How language affects color perception

Discuss

73 Responses to “How language affects color perception”

  1. Matthew Elmslie says:

    All those green squares look the same to me. Even now that I know which one’s different, they all look the same to me.

    • Phil Loubere says:

      The perception of the green squares is going to be unduly influenced by the quality and calibration of the monitor or device you’re looking at. On some devices the difference probably is imperceptible. 

  2. grandmapucker says:

    Reminds me of this guy.

  3. relawson says:

    I bet if you ask any kid in USA between 9 and 4 they can tell you what color magenta is!

    lol

  4. codesuidae says:

    I’m a little confused. Am I to believe that the odd-one-out of the green squares appears as different to people who have lots of words for different greens as the odd-one-out of the green and blue squares in the next image?

    I would find that hard to believe.

    But I’m red-green colorblind, so WTF do I know. I can’t see a red cherry on a green tree from 10 paces, damned if I need twenty different words for green.

    • Nadreck says:

      Yes, well in general, if one is male then you don’t need half of the colour vocabulary as the ratio of cones to rods in your eyeball is far lower that that of a female peeper.

  5. I did spot the odd green square at the first glance but it’s really subtle!

  6. Listener43 says:

    This may mean trouble for the LE community as they use genetic color tagging of “dangerous” types.
    http://iheardacouplethings.blogspot.com/2011/08/nematodes-dna-and-uv-radiation.html

  7. ifriit says:

    I’m not sure what’s up, but in the image shown at roughly 3:25, the square they indicate is clearly the differently colored one at 3:35 (lighting? Not sure, but it’s really more obviously higher RG/lower B).  Perhaps the still image was horizontally flipped?

  8. codesuidae says:

    Possibly of interest to folks who want to be able to stick handles on colors:

    http://www.colblindor.com/color-name-hue/

    Something like that would make a great mobile phone flashcard application.

  9. tamgoddess says:

    I was able to quickly pick out the one green that was different, but I think only because I was told there was _one_ that was different. And I am a highly visual person and experienced in this sort of thing as I teach graphic design programs in a computer lab.

    What I find more challenging is the idea that someone would have difficulty picking out the blue one.

    But if you have read anything about a person who was blind since birth being given sight, you’ll know that the vast majority of what we “see” is conditioned responses to other clues. Our brains do the seeing, the eyes are only a small part of the result.

    Thanks for this! I love when my most basic assumptions are challenged.

    • Nadreck says:

      Who’s this “we” you speak of?  I’ve read about people who’s brains pre-process the raw input from their eyeballs and often wondered what that’s like…

  10. papercup mixmaster says:

    I’ve stared at the thing for a while – and I don’t see either an “odd one out” or an “all the same” situation. I see some squares that are darker than others, mixed around the circle. Like, really consistently, this is what I see. On another monitor; after walking away. 

    I’m totally down with both the notion that people’s color perception differs, and that language, emotional states, and all that can play a role in that difference. But I’m not so comfortable with saying anyone’s version is a “correct” version.

  11. blorgggg says:

    I think there might be problems with these two particular images and JPG compression

    • arcxjo says:

      I thought the same thing until I downloaded the all-green one and made a PNG equivalent using the colour values that the key image suggested, and that’s even closer to all-the-same.

  12. Bucket says:

    So looking at that picture on the web I couldn’t tell them apart. In order to see if the colors were munged by jpeg compression (they are, btw) I copied it and pasted it into photoshop, and the different color square jumped right out at me.

    But now I’m worried, because in my language they should all be the same color: Pantone 361. Perhaps I’m broken.

    • knappa says:

      I did the same but in gimp. The color values vary in each square. However, I found that I could tell the difference fairly easily in the video.

  13. DJBudSonic says:

    Color perception has a lot to do with the presentation method and surface, too.  I picked the barely bluish square out pretty quickly, then was delighted to confirm my pick when I scrolled down to the photograph of the (possibly analog) screen which shows it obviously as different.  then from the lens of a presumably digital camera, then the coding, then my color-calibrated display, and so on to my eye etc.  What a difference in those two pics.

    • SamSam says:

      I don’t think those two images are supposed to be the same color wheel at all.

      The first one is the “all-green” one that apparently Himba speakers solved quickly.

      The second one (on the monitor) is the green and blue one that apprently they had much more trouble with.

      I’m really surprised at how stark the difference is if they really couldn’t distinguish the blue square. All the research I’ve seen, including research I’ve done in college, involves quite fuzzy boundaries between colors — is this bluish green different from that blueish green? Those two colors on the monitor would seem to me to very distinctly cross a color boundary for anyone, but I suppose I’m wrong.

  14. DJBudSonic says:

    The men on here have to remember that about 1 in 10 of ‘em are colorblind…

  15. Tdawwg says:

    Bouba. Kiki. That is all.

  16. PrettyBoyTim says:

    I learned what Cyan and Magenta were at a young age because they were colours 6 and 5 on the BBC Micro colour palette.

  17. kmoser says:

    This is further complicated by the fact that different viewing angles, especially on an LCD screen, will make each square look slightly different from the ones around it.

    • Donald Petersen says:

      That’s actually how I managed to see it on my Sony laptop.  Since the squares were all some distance apart, every time I moved my head a different square would appear to be the culprit, as they were all being viewed at different angles.  But when I tilted the screen pretty far down, so I was viewing from a very oblique angle, the different square jumped out as being very obviously different.

  18. kHyal says:

    I see colors and excellent unique patterns when my eyes are closed and I hear certain sounds. The other day I was at the dentist and hearing the drill produced the most beautiful pink, green blue, yellow, white, black, red, animated designs — like rainbow liquid bee hives …

    • Tavie says:

      Surely everyone sees the “rainbow liquid bee hives” when we close our eyes, right? They’ve entertained me since my memories began.

  19. Hamish Grant says:

    there are TWO squares that are different from the others.  The rest are 80 186 15, while one is 80 187 15 (which I picked correctly but my friend didn’t) and the other is 97 192 14 (which a friend of mine picked correctly but I didn’t)

  20. petz79 says:

    Wow, I immediately called the right square, but didn’t know why. The longer I looked at the circle, the more unsure I got. At the end I didn’t really know why I picked that one square because I didn’t see a difference. When I looked at the solution, I had picked the right one! Reilly weird.

  21. sugarsails says:

    Wouldn’t the language differentiation result from a genetic difference in color perception?

  22. greybird says:

    As a graphic designer and also as a painter whose work consists of portraiture with the “inaccurate” colors substituted for “accurate” colors, I am disturbed and delighted.

    A friend came over recently and couldn’t perceive what was “odd” about one of my portraits, in which greens are used in place of browns. He said, “oh, I just thought it was brown. It doesn’t look weird to me.” I was flabbergasted.

    I can’t see the difference in the greens until I lay the colors side by side. On the other hand, my flat screen seems to alter colors subtly across the surface with most colors appearing a little darker towards the top of the screen. So, I may have trained myself Not to perceive these differences. Anyway, at best the differences in the two greens are subtle for me; at worse, I can’t distinguish them at all. I suppose this is my come-up’ens for last week’s incredulity!

    On another note, I also worked in a paint shop where we had to hand mix (not computerized!) pigments to match a chip or other sample provided by a customer. Trying to get any colors in different media to match each other in different spectra is pretty much impossible. We’d walk from one room to the next and outside, making comparisons, asking everyone we met what they thought…in short, it took a long time and was never accurate. never.

    • bcsizemo says:

      I feel your pain on that.

      As a husband of someone that studied graphic design she is insanely particular about paint colors, and colors in general.  It’s almost as bad as her type fetish.

      It’s nice when she tells me to get her something of a specific color…I usually reply with so that’s a -insert light/dark/neutral color from a box on 8 color crayons.

      I’m an engineer, things are simple in my world, there are varying shade of yellow, but they are all yellow.  Not things like lemongrass and sunflower.  (Did I mention she loves Fiestaware as well?)

      • There are ways that the Graphic Designer and the Engineer can achieve harmony. Just get your wife to define define the colour model she wants to work with you in, then use the appropriate values for the selected model (RGB, CMYK, HSL, PMS, etc). Every recently trained or working designer knows how to do that, and once you’ve established the level of accuracy needed, everybody’s clear. 

    • Avram Grumer says:

      I took a packaging design class in college, and the studio had a box with various different types of lights you could switch among to see how your design would look under different conditions. You generally wanted a box that looked good under store lights (usually blueish florescent), but the item itself to look good under home lights (typically yellowish incandescent) and/or sunlight. 

  23. Ronald Pottol says:

    There was a Long Now talk on how language shapes thought, color perception was one of the things that has been tested, very interesting stuff. http://longnow.org/seminars/02010/oct/26/how-language-shapes-thought/

  24. colinadams says:

    In the video, I think  the notable thing is that of the five colors, four of them are associated with green, so in the language, there are already four different words for different greens.  This would be important when identifying edible plants, whereas most Westerners have just “green” in the basic set.  Graphic designers, artists (I’m an illustrator) and others learn a much larger set for colors, but as children we don’t distinguish between the green of a lime, the green of a pine tree, and the green of boiled peas.  We just use the same crayon for all of them.

                  –Colin

  25. Warren says:

    Well sure, that one square has a little bit more yellow to it – but hanging them all out there on a 5% grey background makes it pretty bloody hard to distinguish them. That’s because we are not looking at a different color; we are looking at a very subtle variation in hue. The wavelengths are pretty bloody close to the same, and the contrast with the stark background makes them hard to pick out.

    Ultimately, the variations in boundaries between colors (red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to purple ) are arbitrary; you can’t nudge the value from yellow to green and find the one, single point when yellow is now indisputably, inarguably green. However, there is still a difference between green and yellow. (It’s a particle and a wave!)

    When we think of different colors, I think most of us imagine red, green, blue, yellow – colors that really are definable as very different. Calling a green tile with a hint of yellow in it a “different color” is, at best, disingenuous, just as saying 99%k is a “different color” from solid black.

    • I routinely work with people who can spot the difference between 100%K & 85%K from a PDF. When you do it all day long, it’s easier.

      • Warren says:

        The difference between 85% and 100% K is actually quite noticeable; it’s the roughly 2% difference on yellow here that I find implausibly near the base color to justify calling it another color entirely, regardless of social milieu.

    • billstewart says:

      But Warren, that’s a big part of the point here.  You and I see one example which looks like  a subtle variation in hue of squares that are all basically green and the other example where one of the squares is blue, an obviously different color.   But to the Himba, the first example has two different colors of squares, while the second example is just a subtle variation in hue of squares that are all basically the same color. 

      And it’s not just a naming thing, they find the answer in the first example fast and the second one slowly, while you and I had to stare at the first one for a while and the second one just jumped out at us.     The Himba also imagine five basic very different colors (vs. our 10-11), and to them, that yellow-green square is a basically different color than the greenish-green square.

      There’s an interesting Wikipedia article on Distinguishing_blue_from_green_in_language, and I remember once reading an article on the net about how Scandinavians divide reds from oranges differently than Anglos do (I think the fruit got called “red”, and maybe it was just Norwegians or Finns or somebody.)

      • Warren says:

        “[T]o the Himba, the first example has two different colors of squares, while the second example is just a subtle variation in hue of squares that are all basically the same color.”

        That would make sense, except that blue is a very distinct wavelength apart from green, while green with a touch of yellow is not. That’s not opinion; it’s physics.

        Essentially what seems to be asserted here is that the Himba are unable to tell the difference between the color of leaves, and the color of the sky. I could believe that, if I knew they’d lived underground all their lives and had never, ever once, looked up at the 180 degrees of space that was above them all the time, shouting out sky blue! sky blue!.

        I fired up a color meter to test my suppositions. The altered yellow-green square has an RGB value of about 95, 190, 5; the adjacent squares are about 80, 186, 15. That’s about a 7% reduction in the red, 2% reduction in the green, and 4% reduction in the blue.

        As near as I can determine, the color values for the blue square are 30, 90, 105; the green squares adjacent to it appear to be 45, 90, 65. (It’s hard to get good values since there are reflections off the monitor in that image.) That gives us 7% increase in the red, no variation at all in green, and a pretty solid 16% increase in blue.

        Not only is the amount of overall variation larger, but it’s in the opposite direction.

        Now if we don’t have a word for a concept, yes, we’ll probably have a hard time recognizing it. Since I lack the social or survival needs to be able to distinguish between and name an arbitrarily large range of shades from yellowish-green to green to blueish-green, I might not be able to give a name to the yellowish green square, but the fact is that its level of yellow is not the same as the level of blue in the square used in the Himba example.

        And if anyone is suggesting with a straight face that color acuity can be that heavily influenced by nonbiological factors, I’m going to suggest that they check their methodology.

  26. francesco44 says:

    All this is interesting but these psychologist seems to ignore a fundamental things….named…PHYSICS…….green….violet are NOT unambiguous terms….Green mean two DIFFERENT things….it mean “pure” green, the green of the green LED, the green of grass, but also the green pixel in your screen…..but it means ALSO something truely different: the mix of blue and yellow wavelength. It “seems” equivalent for us but it is not…..

    More explanations…..and why childrens have difficulties to reproduce the rainbow with colour pencils!

    It would be clever (for these psychologists) to recognize that “coulour” mean two very different things. There is colour in physics which is related to a wavelength, and “physical” colors can be named, but this is rather arbitrary anyway (in the rainbow for example). The physical colors are the colors of the rainbow. And there is something different which is “physiologica”l colours, which depends of certain characteristics of our eyes, nerves, brain.

    In a rainbow there is “true” green characterized by  a arbitrary interval of wavelengths. There is also a “true” violet (before… the ultraviolet). But, for us, green might be also yellow+blue, violet= red+blue, etc….This is only an approximation of our sensations….and every child with colour pencils is always frustrated when he tries to copy the rainbow…..Nothing equals the pure wavelength in the pencil (and in the reflection opposed to a pure ray of coloured light).

    Now just think of another approximation: the colour synthesis with cyan, magenta and yellow (as opposed to the synthesis of your screen: red, green, blue RGB)…..The printed coulours look dull compared to real life colours…or even your led monitor….You know why? Your monitor use another colour synthesis with blue (like the sky), green (like the grass), red (like blood). Your monitor is close to the colour of life. Except for yellow= green pixel+red pixel (as an example). Cyan, Magenta, Yellow are closer to the colours of death (if your skin turns yellow, your tong turns magenta or cyan…better go to the hospital…). If all this is not accounted for…nothing can be understood on the relation of coulours and language….green meen two thing (a wavelength) AND blue+yellow, violet mean a wavelength AND red+blue. In fact red+ blue is what physics name a purple…..

    Therefore colours perception is a compex game to play……

  27. retrac13 says:

     Reminded me of XKCD’s survey of color names:

    http://blog.xkcd.com/2010/05/03/color-survey-results/

    I think its interesting that some words represent a broad chunk of the spectrum, but some are very specific. That is, in English, “blue” can represent a huge number of possible colors. But only a select few colors can be called “magenta.”

  28. laura evans says:

    I made a short film about a musician who is colorblind. He believes there is no such thing as color, that color is simply an “artifact of perception.” His comments are very insightful. You can check out the 9 minute short documentary here: http://www.nosuchthingascolor.com

  29. stumo says:

    The thought occurs that it could also be a genetic difference – their
    eyes have subtly different trigger frequencies to Europeans. In which
    case it’d have little to do with language. (It wouldn’t surprise me to
    learn it’s a bit of both).

  30. swankgd says:

    Even if we go ahead an accept that the experiment really does show that the Himba have an easier time distinguishing between similar shades of green, and a harder time distinguishing between shades of green and shades of blue, I don’t think that implies a causal link to the language difference.  In fact, it seems pretty likely to me that it’s the other way around.  Namely that their color vision is genetically wired to see those green distinctions and thus their language evolved to indicate that.

    The only way to test that would be to take someone genetically from a western population and raise them entirely in the Himba language/culture.  IF that person shares the perception difference, THEN you’ve got something.  Otherwise all you’ve got is correlation, not causation.

    • Richard_Kirk says:

      “The only way to test that would be to take someone genetically from a western population and raise them entirely in the Himba language/culture.”

      I don’t think so. I saw the test image on my little Mac screen and could point straight to the ‘odd’ one that was visibly more yellow, but my job is all about matching colors and spotting tiny differences. A good gardener might be able to spot the differences too, as a slight difference in yellowness is an important indicator of the health of a plant. If our eyes are similar, and there is nothing special about my eyes, then presumably you could do the same with practice.

      Part of this is a trick. Try looking at the center of the circle, or at least taking a wider view, rather than looking at each patch in turn. Our eyes and brains are good at compensating for differences in lighting. The center of vision of our eyes has no blue receptors. Glancing away from any particular patch will probably help you see small differences in blue level better.

      • swankgd says:

        And perhaps you have that job because you naturally are better at seeing those differences. Plus, even if you’re right, that just proves my point more about language.  You and I share the English language (I’m presuming. You do write like a native speaker), and yet you seem to have better color perception than I.  So yeah, maybe my proposition isn’t the ONLY way to test it, but I still don’t see anything very conclusive that language CAUSES the differences, rather than reflects it.

        • Richard_Kirk says:

          The idea that our ability to see and understand colors is moderated by language is is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I think the original strong hypothesis is largely discredited, but linguists do admit the softer possibility of some non-trivial connections between language and color perception.

          Okay, this is all anecdotal, but…

          When I was young, pink was yellow plus white poster paint, and green was blue plus yellow paint. In fact red plus white give you a sort of flesh pink, but I knew there was a ‘pinker’ pink you sometimes got on flowers. Yellow plus blue made a pretty poor green, which is why they gave you a green as well, but there was a ‘greener’ light blue color that you could not make from blue + white. I didn’t have a word for those pink and azure colors. I could not get pens that color until I was about ten (ballpoint pens were black, red, green, or blue). Not having a word or a usable example of these colors did not stop me knowing which colors they were close to. But putting a name for a color helped me remember examples of it, and so to become familiar with all the variations in color, and how to distinguish variations of hue, and saturation, and lightness.

          I guess having a word for a color usually goes with having experience of it. That is probably all the connection there is.  

  31. reithe says:

    Until I started oil painting when I was a teenager and learning the different paint colors, I had a very hard time differentiating between colors for art. The more I learned about color, the more I was able to understand color value and hue. It’s a fascinating study that language affects this.  How curious.

  32. Pim says:

    The (rather dormant) scientist in me spot a (rather glaring) methodological problem in the Namibian study. If the way he posed the questions to all the subjects is precisely depicted in the video, then there definitely is a problem. 

    The research question here is whether our language determined the way we perceived colors, yes?

    By asking the subjects to find a “color” that was different from the others, the researcher added the label “color” as a layer of mediation to that experience of perception. He’s not just asking whether the subjects perceived any difference between those squares, but whether they labeled it as a different “color”. 

    One could argue the the subjects may indeed see the difference between the color labeled blue and the color labeled green in our language, but since those two colors are labeled the same way in their language, and the question posed to them was to find a different “color”. The subjects clearly had difficulty finding it.

    If I were the researcher, I would pose the question so that the subjects must spot a difference, any difference. Ask them to find one that was not the same as the others, without using the label “color”. Since all the other variables are controlled – shape and size of the squares – and the only determining variable is the color difference, by asking if they spot anything different at all, you’re actually getting closer to a report of perception without the added mediation of the word “color”.

  33. jtegnell says:

    As a native English speaker living in Japan, I am frequently weirded out by the use of blue for what an English speaker would clearly call green. Traffic lights are referred to here as blue even though the color is the same. The northern-most prefecture on the main island is called Aomori — “blue forest”.

    • 秀平 月 says:

      The situation in Japan is a little more complicated though. 青 doesn’t just mean “blue,” although it’s most commonly used as such. It’s best to think of it as “blue and/or green,” so the Japanese don’t call a traffic light “blue.”

      Etymologically speaking, in Chinese 青 can be anything from light green to cyan but never pure  blue which explains a whole bunch of Japanese words derived from Chinese.

  34. Cowicide says:

    Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t see the difference with the green squares up there.  I couldn’t tell and I’m pretty good with color (I thought).  The difference is very subtle:

    The one that’s off color is (approximately with Red Green Blue):

    R …………..
    G ………………………
    B .

    All the rest are:

    R …………
    G ………………………
    B …

  35. Daemonworks says:

    You don’t even have to go to obscure groups to see this – Japan divides the spectrum up a bit differently too.

    Ao (青) is generally translated as blue – but it also includes a decent chunk of what we call green, specifically including the colour of traffic lights. You’ll often hear Japanese people saying something like “the light is blue” if they haven’t gotten used to the difference.

  36. My monitor couldn’t show me a difference that was appreciable; I had a little itch about the “right one” (confirmed eventually with a photo program and color matchiing) but I couldn’t tell if it was really different, even cutting/pasting the boxes next to or overlapping on top of each other.

    That bothered me enough to go take a bunch of online colorblindness tests, all of which said “not colorblind” (which was what I thought previously).

    So apparently either JPG or this Asus monitor just don’t do this thing right…

    • Cowicide says:

      I have a feeling because the difference is so subtle, everyone is going to have a different experience depending on all kind of factors including brand of display, how old it is, environment, temperature, etc.  I could actually see that some displays with less color capabilities might even make it easier to see.

      I can’t see it even after knowing which one it is on my display and I’m using one of the most high-end displays you can use right now.

  37. Blaven says:

    It is interesting, this difference between pure physical colors (wavelengths of light) versus how our brains determine color.  I remember as an undergraduate engineering student talking to a friend who was pursuing a BS in physics.  This was at RIT, a school that had a large art program as well as the technical/science fields, and he once went off on the color wheel that the art students used, saying that it was a false and ridiculous construct, whereas the visible light spectrum used by physicists was the real truth when it came to color.
     
    But is it?  Sure, that middle band of a rainbow will be ‘true’ green, and will correspond directly to the 510nm wavelength on the electromagnetic spectrum.  But what about a green blade of grass growing in a field?  It isn’t actually reflecting back just the 510nm of light; it’s reflecting back a lot of other wavelengths too, including ones we might otherwise consider reds, blues, yellows etc.  It’s just that the peak value is around 510nm, so to our eyes and brains, it looks green.  An object that emits light in a single strong peak at 510nm will look the same to us as a mixture of two equal peaks at 490nm and 530nm, even though physically they are two very different signals.  
     
    Even stranger, there are colors that don’t appear anywhere on the visible light spectrum.  Try finding magenta in a rainbow.  You can’t, because it doesn’t exist anywhere on it.  But it does exist on the artist’s color wheel.  How can this be?  It’s because we don’t see colors as they actually are (assuming ‘color’ even means anything outside of our brains).  What we see is only a three point sampling (from the three different cones in our eyes) of what is really a much more complex range of wavelengths.   Magenta is simply how our brains interpret a mix of mostly red and mostly blue signals, and therefore has no direct relevance at all to the visible light spectrum.  It is therefore an invention of the brain to make sense out a particular signal input, even though it has no real existence on the electromagnetic spectrum.  It is in a sense, a ‘false’ color.  But if that is the case, then how ‘genuine’ are all the other colors that our minds see using the same processes?

  38. marc anthony says:

    The percentage of color difference between the greens is far less than the difference between the blue and green. If the Himba can see the green squares more easily, this may have less to do with their language and more to do with a disposition for seeing chromatic differences more easily than differences in luminance… that or maybe their blue perception is naturally weak.

  39. Avram Grumer says:

    I was able to pick the different green square, but I don’t think I would’ve noticed it as different if I hadn’t been told there was a different one. 

  40. eiaboca says:

    These color/categorization hypotheses have been around for a very long time, as mentioned in the article. If you’re interested in reading about it in depth:

    http://www.amazon.com/Women-Dangerous-Things-George-Lakoff/dp/0226468046

    That book was published in the late 80s/early 90s, and his work was based off of Eleanor Rosch’s work from the 70s and 80s:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Rosch

    It’s amazing how long it takes for things to trickle into mainstream consciousness, and it’s a fascinating process to watch!

  41. mrmule says:

    Must be the dudes monitor.. spotted it within 5 seconds

  42. Flo Fflach says:

    open up the all green circle of squares in photoshop and the different one MUCH clearer.
    in Wales glas : blue, is used for the colour of grass, particularly rich grass. but green is gwyrdd.

  43. hugh crawford says:

    its easy , most of them are the color of old john deer tractors , and one is the color of john deer lawn mowers.

  44. I was only able to figure out the different color by comparing two at a time, but I did get it right! Psychologically and neurologically, it’s true – people that spend more time thinking about colors and differentiating colors during their life will definitely be able to identify subtle differences in color more easily. This is true of music, language, anything. Sensory perception is mostly cerebral.

  45. Blaven says:

    “That would make sense, except that blue is a very distinct wavelength apart from green, while green with a touch of yellow is not. That’s not opinion; it’s physics.”
     
    Yes that is true, but it is only part of the situation.  Just because there is a more significant difference in wavelength from blue to green, doesn’t mean our eyes are that much more sensitive to it.  It is a fact that our eyes’ abilities to detect differences between two similar wavelengths vary depending on where on the spectrum the colors are.  And I believe on the blue end of the spectrum a bigger difference is required than in the green/yellow section, though I was having trouble finding any references that I could share here (perhaps someone else knows?). 
     
    Another factor is that our brains do a LOT of processing to the signals they get from the eyes.  Just because the different cones detect a difference in light levels between two colors, does not mean the brain will agree after it gets done processing all the data.  This is likely where this strange language influence comes into play, as well as explaining why people who work with colors get more sensitive to them – in other words, more connections in the brain form that can make finer sense out of the eyes’ signals.
     
    As another commentator said, all this is very interesting, but some follow-up work could be useful.  Are we sure these differences are really due to language and not to genetic factors?  I would be interesting to see what the results were if a Himba child was raised in an English speaking environment, and then given this color test.

  46. dragonfrog says:

    I would take “The five colors make the eyes go blind” etc. in a very different vein.

    Taking your interpretation, there’s a huge jump from the first three statements to the last two – from “classifying things makes you lose track of reality” to “overstimulating the senses is harmful”.

    I’d read it as all five statements are in the vein of the last two – “the five colors” are colorful ornamental objects, overstimulation of the visual sense;  “the five tones” are music, overstimulation of the auditory sense; “the five flavors” are rich and highly flavored food, overstimulation of the sense of taste.

  47. Mark_Frauenfelder says:

    I want to see your art! You are usually very dismissive of the art we post on Boing Boing, so I have a feeling your work is superb.

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