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bythebay's avatar

I don’t know that any one of us can really know why, but for practical purposes I would say differentiation.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Think of a world without color…. That’s why. God knew what He was up to.

klaas4's avatar

I totally agree with NaturalMineralWater.

cage's avatar

If we couldn’t see colour then we wouldn’t be able to determine what things are poisonous and such. e.g. poisonous frogs give of a bright coloured ooze as a warning.
We have evolved eyes to stop us eating them, and they have evolved to produce these colours so they don’t get eaten.

Flowers purposely decorate themselves in bright colours so that bees and other insects are attracted to them so that their pollen can be spread.

It’s simply another evolution thing. Colours are just as useful to animals and flowers as opposable thumbs are to us.

Hope that helps.

laureth's avatar

Colors are different wavelengths of visible light. Visible light, along with other forms of energy, is part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Think of energy radiating from something (like a heater, say, or a light bulb) as moving in waves. Some waves move really fast, too fast to see, and those are close to one end of the spectrum. This is where you’ll find X-rays, for example.

Some energy moves in very slow waves, too slow to see. Radio waves are in this category, for example. In fact, the different “frequencies” at which these waves can move are what account for the different channels on the FM radio dial. (Different AM radio channels aren’t differences in speed, they’re differences in how “tall” the wave is.)

Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes is the spectrum of visible light. The different colors are different wavelengths of light. This is most clearly seen in a rainbow, when moisture droplets or ice crystals break up white light (which is a mixture of all the colors) into the various waves, each of which has its own color. (Red, for example, moves much slower than violet. That’s why we have “infrared” – just a little slower than red, which we feel as heat, and “ultraviolet” – just a little faster than violet, which is a kind of radiation that gives sunburns.)

Objects have different colors because of what makes them up – some substances reflect different wavelengths (colors) of light back at you. One good example is chlorophyll, which reflects the green wavelengths back, which is why most leaves look green. (It absorbs the rest as food energy for the plant.) In the Autumn when the tree reabsorbs the chlorophyll, other golors (like red and gold) are visible – which were there all the time, just hidden by so much chlorophyll.

In short, colors exist because things bounce different wavelengths of light back at us. :) Hope this makes sense and wasn’t too long to read.

mea05key's avatar

ill try to explain from what I know. Every object’s surfaces have the capability to absorb and repel light. The amount of light being absorb and repel gives out the colour of the object. Visible light is between 400micons to 700 micons. And depending on which wavelength of light being repelled away from the object surface into our eye that determines how to perceive the colour of the object surface. Object that absorbs all light and repel none is ball a black body and we see black body as black coloured object. On the other hand, white object repels all light wavelength.

bythebay's avatar

If there were no color, how would you know which popsicle to choose?

toomuchcoffee911's avatar

have you ever read The Giver?

augustlan's avatar

For us to enjoy, silly :)

amanderveen's avatar

I agree with cage, laureth and mea05key, if you want a physical/developmental answer – Eyes are structures that developed over time to allow us to differentiate between various levels of light radiation coming at us, which gave us yet another way to detect and interpret our surroundings – a good survival tool. “Colour” is just how we describe what our eyes seeing and brains are extrapolating from the info.

c_gunningham's avatar

I read that as why is the spelling different in the UK as opposed to US.. but maybe that’s just me.

c_gunningham's avatar

Yep I think it’s just me..

janbb's avatar

@ c.gunningham – I read it that way too.

Harp's avatar

Some good answers so far, but let me just offer another way of looking at it.

You could say, as @amanderveen suggests, that while wavelength is an objective property of light, color is something that happens in the eye and brain. Taking that even further, you could say that we owe the existence of color to variations of a protein called opsin.

The receptor cells in the retina fire a signal whenever they are excited by light. At the heart of this reaction is a complex molecule called a visual pigment, consisting of the light-absorbing molecule retinal bound to opsin.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the retinal is what reacts to the light, and the opsin acts as the gatekeeper between the light and the retinal. If all of the eye’s receptor cells had the same combination of retinal and opsin, there would be no such thing as color.

What saves us from this monochromatic fate is the fact that opsin can combine with retinal in several different ways. Depending on the particular form of opsin surrounding the retinal, the retinal will only react to light in a particular range of wavelengths. If an animal’s eye has more than one of these possible combinations, the animal will experience some form of color.

Primates (including us) evolved three different visual pigments, one sensitive to wavelengths in the “red” range, one sensitive to the “green” range, and one sensitive to the “blue” range. People who’s eyes contain all of these have normal color vision; those with only two of these pigments are “color blind” (which really just means that they have a limited experience of color).

Other species evolved different pigments, and so would experience color differently from primates. Several species have more varieties of pigments as well, so they would see “dimensions” of color inaccessible to us.

The other side of color perception is, of course, the brain, which weaves the input from these color-specific cells into our familiar visual landscape. I know nothing of that piece of the process, so I’ll leave it for one of our resident neuroscientists to tackle.

nebule's avatar

@c_gunningham no; sorry if i didn’t make it clear enough…(which i didn’t) i was just trying to be grammatically correct for both our British and American viewers.

@laureth @mea05key @Harp I’m no scientist by any means…so i’m goign to have to do some serious reading up on the subject here and re-read your answers quite a bit in order to get my head round it… but i truly am fascinated and grateful…and incredibly intrigued as to now… where exactly does colour begin? does it exist in the eye only or is it out there? but then of course we get into the question of perception…. hmmmm….

@cage i like it… colour has purpose…as we know it… but do you not think that if colour never existed that animals and plants wouldn’t have found other ways to survive? colour surely didn’t come about as a symptom of evolution…it’s always been there hasn’t it? perhaps? are you suggesting that colour has helped evolution occur and therefore intrinsic to evolution?

@bythebay i would guess that the darker the popsicle the more richer in flavour…that’s assuming that would still be black and white and all shades therein between…

ouch…my head hurts

cage's avatar

@lynneblundell more advantages the better. Sure if everything were colourblind then it wouldn’t matter, but that’s not the case.
Being able to see in colour and produce colour has just happened to come about.
I mean camouflage!

cage's avatar

@lynneblundell and no, colour development DID come about through evolution. the basics of watching how the eye developed in evolution is interesting. As you go up the evolutionary ladder we get a more developed eye and a heightened sense of colour.

Sure ‘colour’ in its physics form (light) has been around for ever, but colour as we know it could only have happened because we evolved to see it.

I wold say colour definitely helped evolution along.

amanderveen's avatar

I wouldn’t say that “colour” has helped evolution occur. Evolution occurs regardless. Our ability to perceive certain bands of light radiation as “colour” is a result of the way we happened to evolve.

The light radiation that we perceive as colour has always been there and it just happens to be one of the things in our environment we adapted to. Plenty of other creatures have found other ways to adapt – moles get along just fine, as do plenty of lower lifeforms that don’t seem to perceive light in any way at all. People who are colour-blind (or blind, for that matter) survive just fine. Also, there are many other things that we don’t have any easy way to detect, such as ultraviolet radiation, radio waves or minor changes in barometric pressure, for example. Bats use echo location, snakes “smell” by tasting the air around them. At some point, light sensitivity was selected for in our evolutionary history and we eventually wound up with eyes and our concept of colour is our way of conceptualizing and organizing the data our eyes transmit to our brains.

cage's avatar

@amanderveen helped it along not occur. As I just said above infact.

nebule's avatar

@cage your insight is Very interesting… thank you

amanderveen's avatar

@cage – I wasn’t quite clear about that – I was just responding to lynneblundell’s question “are you suggesting that colour has helped evolution occur and therefore intrinsic to evolution” when I used “occur” there. :o)

Harp's avatar

Just to clarify, it would be more accurate to say that color perception was a factor in natural selection, which then directed evolution.

By giving certain individuals an edge in finding nourishing food and avoiding toxins, the course of evolution was altered by the development of color perception.

amanderveen's avatar

Excellent point, Harp.

wundayatta's avatar

Color exists because being able to distinguish between different wavelengths of the electromagetic spectrum conferred a survival advantage for our ancestors.

An interesting question is why the visible spectrum is what it is? Why can’t we see xrays, or ultra-violet or infrared light? I don’t believe there are any creatures that can see x-rays, but there are creatures who can “see” outside the spectrum humans can see.

We have evolved to perceive these different wavelengths in a specific way that we now call “color.” You can see how helpful it is for us to see in color. We can find foods more efficiently, and identify predators and poisonous creatures and plants more easily.

Supposedly dogs can not see in color, but they have survived. Bats can’t see much at all, and use echolocation to navigate and identify food. Some animals that live in caves where there is no light have lost their eyes for the most part.

You can see how we came to be able to see different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum because we needed to. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be alive. The fact that we interpret what our brains have decoded from the eyes’ collection of the appropriate wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum as color, is merely applying a sonic symbols that stands for the range of the spectrum we can see. Later on, we developed writing, and they the word “color” could be symbolized by those letters.

That’s how it came about. Why we applied the particular set of sounds that the word “color” represents to the stuff we see, I don’t know. I mean why is a chair a chair? Someone, way long ago first named the chair, and over the centuries, it had come down to us as that particular set of sounds.

Sorry, I’m getting a little out of scope of question here, but I do think the process of applying language to phenomena is a part of the answer to your question. I’ll stop now.

cage's avatar

@Harp so… what I’ve said in all my answers then?

nebule's avatar

just want to say thanks for all your answers… i think i’m going to have to a bit more studying though in order to make sense of this subject… but you’ve all given me much food for thought…thanks again… lurve to y’all xx

kritiper's avatar

It merely exists. There is no “why?”.

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