Color Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

vintage-color-wheel-6We think of a physical object’s being a certain “color” as a solid, immutable property (grass is green, lemons are yellow, et cetera). However, the way our brains see and process color is largely determined by the language we learned as an infant.

Case in point: the Himba tribe of remote northern Namibia, to whom water looks “white” like milk and the sky looks “black” like coal, and who struggle to distinguish between blue and green, yet can easily pick out micro-shades which Americans cannot see. Via BBC Horizon, a reminder that the world looks different to everyone:

83 Comments on "Color Is In The Eye Of The Beholder"

  1. The BBC, always making great interesting documentaries.

  2. The BBC, always making great interesting documentaries.

  3. David Oliver | Sep 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm |

    I passed that test with flying colors. ALL PEOPLE see colors differently. Generalizing Americans, saying we can’t see these different shades is complete bullshit. These people are just illiterate and have no way to differentiate color because they were never taught the differences. If you are taught red and blue are the same. Then someone puts 5 red squares and 1 blue square in front of you and says “which one is different?” Your not going to be able to answer it with any confidence because you don’t know the difference! Even if they are visibly different it’s not going to register in your brain because you are taught they are the same. This is similar to here in America where people will give up liberty for security. They are one in the same but we have been taught they are different. 

  4. David Oliver | Sep 6, 2011 at 7:47 pm |

    I passed that test with flying colors. ALL PEOPLE see colors differently. Generalizing Americans, saying we can’t see these different shades is complete bullshit. These people are just illiterate and have no way to differentiate color because they were never taught the differences. If you are taught red and blue are the same. Then someone puts 5 red squares and 1 blue square in front of you and says “which one is different?” Your not going to be able to answer it with any confidence because you don’t know the difference! Even if they are visibly different it’s not going to register in your brain because you are taught they are the same. This is similar to here in America where people will give up liberty for security. They are one in the same but we have been taught they are different. 

    • Jonathan Fields | Sep 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm |

      David Oliver is the apotheosis of the modern blog commenter; in his hands the essentially complex becomes inordinately simplistic

    • > Generalizing Americans

      The white people in the video are European.

      • David Oliver | Sep 6, 2011 at 8:44 pm |

        “Case in point: the Himba tribe of remote northern Namibia, to whom water looks “white” like milk and the sky looks “black” like coal, and who struggle to distinguish between blue and green, yet can easily pick out micro-shades which Americans cannot see.” 

        Read you idiot…

        •  U mad bro?

        • the soulful maniac | Sep 8, 2011 at 1:07 am |

          You obviously were reading too deep into the video. The narrator stated that they only have six colors in their language.  That is the whole point dumb ass. She also stated that we have eleven. again dumbass. Take your White protectionist mentality somewhere else. They see colors different because their language has different descriptions for colors. They group some colors Into one word.  Its not about intelligence. Its about language and color.   The scientists were talking about the link between LANGUAGE AND COLOR.  Your a very stupid person. I suggest you watch the video again because you obvisely cannot understand it.

          PS. In your previous post you mentioned them being illiterate. the definition of illiterate is being unable to read or write. You can read and write in a language and not be able to comprehend whatever it is your reading or writing. These people obviously are able to comprehend what they are saying. You on the other hand cannot read write or speak in their language.  YOUR BEYOND ILLITERATE.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 7, 2011 at 1:57 am |

      White protectionist reductionism at it’s finest.

    • Anonymous | Sep 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm |

      I think the real question to this was “which one looks different”, but who’s counting? 

  5. Jonathan Fields | Sep 6, 2011 at 11:57 pm |

    David Oliver is the apotheosis of the modern blog commenter; in his hands the essentially complex becomes inordinately simplistic

  6. > Generalizing Americans

    The white people in the video are European.

  7. David Oliver | Sep 7, 2011 at 12:44 am |

    “Case in point: the Himba tribe of remote northern Namibia, to whom water looks “white” like milk and the sky looks “black” like coal, and who struggle to distinguish between blue and green, yet can easily pick out micro-shades which Americans cannot see.” 

    Read you idiot…

  8.  U mad bro?

  9. he’s brown in the face with anger!

  10. Anonymous | Sep 7, 2011 at 5:57 am |

    White protectionist reductionism at it’s finest.

  11. Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 7, 2011 at 7:29 am |

    Wow, amazing little doco. Makes one think about how the culture we grow up in powerfully forms our consesus reality.

  12. Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 7, 2011 at 3:29 am |

    Wow, amazing little doco. Makes one think about how the culture we grow up in powerfully forms our consesus reality.

    • Jin The Ninja | Sep 7, 2011 at 11:45 am |

      that little docu, was about how LANGUAGE informs our interpretation of colours, not about culture or reality.

      • Language, culture, and reality are all inextricably related you moron.

        • Jin The Ninja | Sep 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |

          Although they are related, they are NOT static nor hermetic. You CANNOT infer from a discussion of language a link to culture WHICH the clip did NOT even discuss. Nice try.

          • Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 7, 2011 at 9:12 pm |

            I agree there not static, but that was a broad philosophical swoop to describe it not being hermetic. Maybe you should re-think that.

            language is an emergent phenomena as oppossed to a structuralist phenomena, people might do well to see reality as the same. words, writing, literature & sounds are all connected to culture. What we interpret in the world around us and how we interpret it is an essential part of our culture.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

            I meant but obviously did not type “hermetically sealed.”

            This lends a very different denotation to my post.

            I never asserted that language was a ‘structalist phenomenon.
            My reason for refuting your initial post, was that it had some implications that i felt were problematic.

            I interpreted your post (perhaps wrongly) to be construed as suggesting culture shapes our dominant identities and largely our worldview. However, historically and particularly in  the advent of globalisation we know that culture is highly dependent on geopolitics, religion, generation, and economics. Even during the time of the silk road, in central asia, the m.e. and east asia  there was a highly diverse discourse on religion- resultant in several unique strains of dualism, esoteric monotheism and an exchange of philosophical and ideological tendencies that we tend to posit (in cultural and historical memory) as non existant (east vs west false paradigm). What i mean is that very few cultures are completely dependent (and very few people as well) solely on their cultural identity. While language is part of culture and determines in some part our worldviews, it is not the only thing that is determinant. Colonialism, wars, tourism and modern nation states have in some way influenced all cultures. The issue of colour could solely be an ethno-linguistic one, the docu as it stands, reads textually that is this is the case. It does not suggest that culturally unique (tribal) groups view reality differently, but rather have a linguistic difference in interpreting visual data that theoretically affects how peoples see colour. If there is a second part of this documentary that theorises reality is dependent on culture, please link.

          • Prime example of verbal diarrhea.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 9, 2011 at 10:31 am |

            prime example of a troll with nothing intelligent to say.

          • Oh look. How cute. You started your sentence the same way as I did.
            Anybody with half a brain can see you’re just facerolling your keyboard. Everything you said sounds like the ramblings of an inebriated, self-inflated dick who likes to hear himself talk. Get to the point or get off my internets.

          • Jin The Ninja | Sep 30, 2011 at 10:30 am |

            Oh look. Another Troll with half a brain and even less of an opinion.

            I plan on sticking around disinfo for awhile, so get used to it;)

  13. I’m calling shenanigans on the video for one small segment:

    From 5:24 where it shows the green squares, the greens are all the same, where it says “this is what they’re looking at”
    but at 5:33 where it actually shows the screen that they are looking at, the one that is singled out is quite obviously slightly yellow, The image they show in the video back at 5:24 and later at 5:41, is clearly not the same image that they are being seen.

    Maybe this is a silly little mistake… or maybe its a little tactic to make their research look slightly more interesting than it actually is. Saying we only have “11 color categories” makes it seem like we ignore the spectrums between these categories. Immediately after opening the crayon box, and seeing the red-orange crayon, and the orange-red crayon, kids get it.

  14. I’m calling shenanigans on the video for one small segment:

    From 5:24 where it shows the green squares, the greens are all the same, where it says “this is what they’re looking at”
    but at 5:33 where it actually shows the screen that they are looking at, the one that is singled out is quite obviously slightly yellow, The image they show in the video back at 5:24 and later at 5:41, is clearly not the same image that they are being seen.

    Maybe this is a silly little mistake… or maybe its a little tactic to make their research look slightly more interesting than it actually is. Saying we only have “11 color categories” makes it seem like we ignore the spectrums between these categories. Immediately after opening the crayon box, and seeing the red-orange crayon, and the orange-red crayon, kids get it.

    • Corinne Schwarz | Sep 7, 2011 at 8:49 am |

      Hmm… I see exactly what you mean.  When I was watching the video I didn’t see the different square until they showed the screen that they were looking at, at which point I could see the yellowish square.  It’s maybe monitor calibration? 

      In any event, yes, in the image they were shown, it is a little easier to pick out the different square, but it’s still a bit difficult.  So, they have a point, but it may not be as defined as they are leading us to believe.

    • Corinne Schwarz | Sep 7, 2011 at 8:49 am |

      Hmm… I see exactly what you mean.  When I was watching the video I didn’t see the different square until they showed the screen that they were looking at, at which point I could see the yellowish square.  It’s maybe monitor calibration? 

      In any event, yes, in the image they were shown, it is a little easier to pick out the different square, but it’s still a bit difficult.  So, they have a point, but it may not be as defined as they are leading us to believe.

    • If you click back and forth between 5:24 and 5:41, the yellow-green square shifts from the upper left (at 24) to the upper right (at 41).

  15. Corinne Schwarz | Sep 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    Hmm… I see exactly what you mean.  When I was watching the video I didn’t see the different square until they showed the screen that they were looking at, at which point I could see the yellowish square.  It’s maybe monitor calibration? 

    In any event, yes, in the image they were shown, it is a little easier to pick out the different square, but it’s still a bit difficult.  So, they have a point, but it may not be as defined as they are leading us to believe.

  16. Simiantongue | Sep 7, 2011 at 1:41 pm |

    No he’s more of an ochre.

  17. Anonymous | Sep 7, 2011 at 3:45 pm |

    that little docu, was about how LANGUAGE informs our interpretation of colours, not about culture or reality.

  18. Mr Willow | Sep 7, 2011 at 5:27 pm |

    What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist. 

    It is simply the wavelength of ‘white’ light that is not reflected off of any given object. If no wavelength of the spectrum is absorbed, said thing appears ‘black’, and if every wavelength is absorbed, said thing appears ‘white’. 

  19. Mr Willow | Sep 7, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist. 

    It is simply the wavelength of ‘white’ light that is not reflected off of any given object. If no wavelength of the spectrum is absorbed, said thing appears ‘black’, and if every wavelength is absorbed, said thing appears ‘white’. 

    • Actually you have this completely backwards; an object reflecting the entire spectrum of wavelengths appears white, while an object that absorbs the entire spectrum appears to be black as it reflects nothing back into our eye. An object only appears to be the colour of the wavelength that it has the ability to reflect into our vision.

      • Mr Willow | Sep 7, 2011 at 11:16 pm |

        Wow. I thought I phrased that properly. Utterly embarrassing. 

        Thank you for the correction. 

    • “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

      It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

      • Mr Willow | Sep 7, 2011 at 11:50 pm |

        Well, light is simply an illusion created by energy. Energy is motion. Motion is the interaction of force upon matter. Most associate heat with energy, and that is the closest thing that it can be related to as motion implies friction. If anything is moved quickly enough, it may burst into flame, giving off light. 

        But light is not a thing in itself. It is not physical. It is a reaction to or by-product of the interaction of physical structures. It is a phenomenon of friction, even if said friction is only between atomic or subatomic structures. 

  20. Language, culture, and reality are all inextricably related you moron.

  21. Anonymous | Sep 7, 2011 at 6:53 pm |

    Actually they are related; however they are NOT static nor hermetic, and you CANNOT infer from a discussion of language a link to culture WHICH the clip did NOT even discuss. Nice try.

  22. interesting piece, never would have thought that anyone could think, speak, or view the world different.

  23. interesting piece, never would have thought that anyone could think, speak, or view the world different.

  24. Anonymous | Sep 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm |

    I think the real question to this was “which one looks different”, but who’s counting? 

  25. If you click back and forth between 5:24 and 5:41, the yellow-green square shifts from the upper left (at 24) to the upper right (at 41).

  26. what about color blindness?

  27. Stefanel | Sep 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm |

    what about color blindness?

  28. justagirl | Sep 7, 2011 at 11:48 pm |

    they are special.  what about my superman icecream?  huh?

  29. Actually you have this completely backwards; an object reflecting the entire spectrum of wavelengths appears white, while an object that absorbs the entire spectrum appears to be black as it reflects nothing back into our eye. An object only appears to be the colour of the wavelength that it has the ability to reflect into our vision.

  30. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  31. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  32. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  33. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  34. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  35. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  36. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  37. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30 am |

    “What is important to remember is that colour doesn’t actually exist.”

    It’s a question of metaphysical credo. One could just as well argue the other way around, namely that photons are illusory because they’re nothing but abstract mathematical wave functions allowing the prediction of the very real experience of colour.

  38. He could be a scriptwriter for Glen Beck, he’s that good…

  39. Monkey See Monkey Do | Sep 8, 2011 at 1:12 am |

    I agree there not static, but that was a broad philosophical swoop to describe it not being hermetic. Maybe you should re-think that.

    language is an emergent phenomena as oppossed to a structuralist phenomena, people might do well to see reality as the same. words, writing, literature & sounds are all connected to culture. What we interpret in the world around us and how we interpret it is an essential part of our culture.

  40. Mr Willow | Sep 8, 2011 at 3:16 am |

    Wow. I thought I phrased that properly. Utterly embarrassing. 

    Thank you for the correction. 

  41. Mr Willow | Sep 8, 2011 at 3:50 am |

    Well, light is simply an illusion created by energy. Energy is motion. Motion is the interaction of force upon matter. Most associate heat with energy, and that is the closest thing that it can be related to as motion implies friction. If anything is moved quickly enough, it may burst into flame, giving off light. 

    But light is not a thing in itself. It is not physical. It is a reaction to or by-product of the interaction of physical structures. It is a phenomenon of friction, even if said friction is only between atomic or subatomic structures. 

  42. the soulful maniac | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:07 am |

    You obviously were reading too deep into the video. The narrator stated that they only have six colors in their language.  That is the whole point dumb ass. She also stated that we have eleven. again dumbass. Take your White protectionist mentality somewhere else. They see colors different because their language has different descriptions for colors. They group some colors Into one word.  Its not about intelligence. Its about language and color.   The scientists were talking about the link between LANGUAGE AND COLOR.  Your a very stupid person. I suggest you watch the video again because you obvisely cannot understand it.

    PS. In your previous post you mentioned them being illiterate. the definition of illiterate is being unable to read or write. You can read and write in a language and not be able to comprehend whatever it is your reading or writing. These people obviously are able to comprehend what they are saying. You on the other hand cannot read write or speak in their language.  YOUR BEYOND ILLITERATE.

  43. Toddfolts | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    makes me wonder about how language effects of senses, emotions, health……

  44. Toddfolts | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    makes me wonder about how language effects of senses, emotions, health……

  45. Toddfolts | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    makes me wonder about how language effects of senses, emotions, health……

  46. Toddfolts | Sep 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm |

    makes me wonder about how language effects of senses, emotions, health……

  47. Brettharkey | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:43 pm |

    I found this whole thing very interesting and brings me back to my teenage years where my friends and I would take (way too much) LSD; which actually increases the the field of vision slightly in terms of what colors the user is able to see. For example, if we put color range on a number scale, humans see the colors from (lets say) 400-800. While on LSD, the user is able to see 375 to 825. This effect often leads people to see a green hue on most things (especially white things). The discussions we would have on observing these color “shifts” mainly centered around the fact that we were certain that various individuals have the capacity to see color differently than we do. I am happy that among the insights we gained on these powerful substances, some of them were factually correct. I no longer condone taking illegal substance, but there are occasions where they can aid in observation of the world.

  48. Brettharkey | Sep 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |

    I found this whole thing very interesting and brings me back to my teenage years where my friends and I would take (way too much) LSD; which actually increases the the field of vision slightly in terms of what colors the user is able to see. For example, if we put color range on a number scale, humans see the colors from (lets say) 400-800. While on LSD, the user is able to see 375 to 825. This effect often leads people to see a green hue on most things (especially white things). The discussions we would have on observing these color “shifts” mainly centered around the fact that we were certain that various individuals have the capacity to see color differently than we do. I am happy that among the insights we gained on these powerful substances, some of them were factually correct. I no longer condone taking illegal substance, but there are occasions where they can aid in observation of the world.

  49. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm |

    I meant but obviously did not type “hermetically sealed.”

    This lends a very different denotation to my post.

    I never asserted that language was a ‘structalist phenomenon.
    My reason for refuting your initial post, was that it had some implications that i felt were problematic.

    I interpreted your post (perhaps wrongly) to be construed as suggesting culture shapes our dominant identities and largely our worldview. However, historically and particularly in  the advent of globalisation we know that culture is highly dependent on geopolitics, religion, generation, and economics. Even during the time of the silk road, in central asia, the m.e. and east asia  there was a highly diverse discourse on religion- resultant in several unique strains of dualism, esoteric monotheism and an exchange of philosophical and ideological tendencies that we tend to posit (in cultural and historical memory) as non existant (east vs west false paradigm). What i mean is that very few cultures are completely dependent (and very few people as well) solely on their cultural identity. While language is part of culture and determines in some part our worldviews, it is not the only thing that is determinant. Colonialism, wars, tourism and modern nation states have in some way influenced all cultures. The issue of colour could solely be an ethno-linguistic one, the docu as it stands, reads textually that is this is the case. It does not suggest that culturally unique (tribal) groups view reality differently, but rather have a linguistic difference in interpreting visual data that theoretically affects how peoples see colour. If there is a second part of this documentary that theorises reality is dependent on culture, please link.

  50. Anonymous | Sep 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm |

    This is AMAZING! Language really does create reality, or rather, expands it. Awareness of new things create language for it. Brilliant!

  51. cosmicserpent | Sep 8, 2011 at 7:50 pm |

    This is AMAZING! Language really does create reality, or rather, expands it. Awareness of new things create language for it. Brilliant!

  52. Prime example of verbal diarrhea.

  53. Anonymous | Sep 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm |

    prime example of a troll with nothing intelligent to say.

  54. Oh look. How cute. You started your sentence the same way as I did.
    Anybody with half a brain can see you’re just facerolling your keyboard. Everything you said sounds like the ramblings of an inebriated, self-inflated dick who likes to hear himself talk. Get to the point or get off my internets.

  55. Oh look. How cute. You started your sentence the same way as I did.
    Anybody with half a brain can see you’re just facerolling your keyboard. Everything you said sounds like the ramblings of an inebriated, self-inflated dick who likes to hear himself talk. Get to the point or get off my internets.

  56. Anonymous | Sep 30, 2011 at 2:30 pm |

    Oh look. Another Troll with half a brain and even less of an opinion.

    I plan on sticking around disinfo for awhile, so get used to it;)

Comments are closed.