“In 1969, two Berkeley researchers, Paul Kay and Brent Berlin, published a book on a pretty groundbreaking idea: that every culture in history, when they developed their languages, invented words for colors in the exact same order. They claimed to know this based off of a simple color identification test, where 20 respondents identified 330 colored chips by name. If a language had six words, they were always black, white, red, green, yellow, and blue. If it had four terms, they were always black, white, red, and then either green or yellow. If it had only three, they were always black, white, and red , and so on. The theory was revolutionary — and it shaped our understanding of how color terminologies emerge.”
“Wondrous as it is, our sense of vision is clearly not without certain limitations. We can no more see radio waves emanating from our electronic devices than we can spot the wee bacteria right under our noses. But with advances in physics and biology, we can test the fundamental limits of natural vision. “Everything you can discern has a threshold, a lowest level above which you can and below which you can’t,” says Michael Landy, professor of psychology and neural science at New York University. ”
“A tiny group of people can see ‘invisible’ colours that no-one else can perceive, discovers David Robson. How do they do it?”
“Today, she knows that this is a symptom of a condition known as “tetrachromacy”. Thanks to a variation in a gene that influences the development of their retinas, people like Antico can see colours invisible to most of us. Consider a pebble pathway. What appears dull grey to you or me shines like a jeweller’s display to Antico. “The little stones jump out at me with oranges, yellows, greens, blues and pinks,” she says. “I’m kind of shocked when I realise what other people aren’t seeing.””
Part of an interesting video series, Do You See What I See. The first part of this link shows an African tribe, the Himba, whose language and environment differ so much from ours that they are able to distinguish different shades very differently from us. The link below is for the part that shows the Himba tribe. At the bottom of the video player are links for the rest of that show.
Here an article about how those same people are able to discern optical illusions better than people who live in modern societies.
The Astonishing Vision of Namibia’s Nomads
“The Himba people of Namibia can see fine details and ignore distraction much better than most other human beings – a finding that may reflect the many ways that modern life is changing our minds and abilities.”
“Some women, however, are “tetrachromat”. Thanks to two different mutations on each of the X chromosomes, they have four cones – increasing the combination of colours they should be able to see. The mutation isn’t very rare (estimates of the prevalence vary and depend on your heritage, but it could be as high as 47% among women of European descent), but scientists struggled to find someone who reliably demonstrated enhanced perception.”
“I started to fall in love with words that could do double duty,” admits Sundberg, “colours you could load with metaphorical meaning and would give a reader more information than simply hue.
“For example, ‘porcelain white’ evokes stature, texture, possibly even a time period. ‘Watermelon pink’ makes you think of summer, sweet things, makes your mouth water. ‘Chartreuse’ feels sharp and bold, adds a hint of magic. My goal became to create a spectrum of words that I could endow with meaning and help add new layers to my stories.”
“Imagine yourself as a graphic designer for New Age musician Enya, tasked with creating her next album cover. Which two or three colors from the grid below do you think would ‘go best’ with her music?
“Would they be the same ones you’d pick for an album cover or music video for the heavy metal band Metallica? Probably not.”