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Colour is in the eye of the beholder

Colour is in the eye of the beholder

(7:56) Do you see what I see? Apparently, colour vision is not something you are born with. Fascinating BBC Horizon clip shows the link between colour and language, as demonstrated by tests with the Himba tribe of Namibia.

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Guest: BaffledBiologist (1920 days ago)
Interesting - But they may have the correlation exactly the wrong way round. If the Himba have a different genetic history from those of us in the west, then they may not have the same colour perception due to spectrum sensitive cones in the eye. This means that they may physically be unable to distinguish easily between certain colours. If that is the case, then they will have developed less words for the colours that they can see. Not the limited vocabulary meaning that they cannot see the difference - But the limited difference means a limited vocabulary.
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Interesting - But they may have the correlation exactly the wrong way round. If the Himba have a different genetic history from those of us in the west, then they may not have the same colour perception due to spectrum sensitive cones in the eye. This means that they may physically be unable to distinguish easily between certain colours. If that is the case, then they will have developed less words for the colours that they can see. Not the limited vocabulary meaning that they cannot see the difference - But the limited difference means a limited vocabulary.
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Guest: (1920 days ago)
I agree totally. You're hypothesis seems far simpler and therefore far more likely (Occam's razor)
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I agree totally. You're hypothesis seems far simpler and therefore far more likely (Occam's razor)
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Guest: (1385 days ago)
Agreed!
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Agreed!
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Guest: Orenn (720 days ago)

That's not plausible, because westerners can't see the different green tone. If your reasoning were correct, then the same explanation would have been applicable to westerners.

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That's not plausible, because westerners can't see the different green tone. If your reasoning were correct, then the same explanation would have been applicable to westerners.

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Guest: (649 days ago)

I'm a westerner and I can see the difference. It is subtle but when I scrolled down (and each time I scroll down), the different green square pops out for me immediately. Strangely, the longer I look at it, the less different it looks until I can no longer tell the difference. Interestingly, Chinese has an ancient color word that means both "sky blue" and "grass green", as though they saw them as being the same long ago. Modern Chinese still lacks a distinct word for "cyan" though sometimes it is now translated as that same ancient word.

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I'm a westerner and I can see the difference. It is subtle but when I scrolled down (and each time I scroll down), the different green square pops out for me immediately. Strangely, the longer I look at it, the less different it looks until I can no longer tell the difference. Interestingly, Chinese has an ancient color word that means both "sky blue" and "grass green", as though they saw them as being the same long ago. Modern Chinese still lacks a distinct word for "cyan" though sometimes it is now translated as that same ancient word.

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Guest: (649 days ago)

I'm a westerner and I can see the difference. It is subtle but when I scrolled down (and each time I scroll down), the different green square pops out for me immediately. Strangely, the longer I look at it, the less different it looks until I can no longer tell the difference.

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I'm a westerner and I can see the difference. It is subtle but when I scrolled down (and each time I scroll down), the different green square pops out for me immediately. Strangely, the longer I look at it, the less different it looks until I can no longer tell the difference.

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Guest: guest1 (194 days ago)
Latest comment:

logical, but incorrect. you gave the most obvious explanation, and out of humbleness, you should presume that the researchers have already thought of the obvious. if you listen to the radio lab episode, you will hear one of the researchers saying that they have eliminated any possibilities of what you argue.

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Latest comment:

logical, but incorrect. you gave the most obvious explanation, and out of humbleness, you should presume that the researchers have already thought of the obvious. if you listen to the radio lab episode, you will hear one of the researchers saying that they have eliminated any possibilities of what you argue.

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Guest: (985 days ago)

You are correct that this would be a less complicated explanation, but it is also an easily testable one. I highly doubt that this hasn't been tested for. Also the Himba aren't genetically isolated enough from other humans to diverge that much from us/other South African tribes. Also the Himba aren't the only tribe that have been studied concerning colour perception and language, a good place to start with how the debate has been going on is the Wikipedia article for "Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate"

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You are correct that this would be a less complicated explanation, but it is also an easily testable one. I highly doubt that this hasn't been tested for. Also the Himba aren't genetically isolated enough from other humans to diverge that much from us/other South African tribes. Also the Himba aren't the only tribe that have been studied concerning colour perception and language, a good place to start with how the debate has been going on is the Wikipedia article for "Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate"

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Guest: TinyNads (1920 days ago)
And are we all colourblind when we cannot easily distinguish between the two green colours that they can distinguish quite easily? I think the point of the two experiments removes a colour blind gene possibility from the equation. Real colourblind people have the language, but still cannot distinguish certain colours easily. I think what is being suggested is that due to the words we use for different colours, the brain developes to differentiate those colours from each other. The brains of the Namibian tribe have developed to emphasise different boundaries to differentiate the colours that their language describes. What an interesting subject!
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And are we all colourblind when we cannot easily distinguish between the two green colours that they can distinguish quite easily? I think the point of the two experiments removes a colour blind gene possibility from the equation. Real colourblind people have the language, but still cannot distinguish certain colours easily. I think what is being suggested is that due to the words we use for different colours, the brain developes to differentiate those colours from each other. The brains of the Namibian tribe have developed to emphasise different boundaries to differentiate the colours that their language describes. What an interesting subject!
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Guest: Emery G. (769 days ago)

I thought colorblindness is predominately found in men, with the rare occasion of a woman being colorblind. That would throw out a theory for colorblindness being the culprit in the case of the Himba color perception.

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I thought colorblindness is predominately found in men, with the rare occasion of a woman being colorblind. That would throw out a theory for colorblindness being the culprit in the case of the Himba color perception.

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Guest: (669 days ago)

Why do they keep forgettng the obvious.

The youngest child doesn't process via concepts (discrete concepts)

the next child up, the 3 year has been condition to measure and conceptualise what they see (not just sensate). Is this Food, Is this up or Down. OF COURSE, the process is going to go left brain, because now their is a conscious mind asking "what is this I am observing", and building pattern structures for all sensual input. Those structures are already known to be adaptive, although the limits of those adpation processes is not known (and far more worthy of research than the obvious).

The newborn hasn't had experiences enough for the brain to have conceptual patterns yet - these are learned through an adapt with lines up with what is later called "science" (just as it used to adpat to obsedience known as religious obedience). Science is measurement and assessment through repetition and repeatability. The brain given repeated sensations, learns to categorise them by simularity (on of the first is the familiar tones of Mums voice), it builds on these by association. (Mum's voice, is connected to Mum outlines. then to Mum behaviours, and Mums colours (colours earlier if she always wore the same colour, but you risk alienating the child by changing when the pattern is embedded)

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Original comment

Why do they keep forgettng the obvious.

The youngest child doesn't process via concepts (discrete concepts)

the next child up, the 3 year has been condition to measure and conceptualise what they see (not just sensate). Is this Food, Is this up or Down. OF COURSE, the process is going to go left brain, because now their is a conscious mind asking "what is this I am observing", and building pattern structures for all sensual input. Those structures are already known to be adaptive, although the limits of those adpation processes is not known (and far more worthy of research than the obvious).

The newborn hasn't had experiences enough for the brain to have conceptual patterns yet - these are learned through an adapt with lines up with what is later called "science" (just as it used to adpat to obsedience known as religious obedience). Science is measurement and assessment through repetition and repeatability. The brain given repeated sensations, learns to categorise them by simularity (on of the first is the familiar tones of Mums voice), it builds on these by association. (Mum's voice, is connected to Mum outlines. then to Mum behaviours, and Mums colours (colours earlier if she always wore the same colour, but you risk alienating the child by changing when the pattern is embedded)

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Guest: Catherine (602 days ago)

You obviously have original and interesting thoughts, but I find it challenging to take you seriously when even the simplest words are misspelled and your sentence have basic capitalization errors. You lose credibility even though your ideas may have merrit.

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You obviously have original and interesting thoughts, but I find it challenging to take you seriously when even the simplest words are misspelled and your sentence have basic capitalization errors. You lose credibility even though your ideas may have merrit.

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Guest: Nahor Besawog (585 days ago)

Now Catherine, is it merit or merrit? I also lose credibility in you.

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Now Catherine, is it merit or merrit? I also lose credibility in you.

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Guest: (1919 days ago)
I couldn't see the different green one at all, but I did see 3 nipples during the documentary! RESULT
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I couldn't see the different green one at all, but I did see 3 nipples during the documentary! RESULT
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Guest: one more time (584 days ago)

I assume everyone is viewing this on a computer display. Displays are designed for western eyes, and it is a bit of a perceptual trick. They would look wrong to eyes that can see other than our standard RGB. For instance, bees see ultraviolet, which is missing from our displays, and animals like dogs see fewer colours than humans do, so what they see on a display is anyone's guess. If the Himba see other colours, you can't compare them with us by using a standard display.

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I assume everyone is viewing this on a computer display. Displays are designed for western eyes, and it is a bit of a perceptual trick. They would look wrong to eyes that can see other than our standard RGB. For instance, bees see ultraviolet, which is missing from our displays, and animals like dogs see fewer colours than humans do, so what they see on a display is anyone's guess. If the Himba see other colours, you can't compare them with us by using a standard display.

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Guest: (310 days ago)

The Himba don't see other colors in the sense that bees see "colors" in the UV spectrum - Westerners and the Himba share the biological machinery that allows us to see between ~400-700nm. They were presented with the same wavelenghts of light that the Western participants were (even if it was a RGB display in the original study), but because they have different color categories, they take longer to notice differences between two colors within the same color category, regardless of the difference in wavelength.

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The Himba don't see other colors in the sense that bees see "colors" in the UV spectrum - Westerners and the Himba share the biological machinery that allows us to see between ~400-700nm. They were presented with the same wavelenghts of light that the Western participants were (even if it was a RGB display in the original study), but because they have different color categories, they take longer to notice differences between two colors within the same color category, regardless of the difference in wavelength.

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Guest: Bollo (1919 days ago)
It sucks that you have to watch an ad just to add a comment or vote in the polls.
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It sucks that you have to watch an ad just to add a comment or vote in the polls.
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Guest: Kamikaze (1920 days ago)
It could be cultural as well...for a tribe that depends greatly on hunting, for example, being able to distinguish varying shades of what we call "green" is highlyuseful, so their descriptions of colour would reflect that. A follow-up test to this would be to "adopt" a Himba infant and do the same tests 5 years later...this would rule out the genetics element.
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It could be cultural as well...for a tribe that depends greatly on hunting, for example, being able to distinguish varying shades of what we call "green" is highlyuseful, so their descriptions of colour would reflect that. A follow-up test to this would be to "adopt" a Himba infant and do the same tests 5 years later...this would rule out the genetics element.
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Guest: jam (1916 days ago)
colour is on a wheel, (i.e. green = blue plus yellow, etc). Colour is actually on a linear spectrum, not a wheel. The two are incompatible. This is basically the same effect - our colour vision is a construct.
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colour is on a wheel, (i.e. green = blue plus yellow, etc). Colour is actually on a linear spectrum, not a wheel. The two are incompatible. This is basically the same effect - our colour vision is a construct.
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Guest: AngrySam (243 days ago)

Actually color is both linear and a wheel :) It is both a measurable wavelenth and also the subjective way our mind interprets the wavelength to differentiate the physical world.

So though the light wave spectrum of color is linear - the visual representation of known colors the mind creates is a wheel and this is very important factor to the scientific study of color perception. It is a wheel because the generally accepted low end of the spectrum is infra red and the high end is ultra violet. Though at opposite ends of the linear spectrum these colors are in fact "neighbours" and the nearest to each other in terms of appearance. Thus they sit next to each other on the wheel.

In science we call this a "Strange loop". Where moving upwards or downwards through the hierachial system actually brings you back out where you started.

This is actually very important because studies have shown its quite possible that the "color" we subjectively see in our mind may well be different to what others see - but in almost all people the order and placement of the changes in color \ wavelength are exactly the same. Otherwise we would clearly be able to tell that we see things "differently" as we would group colors differently. So the color I see when I look at a tomato is possibly your blue .... but if it is the color "wheel" of my perception would have "turned" in such a way that my blue lines up with the exact same wavelengths you see for Red.

We can see clearly with the Himbo tribe that their subjective color "wheel" does not line up with the same wavelengths as westerners because of how they "group" colors differently. Now is that change caused by a genetic difference - or is the change caused by link with language and the fact they classify things differntly ? This is the really interesting question.

ReplyVote up (97)down (101)
Original comment

Actually color is both linear and a wheel :) It is both a measurable wavelenth and also the subjective way our mind interprets the wavelength to differentiate the physical world.

So though the light wave spectrum of color is linear - the visual representation of known colors the mind creates is a wheel and this is very important factor to the scientific study of color perception. It is a wheel because the generally accepted low end of the spectrum is infra red and the high end is ultra violet. Though at opposite ends of the linear spectrum these colors are in fact "neighbours" and the nearest to each other in terms of appearance. Thus they sit next to each other on the wheel.

In science we call this a "Strange loop". Where moving upwards or downwards through the hierachial system actually brings you back out where you started.

This is actually very important because studies have shown its quite possible that the "color" we subjectively see in our mind may well be different to what others see - but in almost all people the order and placement of the changes in color \ wavelength are exactly the same. Otherwise we would clearly be able to tell that we see things "differently" as we would group colors differently. So the color I see when I look at a tomato is possibly your blue .... but if it is the color "wheel" of my perception would have "turned" in such a way that my blue lines up with the exact same wavelengths you see for Red.

We can see clearly with the Himbo tribe that their subjective color "wheel" does not line up with the same wavelengths as westerners because of how they "group" colors differently. Now is that change caused by a genetic difference - or is the change caused by link with language and the fact they classify things differntly ? This is the really interesting question.

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Guest: vanhetgoor (1135 days ago)
It there is a tone of let's say 440 Hz and a tone of 400 Hz, then a tone of 40 Hz can be heard. The same goes with light. On a bleu wall red light look dark brown. On a yellow wall bleu light looks green. Light filtered though coloured glass gives an other colour, but maybe there are some people who can sense some of the original basic colours, like mixing is with audio tones. Maybe colour is a symphony of different sorts of light, not a linear spectrum of up going frequencies, maybe that the view of frequencies is only theoretical. Maybe there is more then we can see!
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It there is a tone of let's say 440 Hz and a tone of 400 Hz, then a tone of 40 Hz can be heard. The same goes with light. On a bleu wall red light look dark brown. On a yellow wall bleu light looks green. Light filtered though coloured glass gives an other colour, but maybe there are some people who can sense some of the original basic colours, like mixing is with audio tones. Maybe colour is a symphony of different sorts of light, not a linear spectrum of up going frequencies, maybe that the view of frequencies is only theoretical. Maybe there is more then we can see!
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Guest: (1920 days ago)
Maybe the entire tribe is color blind.
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Maybe the entire tribe is color blind.
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Guest: John (1918 days ago)
Why not, there's a whole tribe of 300m in the USA that can't spell "colour" correctly.
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Why not, there's a whole tribe of 300m in the USA that can't spell "colour" correctly.
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Guest: (1187 days ago)
We're sorry that we're not French, the 300 million of us apologize profusely.
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We're sorry that we're not French, the 300 million of us apologize profusely.
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Guest: asdd (1124 days ago)
it's spelled that way by the British and in turn Canadians, dumbass
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it's spelled that way by the British and in turn Canadians, dumbass
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Guest: Kinboat (1115 days ago)
Most words that end in -our in England are spelled that way since the Norman conquest to reflect the Old French pronunciation.
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Most words that end in -our in England are spelled that way since the Norman conquest to reflect the Old French pronunciation.
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Guest: bexx (1043 days ago)

One's a bigger dumbass if one cant distinguish between a joke and a real coumment. But then, that makes it all the more entertaining. =D

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One's a bigger dumbass if one cant distinguish between a joke and a real coumment. But then, that makes it all the more entertaining. =D

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Guest: Stevovo1980 (1319 days ago)
Oh MY God when will people start reading outside their own disciplines. THis idea is about FIFTY years old in linguistic anthropology. And has been partially disproven.
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Oh MY God when will people start reading outside their own disciplines. THis idea is about FIFTY years old in linguistic anthropology. And has been partially disproven.
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Guest: Nahor Besawog (585 days ago)

I've grown up at a farm and would state that other colours are not so common in Himbas immediate environment but try a well educated Himba child and believe me 'he/she will differenciate the colours even if it means in English. I think there is also an element of lack of formal education perhaps.

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I've grown up at a farm and would state that other colours are not so common in Himbas immediate environment but try a well educated Himba child and believe me 'he/she will differenciate the colours even if it means in English. I think there is also an element of lack of formal education perhaps.

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