Do you see what I see?

Here’s a poser for you. I mean a mind-boggler, you one-track minds! It has been nagging me for over a couple decades now. I remember asking this to quite a few kids when I was in school and college, only to get the increasingly familiar you must be those crazy people mommy says to stay away from reaction. I don’t remember asking my parents, ever. Because if it’s something friends don’t know, there’s no way parents will. Don’t take my word for it, ask my kid. So I decided it’s time I put you through it.

Here it is. What color is this? And this? And for that matter this? It really is something that has me foxed. Now maybe the alecs who fancy a little poetry will say this is sad, this is angry and this is envious. But it should be a safe bet to assume that the rest of us mortals will unanimously say this is blue, this red, and this one is green. Because it’s been ingrained in our minds since we were kids that blue means this, red means this, and green means this. But the question is, do we both really see the same exact color? Is what I call blue the same as your perception of blue? How do I know you don’t see it as what I call beige instead? Of course you will call it blue; you have grown up calling that color you see blue. But perhaps what you’re actually calling blue appears beige to me. (Oh my God, I see it. That’s exactly the look I’d get back then; it’s so familiar!!)

Well, I’ve seen large color charts with intelligent statistics in science museums and other places. They often have information on color-blindness too. For instance, when people who are not color blind (NCB) see a certain color x, this is actually how people who are color blind (CB) perceive it. One question: HOW DO YOU KNOW? Are you color blind yourself? In that case, how do you know what the real color looks like? And if you aren’t, how would you know how the CB would perceive it? How can you nail it down to the precise shade in the spectrum? I’m not talking about the color-blindness tests here, where CBs see a different number than NCBs. That only establishes color-blindness, not what color a CB sees instead.

I’ve combed the internet, read extremely interesting articles on color perception and vision. Yes, they do a wonderful job of explaining how the brain perceives color; they all talk about spectral sensitivity and luminosity and other -ities in elaborate detail. But I still haven’t found an answer to this question. Or maybe it’s just my (lack of) perception.

If you have as much time on your hands as I do, here‘s something to keep you occupied. If you have even more time, here‘s another article I came across that caught my fancy.

I’m sure there are many folks out there who have asked this question. If you’re one of them, I hope you have an answer. But if for some reason you decide to write me off as a loony, please be nice and visit me with that homemade blueberry pie.

37 responses to “Do you see what I see?

  1. Very interesting I am going to go over this post and all the comments again. Bookmarked all the links too. I need to soak it all in.

    The only question I dare ask at this point is this – why does everyone demand a piece of the blueberry pie? How do they know that their blueberry pie and your blueberry pie…

    *perceives approaching footwear and makes escape*

    • Wait, which blueberry pie are you referring to when you say “their blueberry pie”? The one they think is theirs but actually isn’t, or the one…
      [Glad it has your interest :) ] -g

  2. G:

    This discussion is an interesting, although not representative, insight into how the French may be thinking about this -eur/ -euse business.
    Oh the cultural perspective! “Honnêtement oui c’est très laid”.

    Thanks for the link. I thought I’d be really rusty, but it wasn’t so bad! -g

  3. @ g –

    quote/….danseur-danseuse, chanteur-chanteuse, why not litterateur-litterateuse?/unquote
    right, right, i get it :P
    and..not to forget masseur-masseuse : )

    Right :) -g

  4. VaibhavTiwari:

    As I mentioned in my comment to G, my brain sees puns and anagrams when I see a made-up word. If someone doesn’t play with words (and numbers) the way I do, it is perhaps futile to explain “litter ate use” :-/

    Even before G explained, it was pretty obvious that she is using a delightfully clever declension of a word (litterateur) that has no feminine equivalent in the original language, French. Which is why I was surprised you asked the question about the extra ‘T’. Of course, my assumption that it is obvious is not applicable. Mea culpa..

    Aah, don’t look now, but we came a full circle with relativity in perception ;) Alright, alright, I’ll run! :P -g

  5. @ G:
    I was referring to either of the consecutive ‘t’s in ‘litterateuse’. I thought u r trying to have it as something like ‘literate’+’use’ (which doesn’t mean much in itself either) but I couldn’t understand litterateuse at all…guess I haven’t come across this usage.
    You said, “It’s a whimsical extension of what could be its gender equivalent.” … Here, did u mean to say that you had put litterateuse as the female equivalent of litterateur?? I thought the word can come to mean either gender – do let me know if it strictly refers to men alone.

    But if u “created” the word, kudos ! for who knows ……….?? : ) (I’m reminded of Ogden Nash who crafted words to create rhyme.. :P)

    Hey, not finding a word in the dictionary is perfectly fine, but I could not get any sense of the etymology either. I surrender if the word has too deep-rooted a French origin, as Shefaly’s post suggests.

    @ Shefaly:
    Don’t get any of what u said…
    “Litter (that) ate use” !! what’s that ??
    Care to explain.
    In any case, I am sure very few of us ‘rest’ know such usage. You had me stumped for a while : ) !!


    PS: I almost sound litigious over a single word, but it’s okay : )

    Litterateur could refer to either gender. But like danseur-danseuse, chanteur-chanteuse, why not litterateur-litterateuse? That’s all. Can’t quite say I ‘created’ it: there’s about as much creativity as saying Mad-Hattress instead of Mad-Hatter :) -g
    PS: I wouldn’t call it litigious, but yes, it’s okay :)

  6. G:

    Considering SdB and JPS spent nearly all their time in Café de Flore, I don’t think kitchens and cooking were high on Simone’s priorities. We can absolve her in this instance.

    Now being upgraded because of her, there I give her credit. :-) Story for another day.

    Café de Flore? I could’ve sworn JPS spent his time in camera :-| (Alright, that was sad.) -g

  7. G:

    Trust me, the punster and anagrammarian (!!) in me saw the “Litter (that) ate use” instantly :-) But I could also see the logic of feminisation* of a word that the French resolutely do not feminise*. It seems one can only be a French ‘man of letters’ not a French ‘woman of letters’. What a waste for the nation to have had Simone dB!

    *Never mind all the _oppression_ the word is meant to signify. Makes me laugh though..

    I do believe you :) If the French could delegate the kitchen primarily to men, I could live with no feminisation (lol, thanks! :P) of litterateur. I wonder if Beauvoir was responsible for that con. :-| -g

  8. …we’ve actually sat down all night using paper cups, plates, push-pins chessboard etc. and debated on…
    Well, after a while, the chessboard would begin to appear all white to me, and that would be the end of all discussions :p

    What!! You’d end the discussion *just* when you were beginning to see light white?! :P -g

  9. Vaibhav

    I saw your last comment/ question and I wonder what you mean. None of the Ts is spare in ‘litterateuse’ unless you know something that the rest of us do not.

    As a side – some have thought this must be “Litter at Use” with an extra ‘e’. I get the ‘litter’ part, but cannot for the life of me figure what one might find of use on this blog ;) Must give it to their imagination, though! -g

  10. by the way, talking of coffee, why is an extra ‘t’ (pun intended :)) employed in your blog address:
    *just observed; just curious*
    PS: …or am I ignorant of something here :-?

    You mean it should be htp:// ? Or literateuse? Or litteraeuse? No can do now; I’m stuck with this :-|
    (To give you the benefit of doubt, litterateuse isn’t technically a dictionary word. It’s a whimsical extension of what could be its gender equivalent. Unfortunately, even depriving it of a ‘t’ might not guarantee it a place in the dictionary :) )

  11. haha … coffee !!
    Well, I love discussing movies over coffee.. : ) I’d come if u ask me to :P

    Thanks for the warning heads-up :D Incidentally, I love discussing coffees over a movie. But apparently people would rather watch some overrated hams than learn about Java and Colombian for free. Ingrates! :-\ -g

  12. Dear Gauri,

    I liked your post, and the comments. An almost similar topic had come up sometime back in a fellow blogger’s post.

    I would not like to see myself swept away by the arguable concept called ‘subjective sensation’. I rather refute it, if I were allowed to do that in my capacity.

    If you start talking in terms of perception, then all elements in classical physics – time, gravity, speed, and so on, would look different to different people. A person seeing a car speeding towards him to hit him would gauge the danger differently from, say, a train coming at him at the same speed. That’s perception for you !! I’m reminded of shakespearean lines from ‘As you like it’ (and i’ll just put a rough translation here for the lack of remembering them; the lines were beautiful by the way): it said something like ‘to a prisoner who is going to the gallows, time is a horse that gallops; to a bride who is anxious to meet her beloved, time is a horse that trots’..and so on.. see, that too is perception.

    Probably the only difference is that with things like time, speed, gravity, etc, it is possible to measure them and quanitfy them. Like we know about speed not just in terms of fast or slow but also how fast or how slow: whether it is 25 miles per hour or 125 miles per hour. In case of colours, we don’t readily have a quantified understanding (although the wavelength can be measured in terms of armstrongs, but we don’t think in those terms usually when we look at a colour) and hence the perception argument looks logical. I don’t think there is too much to it. Confusion between bluish-green and greenish-blue has always been there, based on angle of view, ambient lighting, and other factors.

    Newton found the 7 constituent colours of white light. That’s an unchallenged breakthrough. Of course, depending on infinite permutations and combinations of these 7 pigments, one can create all shades possible. Whether we are able to identify one shade from another depends on our human capacity to do so; that capacity differs from person to person, mood to mood, and time to time.

    *don’t shoot me*
    Vaibhav : )

    Thank you, Vaibhav :) While I do agree with some of the points you make, discussing each thread of the comment – or shooting you, for that matter – will warrant meeting over coffee. In the meantime, let me just rephrase the Shakespearean lines with what I once read somewhere: The length of a minute depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on ;)
    Welcome to 42 :)

  13. Um, what about people who see all words in colours? Synesthesia is real and can be a boon or a bane depending on a situation. I see your blog, for instance, in a deep shade of turquoise. For reasons I cannot quite explain. :-/

    The question is, do you see it as what I believe to be turquoise, or do you call my perception of white turquoise? ;) Speaking of synesthesia, I always thought I had a cross between OPL and grapheme-color. (OPC? :P). There, you might just have given me an idea for a post :D Merci! :) -g

  14. Hi,

    Just stumbled upon your blog somehow. I think the same question has troubled philosophers since centuries. And why stop at colours? Why limit the argument only to vision? What about touch? Do I feel the same sensation when I touch a cold beer as you do? Philosophers call this – Qualia or “subjective sensation”. Just google for it! :)

    True, why stop at colors? So it has a name, eh :) Nice, didn’t know about Qualia! Where did you say you were when I was in the seventh grade?! :) Thanks Aditya, for that insightful comment! -g

  15. I am an Indian married to an American. And this is one particular topic that has come up before. If things are on the border of blue and green I will invariably think it is blue and she will think of it as green. I have used my unsuspecting friends both American and Indian as lab rats to test my hypotheses. As far as I can tell it is cultural in the sense that many a times when I was a kid some one must have told me that blueish green and greenish blue are both blue and in my wife’s case the other way around.
    Disclaimer: My experiments were in no way scientific and simply don’t have enough data to do any statistical analysis on the results.

    You’ve touched on multiple aspects here. Yes, there definitely is a cultural side to it – I know there are some far east Asian languages that do not have a specific word for green – to them, all greens are shades of blue (and perhaps yellow as they become lighter). Makes sense, since green isn’t really a primary.
    There is also a linguistic side – bluish green is, in fact slightly different from greenish blue if you ask me, but that’s a matter of semantics. Bluish green is mainly green with a hint of blue; greenish blue is mainly blue with a hint of green. But these, I think, are a matter of opinion or naming the color, rather than the perception itself. What I’m saying is there is a chance that an Indian might agree with your wife, or an American might agree with you.
    Thanks, Sooraj. that was a valuable comment. -g

  16. Hi Gauri,
    This constitutes a scholarly post. And I liked it. My wife and I differ how we call a colour. After I unilaterally changed the upholstery of sofa set, she has stopped trusting my choice of colours :)
    A similar weird question comes to my mind: how do we the meat-eaters explain the taste of meat to a vegetarian? It tastes like…soyabean nuggets…no, like kathahal ka sabjee…no….

    Thanks, Nanda. To answer your question – we don’t. They might just take to it and leave the broccoli & eggplants for us :P But seriously, wouldn’t meat itself taste different depending on the [insert euphemism for ‘animal’:-/] ?. Yes, I’d say the texture of soy nuggets comes close. I’d have a harder time describing salt or sugar to someone who’s never had it, though. -g

  17. I have had arguments with the wife where i say it is green and she insists it’s blue! ;)

    Husband-wife arguments don’t count. We’ve had times when I say it’s green and he says it’s an Audi :P -g

  18. Yaar we are all MAD! Everyone of us is on a spectrum of insanity. Our perceptions and conditioning are just a reflection of where we are on that spectrum.

    But then insanity is normal nahi? Or is it? or isnt it? Or am I talking to myself again? Ohhhh Im talking to the voices in my head.

    I think I am just going to let all the people in my head have a drink each. They will see colors better then!

    Make sure they don’t all have a drink. One of them has to drive you (insane) ;) -g

  19. Interesting point. I would also assume that it is different for men and women. I suspect men see every color as primary colors and femmes see the shades in between.

    Perhaps people do see different things when they look at a color – but the individual sees the same color individually all the time. and that is the consistency bit.

    Agree with the last bit. And yes, allo allo :) -g

  20. very very thought provoking post, in its essence, and I, the neice of two very colour-blind uncles, must ask you this very nagging question:
    I thought only men could be colour-blind? As in, that it’s a ‘defect’ not possible in women?
    So is colour-blindness a disorder with you or are you referring to its symptomic implications?

    Thanks, nm. Color blindness (esp. red-green) does occur more frequently in men, but there is indeed a lesser percentage of female sufferers. That said, I mention color blindness here only to elicit an example where two individuals are known to have different perception.
    It’s interesting that you mention ‘very color blind uncles’. I do know there can be degrees in color perception – have you ever spoken about it with them? Here‘s something I found interesting; perhaps you will too. And thanks for visiting! :) -g

  21. Very very interesting! :) I would like to invite you to read this if/when you have the time:

    Welcome here, Shail! And thanks for the link; will be over shortly :) -g

  22. I am confused with all the colour knowledge..:)..but yeah what Solilo says holds so so true..what if?what if the schizo’s world is more real than our own?the whole thing revolves around that ‘if’….and just because we have more on our side doesnt mean this is the only reality…:)or maybe we are all schizos without even realizing it?each one of us thinking of himself /herself as sane and calling the other insane…..

    There you go! What if it is so, right? Thanks for stopping by, Indyeah :) -g

  23. I think we recognize color thru habit..
    When we are kids.. our parents kind of teach us.. this is bluoooooooo this is Red.. etc etc.. u know :)
    I mean the diff shades.. umm mean nothing.. its the association we have with things..
    As blue as sky as white of clouds..

    Yeah :) Welcome here, pooh. (Do you go by winnie?) -g

  24. Pingback: I shut my eyes in order to see.. « Soliloquies of an Opinionated mind…

  25. Gauri, Send me that one piece of Blueberry pie :))

    I think just like that Schizo logic applies here too. Majority wins. Schizo’s parallel universe have less people to prove that he is right.

    Same with colors. Our perception is different so what majority sees is the real color. Okay now I need more than one piece of that pie.

    One bb pie coming up! :) -g

  26. Can not add anything valuable about colours, and it’s blindness. Someone has discussed it threadbare. But I kinda agree with what rambodoc said. If i grew up drinking my dark rum substituted for water, I would have perceived it as tasteless. Water would then have a distinguished ‘taste’ (yeah…i know what are you thinking about me).

    Till such time the children are using the blue crayon for sky and my dark rum doesn’t taste like water, all’s well.
    ps: How do you pest control your header image ?

    I like the rum vs. water analogy! Nice way of looking at it. (No you don’t…know what I’m thinking :-| ). What makes you say your rum doesn’t taste like water? It’s all in the mind ;) Thanks for stopping by! -g
    PS: I don’t. Stare at it long enough, you’ll see a roach flit by.

  27. why do you want someone else to see the same color you do? doesn’t it make it more interesting if they see a different can then spend some time deconstructing that…wait you just did..

    a non-metaphysical solution may be found in pantone cards..get one and carry it in your soon as you meet a CB show the card and assert your position on blues and reds

    one metaphysical answer to your solution is your blog’s name :)

    finally, here is a game you can play all by yourself without consulting CBs or NCBs:

    What’s the use of pantone cards if they don’t have “mera wallah cream”? :P lol@42…don’t you just love its anytime, anyplace convenience?! :-D Thanks for the Munsell link! I came here to reply and ended up hueked on those hoos hooked on those hues! -g

  28. There is no way in which you can be sure that two people see the same color in their minds. Same with smells and *blush* orgasms. Sort of “light in the refrigerator” paradox. Is the light in the refrigerator still on when the door is closed? The only way to find out is to open the door.

    Tell you the truth, the question has occured to me, too, since childhood. So when you negotiate with the loony bin for favorable terms, check with them for bulk booking discounts, will you?

    Yes, same with smells. And taste. (Let me stop there :-|). I remember the light in the fridge!! Can’t drill a hole from the side? :-| (alright, alright…:P)
    LOL@bulk discounts. I think at this rate they’ll need a confectionery just for the mad people here! :-D -g

  29. I have realized that as far as women (specifically my wife) are concerned all men are CB despite being NCB…and vice versa

    P.S: Not really trying to answer the question..@rads has analyzed this well… too well

    Haha. That’s quite true as far as my husband’s wife is concerned too :P “Not trying to answer the question” is a diplomatic way of saying “you’re loony but you don’t get the blueberry pie.” :D Verrry kilvar! -g

  30. ah, my sweet html tags. Could you end the italics after your line please?

    @doc: That was tad abstract sir! It must be the falling glucose levels with your IF? :)

    Italics taken care of -g

  31. He’d pick a blue one mostly because he has been conditioned that a specific color x is blue after all. That act based on years of an NCB mom picking up a BLUE and grilling it into his head that what he sees is indeed BLUE. So initially if the mom said “use BLUE” and he’d pick up a “brown” she’d slap his hand and say “can’t you hear, I said BLUE, not brown” and hand him a BLUE. The sad fellow will then tune himself to recognize the shade difference and quickly, he knows a blue is defintely not how a brown would look.

    g: I was with you till a couple lines ago. Where I differ is, he won’t pick the brown when asked for blue, because when mom picks real blue, he could see it as brown, and pick the “brown” from his set, which is, in fact the real blue. What I’m saying is, he could see both pencils as blue, or both as brown. Poor mom won’t know sonny boy picked the wrong one, since he’s conditioned to call that blue.

    That’s true. I am talking about a point in time X when he is learning the colors and then ultimately pick the color that he was told as blue.
    You speak of the time X+2 or 3 or whatever.
    They follow each other. No?

    Even T-zero (initial time), when he associates the word/concept “blue” with the color he sees, brown, blue, peach or whatever. It’ll be that color all the way, right? (lol, we can go on! You should come over sometime, I still have the paper cups, pushpins & chessboard ;) ) -g

  32. <aside?I kinda got confused: was I in Rad’s blog or 42’s?
    How, if I extrapolate this, does one know anything at all? Most knowledge is based on perception (and then the mind steps in with cognition and other tions). If you remove the context, whether an object is blue or red is immaterial. The context here is the normal. You can know what is normal only by comparison.

    If we extrapolate that far, it boils down to ‘Sab Maaya Hai’ :D Which is fair – just a matter of where you want to draw the arbitrary line :) -g

  33. Alright, so am not really sure if am getting this right, but the question is how does (for sakes of simplicity, we’ll take blue) an NCB know that the color – Turquoise – as how he sees it, is the same as a CB would see it?
    Simple answer – He doesn’t know.
    Would he be able to find out what color the CB calls a turquoise? Yes, Sure!
    CB’s as you must know with all the reading you’ve been doing are primarily down to RG and BY categories. So let’s say our boy is a BY and hence he really isn’t seeing blue the way we see it (and perhaps he doesn’t know it). If I want to know what he sees as Turquoise, then all I’d probably go about it this way.

    Set1. All colors, a 24 set light and dark shades of colors, if you so please.
    Set2. Bunch of blues – Turquoise, pale blue, sky blue, azure, sapphire, denim, periwinkle, indigo and so on.

    Then you pull a Blue color pencil. Ask him to match it from the pools he has, starting from Set 1.
    He’d pick a blue one mostly because he has been conditioned that a specific color x is blue after all. That act based on years of an NCB mom picking up a BLUE and grilling it into his head that what he sees is indeed BLUE. So initially if the mom said “use BLUE” and he’d pick up a “brown” she’d slap his hand and say “can’t you hear, I said BLUE, not brown” and hand him a BLUE. The sad fellow will then tune himself to recognize the shade difference and quickly, he knows a blue is defintely not how a brown would look.

    g: I was with you till a couple lines ago. Where I differ is, he won’t pick the brown when asked for blue, because when mom picks real blue, he could see it as brown, and pick the “brown” from his set, which is, in fact the real blue. What I’m saying is, he could see both pencils as blue, or both as brown. Poor mom won’t know sonny boy picked the wrong one, since he’s conditioned to call that blue.

    So unfortunately I’d imagine that’s a catch 22. A CB kid needs to learn colors and once he’s taught them, he’d probably always pick up a blue even if he doesn’t see it as an NCB blue.
    I m wondering if there’s a situation where such tuning wouldn’t happen. The situation doesn’t necessarily need to be at an educated setting, but even otherwise. Sky is blue, water is blue and so on.

    g: It is a catch 22. I’ve harassed the husband so many times with this (& similar things), we’ve actually sat down all night using paper cups, plates, push-pins chessboard etc. and debated on. And much as we learn a lot more, it’s back to square 1.

    Continue the experiment to Set 2. Chances are he’d say “Oh, you want just one or all?”
    If he’s hugely perceptive, he would most definitely see a difference between the CB sapphire and a denim (as they are closer in the spectrum than say pale blue and indigo) and say this is a shade darker/lighter etc, but for the most part, they’d all be either light blue or dark blue. If it’s utmost necessary like when he grows up and gets maried toa fine lady who’s a turquoise lover and gived him a hard time in not picking up a piece of jewlery that would go with her lovely turquoise cashmere shawl, he’d sweat it by smuggling her cashmere over to the jewelers or be smart and hand over the CC and feign blissful ignorance blaming his genes (the Y ones, but for all practical purposes he’d be more than right, and it would be X in this case)

    g: Again, taking the cashmere to the jewelers is one thing (truth be told, I’d need to take it too, to get the exact shade :P). But if he sees it as another skewed color, he’ll get the same skewed-colored earrings, which will look turquoise to the happy wife anyway. But very valid point about the Y chromosome, I hope the guys take the hint here ;)

    There’s a whole other side to it depending on how much of the primary blue and yellow (which form teh green in the true sense) hues are in an object that could be green, and how he sees it.

    That’s my 2cents. Open for shredding, analysis, and correction of course. (My memory’s a bit rusty from a long time)

    g: And thank you for those, they’re a lot more than 2 if you ask me :)

    Phew! Almost as close to writing a post and as long as yours. Next time I ask you to write a post, please stick to something that I can just *chuckle* , *lol* or play hookie? :-)

    g: Don’t worry about the length, I’m happy about the discussion. I honestly thought this was an *lol* too – that’s how they treated it all this long :-| But on another note, next time you ask me to write, be ready to take the rant ;)

  34. I see someone as quirky as me here. As a child I used to come up with weird logics all the time. Someone who read ’15 Park Avenue’s’ review on my blog thought too that I am seeing things :D

    I asked the same question that how do you know that you are sane and the schizo is not. His parallel universe could very well be real too. How do we differentiate?

    Now on colors. I forgot most of Physics still what I remember is we see a color as light reflects on it. So it varies depending on the surface.

    Oh my God, ditto on the schizo logic, I’m going to send this comment to a friend in an email!! :-D Yes it does vary depending on the surface, but the argument is about what’s perceived in individual brains, not what waves/rays are reflected on the surface. I think I’m going to have to share that blueberry pie – but you get just one piece :P -g

  35. Hey this is the same problem as going to a Silk Saree shop and look at it from the yellow light and then from the natural daylight. There is so much difference even though you may call it almost the same color. I mean different shades of Red or blue or green. It is how the light is reflected from the surface and perceived by you.

    Yes, similar. The only thing is both people will agree on color A in yellow light, and color B in natural light. My question is will they see the same thing for just color A in the same light? Totally agree on the difference in shades though…I dread buying Sarees after dusk! -g

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s