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Why do we perceive color as color?

I have tried to look this up and there is no answer whatsoever.

I am not asking what color is or how we categorize it as humans, but what evolutionary logic is in place that discerns colors the way they are.

Instead of switched around or none at all what evolutionary logic in our brains decides that we perceive which colors are how they appear?

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  • May 2 2013: Hi Charles,
    According to Science Daily, our brain is what controls our perception of color, not our eyes:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051026082313.htm
    I found this especially interesting:
    "Each subject was asked to tune the color of a disk of light to produce a pure yellow light that was neither reddish yellow nor greenish yellow. Everyone selected nearly the same wavelength of yellow, showing an obvious consensus over what color they perceived yellow to be. Once Williams [David Williams, Allyn Professor of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science] looked into their eyes, however, he was surprised to see that the number of long- and middle-wavelength cones—the cones that detect red, green, and yellow—were sometimes profusely scattered throughout the retina, and sometimes barely evident. The discrepancy was more than a 40:1 ratio, yet all the volunteers were apparently seeing the same color yellow."
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      May 2 2013: The measure of "sameness" in color must be a measure of wavelength, right? It does no good to point at colors on a chart or a color wheel and ask, "What color is this?". So if some expensive spectrum analyzer determines that we all dialed-in the same frequency (wavelength) when told to dial-in the color red, then we are all "seeing" the same color, right? The subject could also be asked to duplicate a sample color by dialing-in the frequency to match, thus proving whether or not the subject sees the same color as the sample. But what do we say when a subject dials-in a markedly different wavelength than the sample and honestly insists the two colors appear visually identical?
      • May 2 2013: I agree, this test proves nothing we don't already know. But it does bring up the same questions I am curious about.
        • May 3 2013: Interesting point, Edward.
          Do you mean, if someone intentionally lies about which color he/she is seeing?
          How does this work with people who are color-blind? I often get into discussions about color nuances with my husband, but defiantly say I am 'right' because he is color-blind... ;)
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      May 3 2013: RE: "Interesting point Edward. . . " Sorry about the lag in response, your response was not addressed to me. First of all, never argue about color with a color blind person! Secondly, husbands are always right! I pretend people would not lie during these tests, so what does it mean when someone dials-in a non-matching color/wavelength and insists it matches the sample? They agree on the name of the color, but not on the wavelength! Now what? Do they see the two colors as identical? Are their rods and cones, or whatever, defective in the frequency range of the two colors? Can't we deliberately, albeit meanly, teach a child the wrong names of colors so, for instance, they will always call red blue. They see red just like we do but they think it is called blue because that's what we taught them. So when I ask the kid what color dress the lady (who is wearing a beautiful blue dress) is wearing he says "Red". Now you go.
      • May 3 2013: Oops, Edward, I'm still getting the hang of this place, apologies for replying to the wrong comment!
        You're a very funny man. You're absolutely right - are you a husband, by any chance??

        Ok, I get what you're saying. It's like training a dog to learn a command. My kids are bi-lingual, so they have two words for everything. It would absolutely be possible to teach a person 'incorrect' names of colors as a child.
        However, when that person takes part in society, he/she will quickly run into difficulties socially when everyone is calling red 'red', while that person was taught to call it 'blue'.
        What you'd then have, though, would have nothing to do with color perception, and everything with linguistics and social acceptance.

        So, what if a person really does see red as blue? Then we're talking about wavelengths and the brain's perception of that color. I think recognizing a color as what it is, is determined socially.

        Can you imagine, a world-scale conspiracy that the color we know as yellow, is actually green?
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          May 3 2013: Why couldn't some newly self-proclaimed Supreme Ruler of the Universe rename all the colors? We would all (key word is ALL) learn and use them while the wavelengths, of course, remain unchanged. Now, about the falsely educated kid. If a stranger pointed to a red balloon and asked him, "What color is this balloon?" He would answer, "Blue". Big social problem. So you think color recognition is a social consideration? By that word "recognition" do you mean as a function of wavelength, or as a function of language? And, finally, yes I am a husband.
      • May 4 2013: Ok, so this stranger could think either a) this kid is color-blind, or b) there is something wrong with this kid if he thinks red is blue. Before you know it, the kid is labeled autistic and is put on medication.

        But no, color recognition has nothing to do with social consideration. We've gravitated from that to language and comprehension of what we know to be true, and something as basic as calling a color the 'wrong' color poses a problem socially.

        Now, what if the stranger pointed to a turquoise balloon and asked the kid what color it was. What if the kid answered 'greenish-blue', while the stranger think it's 'blue-ish-green'? Are we getting back into wavelengths now?
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          May 4 2013: I cannot thrive in the land beyond ROY G. BIV because of certain cognitive limitations (it is too complicated for me). What everyone else calls BLUE the mis-taught kid calls RED, so he would say turquoise is REDDISH-WHATEVER and we still have a purely social problem. If the stranger learns the kids use of color names he could tell the kid to go paint the front door BLUE, knowing the kid will actually paint it RED. Convention (unanimity) is everything in social harmony. It matters not what we call something so long as we all call it the same. Uh oh, there is the edge of my intellectual envelope.
      • May 4 2013: Manipulating the kid's 'trained defect' is an example of social harmony gone bad...
        You know what, I'm spent too!
        Thanks, Edward, I really enjoyed this!
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    • May 2 2013: no it's not i wanted to add more when i posted this to clarify but, i am wanting to know how do we know that we are all seeing the same color and your green is not my blue and vice versa? is there a logical reason our evolution cycle chose this color for this part of the electromagnetic spectrum? or do we truly don't know why our brains chose blue for blue and red for red?
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    May 1 2013: Wait. What? You tried to look this up and there is no answer whatsoever? Back-up Charles! The first two responders gave you the answer to your question. Also, you should remove "evolutionary logic" from the mix because yours is a pure physics/biology question. Thanks for participating and keep-on learning!
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        May 1 2013: Any question about evolutionary logic is unanswerable because the phrase is an oxymoron. Evolution is a theory which cannot be rigidly defined and therefore cannot be precisely argued. Logic has nothing to do with evolution. Joining the two words together creates a compound conundrum if not a Gordian Knot. If Mr. Curt's question is specifically about evolutionary logic why does he ask "Why do we perceive color as color?"? Cheers sir!
    • May 2 2013: ok i just saw this and no they didn't answer it

      no it's not i wanted to add more when i posted this to clarify but, i am wanting to know how do we know that we are all seeing the same color and your green is not my blue and vice versa? is there a logical reason our evolution cycle chose this color for this part of the electromagnetic spectrum? or do we truly don't know why our brains chose blue for blue and red for red?
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        May 2 2013: You are needlessly imposing the debatable subject of evolution upon a question which is specifically about biology and physics. Somewhere long ago names were assigned to each of the different colors of the visible light spectrum. Just like naming a person the idea was to say, "From now on this color--pointing at the red-- will be called RED" or whatever the first people called it. From that point on people learned that the first color is called RED. Then the same happened for orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Do we all see the same color? All I know is when someone points to something which is the same color as the first color in the spectrum and asks me what it is I say "red". Since color is a function of wavelength I think we all see the same color, but that cannot be proven.
        • May 2 2013: Ok, you almost got what i was asking I know the beginning of what you were saying and that is how most people react to my question and is why i cannot find the answer anywhere. But i don't believe that's true, with us not being able to prove we all see the same colors because in that is my question. if we where all seeing different colors that means our mind randomly chose a color for it's frequency and i do not believe in a action without reason of some kind. So there must be evolutionary logic to why colors apear as they are.

          and if evolution is not logic them why is it always improving in a logical way?
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        May 2 2013: RE: "OK, you almost got what I was asking. . . " Your premise is faulty in that evolution does not always improve in a logical way. Anyway, I cannot debate Evolution because it is theoretical, subjective, and elusive. Nor can I debate Logic because it not debatable. If you seek an answer to your question(s) about color based upon what you call "evolutionary logic" I doubt you will get it. I have nothing further. Thanks for the post Mr. Curt. Be well.
        • May 2 2013: Evolution is adaptation of environment that's logical even if you would never admit it. I simply wanted a conversation on the question not the means of how I asked it.
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    May 1 2013: If you look at the wikipedia article on the evolution of color vision in primates, you will read some competing theories explained briefly, but more valuable is the list of reliable references at the bottom of the article, which will allow you to study the matter in greater depth.
    • May 2 2013: Thanks! i'll look it up and see if it's answering what i was asking and not just being more in depth of how light and evolution woks.
    • May 2 2013: No it's not very interesting yes but, not answering my question but maybe the info is in there somewhere i'll just keep reading.
  • May 1 2013: The physics of light The biology of perception etc. etc.etc. Lot's of answers to various aspects of your questions.