Was the sky blue back then, too?

The funniest was in ninth grade physical science. We had an experiment where we burned substances and identified them by the color of the flame. Both my lab partner and I were color blind. We did okay on most, but there was one substance that I could not see any color on - it was a “clear” flame. I’m serious - there was a thermal distortion, but I could barely tell the flame was there at all. I think we asked our neighbors on that one.

It was my understanding that the terms Homer used a lot, “wine-dark sea”, “rosy-fingered Dawn”, etc., were fixed. You always called the sea wine-dark, it was a formula used by all storytellers at the time, and expected by the listeners.

However, I have no idea where I got this understanding. :slight_smile:

maybe the wine in ancient Greece was blue?

I had a friend who, up until recent surgery, was color blind due to a growth problem. He learned to distinguish colors by shades. So for instance where he would have seen dark green and light green lines, while we were seeing yellow and green lines (thank you Irishman for the example), he would have learned that the light green line was actually yellow. Therefore, although he actually saw light green he would have called it yellow. This seems to fit with the assumption that what we see and what we call a color are two different things. Hence the names of colors are a rule we learn as opposed to a natural phenomenon we observe. (I hope that last line made sense, I just can’t tell if what I was thinking came out in words okay.)

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” --Whitman

SINsApple -

This is way off topic, and no insult is intended, but…

Your user name seems to confer the impression that one of your favorite comebacks might be “Bite Me.” Is that intentional?

No, but thanks for the suggestion. I will have to remember that next time I go to the BBQ Pits to release aggression and laugh at all the little people.

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” --Whitman

Yes, you are making sense, I was trying to present the same thought back on 12/23 in my post. The color names are arbitrary, it does not mean that we are all seeing (experiencing) the same thing.

It doesn’t matter what we call them, my “blue(s)” may not be the same as your “blue(s)”.

Does anybody else understand?


Why would you? It’s perfectly true that “royal purple” was actually a dark red. Remnants of this usage are also found in botany and zoology; e.g., Digitalis purpurea, purple finches, which feature red. In botany, too, the color we think of as purple is more often referred to as blue.

Everyone knows there are only 3 colors - red, green, and blue in various shades. :slight_smile:
and yeah, black is just the absence, and white is just the combination.

Hm. Time to start renaming.
Yellow? What’s that? Surely you mean red-green?

Purple? red-blue.

Aqua-marine? blue-green.

Hm. Next step in my plan. Deprecate names and refer to them by hex values. FF0000, 00FF00, 0000FF, FFFF00, FF00FF, 00FFFF

“That’s a lovely shade of FF0000 you’re wearing! I’d say it’s an FF0060, but not overpoweringly FF00FF.”

Were you just kidding or did you know that shopping websites will soon be using Pantone™ color codes to describe their products? One site will send you a color chart; another will allow you to download calibration software for your monitor.

I’m not really convinced that spectral divisions are arbitrary. That’s true in physics, but not necessarily in biology. The photsensitive pigment in a cone is bound in a protein; all the components are genetically determined so they will be the same in all the cones in a given person. The “red” cones respond to light in a certain range of frequencies, but there will be a single maximum more-or-less in the middle of this range. For that person, this precise frequency will be the most natural and intense red. (Granted, the word red is arbitrary, but the frequency that some word must be applied to is not.) Similarly, a given person will have their natural “green” and natural “blue” frequency, depending on the sensitivity profile of those cones. The spectrum does have certain natural divisions in it, based on how we experience the colors.

IIRC, the protein tunes the photopigment to the frequency appropriate to that cone. It is possible that small genetic differences from person to person cause us to experience the most intense “red”, for instance, at different frequencies. I’m not talking about color blindness, here. These differences would not necessarily mean that one person could not distinguish all the different shades that the other person could, it only means that they would actually be seeing them slightly differently.

I suppose these differences could differ among different population groups, which would be interesting.

None of that should be taken to imply in any way, though, that color vision could have evolved into existence in the last 10,000 years.

First of all, let me correct a couple of misconceptions that have been carried through from my earlier post.

I did not mean to imply that color vision evolved in the last 10,000 years. I was merely pointing out that color deficient vision may have been the rule versus the exception for ancient man. Through the wonder of genetics, color deficient vision is now only a remnant population.

In addition, I did not say that the spectral divisions were arbitrary. I said the naming of the colors was arbitrary (particularly for people with color deficient vision).

My thought is that once the human genome is completely mapped, it may be possible to delineate the genes for color vision/perception, and correlate the results back to different populations color terminology.

I urge everyone to follow the links in my earlier post.

Several years ago, there was a report that someone had found that some people have a slightly different blue pigment than the majority. It was a fairly significant minority, about 10-20%, IIRC. This variant pigment responded slightly differently to light, although not enough to make a practical difference to vision.

Dan Tilque

A) On “wine-dark”: The ancient Greeks presumably, like the rest of us, saw aspects of a thing’s visual appearance besides merely tint. I see plenty of reds and indigos (“blues”; more on this later) that are of the same intensity and darkness of what might be termed parallel greens. So the sea isn’t wine-colored; it just has a parallel clarity and value (value being the color-theory word for lightness/darkness).

Everyone knows that the sky is Blue because God is a Penn State fan.

ok, I should add that the idea that the Aegean Sea was of merely parallel clarity and darkness to Greek wine of Homer’s time was just my interpretation–a guess.

all right, on to…
B) I see a lot more than 8 colors. Words like “red” and “blue” cover ranges of colors. But the more specific colors are often named after objects or substances. “Orange,” “hazel,” “bone,” “wine,” “peach,” “aqua,” “ruby,” “indigo,” and others–which have varying levels of specificity.

C) We in Anglo-American culture have developed a specific standardized system of color description (reinforced through those colorful children’s books): Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple are thought of as clearly defined, because for us they are. We were taught them. And any color can be described (pretty well) by a combination of these terms; Gray, Brown, White, Black, Pink; and words like Light, Dark, Bright, Dull, Pale, Faint, and Intense.

However, this leaves a little room for error (and besides, there’s that bugbear of variations in individual retinal cone response). That aqua color that some call green and some blue was dubbed “argument color” in my mom’s family. (actually, it’s a cyan; more on this later)

Furthermore, the terminology has evolved (of course–like the rest of our language!).

D) So, when my 80-year-old grandmother describes cats as “yellow” that I see as “orange” (actually, it is accepted to refer to tabbies of a certain tint as “marmalade,” which happens to nail it), I don’t know if it is because

  1. This is an accepted term (“yellow cat”) like “red hair”–many people call my auburn/hazel hair red, but few would call paint of that color red;
  2. If that falls under her “personal definition” of yellow, learned in rural Ohio 70 years ago;
  3. Her 80-year-old eyes see color differently than my youthful eyes.
    …or some other variation on why people call a thing the color they call it.
    (She and my grandfather also consistently refer to her car, which is–to my eyes and to my mom’s–grey on the outside with blue [indigo] interior, as “the blue car”; who knows?)

and …
E) While our culture tells us that the primary colors are <FONT COLOR="#AA0000">RED</FONT>, <FONT COLOR="#0030AA">BLUE</FONT>, and <FONT COLOR="#FFFF00">YELLOW</FONT>, and the secondary colors are <FONT COLOR="#008000">GREEN</FONT>, <FONT COLOR="#8000aa">PURPLE</FONT>, and <FONT COLOR="#FF7D00">ORANGE</FONT>, this doesn’t exactly work. When I was in junior high, I did that art-class paint-mixing color wheel (using a deep crimson red and a deep indigo blue). The greens and purples were off–too dull. I was using the wrong color of “blue.”

Physicists have pinned down the typical “additive primaries”–colors perceived when only one type (of three) of retinal cone cell responds. They have dubbed them, in line with easily recognized color terms, <FONT COLOR="#FF0000">RED</FONT>, <FONT COLOR="#0000FF">BLUE</FONT>, and <FONT COLOR="#00FF00">GREEN</FONT>.
(I find it amusing that the people who study this are physicists, though color is a largely biological phenomenon–the response of an animal cell to a range of electromagnetic radiation wavelengths, and the brain’s classification of that response.)

Printers use a “four-color process” to get the color photographically right; inks are in black and the “subtractive primaries”–each of which is supposed to fully stimulate two cone types while not firing the other. Thus, a printed page will remove a programmed amount of stimulus for each of the three cone types. (Black ink can remove the stimuli for all three.) In the presence of sufficient light, the page will “fool” the eye into seeing a full range of color. (A picture of an orange doesn’t have to reflect the same exact wavelengths as the actual orange, just a set of wavelengths that will stimulate the retina the same way.) Those three colors are <FONT COLOR="#00FFFF">CYAN</FONT>, <FONT COLOR="#FFFF00">YELLOW</FONT>, and <FONT COLOR="#FF00FF">MAGENTA</FONT>. Notice that they have been precisely named, which avoids confusion. Our culture got the red-yellow-blue triad about 200(?) years ago [someone have a reference on this?] when someone [not an English-speaker; I want to say “Goethe”…] experimented with pigments to find the primary and secondary colors. Vague and imperfect description got us to today’s point, where orange is easily recognised as a distinct color, but cyan is not.

(I could go on, but it’s late…)

Color names are not all that arbitrary. Although there are differences (Russian has two colors where we have “blue” and Welsh has three colors where we have “blue” and “green”), in general, the vast majority of languages follow a consistent pattern in naming, as detailed in the original article at http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a2_168b.html

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

I don’t think color naming is totally arbitrary; but if your society conventionally calls indigo blue, say, a shade of the same color as jet black, and your people define these two colors as shades of the same, then you’ll mentally group them together.
What gets me is this; when I use html or a computer graphics program, I get what looks like this to me:

ADDITIVE PRIMARIES (Subtractive secondaries, when printed out): Scarlet, Green, “dark blue”
SUBTRACTIVE PRIMARIES (Additive secondaries, on screen): Bright yellow, “light blue”, “purple-pink”
TERTIARIES: Orange, yellow-green, “sea green”, “dull blue”, Purple, “deep reddish pink” (prints as crimson)
strong><font color="#FF0000">red</font>

<font color="#FF8000">orange</font>

<font COLOR="#FFFF00">yellow</font>

<font color="#80FF00">yellow-green</font>

<font color="#00FF00">green</font><font color="#00FF80">sea-green</font>

<font color="#00FFFF">light blue? (cyan)</font>

<font color="#0080FF">dull blue?</font>

<font color="#0000FF">deep blue? (indigo)</font>

<font color="#8000FF">purple</font>

<font color="#FF00FF">purple-pink</font>

<font color="#FF0080">reddish pink</font> **

The red, orange, and yellow all look clearly distinct; their apparent complements all look “blue” to me. But if my terminology is to conform to reality, rather than a socially constructed myth, I have to learn to call cyan one thing and indigo another. If I take them both for shades of “blue”, when they are two hues, then my sense of primary and secondary colors is a lie. At least cyan does look different to me, now that it’s pointed out. But why was I not told as a child this is a different color? And why does orange look so clearly “orange” to me, while the “blues” seem so close?
So now, I try continually to train myself to see the difference between hues of “blue.”
If I can do it with the warm colors, right?

umm, “green” & “sea-green” are supposed to be 2 lines in my previous post. “greensea-green” sounds poetic, but not what I meant.

“One night your shoulders will ache/The next day when you wake/You’ll sprout wild wings and fly/Just like in Swan Lake”–the Church, “Swan Lake”