Color Perception


After having a conversation with a co-worker about color perceptions, I decided to delve into it as a thought experiment. Digging around on news articles, youtube videos, and the like didn’t quite answer the question adequately. She mentioned “thinking in color,” where not only herself, but her child, attached certain colors to concepts. For example: “March is blue,” “7 is green.” We understand the fully extended idea of this type of perception as synesthesia, a synthesis of perceptions.

We have this created concept we call “colors” which are not too much more than light refracting off of objects and into the lenses of our eyes which is then interpreted as an image in our brains. Most humans perceive objects on our understanding 4-color wheel of blue, green, red, and yellow.

Industrial Psychology, especially that which words in advertising, has long understood and discovered colors to create certain reactions onto our psyche. The discussion as to why we react to colors in a certain way is debatable, and seems to vary by culture (red being royalty to some, and evil to others). It could have very early evolutionary causes, such as “red” being attributed to blood and the pain attached to when that is seen.

Now, let’s throw an even bigger monkey wrench into this concept of colors. Meet, the mantis shrimp:

mantis shrimp

This colorful creature has 16 photo-receptors in which they are able to see a broader color spectrum, as well as UV, visible and polarized light. Conceiving of the possibility of seeing different colors than we conceive of, alone, is a mind-twister. Our minds simply can not quite grasp what it means to be able to see with our eyes more than what is currently available to us.

The whole discussion begs far too many questions: Does mass have within itself that which we call “color” or is it a perceived phenomenon, something our brains merely interpret? Why is it that we attributed, as a society, certain colors to certain concepts: ex feeling blue, red means stop, orange for hazards, only girls wear pink, etc. What of synesthetes, those who see colors in response to numbers, letters, or even smells.

Penny for your thoughts? What color is this post?

Sources for more delving:


10 thoughts on “Color Perception

  1. The brain connections for color can be associated with other things through common neuronal networks and we have a name for this. Colors are simply a near-univeral interpretation of what our eyes sense. We could have called blue what we currently consider to be orange. It is simply a label for the sensory data. Memory associations show us that red is royal or red is pain/blood so we percieve those colors and memory recall associated them with those attributes of an object or situation. It’s not magic. It is simply how memory works… when we recall memories to match current sensory data it will bring up all kinds of memories, not simply a narrowly focused bit of data so red gets associated with danger etc.

    • I completely frustrated myself with this post cause I don’t feel like I at all unpacked the cluster-fuck that’s going on in my head. Especially when, after researching it, that my friend’s the perception of “march is green” is a type of synesthesia which is a rare condition and just… absolutely mind-fuckingly fascinating.

      Anyway, your comment… (had to get that out, forgive me)

      Neuroscience is too fascinating… me, I’m strangely dyslexic when it comes mainly two colors (green and orange). Only people close to me have noticed it, but I honestly just think I wasn’t well taught the words for these two colors.

      For some reason, your post brought another question/philosophical issue to my mind…

      I keep trying to catch it, but evades me. Plus, my synsthete friend is speaking to me about this which is expanding the topic into all kinds of sub-topics….

      But… your first sentence… common neuronal networks… YES.

      My thoughts… our language, words… perhaps we oversimply concepts and sensory experiences. Or, perhaps… over complicate? Can a touch really be put into words? A sight? A smell? A taste? Is the sight of “blue” really just blue? Certainly not because when we see it… our brain create a multitude of reactions.

      Bah. Brain tired. And I don’t even think I actually commented to you but mind-rambled. 😉

      Thank you for your comment. lol Hope you enjoyed the post or thought-rabbit-hold a quarter as much as I did, minus the frustration.

    • I’m going to go hide the hidey-hole of my brain and nurse this train of thought….

      It seems like something that needs to be delved into more. Or learned to do in a deeper way. Words can be so 2-dimmensional at times. We create them to describe things, without, sometimes, understanding what we are perceiving in its true depth.

      Perhaps we created this concept of multiple senses, without understanding that they are all interpreted, ultimately through one source: our brain.

      Gr, still can’t put thoughts completely into words.

      Going down the rabbit hole in my mind —-

      • I am, through my blog, attempting to tell the world how all these things can be… and that it is simple… What you ‘see’ is not there… it happened 200+ milliseconds ago, and you only see the parts you are interested in, nothing else gets incorporated into the simulation running in your brain. Your perception of reality is completely tainted by your ability to collate data from what your senses send to your brain. You might know the color of the bathroom upstairs but can you draw an exact copy of the floor? Nope… so your brain only retained the parts which were important at the time, the parts you focused on… those parts which were important for the simulation in order that you might solve the current puzzle you had. Each time you see that bathroom floor your puzzle might be different… when you’re thinking about social events you don’t even see the floor. When you think of nothing else you might notice the pattern, but miss the exact color of the borders… Your brain only admits to the simulation what is necessary to solve the current problem… make sense?

      • Yes. I shared that in a post not too long ago. I couldn’t not. It, and the implications of… everything in it… did better to implicitly address the types of questions I was hoping to create in a reader.

        So, instead of uselessly rambling away in another blog post so soon, I decided to share that same video.

    • Welcome to WordPress, then! 🙂 If you love writing, then all you need to do is write. Don’t feel exposed, no one judges here. Writing is a learning process that takes time, and practice, like any art. The first two things you need to do is: Write a lot, Read a lot!

      We all feel the same, trust me. Just get on out there, and go for it.

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