General Question

nebule's avatar

If a child was never exposed to a particular primary colour, say blue would they intuit that it was missing from the spectrum?

Asked by nebule (16439points) July 7th, 2010

or just accept the colours it knew of were the totality of the spectrum?

I know this would be more or less impossible but run with me on this one as a thought experiment….

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37 Answers

Ltryptophan's avatar

It depends on how much other information was kept from the child, and how smart the child was…

Jeruba's avatar

Would that mean “never exposed to it in any form”—meaning all the colors that are composed of red and/or yellow plus any quantity of blue? So in effect the child would see only red, yellow, black, white, and what’s in between, with no blue component at all?

And would it mean “never exposed to any perceptual objects that have the attribute ‘blue’” (i.e., never see the sky, the ocean, the eyes of a blue-eyed person, etc.) or would it mean that all blue-colored perceptual objects are filtered out or neutralized by some means—perceived as having a color or tone other than blue?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Our day to day language makes reference to that colour.

Rainbows and other manifestations of the full spectrum would (under your assumptions) show an odd gap between indigo and green.

Even if they were prevented from seeing blue, they would eventually infer there should be something there.

tedd's avatar

You would accept them as the totality of the spectrum.

For instance, the colors you do see (and every human sees) are between roughly 400 and 700 nanometers on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The spectrum is known from about 0.1 Angstroms to 1000 meters.

In other words you can already only fathom a tiny tiny fraction of the actual color spectrum. Yet you go on with your life oblivious.

this link may help.

MrItty's avatar

What @tedd said. We don’t see Ultraviolet, even though most of us know it exists. We simply don’t think of it as within the range of colors.

nebule's avatar

@Jeruba yes, ‘the child would see only red, yellow, black, white, and what’s in between, with no blue component at all’ any form of blue whatsoever and that it was never exposed to any blue ‘things’, which is why I suggest it would be impossible, so one must take it purely as a thought experiment….

although I suppose it could also work the other way in which the child sees everything of blue as a different colour…

nebule's avatar

@tedd I was thinking something like that actually but didn’t have the necessary scientific knowledge to put it into words…thank you x

edit: although we can ‘simulate the ultraviolet colours can’t we? and therefore that implies that we can see them? or…not?

PhiNotPi's avatar

I agree with @tedd. As long as a person never sees it or hears of its existance, they might never notice.

Ltryptophan's avatar

I concur @tedd

What is further, I think you could actually tell the child there is another color called blue. As long as you did not go further in its description, I do not think the child would easily invent it.

Or, can someone who has never had vision think of the full range of colors?

MrItty's avatar

@lynneblundell we can reveal the presence of the ultraviolet area of the spectrum, by altering things of that color to appear to be colors in the spectrum we can see. We cannot see ultraviolet itself.

EDIT: Let me try that again, because I don’t like that explanation. We can view the effects of ultraviolet radiation. For example, a “blacklight” which emits UV radiation causes certain material to glow, UV rays from the sun causes skin to turn red with prolonged exposure (ie, sunburn). But we can’t see the light itself.

marinelife's avatar

If it was a color they encountered in nature or around them, I am sure they would ask about it. For example, the blue sky, green grass.

Jeruba's avatar

@lynneblundell, I understood your question as a thought experiment and just wanted to be clear on the rules. Not seeing anything that we know as blue (seeing nothing where there is something; blue things are invisible) and seeing all blues as having another color are such different things that I couldn’t proceed without knowing which way you were setting the limits.

nebule's avatar

@Jeruba yes, I didn’t suspect that you didn’t, I thought you had a very valid point x

@Ltryptophan good point about whether ’‘someone who has never had vision think of the full range of colors?’ actually there is an interesting study (been looking for the paperwork but can’t find it…) that has shown the area of the brain in that usually lights up in seeing people can begin to ‘light up’ in people that have never seen anything in their lives because they are completely blind… which is interesting…

nebule's avatar

my pleasure x

dpworkin's avatar

Ultraviolet is kept from you. What does your intuition tell you about it?

LeotCol's avatar

I don’t think the child would grow up knowing anythings missing. Without having seen the colour then the child won’t ever be able to imagine it.

Fun exercise: Try to imagine a new colour.

nebule's avatar

@dpworkin err…. it would kill me? I don’t know?

dpworkin's avatar

@LeotCol You don’t have to imagine it. I just gave you a real-life example. We know there is such a color as ultraviolet, but we are unable to see it. So, what happens? Not much, it would seem. The visible spectrum is a tee-tiny part of the entire spectrum.

nebule's avatar

@dpworkin I think the important point here is that we ‘know’ that there is another colour…and all knowledge comes from experience, which it does in this case… we only know about this because of either hearing about it, or seeing representations of ultraviolet…it still comes from the senses (which I realise relates to my other question tonight…) If a child couldn’t see blue no matter what represented it would it be able to ‘see’ in it’s head the colour blue…I think not.

ok..must go to bed now…

LostInParadise's avatar

I don’t think the child would be able to intuit blue. People with varying degrees of color blindness have no idea of the colors that they can’t see. The way we perceive color is different from the way we perceive sound. If someone gradually increases the frequency of a sound, we perceive it as a continuum. By contrast, we see rainbows as having stripes of different colors. We have three types of cone cells for red, green and blue and they each create a sensation that is qualitatively different from the others.

dpworkin's avatar

@LostInParadise Sort of. There are thresholds for vision, too. And we certainly see infinite shades of color. Just your 32 bit computer monitor shows 64,000,000 colors, doesn’t it? So I don’t see how color is not on a continuum.

LostInParadise's avatar

Look at a rainbow. Do you see it as a continuum? The other thing is that we see colors not in the rainbow. Our brains somehow translate combinations from the cone cells as different colors,so we see pink and brown as separate colors.

dpworkin's avatar

Look at a gradient in a 3D rendered image on your computer screen. Look at a wash in a watercolor of the sky in a landscape that goes from saturated blue to almost white. I can think of hundreds of examples of shaded color on an infinite continuum. If you can’t, perhaps your imagination is limited.

Battousai87's avatar

i feel like it would be impossible to know that a color was missing if you were only ever exposed to all the other colors except the one you’re missing. The thing is like any other form of knowledge, if it is always absent, or impossible to see then it, for all intents and purposes doesn’t exist. However i think to maintain that level of naivety the person would have to be removed from all other forms of social interaction with anyone who can see that color. Humans are social creatures, and will share knowledge with one another. If one person can see blue say, and the other cannot, the one who can see can tell the person what it looks like, or where it is, or how to see it. Thus the person who can’t see it would then realize it was missing even if they still couldn’t see it.

We are always surrounded by examples of this. No one can see xrays, or ultraviolet rays (actual ultraviolet rays not just the color itself), yet they are a part of the spectrum all the time. We have developed instruments which have allowed us to then see things beyond our own eyes, then we have knowledge of their existence even though we still can’t see the xrays or the ultraviolet rays with out naked eyes.

zophu's avatar

If you took 100 babies and raised them without any access to the color whatsoever, I bet you would see that their intuition told them something was missing if you studied them long enough. You would have to have albinos or something, use the color green as the one that’s missing since that’s the only one that wouldn’t be represented on the body, (dye their green vegetables black or something.) When do we do this? lol

If you gave a child a musical scale with one note missing in the middle but never let them hear the note, don’t you think they would sing in the gap? Color is like a visual scale, I think.

LostInParadise's avatar

Ask a person who has color blindness toward a particular color to see if there is a sense of something missing. I maintain that if nobody told them, they would not have any sense of something being amiss.

The colors that we see can be described as a weighting of red, green and blue components. If someone was missing blue, then for that person, the blue component would always be zero and everything would just be a combination of red and green components. There would be no sense of anything being lost. Blue would simply register as a shade of gray.

LostInParadise's avatar

I thought of an analogy in terms of sound for how we see colors. Take three instruments, say a horn, piano and violin. Assign numbers to each such that the numbers add to 100 and play each instrument with its loudness determined by the assigned number. There would be a continuum, even though each instrument’s sound could be heard separately. The analogy for someone who could not see blue would be the sound that would come from only two of the instruments.

zophu's avatar

@LostInParadise Instruments aren’t on a spectrum, there’s no natural universal pattern made up of different instruments, is what I mean. Flute isn’t to piano as blue is to red. Human intuition picks up on many things that the thinker may not even fully realize, let alone articulately communicate. There’s a good chance that a sense of “missing” could be seen in people who are exposed to only a part of a natural universal pattern.

nebule's avatar

wow…this is fascinating stuff..thank you to everyone for participating…keep em coming!

Does anyone on Fluther have colour-blindness do we know? Might have to ask a separate question….

I’m not sure that the analogy between sound and sight – colour is a good one really…that my intuition…but I think it’s really interesting and might help to solve the problem…might have to think about this more… But if it is a good analogy then presumably we would be able to fill in the gaps on the colour spectrum… hmmm

I think the point about ultra-violet light and infra red etc is also a good one but am I right in saying that they lie at either end of the colour spectrum as we see it and therefore we’re not missing something insomuch as there being a gap it’s just that our spectrum doesn’t extend that far… and that is analogous to us not being able to hear certain high pitched frequencies that animals can…

LostInParadise's avatar

@zophu, What I am trying to say is that there is no correlation between a particular color perception and light frequency. Our red, blue and green cones are sensitive to different light frequencies. If you swapped the frequency ranges of the cone cells, a person would see colors completely differently, but would not be aware of anything unusual. An old philosophical question is whether we all perceive colors in the same way. Wittgenstein famously said that the question is meaningless, but that is a topic for another day. This is my final comment. I don’t know how else to make my point.

zophu's avatar

@LostInParadise Unless I’m confused, you’re missing something. We’re not talking about what colors frequencies are perceived as, we’re talking about depriving the subject of an entire chunk of the frequency spectrum. Do you really think that it’s impossible for there to be an intuitive awareness (conscious or not) that there is something missing? Even if the missing chunk is on the end of the perceivable spectrum and the subject doesn’t have the benefit of having the beginning and the end of the pattern, you don’t think that there can be an instinctive expectation to see the full spectrum that might trigger the intuition?

by the way, if I have a point, shame on you for being all like “this is my final comment” :P

edit: I’ve read up on colorblindness, and I see your point more clearly. But, I still suspect that it is possible for an unconscious awareness of the spectrum of light humans see in might reveal itself in someone who is deprived of a length of that spectrum. I think people just adapt so quickly to whatever senses they have, there isn’t much sensitivity to it. But, if an experiment like this were done and the subject was exposed to even scaling in light frequency, but for one missing unit, I think it might cause an awareness.

zophu's avatar

Maybe it wouldn’t work if an entire primary color was missing, but if there was enough of a scale to be perceived 400nm, 450, 500, 550, 650, 700.

Or would a scale not be perceived at all? I’m thinking in terms of sound, where the frequency rising and falling is clear…

LostInParadise's avatar

Point about last comment well taken (sorry Lynne). @zophu, do the following. Go to a color editor, like the one in Microsoft Paint. Put in Red 255, Blue 0 and Green255. You will see yellow. Now tell me honestly that you could intuit yellow from red and green.

zophu's avatar

@LostInParadise I’m inclined to say that I could, but I don’t think there’s a way I could prove it to myself one way or another. Yellow feels greenish-redish to me. (could be mostly childhood fingerpainting that makes me think that)

With our perception of white and black (rods), a scale is clear, but it’s more difficult to see one with colors (cones), you’re right. I still wonder if the brain is set up to “expect” whole spectrums or if it really does just sit there and wait for whatever comes. There is very fast adaptation when it comes to senses, so any innate “expectations” would naturally be difficult to see—but I bet they’re there.

LostInParadise's avatar

This is a bit late, but I thought this was an interesting article on color blindness from Wikipedia. I was mistaken about the cone receptors being most sensitive to red, green and blue, though I imagine that is a common mistake. I don’t know how they managed to do it, but I found the most interesting part of the article to be how people with various forms of color blindness see the colors of the rainbow. Looking at the pictures, I can’t imagine how anybody could infer missing colors.

I am a little confused by why a person with tritanopia, absence of blue receptors, is able to see blue, but does not see yellow.

LostInParadise's avatar

It is interesting though that a person with tritanopia sees white in the middle of the spectrum. This would alert the person that something is missing, though I do not believe the person could intuit just what the missing colors are.

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