What If My Red Is Your Green?

"What If My Red Is Your Green?" is a question I ask myself for many years now. As a photographer this question/issue was always on my mind: I work so hard to get (what I see as) the perfect colors, and what I see as beautiful, but I have no way to know if the colors I see are the same colors you see. We all agree that red is red, and green is green. We all know that a lemon is yellow and a strawberry is red. But is it possible that you see yellow the way I see blue? Michael from VSauce did his best to answer the question.

Check out this video from VSauce explaining the issue, why it's hard to prove, and just in general explains how we see colors.

[Via Gizmodo]

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I have wondered this FOR YEARS!!!!!!!

Me too!

I agree. But the subject in my mind when I talk about this is "carrot" :D

wayne myers's picture

lol, i have had those thoughts for years also, i have had a hard time explaining it.

Wait, let me go get my bong. I'll watch the video again and have this figured out in no time........

 just smoked a spliff...no change...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

I was asking that question when I was around 8-10 but no one could understand what was I asking about...  
Color and perception is a very interesting subject. How our brain is adjusting White Balance, and how each eye can see different WB. Cool experiment: close one eye for a minute. After a minute compare how you see with left eye to the right one.

Hi Roman,

In my opinion, this topic goes straight to the heart of what it is to be a photographer, but most of the best information about it comes from outside of photography. If you're interested in going further into this topic, I'd highly recommend a few different books on the subject of the philosophy of color:

One of the classics is called "Color for Philosophers" by CL Hardin. The most up-to-date collection of essays that I'm aware of is edited by Jonathan Cohen and it's called "Color Ontology and Color Science." I also really like a book called "Colour Vision" by Evan Thompson. Those are some of my personal picks but other folks might certainly have different recommendations.

Is it bad if I want to do the test to my 3 year old?

Zack Williamson's picture

nope, it's science!

malia's picture

How funny... I've wondered this for years and whenever I ask someone else about it they look at me as though I'm crazy.  You have no idea how good it feels to know I'm not the only one!

i feel like i was just sitting in 8th grade science class, watching a video while the teacher is sleeping off last night's hangover. 

besides that, awesome! i loved his explanation and the teaching of a new word to my vocab, Qualia. Yes i said vocab. for the old school feel. remember vocab? lol.

I've definitely wondered this for years as well! I fully recognize that we could (most probably) never know what one thing looks like to me versus to you, but still a very thought provoking question that gets the mind thinking

I have also wondered this for many, many years.

Mark Dub's picture

just check the crayon box :)

OMG.  Can we make a group for people who think this but others think you're crazy?!  This is amazing.  I'm not alone.

Yes! They call us cognitive scientists (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_science). In particular, visual perception scientists (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_perception).

Ken Kotch's picture

As a colorblind photographer I am often asked what I see for green. I respond with, "What do you see wen you look at green? But don't compare it to anything else or use any color words."
Still impossible.

I second that as a color blind artist. I have often responded to questions like, "what does green look like to you?" with a similar response.
at times I have wondered if my classification as *color blind* is somehow a form of elitism. supposedly I see colors differently than most people, but who can know for sure?

Larry Clay's picture

I am also a colorblind photographer and have had this same experience. My answer to the person asking is that it is not about what green looks like but that in certain circumstances certain shades of green can't be distinguished from certain shades of red. The person then asks: but what does green look like?
My answer above is accurate for me and the other persons question shows that he has no idea what I am talking about.I find the whole question posed by this article to be not only unknowable but not even worth asking. Who cares what red looks like to someone else as long as we both agree that the strawberry is red.

"A rose is a rose is a rose" [Gertrud Stein]
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet [William Shakespeare]

The point is, we see the color that we see as we see it, and we give it a name. But the name is not the color! It's just the name. If we would not give it a name or we would give it a different name, we would still see the same color.