Monday, August 26, 2013

Do You See What I See?

I've always had this notion: what if people actually see different colors? What if what I perceive as red is in fact perceived as blue by someone else? And what if although we perceive them differently, since in language they have the same word, we never notice and think they are the same color? Or how can you be sure that what you perceive as red is the same kind of red someone else sees?

Think about it that way: We know that language is arbitrary right? Which means there is no connection between the sound and the actual object it represents (in this case the color). For example, there is no connection between the word "table" which is a combination of sounds (or if you know linguistics a little, phonemes) and the actual object "table" which we have dinner on. It could have been called anything else.

This fact (or theory) aside, we know that we don't see color with our eyes, it's processed and "seen" with our brain. In fact, we can even dare to say there is no such thing as color, there is light. And light can take on any color in our mind.

Moreover, we know that language shapes our thoughts and how we perceive the world. There are some languages that don't use directions or even don't have the concept of time, hence, people speaking those languages perceive world differently than us.

Now then, these three things combined, why can't languages shape color differently, if they have different vocabulary for color? 

When I told my friends about these things, I always had the same answer: "Dirim, you are retarded." But according to a documentary, "BBC Horizon - Do You See What I See?", people in fact see color differently. (HA! Take that, haters.)

There is a tribe in Northern Namibia called Himba and they have a different vocabulary for color than we do. They categorize and describe color differently. The most interesting part is that how this effects the way they perceive color: They have different words for different types of green, the types of green which is even hard for us to differentiate than the original green. But, since they have different words for them, it is much easier for them to spot the difference. However, they have the same word for blue and green. And while we can distinguish blue and green rather easily, they have a hard time doing that. In other words, they actually perceive colors differently than we do.

And how cool is that? 

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