Take Off Your Inverted Spectrum Glasses: Colorís True Charm is in the Brain
2012-12-20 0:00

By Mark Changizi | DiscoverMagazine.com



The human fascination with color never ceases to amaze me. Our perceptual experience is filled with shapes and pitches and textures and timbres and depths and on and on, yet color seems to get the lion share of our excitement and philosophical attention. Color seems somehow more artistic than our other perceptual dimensions; itís simply wonderful to behold, as evinced by the double rainbow guy; and we canít resist wondering what it would be like to see dimensions of color beyond our own. In fact, RadioLab recently put out a great show on color that nicely conveys the romance we all have toward it.


Question is: Why do we find color so enthralling? One of the reasons may be that the world can seem arbitrarily labeled in color, as if a painter dabbed over everything in order to make it beautifulÖ and that naturally makes us wonder what a different artist might do. What sort of splendor is a birdówho has an extra dimension of color beyond oursótreated to, for example?


While I, too, feel the wonder of color, I donít share this above intuition about color and its arbitrariness. Itís an unfortunate intuition, one that seeps its way not only into the minds of laymen, but into our ďenhancementĒ products and even the hallowed halls of philosophy. In trying to explain whatís wrong with the intuition, let me begin with a thought experiment concerning a product that gives the wearer ďshape enhancementĒ vision.



ďWith our sunglassesí shape-enhancement filter, youíll see the world with more vibrant and interesting shapes. Round things will be rounder, regular polygons more mutedÖĒ


That would be a peculiar marketing pitch for a pair of shadesóbragging that it lets you see shapes that arenít really there! It reminds me of a pair of glasses we somehow acquired at 2AI Labs that places little stars everywhere within the visual environment: itís a novelty toy to give out at events, not serious eyewear. ďShape-enhancingĒ eyewear, were it to exist, would also be a novelty toy, perhaps used for fun-house-style entertainment. But few of us would be interested in using them for everyday wear. We want to see the world roughly as it is, not geometrically warped for no reason.


Yet, as absurd as shape-enhancing eyewear is, there is an analogous sort of enhancement that companies regularly tout: color-enhancement.


ďWith our sunglassesí color-enhancement filter, youíll see the world with more vibrant and interesting colors. Green things will be greener, violets more mutedÖĒ


This doesnít initially sound nearly as silly as shape-enhancement, but, when you stop and think about it, the marketing pitch is bragging that the eyewear lets you see colors that arenít really there!


Why should it be acceptable to warp colors but not shapes? Iíll suggest here that itís not acceptableóthat once we appreciate the meaning of color it becomes apparent that we shouldnít arbitrarily engage in color distortion.


The significance of the shapes of things within our visual field is fairly obvious. Shapes tell us about the true three-dimensional arrangement of the scene in front of us. Shapes tell us how our view will change were we to move. Shapes tell us what weíd hit were we to throw a rock in any given direction. Shapes give us hints as to the rigidity of objects, and sometimes even to what it would feel like if touched or lifted. Mess with the shapes of the things in your visual field, and there is a consequent deluge of changes in what it means for us.


The significance of the colors of things, on the other hand, is much less obvious, and so scientists and philosophers have long wondered whether inverting or otherwise warping or messing with the spectrum might not really matter. These are the ďinverted spectraĒ thought experiments. Maybe green to you is red to me, but the difference leads to no other cognitive or behavioral differences. If colors are arbitrary labels placed over the world, then inversions and warps shouldnít matter.



[...]


Read the full article at: discovermagazine.com






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