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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!
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