or green). and there are some rare individuals (possibly as high as 12% of women) that are "tetrachromats" meaning they have four types of cone cells, and some with the extra cone can perceive more colors.
at the other end of the spectrum, so called "color blindness" most commonly occurs when one or more of the cones is absent or non-functioning. and thanks to genetics, it effects around 8% of men, but only about one-half of one-percent of women.
you may have had the experience of disagreeing with a friend or loved one on the exact color of something. but since color is lightwaves, and lightwaves can be measured – in theory, there shouldn't be anything to debate, right? well, the thing is – color is also subjective (meaning how you see green may not be how your spouse sees green).
so color is both measurable AND "open to interpretation" – huh? how can that be? well, remember the 2015 social media frenzy about the dress? it's "gold and white" or it's "blue and black" (uh, so in case you missed it, the actual dress according to the manufacturer was blue and black).
there are many factors at play between what our eyes see, and what our brain thinks it sees; and then layer in personal history/expectations, color traditions that differ in different parts of the world (and sometimes even the amount of adrenaline in your system). let's just say, it's not as straight forward you'd think.
here's a great article from Wired magazine on the dress, and what's happening with our vision:
and click here for more science on how our eyes see ALL the colors even though we only have cones that detect red, blue and green:
well, we touched on just the basics of how we see color, but there's more to come on the subjective aspect of how we see color: is color a social construct? a shared language? something else? stay tuned!