Sit down, kid. Listen up.
In this life, there are certain questions to which we may never know the definitive answer.
Is there life after death? Where do butterflies go at night? Do we have free will? Did Taylor Swift and Harry Styles commit vehicular manslaughter together? Why do we ignore the fact that dragonflies are literally aliens? How do earphones tangle themselves up in your pocket? I know you are, but what am I? Is your red actually my blue?
These are all equally important questions, and some are more answerable than others, but we must pick our battles. So, today, let’s talk about colours!
Colour, to me, is the single most expressive stimuli available to the human mind. If you look at my Instagram, it’s not hard to tell that I pay a lot of attention to colour and its many purposes when taking and editing photos.
At some point in my early adolescence, I got Connor Franta‘s autobiography ‘Work In Progress’, as a present. I’d been asking for it for a while because, at the time, he was one of my favourite YouTubers (before TikTok was a thing, we watched YouTubers). He still is, to clarify.
Anyway, there’s a passage where he describes the things that he looks for when hunting for a photo. He talks about patterns, textures, angles, contrasts and colour. Connor Franta, nowadays, has become probably my most significant inspiration photography-wise. Still, at that point, I hadn’t given it much thought.
Of course, some photos are better off in black and white… but even then, the absence of colour facilitates the photo’s story. It probably emphasises the patterns or reinforces the mood which inspired the image in the first place. I could make very meticulous playlists based on different colours. I could tell you that a particular song/movie/person and so on embodies any given colour.
The association between colour and mood is significant and very strong in my mind. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but you’ve been taught that specific colours represent certain things to some extent. And we assume that everyone has this base-level understanding. But do we?
Is the colour that I see the same as the colour that you see? It’s a question as old as time. I’ve had many-a-conversation on the topic, with no definitive conclusion ever being reached. However, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of contemplating the idea, today is your lucky day.
If I asked you what colour a strawberry is – you’d most likely tell me ‘red’, right? And if I asked you what colour the sky is, you’d probably tell me ‘blue’. Firstly, you’d be incorrect. Colour isn’t real. Our minds make it up.
You perceive light with your eyes, that information goes to your brain, and your brain decides what colour the refraction of light is. Our minds process things in different ways, according to our personal background and experiences. Not to mention, the number and shape of photoreceptors in the human eye vary quite a bit.
We experience taste, scent and sound in different ways, so it’s not unfathomable that the same can be said of colour. The difference is that there’s no real way to measure this, and if there were, it probably wouldn’t be worth the money involved to create the experiment.
That said, we aren’t entirely different organisms. We have all the same parts and systems, so it’s unlikely that my red is your blue and more likely that my royal blue is your light blue.
Of course, there are a few clear pieces of evidence that we definitely see colour differently. For example, some people are colour blind, and your grandfather will probably look at something that’s violet and swear on his life that it’s pink.
Regardless, we may never know for sure because so far, our only method of understanding eachother is through language. Suppose you read the epilogue of 1984, or just about any essay by George Orwell. In that case, you know that language directly correlates with the production of ideas. Limiting language means limiting thought. In this case, we have no other real way of describing what a colour looks like to us, apart from its name, regardless of how we actually see it.
It is interesting to think about, though. One day, perhaps we will abolish an economic system that doesn’t support unprofitable curiosity, and technology will catch up to Black Mirror. We will be able to immerse ourselves in another person’s experience of life. Without thinking about the potential problems in that scenario, I think that’s a fantastic idea. On the other hand, maybe we just need to develop new words.
“Red Leather Yellow Leather Red Leather Yellow Leather”