I once was (color) blind, but now I see!
March 5, 2015 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Are you color blind? Not for long! Six percent of men and .4% of women are color blind because of the genes they've inherited from their parents. The most common color blindness interferes with the ability to see red and green. While playing a game of ultimate Frisbee a decade ago a scientist discovered that glasses he and colleagues had created for use by doctors performing laser surgery allowed a color blind friend to see the colors he had been missing all his life.
posted by mareli (45 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
EnChroma’s technology works by placing a band of absorption on glasses that captures light, pushing the cones away from each other and reestablishing the normal distribution of photons on them.

This seems incorrect.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:59 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


A problem arises when the red-green cones overlap too much, a condition that accounts for 99 percent of colorblindness cases. When this happens, in the previous scenario, instead of yellow, an individual would perceive little, if any color. EnChroma’s technology works by placing a band of absorption on glasses that captures light, pushing the cones away from each other and reestablishing the normal distribution of photons on them.

It can't affect the cones themselves. I assume they mean they're filtering out light that falls in the area of spectrum in which medium- and long-wavelength cones are both sensitive.
posted by Jpfed at 9:01 AM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'd blame that on the journalist and not the scientist, I think...
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:03 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ultimate Frisbee... is there anything it can't do?
posted by skippyhacker at 9:07 AM on March 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


The article and the scientists say that the colorblind people are seeing colors they've never seen before. (The glasses "actually allowed him to see the orange hue for the first time."). But that doesn't seem to be how the people are reporting their experience. The guy just says "I can now see the cones." Big difference.

I doubt that this technology is opening up qualitatively new color experiences to the subjects: it's just letting people discriminate objects better. Unless the subjects actually say things like, "Wow! I've never seen a color like that before!", I'd wager that the color experiences themselves are familiar to them.
posted by painquale at 9:09 AM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is not a new concept. Back in 2012, Oxy Iso glasses were big news. I've tried them. They didn't work very well, but that's probably my eyes and not the fault of the eyewear.

There is a colorblindness test online if anyone is curious about their level of color deficiency.
posted by zarq at 9:12 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the article:

McPherson, too, began casually wearing them, as sunglasses. “Wearing them makes all colors look incredibly saturated,” he says. “It makes the world look really bright.”
posted by hellphish at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2015


I assume they mean they're filtering out light that falls in the area of spectrum in which medium- and long-wavelength cones are both sensitive.

Yes. Basically, it has a yellow notch filter -- it also has a cyan notch filter, but the primary effect is from the yellow notch filter. Green items will have more green than yellow, the notch pushes that to green (since only the green photons reach.) Red would have more red than yellow, the notch pushes that to red.

If your red and green cones are too close to each other in response, it won't work well. It will also act as a yellow dimming lens, you'll still see yellow (as a cross of the very green and very red photons that make it) but the filter will reduce that intensity.

However, I can see how it would help the colorblind, esp. deuteranopes, be able to discriminate better in the red-to-green part of the spectrum. It can help the discrimination of protanopes, but it won't help the lack of red sensitivity that they experience - severe protanopes have trouble seeing lit red stoplights. Filtering can never fix a *lack* of sensitivity, since filtering reduces sensitivity.

I keep one of those red-cyan 3D glasses around the office desk for dealing with the inevitable charts with two (to me) identically colored lines. Wave the red gel over it, and the "red" line becomes much lighter and the "green" line becomes black, and I can see what's what.

And yes, these glasses our of interest to me, but the wraparound appear to be backorders. Plus, I need to go order some Schitt anyway.

I doubt that this technology is opening up qualitatively new color experiences to the subjects

Trust me -- if these lenses let me see a difference between objects that people say are clearly green and ones they say are clearly red, it would be a new experience to me. I'm not even sure if what I think is green is green to you.

But don't worry, I can clearly tell the difference between the green and red stoplights. There's a bit of blue in the green lens, and I see the green as being much brighter than the red. Where I have trouble is at night when a signal has gone to blinking one color, on older incandescents, I have trouble telling if it's a blinking yellow (which is a yield) or a blinking red (which means it's a stop sign) until I'm close enough to tell if the lights in the middle or not.

(This is also why red is always on top, and in the US, the red is to the left if mounted horizontal.)
posted by eriko at 9:30 AM on March 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


McPherson is the non-colorblind guy. I assume he just means that the colors are brighter than they would otherwise be.

Trust me -- if these lenses let me see a difference between objects that people say are clearly green and ones they say are clearly red, it would be a new experience to me.

Why couldn't it just recolor your visual field using familiar experiences? I can imagine putting on glasses so that what once looked like a single shade of blue suddenly looks like it has swirls of light blue and dark blue. Maybe that's what it's like to be a tetrachromat. But I'm not seeing new colors. I'm just seeing familiar light blue and dark blue.
posted by painquale at 9:37 AM on March 5, 2015


Ultimate Frisbee... is there anything it can't do?

Fun.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:44 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


But don't worry, I can clearly tell the difference between the green and red stoplights. There's a bit of blue in the green lens, and I see the green as being much brighter than the red. Where I have trouble is at night when a signal has gone to blinking one color, on older incandescents, I have trouble telling if it's a blinking yellow (which is a yield) or a blinking red (which means it's a stop sign) until I'm close enough to tell if the lights in the middle or not.

Green stoplights look white to me. Not green. But yellows look yellow and reds look red.
posted by zarq at 9:52 AM on March 5, 2015


People with red/green color blindness -- do the side-by-side photos at the top of the article look identical to you?
posted by BurntHombre at 9:53 AM on March 5, 2015


Yes.
posted by zarq at 9:54 AM on March 5, 2015


So much so in fact that I didn't realize until I read the caption that they were two different side-by-side images, and had to look at them closely to pick out the line of demarcation.
posted by zarq at 9:56 AM on March 5, 2015


Who would have thought Ultimate Frisbee would be our greatest stumbling block on the path to a colorblind society?
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


People with red/green color blindness -- do the side-by-side photos at the top of the article look identical to you?

Yep, same here.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:07 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


People with red/green color blindness -- do the side-by-side photos at the top of the article look identical to you?

Yes.
posted by eriko at 10:08 AM on March 5, 2015


meh. i wanna hug you all.
posted by bigendian at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2015


Well, the could go a long way toward solving the confusing colorblind people experience with the upside down traffic light at Tipperary Hill.
posted by maxsparber at 10:11 AM on March 5, 2015


yeah the pictures at the top of the article makes no sense to me (who is colorblind) are they telling me the glasses will make no difference whatsoever in what I see? because those pictures are the same to my eyes.
posted by jrishel at 10:12 AM on March 5, 2015


Via The Atlantic, from 219 Magazine: Seeing Red - A pair of sunglasses promised 'color for the colorblind.' To Times Square I went, looking for a miracle." This author had a markedly different experience with EnChromas, though the reason why wasn't obvious at first.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


meh. i wanna hug you all.

There is an advantage to having a certain type of colorblindness.

On the other hand, I learned last week that peanut butter isn't green.
posted by zarq at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


WHAT HAVE I BEEN EATING
posted by maxsparber at 10:28 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Fried spider onna stick?
posted by zarq at 10:32 AM on March 5, 2015


I am a deuteranope like zarq, and the two photos look identical to me too.

(In general for me, green traffic signals look white, adjacent red and green are hard to distinguish, dark greens/browns/blues are indistinguishable, red LEDs occasionally look pale green in otherwise complete darkness.)

Justin Broackes wrote the most reasonable theory I have read about what is going on my eyes.
posted by enf at 10:43 AM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


> "People with red/green color blindness -- do the side-by-side photos at the top of the article look identical to you?"

Almost. When I first glanced at them I thought they were identical. After reading the caption and looking over them very, very closely I found there are a couple of trees on the right side that "pop out" a little more clearly.

Bear in mind it is an extremely minor effect, and I have Bizarre Mutant Colorblindness.
posted by kyrademon at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2015


Yup, both sides of top photo look EXACTLY the same to me. My wife was pointing out all the difference she can see. I'm like, "Nope, nope, nope, nope."
posted by maupuia at 10:49 AM on March 5, 2015


So he was wearing laser -goggles while playing ultimate frisbee?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:53 AM on March 5, 2015


Whatever. The dress is STILL white and gold.
posted by briank at 11:04 AM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


Mr. zilla and and I were looking at this last night. He is red/green colorblind and he said the fall color pictures looked identical to him, but to me they're very different.

I took their test before he came home and came up normal, as expected. Then later, he took the test. That test has some decision points in it, based on the answers you give. I watched him give several wrong answers, and then the test started showing him slides that it had not shown to me, that had combinations of pink and pale green that were very distinct to me. He agonized over these and was able to pick out the correct shape in some of them, but not others. He was telling me how he was distinguishing squares from diamonds from circles, by hunting for just ONE corner where the difference was visible. He'd point at the lower right corner of a square that was clear to me, and say that is the only corner dot that looks different to him, so this has to be a square.

Anyways, the test results put him in the group they think they can help the most. Since you get 30 days to send them back, we might have ordered the glasses for him to try it - if it helps, it might be great, and if not, they can go back. Unfortunately they are out of stock on just about everything. So, maybe later.
posted by elizilla at 11:19 AM on March 5, 2015


The only difference I can see between the two pictures is that the sky on the right is duller or more gray.

Pfft, I didn't need your colors anyway.
posted by bonje at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2015


It's important to remember that "color blindness" is a catch-all term for a number of conditions.

Normal vision is trichromacy-- you have three cones, responding to wavelengths around 570nm, 540nm and 430nm, or red, green and blue. There is a rare condition called quadchromacy, where you have a 4th cone responding at a different wavelengths, which means you have even greater color discrimination than normal and may well have vision beyond the normal spectrum, depending on just what that fourth set of cones responds to.

The first level of colorblindness is anomalous trichromacy -- you have three cones, but they respond differently. The most common form is deuteranomaly, where the green cone's responses is shifted down towards the red. Deuteranomaly is also the most common form of colorblindness, period. It affects the discrimination of red-green, but has no other effects.

Protanomaly is when the red cone's response frequency is shifted up towards the green. They also have trouble with red-green discrimination, but they also have "red dimming" -- because of the shift away from red, reds appear much darker to someone with protanomaly.

Tritanomaly is a very rare condition where the blue cone's response is shifted down towards the green. It has to be a dramatic shift to really cause issue, but it can happen, and the result is that blue-green and yellow-pink discrimination becomes very hard, and there's often "blue dimming", where blues appear darker than they would to normal vision.

The second, and worse, level is dichromacy -- where you only have two types of cones. The most common is protanopia, where there are no red cones. Pure reds become black, purples are blues, and anything redder than green just appears yellow.

Rarer is deuteranopia, where the green cones are missing, and surprisingly, this is the easiest one to deal with, because you still have full spectral coverage. Red-green is more difficult to distinguish, but if you have to be a dichromat, this is the one to be.

Rarest of the anomalous dichromacies is tritanopia, no blue cones. Blues are dark greens, yellows and oranges are pinkish, purples are just plain red. It's the most severe of the dichromacies in terms of the ability to distinguish color, because the red and green response curves are pretty close to each other.

Worst is monochromacy. There are two forms. Cone monochomacy means you have just one of the cones. Which one doesn't really matter. You have no color vision -- you can only detect brightness or darkness, so the world is black and white to you -- but otherwise, your vision is normal, because you have cones for daytime vision, and rods for nighttime vision.

By far the worst colorblindness is rod monochomacy. Here, you don't have any cones in your retina, just rods. So, not only are you living in black and white, you are very sensitive to bright light.

So, when you're looking at a solution to "color blindness,", it's important to note what kinds you have. These glasses are meant for anomalous trichromatic. By notching out the yellow, they try to make green and red more distinct, and by notching the cyan, they make blue and green more distinct. They can't help protanopia, because the reds are shifted up to the yellow, which is notched, and they can't see red, so it basically just restricts the color more. Tritanopia has a similar problem, because there's no blue to see, so notching cyan just means you don't see blue or cyan.

I'm unclear how deuteranopia would react, but I suspect these glasses would just dim yellow and cyan, and green is already dimmed, but that's a guess.

Obviously, monochromacy is monochromacy, but sunglasses would be basically required living tools if you have rod monochromacy.

So -- if you have anomalous trichromacy, these glasses have a good chance of making meaningful improvements to your ability to distinguish colors across the spectrum. If you have dichromacy, they won't unless you have deuteranopia, and they probably won't help much then.

I want to try them, but everything I'd want to wear is backordered. Grumble.
posted by eriko at 11:52 AM on March 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


Going by eriko's explanation that it's a yellow and cyan notch filter, they shouldn't be able to reproduce the effect on my computer monitor where yellow and cyan are produced by mixing red green and blue anyway.
posted by RobotHero at 11:59 AM on March 5, 2015


I have a pair of these. I'm red/green (and blue/yellow to a lesser degree) colorblind. While I can tell the glasses are doing something (some colors do seem more saturated, others muted), I can detect no change in my ability to distinguish red from green or visa versa. Informational signs (green here in VA) will sometimes seem red, albeit a brighter, more vivid red than usual fwiw, but it's not actually doing what was claimed. I suspect either I have the wrong kind of color blindness, or that this is just bunk. I'd like to see a true double-blind independent study, because I smell placebo and bad science in the claims.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:08 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just curious about physiology:

Does this also imply that people with deuteranomaly can also distinguish, unaided, a red laser from a green laser, since the light would be monochromatic?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:35 PM on March 5, 2015


I wouldn't say I've been missing them, Bob.

Seriously, I can see colors I just don't see them like you do. I'm not missing anything, I'm just perceiving things differently. Hell, I didn't even know I was colorblind until they tested me in grade school.
posted by tommasz at 1:02 PM on March 5, 2015


Your eyes respond to light of all frequencies. (Color scientists use devices that can produce monochromatic light of any frequency. You can see them all.)

Each set of cones has a frequency response curve, peaking at the frequencies eriko mentioned. (Roughly... people actually vary by up to 30 nm.) The peaks are not blue, green, and red; if you look at a color chart, you can see that they're deep blue, green, and greenish yellow. It's better to call them S, M, L (for the wavelengths).

Somewhere between the retina and the brain, these signals are combined. The M and L frequency curves are very similar, their peaks only 20 nm apart. But the combination L - M produces a beautiful curve which nicely segregates out red and green. The blue/yellow curve on that chart is formed by (L + M) - S.

With deuteranomaly, the M and L curves are closer together, and L - M provides much less information.

The article isn't clear on what exactly the lenses do. It sounds like they remove a lot of the light near the peak of the L and M curves. That would get more information from the tail ends of the curves, which differ more between L and M. (Why they make colors more vivid for normal trichromatic, I don't quite get.)
posted by zompist at 1:15 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


So you know how digital hearing aids "move" all the frequencies of sound so that everything going into your hearing system is in the frequency range you can hear? And IR and UV goggles do the same for vision?

We did a Windows program that did the same thing: so every pixel on the desktop is re-mapped to a colour space that lets you see it (for everyone who has SOME colour vision). Apparently (I'm not colour blind) coloured fruit in a picture would leap out when you had it running, but was invisible before.

It wasn't a bit hit so we dropped it in order to focus on other things, but if you've a penchant for trying out things, you're welcome to have it for personal use. Here's a link to the Windows installer for it:
Claro Rainbow. Good for Vista and later, with Aero on. It has a nice Ishihara colour test set-up so you can get it configured. We wrote it three years ago now, so I don't think it handles high DPI well (looks odd on my system), but otherwise it works as intended - I'm running it now on my Windows 8.1 machine. No warranty.

Marketing blurb follows:
Colour blindness (also known as colour vision deficiency) means that you see colours differently or not at all. Most commonly men are affected, from birth. There are different types of colour blindness: the most common is called deuteranomaly, and affects some 5% of men, who as a result cannot perceive the difference between red and green colours well. In total some 4-10% of the male population and 0.5% of the female population has some degree of colour blindness.

Colour blindness can be a problem in work and education, not only because colour is often used in computer interfaces (like green indicators that turn red as a warning, or red/green/blue "squiggly lines" indicating different spelling errors in Microsoft Word) but because colour is increasingly a part of content - diagrams, maps, photographs, and other images. Twenty years ago black-and-white was standard. Now with eBooks and the Internet we increasingly enjoy a rich, colourful world: but if you can't tell the green parts of a diagram of the red parts then you may struggle to understand material you need for the office or school.

Claro Rainbow is designed to help you. Most people with colour blindness can perceive some colours, just not the standard range. Claro Rainbow simply changes every colour on your screen - every pixel in every program - so that the colours on your screen are restricted to the ones that you can perceive. This isn't the same as making the screen one monochrome colour: instead, it's using the colour perception you do have to let you suddenly see the colours that people without colour blindness can see. It's similar to a digital hearing aid: the colour information is conveyed to you where you can see it. (Note that Claro Rainbow will therefore be of no use to you if you cannot see any colour at all - only black and white.)

First, Claro Rainbow takes you through a quick setup process to let you choose exactly what colour changing suits you best. Familiar simple Ishihara colour tests (the numbers in circles of colour) are generated for you, and you can pick any range of colour change. When you have it right for you, hit OK and Claro Rainbow simply hides itself away and lets you get on with using the computer just as normal - but now with the ability to see the colours you could not before. No special toolbars or readers are required: your whole screen simply works for you.
posted by alasdair at 1:27 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


meh. i wanna hug you all.

Yes! I felt the same when I looked at the photo representations of how variously colorblind people see the world. I see it as akin to not being able to taste salty and sweet flavors, and all the flavors sort of run together and mostly taste like, I dunno, various types of bread maybe.

I have extremely good color perception according to tests like this one, I pick out colors other people don't seem to see, and I really appreciate me some color, so I guess I'm coming from pretty far over on the other end of the spectrum. (On the other hand, I just cannot unsee the white and gold.)
posted by moira at 1:53 PM on March 5, 2015


I consider it a superpower.

I am immune to bad taste.

Lime green shorts and a purple top? I LAUGH AT YOUR ASSAULT ON MY PERCEPTIONS.
posted by kyrademon at 2:04 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Now I'm all confused. Are grapes really supposed to be that bright purple color?
posted by graventy at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2015


I'm the common colorblind kind.

1. Don't ask me what color something is. That's like asking yourself if that note your hear is a C or C#. Instead ask if I can distinguish two colors. The ames of colors are subjective for everyone anyway, taught early on as children

2. Any colorblind person can use various colored filters to see the differences in the colorblind tests. But those colored filters also change how other colors are distinguished. I found this out playing around in a high school physics class 30 years ago so it's not news. And I too have grave doubts about this latest "cure for colorblindness"

3. Many other languages refer to colorblindess as "daltonism". This seems less ambiguous in English but I'm not expecting the word to catch on any time soon.
posted by mdoar at 4:45 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I own a pair of the EnChroma cx explorer glasses- for about a month now. During winter it's not that huge of a difference, really. Red cars now pop out hugely, and a trip to a market with a big fruit stand was kind of mind blowing- the Reds, oranges, greens and yellows were just psychedelic in their brightness. So that was fun. I'm waiting for the winter snows to melt so I can try them on green things, my personal problem on the vision scale.

The weird thing is, there's really no way to know if what I see now is right or wrong, or even to truly know all the things that are different. It's hard to explain but if you've never really seen a color properly before, how would you know if a new version of it is correct or not? That part of the experience has been underwhelming and somewhat confusing. Hopefully vibrant springtime growth in May will give me some new life experiences.

Sadly, they don't work indoors or with computer screens, and they are sunglasses, so the use cases for them are somewhat limited.

Still, if you're really colorblind, they are worth it, if you can afford them. How often can you give yourself that kind of new life experience?
posted by EricGjerde at 8:06 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


moira: "Yes! I felt the same when I looked at the photo representations of how variously colorblind people see the world. I see it as akin to not being able to taste salty and sweet flavors, and all the flavors sort of run together and mostly taste like, I dunno, various types of bread maybe."

If it's any consolation, we're all colorblind to some degree: common sulphur butterflies have some pretty crazy markings only visible in ultraviolet. There's a lot of nature that uses UV and we see none of it.
posted by pwnguin at 10:57 PM on March 5, 2015


showbiz_liz: I'd blame that on the journalist and not the scientist, I think...
Indeed. That "journalist" has gotten damn near everything wrong. The glasses emphasis color differences that are otherwise de-emphasized by colorblindness.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN THE ONE THING COLORBLIND PEOPLE DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:14 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


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