All The Colors of The Rainbow

>> Friday, February 12, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about colors recently. Some people get nervous when I think too hard about something, but bear with me, because I think I might be on to something this time.

We all learned our colors probably at the knee of our parents, or if not then, from our kindergarten teachers. Of course, it was at the knee, because we weren't tall enough to see much past that at that age. If we were giants, we'd have a different expression.

We learned that the color at the top of the rainbow is called "red," the one at the bottom is called "violet" or "purple," and so on. If we stayed awake in high school or college physics, we learn that each color appears as a specific wavelength on the visual spectrum (subject to shifting from movement -- aka the "doppler shift").

Okay, I admit it. I like physics -- just not the calculations part of it. I like to visualize all these different concepts and see if I can make sense of them in my head. I was the kid in class trying to imagine superman getting infinitely heavy as he approached the speed of light, etc. etc. (Geek much?)

Then, if we were really paying attention, we learned that we "see" colors because the cones and rods in our eyes respond to these separate wavelengths. I'll admit that I wasn't so much into biology, so if there is more about that lesson we need to know ... I don't know it.

My question today is where physics and biology collide. We see the color at the top of the rainbow we were told to call "red". Here is my question. How do I know that the "red" I see is the same "red" you see?

I don't. In fact, I can't. Until science invents some way for me to actually borrow your eyeball and look through it, I can't ever know. (And by the way ... "ew".)

So ... what if we don't see the colors the same? What if what you see as "red" is of a lower wavelength than what I see as red? What if the top of the rainbow to you (your "red") is the same color that I see as orange (but is still my red)? What if your red is red, my red is your orange, and Toddler's red is my pink? (Are you confused yet?) Even worse, what if my purple is something you can't even see well? We would never know ....

... or would we?

I'm wondering if having everyone see colors a lot (or a little) differently explains why some people seem to have an eye for fashion or decorating and others seem to ... well ... not. Or maybe some people see so much more than others, which is why colors matter so much, and others don't see as much, so they just wear what they wear?

We could really be on to something here.

I may finally have figured out why Darling Husband brings me a shirt and pair of jeans and asks if they match. He isn't insecure about fashion -- he's color-different! This explains a whole heck of a lot, because anyone that is asking me about fashion advice is really up a crick without a paddle. I mean, I still scrunch down my socks and only have 3 pairs of shoes. (Okay, 5 pairs.) I am no one's fashion guru. But put out towels that aren't exactly the same shade, or a top that doesn't match the socks, and I am all over it.

Really makes ya wonder, doesn't it?


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