MadSci Network: Neuroscience

Re: does color, not light or electromagnetic waves, really exist?

Date: Sun Jan 4 11:11:14 2009
Posted By: Jeffrey Utz, Science Teacher
Area of science: Neuroscience
ID: 1230441870.Ns

Thanks for your excellent and thought-provoking question.

The colors we see are based on characteristics of light that reaches our
eyes, not on intrinsic properties or characteristics of objects.

The colors we see is based on the wavelengths of the light that our retinas
perceive. If we project pictures onto a white wall (in an otherwise dark
room), the colors that we perceive are based only on the light that is
reflected off the wall from the projector, not the properties of the wall.
Likewise, objects that emit light, like computer and TV screens, have
colors based on the light that is emitted from the screens, not from
intrinsic properties of the screen.

Objects that have color, like green grass or orange leaves during the fall,
have that color only because certain wavelengths (or colors) of light are
reflected by the objects. Green grass absorbs blue and red light, but
reflect green light. Orange leaves absorb green and blue light, but reflect
yellow and red light.

So even though certain objects reflect certain colors of light (like green
grass reflects mostly green light), the colors that we say is based on the
wavelengths or color of the light that reaches our eyes, and not as a
characteristic of the objects.

Finally, the way we perceive different wavelengths as different colors is
purely a phenomenon of our brains. So even though green grass looks vividly
green and yellow leaves look yellow, all the grass or leaves are doing is
reflecting different wavelengths of light. Our brains interpret that
information and assign different colors to different wavelengths of light.

So, while the colors that we see in different objects is based on the
wavelengths of light that are reflected (or emitted) by the objects, the
different colors that we actually see are generated by the brain. The
colors are not properties of the objects, but, rather, our brains'
perception or interpretation of different wavelengths. 

Again, thanks for you excellent question. Unfortunately, I didn't find any
articles that really answer your question, but, here are some links that
talk about color vision:

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