By Katie Marshall

Vision only makes up about 30% of our brain’s construction of perception. What this means is that when we see something, we register it, frame it within our mental understanding, compare it to our personal experiences, and trust in the image we create.

That 30% is not only small, though. It’s also often wrong.  Science tells us that the cones in our eyes serve as color channel sensors that process blue, red and green. A sophisticated cell network in the brain then analyzes the cones and signals from our brain to produce the impression of color.

This is to say that color is not real. Color is a tool that our brains use to construct meaning of the world that we see.

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience at University College London. He was called upon as an expert in Dressgate 2015: Is it Blue & Black or White & Gold. Essentially, his point was that the dress was neither, because color doesn’t exist.

“A color only exists in your head,” says Professor Lotto. “There’s such a thing as light. There’s such a thing as energy. There’s no such thing as color.”

Color is perception. How we actually see an object has everything to do with how it is illuminated.

To illuminate something is to make something lucid or clear, either by decorating with lights or enlightening someone with knowledge.

Remember the optical illusions on the back of your cereal boxes? Remember the monsters in your room at night that turned out to be shadows? Remember the best friends who left you with a poor first impression but are now your future bridesmaids? Remember the stereotypes you had of others who looked differently from you until you met them, talked with them, learned about them, and cherished them?

These are your frameworks. These are your experiences.

You believe in what you see, but you don’t realize that you see what you believe.

When ancient Romans discovered Silk, they went crazy over it (that’s a technical anthropological analysis, by the way). They wanted as much of it as possible. Silk was mysterious, illusive, beautiful, and desired. When the Romans traced its origin to China, they traveled for miles to purchase as much of it as possible. However, when they arrived, the Chinese silk masters would allow the Romans to see the silk, but no silk realer was allowed to tell the white Romans how it was made. For a while, the Romans thought silk grew on trees. The Chinese let them think that. Even though their brains didn’t actually see the colors of the silk – not the bright teals or soft pinks – the Romans could think of nothing but how much they had to have it. And even though they had not met in battle yet, the Chinese and Romans distrusted each other based on what they saw, even though the colors of their skin didn’t actually exist.

We trust what we see, even though what we see isn’t always the only thing there.

Even if what we see isn’t even real.

Image: Krzysztof Puszczyński

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