The Culture of Colors By Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Dang Minh Duc Huynh, Thomas Vincent, Navi Chawla

Navi Chawla

January 30- February 9 2017

WOK Badge: Sense Perception

The Culture of Colors

* 1/30/1: We discovered an extremely interesting tidbit of information about colors within the ancient world. In Homer’s Illiad they did not describe the colors that we see in the same terms that we use. In this sense they do see colors the same way that we do. This also applies to other languages as they denote some words as masculine or feminine

* 2/1/17: Part 1: For our project we’ve decided to tackle color perception and how it relates to the reliability of our senses. A tribe could not distinguish between different shades of blue due to their language, similarly, we cannot differentiate between Greens because of our language. We hope to indicate this using our project. Part 2: This is an interesting dilemma. Does this mean there are no colors? How do we know? Our language influences us in a way that cannot be reversed. Is there a way to truly test this? I hope we can answer these questions with our presentation and earn a cool perception badge.

* 2/3/17: We want to have started our powerpoint for our project and have at least 45% of it done. This way, we can then keep working over the weekend and we’ll have more time to develop ideas. I also want to find more in depth research and see if anyone else has carried out studies that have produced similar results.

* 2/3/17: What did we learn today? We learnt about the cultural impact on sense perception. We also found a very interesting Calvin and Hobbes cartoon which demonstrates our ideas perfectly. In order to finish we need to create a google doc, in order to bring people into the topic, and finish our explanation. We also need to find a concise way to explain this rather complex topic, and we’re going to work on that this weekend.

* 2/7/17: I’d like to teach the class about our project to an extent that they understand well enough to be able to explain it to someone else. I find the topic very interesting and hope that we present it in a way that other people find interesting. I learnt a variety of things. The first is the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, which I think can be seen in the masterpiece movie 12 angry men.

* 2/9/17: Our experiment validated our hypothesis that color is affected by culture. Only three people out of twelve guessed the correct shade of green that was different from the others. We could have tested out more colors other than green, in order to further validate our research. This would have provided proof that culture does, in fact, influence our ability to differentiate between colors. We could have used blues, as the Russians have different words meaning different blues.

The results of our experiment:

Elective Readings: Radiolab-"Why isn't the sky blue?", Isaac Lindskey- "How Can Going Blind Give you Vision?", "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard.

Elective Reading Journal: "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" by Annie Dillard: The main theme of "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" is how perception of the world can be different from person to person. Dillard constantly notices different and more detailed things that would be seemingly unimportant to a regular person throughout the novel. This is similar to our project. Some people who have different cultures are unable to see what we are able to see, and we are unable to see what some people in different cultures are able to see. While Dillard is not from a different culture from us, she still sees and notices things differently as she observes smaller details than most people.

Extension Reading: Business Insider- "No one could describe the color 'blue' until modern times"

Extension Reading Journal: This article is very interesting and was integral to our research and experiment. Homer, the famous greek poet, never actually described the sea as blue. He instead used words like "Wine-dark" instead of what our society would use like 'Deep-Blue" or "Green". William Gladstone actually documented the use of different words within Homer's "Odyssey" and noticed that blue was not mentioned once. Other researchers noticed the same thing within ancient texts, that Blue was rarely used, if it even was used at all. The only text it was found in was in Egyptian texts, and they had discovered a blue dye. Does this mean the other colors were unable to see blue? Or did they see blue differently? The article then goes onto describe the Himba tribe who live in Namibia. Their language does not have a word for blue and cannot distinguish between blue and green. Scientists then gave the Himba tribe some tests. They showed them different tile of green and one obvious tile of blue and then asked them to point out the blue tile. The Himba could not do it fast and it took them a long time. The scientists then gave them a similar test, but instead of the blue tile, a different, but subtle, shade of green was included. The Himba had no trouble with this experiment and distinguished the green almost instantaneously. This demonstrates the effect of the Himba culture on their ability to see colors and raises even more questions. Do they see blue as green? can they see blue? What do they see instead? The most interesting part about these readings is that they raise more questions than the answer. The experiment the scientists conducted on the Himba is also the one that we conducted on our fellow classmates.

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Patrick Smith
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