Long, long ago I came up with a theory on color. I know it was at least 36 years ago, because that was when I tried to explain it to the Treasury Department agents who came to see me at my then place of employment, to interrogate me about… well, that’s a story for another time.
(It’s almost reassuring to know that somewhere in my permanent record there’s proof of this, and someone with the right security clearance might be able to find it. It’s another sort of immortality.)
Now, about color:
Color doesn’t really exist as you’re used to thinking of it. Yes, there are wavelengths that can be seen, but the wavelength comes into our eye, is plastered on the retina, transmitted through the optic nerve, and into our brain (I know that’s not the whole exact way it happens, but give me some slack here.) Our brain takes those wavelengths and translates them into what we think of as color. If I look at a green barn, it will appear green to me unless something happens to change the frequency (years of weathering, or a new paint job, or different lighting, or tinted lenses.)
All in all, green is still green. If you and I both look at the same green barn and we’re asked what color it is, we’ll say “Green!” (and depending on how we were in school, we might raise our hands and squirm in our seats shouting “Me! Me! Me!”, but that’s another matter.) We perceive the wavelengths, and because they translate to what we’ve called green all our lives, the barn is green.
Now to my theory on color:
What if something happened to make it possible for you to see things from inside my body.
“How?” you ask? It doesn’t really matter how, but maybe mind transference, or possession, a Vulcan Mind Meld, or implants like the AugMonitor™, or some odd out of body experience (I’m sure some of us have experienced at least one of these, right?) – the point is, your “mind” or “soul”, or whatever it is that makes you YOU would be hooked up to a different set of interpreters – a different eye and optical nerve and brain – than what you have been using all your life.
What would the world look like? Would that green barn still look green to you, or would it seem more like what you’ve always thought of as orange? It isn’t just the wavelength that determines the color – it’s how you perceive it.
Maybe this is why people have different favorite colors – maybe there’s a universal perceived color that looks the same when we do the Vulcan Mind Meld.
(If this was all too bizarre for you to make sense of, you’re in good company – the guys from Treasury didn’t know what to make of it, either.)
We spend our lives seeing things a certain way, and a lot of times don’t consider what goes into that perception. Years of observation. The experiences of a lifetime spent in different places, working different kinds of jobs. Sometimes, it includes having things drummed into you that may not even be true.
Each of us brings a unique set of modifications to our perception of the world. So, the next time someone says something that doesn’t quite jive with what you think you see – do have a conversation, but first, take some time to wonder what’s going on inside their head, and let them know what’s going on inside yours. If both of you can do this, maybe you can get past the differences in perception to the firm reality of the situation.
William Mangieri’s writing can be found in many places, including:
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