Does colour exist?

A rad wolf

When we open our eyes, most of us experience a vividly colourful world. But are colours really out there in the world? Some researchers think they are. Others think colours only exist in our minds. Other researchers still, perhaps surprisingly, think that there are no colours at all, anywhere. 

The Perception Census is one of the largest scientific studies on perception ever undertaken – exploring how our experiences of the world differ for each of us.  It’s broken down into sections, and we’re going to delve into each of them in this series of blog posts. Previously, we looked at the building blocks that form our perception of the world, in a deep dive into the section ‘Digging Deeper’.

The section in The Perception Census on ‘Colour’ uses a series of experiments to explore how you experience colours, and how colours make you feel. You’ll be helping scientists understand why colours are sometimes associated with particular emotions, and how the perceived colour of an object depends on the context in which it is seen.

Colour is one of the most distinctive aspects of how humans experience the world. 

For most of us, the light-sensitive cells in our eyes respond to just three ranges of wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. And yet from these three signals, the brain allows us to experience a whole universe of colour.

Whether we experience colour or not, we may all have the same language for different things. ​​The experience of blue that you have when gazing at a clear sky may be subtly different from the experience of blue that someone else has. Perhaps what you call ‘blue’ in the sky, I call ‘yellow’, and vice versa.

Might one person experience a whole different set of colours compared to what another experiences?

Beyond that, different colours are associated with different emotions and experiences for many people. How can a colour that you call your ‘favourite colour’ incite panic or fear in someone else? There are likely many reasons, including cultural differences. 

And it’s this fascinating array of questions relating to colour that the ‘Colour’ section of The Perception Census looks to dig deeper into. 

Take part now.

More about The Perception Census:

Learn about the potential of your mind in fun bite-size chunks – a series of games, illusions, brain teasers and mental challenges that investigate different aspects of how you experience the world, teaching you about your powers of perception as you go.

The findings will help scientists and philosophers understand the unique ways in which we each experience the world around us – and the more people who participate, the more useful the research will become. 


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