Is color there if light isn't

humans see color only when light is around, and even video cameras see in black and white in the dark. so that leads to the question, is color there before light gets to it? or does the light bring the color?

I think that color is in the mind of the beholder. Light consists of various wavelengths (for purposes of this discussion). Physical objects either reflect or absorb the various wavelengths in differing ways.

Our eyes contain receptors that respond to various wavelengths and intensities in different ways. So the color is generated by the brain’s response to the various stimuli coming into it.

colour is simply a component of light, whether it is by specific wavelength generation, refraction or reflection.

Light brings the color. If you shined a light that had no red wavelength at an object that looks red in white light (which has all the wavelengths) it would look black. All the wavelengths in the light would be absorbed.

how could it be explained about ink on paper, or anything on a flat surfuce for that matter, to be different colors…then wouldn’t that meen that what ever it is that has color, already has the componants of its color without the light

You’re on the right track here, sort of. Nothing has color in the absence of light, but objects do have the ability to reflect certain wavelengths and absorb others, and this ability doesn’t change in the absence of light.

I’ll use an example to clarify betenoir’s explanation: right now, I’m sitting in a red chair. What this means is that this chair reflects red light and absorbs other light. White light, to which we are accustomed, contains light of all wavelengths, so when white light is shined on this chair, red light is reflected, the other wavelengths are absorbed, and I see a red chair. If, say, blue light were shined at this chair, I would see only black, because there would be no red light to reflect. This does not mean that the chair has lost its ability to reflect red light; it just means that where there is no red light, this ability is not being applied, as it were. It seems like this ability to reflect light of certain wavelengths and absorb others is what you’re referring to as “components of its color,” I think.

Someone with more knowledge of physics can probably provide a more enlightening explanation, but I hope this is some help.


See erl’s old thread The Problem with Universals for a similar discussion.

Color is only in our perception. The objective reality is that an object has specific reflective, refractive, and light absorbtive characteristics. These characteristics exist, we presume, whether we are observing them or not, whether full spectrum white light is present or not. Color is the perception in our minds that results from the wavelengths’ interactions with our sensory apparatus. It only exists when there is both light and an observer to percieve it.

This sounds like the visual equivalent of a tree falling in the woods.

Huh? I couldn’t hear what you are seeing.:smiley:

As light intensity declines, the cone receptors in your retina, that detect colors, stop functioning before the rod receptors. So in deep twilight you can only see in shades of gray unless looking at something that is illuminated. This is something that is often wrong in movies especially old ones. They film a night scene during broad daylight then try to make it look like night. I don’t know if they use dark filters, deliberate underdeveloping or tinting, but viewers can still see the green of the grass and so on. It looks fake to most viewers because at some level, maybe not consciously, they’ve noticed that they can’t really see colors at night.

Kinda off topic here, but my dad used to say “If a man speaks in the middle of the woods with no one around to hear him, is he still wrong?”

It is exactly that, Bryan. (As I would have mentioned had I popped in earlier in the thread.) It comes down to what you mean by ‘color’-is it the physical property which causes a ‘color’ experience, or is it the experience itself? If it’s the physical property (eg. the reflectance vs. light wavelength graph for a surface), then the answer is “Yes.” If not, then “No.” (Then, in the former case, you can get into the deep philosophical problems of epistemology. If you answer the latter, then you’re entitled to be a Humean empiricist, and you don’t have to argue about it any more but everyone laughs at you behind your back. :slight_smile: )

That said, there may be a consistency problem between our intuitions about this and about sound. We generally agree that things make sounds without hearers, but not in a vacuum (when there is no air to carry the vibrations to a hypothetical waiting ear). By analogy, then, nothing should have color in the dark … So, off to GD with you!

I don’t think its like this it all. Color is to light what pitch is to sound. A tree falling in a vacuum would not make a sound. Without light, there can be no color. Period.

I call and raise, Hail Ants. I have a yellow rubber ball I use for juggling. Under red light (in a photography darkroom, say), it appears orange. Does that mean it’s an orange ball under those conditions, or would one generally say that it’s a yellow ball that looks orange because of odd lighting?

“Color” can refer to two different things:

  1. Wavelength distribution (spectrum) of light
  2. Reflective property (reflectivity vs. wavelength curve) of surfaces

These correspond to two different rules about mixing color, one that applies to light and the other to paint. If you mix red, green and blue light you get white. If you mix red, green and blue paint you get black.

So color in the sense of definition 1 cannot exist without light. Color in the second sense can exist without light.

Nachts sind alle Katzen grau.

“At night, all cats are gray.”

No, it doesn’t really add anything to what’s already been said, but it’s one of my favorite German aphorisms.

No, UNLESS the object has its own light, like a lightning bug.

In terms of color, whether an object is radiating or only reflecting light has no meaning. The color is a property of the light, not the object. The object’s properties obviously influence what color of light is radiated or reflected, but it is still the light that is being ‘seen’. That is, it is the photons which are being perceived by your eye, not any actual particulate matter. No photons, no color.

It is purely an emotional argument to try an say what color an object truely ‘posesses’ in the absence of any light.

I continue to disagree with the premise that color isn’t there if there is no light. The perception of color maps to a property of an object; that object’s property doesn’t change when there is no light.

So, what causes color in the object remains. If you want to consider that this isn’t “really” color, well, so be it.

In white light a white sheet of paper appears white. If you view it illuminated by a red light, it appears red because, in that situation, it is red. It’s the same piece of paper in both cases. The color is different because it’s the light that has changed, not the object.

Color is a property of light. It does not exist in any other context.