You Probably Did Not Know That Once Green and Blue Were the Same

Fact is we are nothing but brains absorbing the necessary information around, which is needed to survive. Did you know that something as fundamental as colors are as much a cultural phenomenon as everything else?

In this mind-boggling video, the channel Vsauce2 digs into the invention and story of the color blue. It is easy to assume we already knew or talked about blue since the beginning of time. After all, there are plenty of blue things in nature. Animals, flowers, eyes, water, and even the sky all shows the color blue from time to time. However, what if I told you the sky was once green? Throughout history and relative to the given culture the use, need and thereby the perception of color have changed drastically. In some cultures, there are even several names for what we in the west would just categorize as blue.

With a master in educational philosophy, suffering from mild deuteranopia, one of my biggest interests is human perception. How do we as humans sense and interpret the world around us. What is down to our genes and what is shaped through culture? Can you even make such a distinction?

Whether we consider our photography artistic or artisan color is a basic part of our work and something we are forced to deal with. However, when we decide to color grade our photography or video it can be perceived completely different relative to both individuals and culture.

Check out the video and let me hear your thoughts.

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48 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

I read about this recently, was very interesting. Some cultures have no words to separate some colours. I can't for the life of me think where I read it.

Michael Aubrey's picture

I don't know what you read, but the seminal study is Berlin & Kay's (1969) book Basic Color Terms.

And then also their 2011 follow up: The World Color Survey

Rob Mitchell's picture

Just remembered, it was an audio book on Audible. Free one by Stephen Fry. 'Fry's English Delight'

user-156929's picture

Haven't watched the video yet but in Japan, they refer to the green traffic light as blue. Not because they look the same but because "aka, ki, ao" (red, yellow, blue) rolls off the tongue easier than "aka, ki, midori" (red, yellow, green). :-)

Paul Ver's picture

Engaged to a Japanese girl, and have been there a few times now, can confirm "light is blue, let's go" ... this little thing kinda blew my mind, reminded of the Hendrix song, and wondered if that's where he got it (doubtful, but maybe...). Poetic even.

user-156929's picture

Even though I've been married to a Japanese woman for several years and been to Japan many times, I've never actually heard anyone say that. We typically take the train, subway or taxi.

Musing Eye's picture

Fascinating video, thank you for sharing it. It certainly also feeds well into why the graphic presentation of black / white / red is so powerful. Also reminds me of how orange used to be simply "red-brown".

Paulo Juarez's picture

"Fact is we are nothing but brains..."

I'm not seeing the relevance of this claim to the rest of the article. I'm also not being nitpicky; you're passing a fairly controversial and largely unpopular theory in the philosophy of mind as "fact." None of your comments regarding perception depend upon, or even presuppose, a materialist or physicalist theory of mind.

I understand the need to capture your reader's attention from the very first line. But from one philosopher to another, I think a bit of humility is in order if you're going to begin your piece with such a bombastic claim.

Edward Blake's picture

My instictive reaction is 'but the neocortex', quickly followed by 'the only reason we exist at all as organisms is to transfer our DNA'.

Michael Aubrey's picture

This is very much correct. We are, rather, embodied minds and our embodiment is a defining piece of cognition and experience of the world.

See George Lakoff & Mark John's /Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought./

Edward Blake's picture

In psychology and cognitive science, a schema (plural schemata or schemas) describes a pattern of thought or behavior that organizes categories of information and the relationships among them.[1] It can also be described as a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a framework representing some aspect of the world, or a system of organizing and perceiving new information.[2]Schemata influence attention and the absorption of new knowledge: people are more likely to notice things that fit into their schema, while re-interpreting contradictions to the schema as exceptions or distorting them to fit. Schemata have a tendency to remain unchanged, even in the face of contradictory information. Schemata can help in understanding the world and the rapidly changing environment.[3] People can organize new perceptions into schemata quickly as most situations do not require complex thought when using schema, since automatic thought is all that is required.[3]

People use schemata to organize current knowledge and provide a framework for future understanding. Examples of schemata include academic rubrics, social schemas, stereotypes, social roles, scripts, worldviews, and archetypes. In Piaget's theory of development, children construct a series of schemata, based on the interactions they experience, to help them understand the world.[4]

user-156929's picture

From the outside, psychology and cognitive science looks like a way for some folks to hide the same ignorance the rest of us have the humility to admit. I'm sure it looks different from the inside. ;-)

Edward Blake's picture

You mean striving to understand the most complex subject matter imaginable is hiding ignorance?

Whatever helps you sleep.

user-156929's picture

So you couldn't understand a simple sentence or figure out the winking smiley face indicates a joke but you're striving to "understand the most complex subject matter imaginable"? And if psychology and/or cognitive science addresses the most complex subject matter you can imagine, you should work on your imagination. ;-) <- See? There it is again! :-)
Finally, I sleep fine, thank you. Hard work and a clean conscience! :-)

Edward Blake's picture

Imagine that I still don't find you amusing.

user-156929's picture

I do it to amuse myself. Ridiculing the intelligentsia is fun.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Why would you ridicule someone freely sharing knowledge on a concept? He has a passion for an interesting subject and had some information he wished to give to others.

Try not to be a dick about it. It makes you look like an insecure asshole.

user-156929's picture

My original reply was intended as a mild joke about the length of his comment. Sure, it could have been taken as offensive but the winking smiley face indicated I was joking. I attempted to follow up with a mild rebuke but still in jest. After that, I told him to go fuck himself! Now, you can go fuck yourself too!

Tim Ericsson's picture

Oof: aren't you a testy little prick tonight. Wanna talk about what's really bothering you? Maybe you should see a phycologist.

user-156929's picture

Maybe you should see your high school English teacher and ask for your money back!?
I just can't stand the fact nobody can take a joke anymore.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Jokes should be funny. Putting a little winky smiley-face at the end of an ignorant and nasty rant doesn't make something funny.

Again, it makes you look like an insecure asshole.

What's wrong, honey? Everything ok?

user-156929's picture

You thought that was ignorant? I can see how it may have come out derogatory (nasty is a strong word) but I don't think it indicated knowledge or ignorance.
And I'm not your honey! Why do some homosexuals try to use "gay" talk to aggravate people? You do that at times. It's not funny. But it wouldn't be so bad if you added a winking smiley face. :-)

P.S. Please fix the spelling of "psychologist". It really bothers me. I'm a little OCD about stuff like that.

Tim Ericsson's picture

It was ignorant. You literally ignored the specifics of what Edward wrote and instead made assumptions and belittled people who study cognitive science.

Tell me more about how the way I speak as a homosexual man aggravates you. It speaks a lot about your psychological makeup.

P.S. You have OCD? Has it been diagnosed by a pshaikologyst?

user-156929's picture

I ignored it because it wasn't interesting to me due to being so obvious. A lot of times, psychologists, people who study cognitive science, et. al. package easily recognizable phenomena in lexicon and present it as some new thing. It's not. There are, however, a lot of principles in cognitive science that *are* interesting to me, precisely because they're not so obvious. I once had a debate with a fellow employee regarding marketing materials. He wanted to ask clients what they liked to see in a proposal. I said we should spend the time creating materials, proven (by people who study cognitive science) to induce the action we desired, i.e. giving us the contract. Unfortunately, he was a vice president in the company and my direct boss. ;-)

My comment regarding your use of "honey" wasn't based on your being homosexual but rather, your desire to use it in an attempt to (I think) make me feel uncomfortable. It didn't. It just annoys me when people use such tactics to gain an advantage in some way. Also, in truth, I'm a bit envious. I can't imagine (I tried) anything I could say that might have the same effect on you! :-(

Tim Ericsson's picture

You speak about humility, then state you ignored his information because it was so obvious to you?

What a delusional shitheel you’re being. Check your douchebaggery, sweet cheeks.

user-156929's picture

No. I ignored it because it would be obvious to anyone, presented in common terminology and worded more simply. If I understood it better than anyone else, it's because of my education and background which is not a reflection of any quality of mine.

I have no delusions and, yes, I noticed what you did.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Delusional people don’t know they’re delusional, genius.

And you saw what I did? How fucking observant.

Either own up to being a prick, or stop being one. None of this wishy washy coward horseshit.

user-156929's picture

So are you delusional or not? Either way, you are.

Since you didn't think his comment was obvious, I was concerned you wouldn't know I noticed your dig had I not informed you.

I never said I wasn't a prick. I try to stop but people like you won't let me. Not homosexuals; arrogant know-it-alls.

Tim Ericsson's picture

Don’t be a prick and I’ll stop calling you out on your stupid comments.

So am I a know-it-all or an idiot? Goddamn, you can’t even pick a way to demean someone.

Pathetic.

user-156929's picture

Well, this was fun but I have to go to bed. it is VERY late where I live.

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