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Color: An Optical Illusion

Little introduction does ‘The Dress’ need after creating a crazy havoc in the world online for more than 24 hours, but what transpired from the debate is something worth pondering.

Even though the search engine optimized explanations offered by the online portals would have made no sense, if not least, to common masses, it is possible to investigate the whole idea in simpler terms or in a non-scientific language using little jargon; but at a cost.

We may never visit the debated topic ‘The Dress’ but what would be more of our interest is the science of color and the notion that, it is just an optical illusion. 

We wake up to a world of colors, lit well or sufficiently by the sun that helps us in leading our everyday lives by assisting us to choose the right metro we should take, the right person we should meet and even to identify ourselves, while in front of a mirror.

What would happen if the sun goes black making the only color available, darkness with no way out for the sun to shimmer its gleaming waves on the earth’s surface?

Should we shut shops and stay home? Not really, because the sun already is black and still we continue to survive. Scientifically it’s a fact that light and hence colors don’t exist, but purely they are our imagination and have got nothing to do with reality.

Light and colors are surviving mechanisms that our brain cooks up to help us make our lives easy.  No wonder the concept is very much abstruse; so is the universe in which our planet thrives and the way they work.

It is better to understand the concept – of light and color being visible to us but not existential in reality- metaphysically that it is the benevolence of the very fabric of our existence and it’s one among the many other unreal, but infinite form of sense like love and arts to keep us on the go. 

Visualization of colors and light is an extremely artistic behavior of our brain that excites every nerve in our physiological system to make sense and add beauty to the every moment we experience it. Thus, what we see around us is very far from reality and is only an imaginarily painted version of what our brain unrealistically perceives to be true. That’s metaphysics.  Now in order to understand the real scientific phenomenon behind the visualization of light and color we may have to visit some elementary level physics and biology.

Light is just an invisible energy or electromagnetic radiation traveling in wave form and is colorless until they reach our eyes. The range of this electromagnetic radiation is vast, but only a portion of it can be visualized by our brain or visible to our naked eye, which is called as the visible spectrum, for obvious reasons. The range of this visible radiation is 390nm to 750 nm. (nm is nanometer which is the unit of wavelength here. The values are represented in meters in the reference image below). What lies beyond this range in the electromagnetic spectrum is invisible to us, but a few other species are sensitive to those ranges of radiations.

Every object on earth has the behavior of reflecting the light or electromagnetic radiation incident on them, by absorbing a certain amount, which is in turn, dependent on the physical properties of the object.

Remember whatever radiation incident on the object and reflected by it is colorless until picked up by our eyes. The reflected light is received by the retina which is at the back of our eyes and is then passed on to the visual cortex of our brain. Our eyes consist of rods and cones that are very essential for the seamless function of our ophthalmic system.

Rods and Cones (Source:Arizona State University Website)

These rods and cones interpret and transmit the color signals based on the wavelength of the reflected light from the object, to the visual cortex region of the brain where the imagery is visualized and constructed.

For instance, an apple is colorless in reality, but it absorbs the remaining colors and reflects only the wavelength of light corresponding to the color red, which is transmitted via our eyes and later interpreted by our brain as red.  To conclude the thoughts there is no definition for each color but they do symbolize or represent a particular mood or an emotion.

What cannot be defined becomes abstract in our thoughts like the feeling of love, ego, arts etc. and is alive only in our much-complex imaginary networks of the brain. There are two reasons, one physical and the other metaphysical, why color or light is different and special from the remaining abstract, infinite emotions.

Physically, any other emotion like love is invisible but only can be felt. Hence, color or light is supposed to be only felt but on the contrary they can be seen.  Secondly and metaphysically, light is the first being in the universe because it goes ‘Let there be light’.

Image Source: Mighty Optic Illusions

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