What color is that exactly?
January 15, 2018 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Color is perspective. One may express a rose is red or pink or yellow, but what is the exact hue and saturation of that color? It’s all perspective. I believe there are no two people who can see one color the exact same way.
posted by Yellow (30 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
The bright red berry might be making an adaptive nod to the perceptual processes that trigger warning signals in other creatures, but why go on a path that seems to deny the color is intrinsic? Whether that berry is perceived as red, or as a specific shade of gray whose frequency resonates in creatures' brain in a specific way it's still a quality of the berry itself.

No two have to perceive the color the same way for the color to be an intrinsic property. It's as much "redding" as it's "rounding", "harding", etc. Why single out color in this way?
posted by sutt at 7:15 AM on January 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


posted by Yellow

Can't get more eponysterical than that.
posted by octothorpe at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2018 [15 favorites]


No two have to perceive the color the same way for the color to be an intrinsic property.

How does it remain an intrinsic property? Note that color is not the same thing as the emitted EM spectrum.
posted by Gyan at 7:22 AM on January 15, 2018


The qualities of the berry (texture, chemical components) are producing that reflective color of the berry. I don't think that just because it's not emitting color that color can't be considered intrinsic. Its final perceived result, (red, off-red, grayscale,etc) is implicit in how the berry got to its current state, but independent of the berry.

I just think it's too far a leap to say that because we can't settle on an absolute color that color is now outside the scope of the qualities of an object.
posted by sutt at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2018


Note that color is not the same thing as the emitted EM spectrum.

I would disagree a bit with that. In much the same way that sound is the transmitted waveform/acoustic pressure, color is the reflected/transmitted wavelength. They are intrinsic properties of the source. They remain undetectable unless intercepted by organs or structures designed or evolved to process those waves, i.e. our eyes and ears. It is in those receptors that the variability of perception or "reality" lies, not in the source.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:38 AM on January 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


Is blue the color of the sky? What about the feathers in a bluejay (which are blue for similar reasons that the sky is blue).

Is milk white? Try this: put a drop or two of milk in water, mix it up, take it into a dark room, and shine a flashlight on it. Why is it now blue? Is the milk blue? The water?

What about the colors you see in a half toned image?

Or in this image, which contains only red greem and blue, or for that matter, the colors you see on your phone or LCD monitor, which also contain only red green and blue (get a magnifying glass and look closely).

What about this famouse checkerboard illusion? Anyone who's done much painting knows that assuming objects have a known intrinsic color will lead to a style other than realism.

The more I have dug into color, the weirder it has gotten.
posted by smcameron at 8:07 AM on January 15, 2018 [7 favorites]


Interesting that there was no mention of qualia and the inverted spectrum, which seem pretty central to the point of the essay.

I think it was Feynman (but can’t find a citation right now) who pointed out that the sky is blue because air is blue. Now why air is blue gets into Rayleigh scattering and so forth, but I always like that simple explanation.
posted by TedW at 8:17 AM on January 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


They are intrinsic properties of the source. They remain undetectable unless intercepted by organs or structures designed or evolved to process those waves

Those waves which emanate from the source, then, are properties of the source. Think of colors and sounds as labels assigned by the brain to tag those inputs. Why are the labels intrinsic to the source?
posted by Gyan at 8:26 AM on January 15, 2018


I'd just like to point out this question I asked about color 14 years ago (wow, you guys got old).
posted by signal at 8:33 AM on January 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


It can be a perception or it can be an intrinsic property or it can be both. If an object emits or reflects red wavelength light it appears red. Another object that emits or reflects green wavelength light appears green. But an object that appears yellow may be emitting/reflecting yellow light or it may be emitting/reflecting a mix of red and green wavelengths. If an object emits IR or UV wavelengths we don't perceive it at all.

The light spectrum of an object is an intrinsic property. Humans have developed a makeshift light perception system that gives us a filtered, shifted, and far from perfect approximation of that property.
posted by rocket88 at 8:34 AM on January 15, 2018


Colors aren't just in the optical system, they can be strongly influenced by what you expect.

How to See Color and Paint It

The author takes his art students to the shore of a bay at dusk and asks them the color of the brick buildings across the water. The students say "red", and then he has them look at the buildings through holes in 3" x 5" cards--- the buildings are blue!

Not only are colors as perceived strongly influenced by expectation and surrounding colors, a lot about them operates below conscious perception. It's claimed that white is actually a hue which is too light to be easily identified, black a hue which is too dark, and gray and brown are respectively cool and warm hues which are too muted to be easily identified.

The book teaches artists to look at color patches on objects individually, and mix paint separately for each patch rather than mixing what seems to be the major color of an object, and then modifying it for highlights and shadows.

I haven't worked with paints following the book, but just reading it produces a short-lived altered state of consciousness for me. It's amazing to realize that a t-shirt when being worn in ordinary light shows only very small areas of the color I think it is-- most of it is either much lighter or darker.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:43 AM on January 15, 2018 [8 favorites]


> rocket88:
"The light spectrum of an object is an intrinsic property. Humans have developed a makeshift light perception system that gives us a filtered, shifted, and far from perfect approximation of that property."

This. light spectrum = objective. Color = subjective.

Now let's discuss something actually complicated: what is it about the relations between the frequencies and timing with which air is compressed that sounds 'musical'?
posted by signal at 8:54 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Don't forget the effects of Frame of Reference. If two objects (source and observer) are moving relative to one another perception of the "color" and "sound" will be altered.
posted by achrise at 9:33 AM on January 15, 2018


Interesting that there was no mention of qualia and the inverted spectrum, which seem pretty central to the point of the essay.

Substituting the philosophy of mind jargon "qualia" for the ordinary experience of perceiving a color does not seem to me to add anything of value.
posted by thelonius at 10:04 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


The fantastic book Color for Philosophers was my introduction to the complexities of color perception and the controversial nature of where color "really" resides. Despite the title, it draws on much more science than philosophy, though it does go on to explore the philosophical implications of color perception. Highly recommended!
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 10:08 AM on January 15, 2018


When I took up digital photography a few years ago and started working in Photoshop, I found that (at least as far as that digital context is concerned) when selectively increasing saturation in an image and trying to achieve a realistic-looking balance, the "green" grass was far more affected by changing the yellow saturation than by changing the green saturation. I still don't know how I feel about that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:44 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Substituting the philosophy of mind jargon "qualia" for the ordinary experience of perceiving a color does not seem to me to add anything of value.

"Perceiving a color" is vague: does a camera perceive colors? If a camera is too mechanical, what about photoediting software that does things like automatic white balance compensation? You might argue that 'perception' is simply information processing of a sufficiently advanced variety. The point of qualia is to raise precisely this question: are sensations and perceptions ultimately reducible to information processing?
posted by Pyry at 11:01 AM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yes,

intrinsic qualities of some lumps of organic matter that can sort of detect light = fallible as fuck

but,

intrinsic qualities of the object + intrinsic qualities of the light = objective truth

Colour does not, strictly speaking, exist. (Most of) our bodies detect something in a particular way, and we call this colour. Our perception of colour has no effect on the reality of that thing we’re detecting that we call colour, though. Sure, what one person perceives as “blue” depends on biology, language, and a bunch of other factors, but electronvolts are electronvolts, nanometres are nanometres, and terahertz are terahertz. “Colours: How do they work?” Quantum mechanics, that’s how. Sheesh.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:06 AM on January 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


I believe there are no two people who can see one color the exact same way.

I don't see quite the same color out of both of my eyes, come to that.
posted by BWA at 1:40 PM on January 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


My first thought was 'sure, and all the people with color blindness have all just chosen to not see the same kind of color(s) at the same time'... though, this 2009 monkey study found that once given the ability to see red, their brains just figured out how to deal with the perception, without any brain surgery.

Now, naming and knowing different blues and greens and yellows can help one train their eyes/mind to recognize those distinctions. This study, published 2017, found people in ~110 different languages generally agreed on what to call colors. (not that it helps us understand the perception. if we're told Mefi blue is like the sea is like chip number N4)

There is also discussion on what color Homer's 'Wine dark sea', actually is 1, 2


Every time I try to untangle this, it just gets more confusing.

On top of that, as an artist, I usually make my color choices by feel... This one feels right. what does that even mean?
posted by dreamling at 3:00 PM on January 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm still undecided, blue dress with black lace or white with gold.
posted by unliteral at 4:09 PM on January 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


@dreamling, I do what’s the equivalent to color correction as part of what I do for work. I’m considered a specialist for creating a “look” that’s preferred for the entertainment genre. I do specials and concerts which has a huge range of color and luminance. I started out with color and the psychology of it when I first studied photography. I moved onto moving images where I find there are restrictions in the range of color from one manufacturer to another as well as within the manufacturer between their individual models of equipment. I’m always trying to create a look based upon a mood as well as the way an artist is trying to express themselves. I’m always trying to create the “best” picture possible basically by the way the room feels. I know what you mean. I know what that evens means either!
posted by Yellow at 5:34 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Daughter showed the dress to me on tumblr, and said, "what color is this;" I said "blue with black lace, or maybe dark brown lace," and she was stunned - she and husband had both agreed that it was white with gold.

I had fun following the subsequent drama and attempts at scientific explanations, and I enjoy weird or informative color-play posts when they show up, but I can't bring myself to think there's anything important to them - it really doesn't matter if we "all see the same red" or not, as long as we can re-create the "red" that we disagree on. The combination of cultural/linguistic biases and colorblindness and tetrachromacy make talking about color perception difficult; before we can sort out "what is color, really," we need a coherent vocabulary for that discussion.

We really don't have one.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 9:46 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


BWA: "I don't see quite the same color out of both of my eyes, come to that."

I have some minor colour blindness and one eye perceives a higher level of saturation than the other. The former means I don't see the colours that most other people do and I've just given up discussing colour with other people. I no longer describe things by their colour because like 30% of the time other people aren't going to agree with me on what colour any particular object is.

On a related note I've done a couple years of a daily 365 photography project. During that some images I wasn't all that pleased with turned out to be run away hits and others I though were great have gotten no love at all. I'm forming a theory that it is partially because of my differences in perception.
posted by Mitheral at 10:47 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


one eye perceives a higher level of saturation than the other.

Sounds about right, though on occasion snow, say, can be white or light blue, depending. Can't say it's ever really bothered me, or exiled me from color-talk, it's just - a bit of a quirk.
posted by BWA at 12:54 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


The original article mentions Hardin's Color for Philosophers, as does slappy_pinchbottom, and everyone should go read it right now. It's a mind-blower.

The bright red berry is not "red", sorry. Natural objects reflect a whole set of frequencies, while absorbing others. Human eyes have three types of photoreceptor, sensitive to a range of frequencies, but most sensitive to deep blue, green, and greenish-yellow, respectively. (There are no "red" receptors.)

Now the magic happens: nerves subtract the green from the greenish-yellow response. It's hard to show what happens without a diagram, but the effect is a lovely sine curve which gives a good approximation to average strength of signal for the entire spectrum. The highest points of this sine curve we perceive as red. The lowest points we perceive as green. (The other primary colors are blue and yellow, and involve the other photoreceptor. Yes, three photoreceptors provide four primary colors.)

The complicated set of frequencies reflected from a berry trigger the red response. So does monochromatic red laser light. So does a combination of violet light with a certain shade of green.

Different animals have different photoreceptors and so see different colors given the same input frequencies. For some reason, mantis shrimp have no less than 12 types of photoreceptor.

And then there's other mind-blowing bits, such as the fact that nothing in the world is black or purple, for different reasons. But I'll let you read the book for that.

(I don't know how much Chirimuuta's ideas differ from this; I hope I can find her book to find out!)
posted by zompist at 9:49 PM on January 16, 2018


I don't see quite the same color out of both of my eyes, come to that.
posted by BWA


Me neither, one eye sees things with a warmer cast than the other (or perhaps it's the other that sees things cooler- it's impossible to establish a baseline). People always react with surprise when I mention this, but I suspect it is much more common than they think. It's just that in order to discover it you have to sit around staring at a wall (or other pale, matte expanse of color) and winking your eyes alternately, which was how I passed the time in trigonometry in high school.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 10:43 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't know that I have any baseline color imbalance between my eyes, but I remember discovering as a kid that if I covered one eye for a while, or closed both and had sunlight falling on only one, then on opening them I'd have two very different color casts between the two eyes, as if looking at the world through mismatched colored sunglasses. I think that was the first time it occurred to me in however vague a way that color was fundamentally a subjective experience even at a personal level.

I've thought a lot since I took up painting in the last year and a half about subjective local color (ala what Nancy Lebovitz was talking about above) and how to perceive and anticipate it when looking at subjects. And I'm much more actively aware of it now, the way that e.g. the shadowed underside of a lemon is very far from being lemon colored as it hits the eye, but I'm still pretty bad at actually looking at and picking out local color in the moment.
posted by cortex at 11:10 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


The beau and I have a lot of fun, trying to figure out what colors we see similarly, and what colors we see differently. I see things as kind of an olive green, which he sometimes sees as gray, while some things that appear as minty green colors to him look blue to me.
posted by PearlRose at 6:55 AM on January 17, 2018


We really don't have one.

I'm dying at "my dentist's office orange. i still remember his dandruff slowly wafting into my gaping jaw." and "i have nothing against colors personally, but this one just stands out from the rest as unusually unattractive. i almost feel sad for it, but it made the decision to be that color so it has to find a way to deal with it."
posted by numaner at 3:11 PM on January 17, 2018


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