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
so i've been thinking about writing a blog about color for a while. so, today's blog post will be my first if it kills me. ok. it's NOT going to kill me. (well, that's a little dramatic...)
but, if you're like me – the idea of starting something is, uh, well easier that actually starting something.
so, it's taken months to get here, but here we go. (by the way, in my head is the song from the sound of music "let's start at the very beginning".... so hum along if you know the tune.)
so... a blog about color. and if we're to start at the beginning – i feel i must start with a teeny bit of science. after all, when you find out what color actually is – it really does seem like magic. and for me, that's a huge is part of the appeal.
here's how this works. when light waves hit a red apple, the apple ABSORBS all the light waves EXCEPT red, and since the red light wave is basically "bouncing" off the apple, that's what we "see" or perceive – we SEE a red apple because the red lightwave is bouncing off the apple and "hitting" our eyeballs.
so, i think we need to back up a smidgen and just touch on what is light. i know this post is supposed to be "what is color" – so bear with me for a minute.
light from the sun is really a spectrum (a range) of colors that we usually identify as 7 different lightwaves – but we don't see them until they bounce off something, and then we usually just see one color. BUT, SOMETIMES we can see all the colors. are you thinking rainbow? if you are – you're right!
when we see a rainbow, we're seeing all the different wavelengths of light separate out into the visible spectrum (the colors humans can see) because the raindrops act just like a prism.
so, there ya go! now you can impress your friends because now you know what color is! at least you know a bit more now than 5 minutes ago.
to keep the learning going – here's a great lesson on color wavelengths from TED ed: