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Investigating the Invisible Color that Ancient People Couldn’t See

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posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:19 AM
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Investigating the Invisible Color that Ancient People Couldn’t See

No one could see the colour blue until modern times

"Until relatively recently in human history, “blue” didn’t exist.

As the delightful Radiolab episode “Colours” describes, ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue — not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the colour, there’s evidence that they may not have seen it at all.
How we realised blue was missing

In the Odyssey, Homer famously describes the “wine-dark sea.” But why “wine-dark” and not deep blue or green?

In 1858, a scholar named William Gladstone, who later became the Prime Minister of Great Britain, noticed that this wasn’t the only strange colour description. Though the poet spends page after page describing the intricate details of clothing, armour, weaponry, facial features, animals, and more, his references to colour are strange. Iron and sheep are violet, honey is green.

So Gladstone decided to count the colour references in the book. And while black is mentioned almost 200 times and white around 100, other colours are rare. Red is mentioned fewer than 15 times, and yellow and green fewer than 10. Gladstone started looking at other ancient Greek texts, and noticed the same thing — there was never anything described as “blue.” The word didn’t even exist.

It seemed the Greeks lived in murky and muddy world, devoid of colour, mostly black and white and metallic, with occasional flashes of red or yellow.'

"Gladstone thought this was perhaps something unique to the Greeks, but a philologist named Lazarus Geiger followed up on his work and noticed this was true across cultures.

He studied Icelandic sagas, the Koran, ancient Chinese stories, and an ancient Hebrew version of the Bible. Of Hindu Vedic hymns, he wrote: “These hymns, of more than ten thousand lines, are brimming with descriptions of the heavens. Scarcely any subject is evoked more frequently. The sun and reddening dawn’s play of colour, day and night, cloud and lightning, the air and ether, all these are unfolded before us, again and again… but there is one thing no one would ever learn from these ancient songs… and that is that the sky is blue.”

There was no blue.'

"Geiger looked to see when “blue” started to appear in languages and found an odd pattern all over the world.

Every language first had a word for black and for white, or dark and light. The next word for a colour to come into existence — in every language studied around the world — was red, the colour of blood and wine.

After red, historically, yellow appears, and later, green (though in a couple of languages, yellow and green switch places). The last of these colours to appear in every language is blue.

The only ancient culture to develop a word for blue was the Egyptians — and as it happens, they were also the only culture that had a way to produce a blue dye."

"Was blue invisible to the ancients?

Not having words for blue, scientists had to consider that maybe ancient people didn’t see the color, thus not having descriptors for it. Were ancient people’s eyes different from ours? Why didn’t people see blue? It is not known exactly what was going through Homer's mind when he described the “wine-dark” sea, but ancient people definitely had the same optical biology and capability to see blue that we do today. But do we really ‘not see’ things if we don't have words for them? The answer is no. Because there was no ‘blue’ as a category of color in the way that we define it, the color wasn't distinguished from green."

"So before we had a word for it, did people not naturally see blue?

This part gets a little complicated, because we don’t exactly what was going through Homer’s brain when he described the wine-dark sea and the violet sheep — but we do know that ancient Greeks and others in the ancient world had the same biology and therefore, same capability to see colour that we do.

But do you really see something if you don’t have a word for it?

A researcher named Jules Davidoff traveled to Namibia to investigate this, where he conducted an experiment with the Himba tribe, who speak a language that has no word for blue or distinction between blue and green.
Blue squaresVidipedia/Himba colour experiment
Namibian tribe member participates in a research project.

When shown a circle with 11 green squares and one blue, they couldn’t pick out which one was different from the others — or those who could see a difference took much longer and made more mistakes than would make sense to us, who can clearly spot the blue square."



"But the Himba have more words for types of green than we do in English.
When looking at a circle of green squares with only one slightly different shade, they could immediately spot the different one. Can you?"


"For most of us, that’s harder.

This was the unique square:"



"Davidoff says that without a word for a colour, without a way of identifying it as different, it’s much harder for us to notice what’s unique about it — even though our eyes are physically seeing the blocks it in the same way.

So before blue became a common concept, maybe humans saw it. But it seems they didn’t know they were seeing it.

If you see something yet can’t see it, does it exist? Did colours come into existence over time? Not technically, but our ability to notice them may have…"




edit on 20-9-2018 by toms54 because: change code




posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:30 AM
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Huh... That's interesting.

Not quite sure what to make of that yet.

Sounds crazy, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they looked into it thoroughly.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:35 AM
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While I do find this interesting, I almost think, this is an example of people who are to smart for there own good

It's like saying, white, off-white, and egg shell are all different colors, or they just all could be white.

If they are saying that a mutation happened in the eye to let us see blue, that's really cool science

My question is, What does the art show. can you see blue in the art, can you see blue and green separated in the the art


+2 more 
posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:35 AM
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a reply to: toms54
So...what? What color did they see the sky as?



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:36 AM
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Fascinating. Many insects can see infrared or ultraviolet light. I wonder if perhaps human can perceive these wavelengths in some way, but we don't realize it because we've never developed the words to describe those "colors".


+12 more 
posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:39 AM
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a reply to: toms54

my people, the muscogee creek, have the word " lane" for both green and yellow, oklane for light blue, holatte for blue, and okholatte for purple. We dont make a distinction between green and yellow.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:39 AM
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a reply to: toms54

great thread! wow, really interesting, something I never even considered before.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:44 AM
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This is simply to do with language and was a question once on the UK programme QI with Stephen Fry. The Greeks only had words for light and dark if I remember correctly.

Here is a linky which explains it better than my memory.

books.google.co.uk... gip8zM7AjNOkdyCA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjD_c7vgMrdAhUDKewKHebhBbwQ6AEwF3oECAAQAQ#v=onepage&q=qi%20why%20the%20greeks%20had%20no%20word%20for%20blue&f=f alse

old.qi.com...

Hope that helps.



+4 more 
posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:46 AM
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This is interesting in many ways. I think of the story of going to the moon and how they miraculously passed through the Van Allen belt without knowing about it at the time and not preparing for it, yet it now somehow poses an insurmountable challenge to go back to the moon and the reason NASA has given for being able to pass through it before was because "we didn't know about it then, so it wasn't an issue". Well that is a head scratcher, and that can be related to the saying "what you don't know can't hurt you".

So this could be a similar case, where people didn't know there was a color blue, so they didn't know to look for it.

I do remember that in early times (Phoenicians and early days of Israel) that purple was supposedly a very popular and luxurious color and is why it is still associated with royalty. I think it was harvested from some sea creature... Purple is a combination of blue and red. Red has the longest wave length and violet the shortest and blue is just a little longer than violet.

Violet 380–450 nm
Blue 450–495 nm
Green 495–570 nm
Yellow 570–590 nm
Orange 590–620 nm
Red 620–750 nm

I'm wondering if people have come to develop the lower wave length and that is why that color became associated with royalty maybe because they were the more evolved?

If things are going in the same direction then people will start to see things more in the "ultraviolet" band (UVA, UVB, UVC), which may be why some people are saying that the sun is so much brighter than it used to be. Many people have said that it seems many times brighter/whiter than it did years before (for me around 2007-8), could this be an evolutionary event happening today as well?



en.wikipedia.org...



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:46 AM
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I could see the different green square. Could anyone else?



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:46 AM
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originally posted by: Skid Mark
a reply to: toms54
So...what? What color did they see the sky as?


In the Business Insider article, he addresses this, "In fact, one researcher that Radiolab spoke with — Guy Deutscher, author of “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” tried a casual experiment with that. In theory, one of children’s first questions is “why is the sky blue?” So he raised his daughter while being careful to never describe the colour of the sky to her, and then one day asked her what colour she saw when she looked up.

Alma, Deutscher’s daughter, had no idea. The sky was colorless. Eventually, she decided it was white, and later on, eventually blue. But it wasn’t the first thing she saw or gravitated towards, though it is where she settled in the end."



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:47 AM
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a reply to: toms54

More a curious phenomena of the actual evidence being invisible to some.



Some of the color words preserved in the earliest Semitic languages (e.g., uqnu, “lapis lazuli” or “dark blue”) are loanwords for materials from other unknown older languages. Other terms – later shared in different languages – were possibly words (but certainly not the corresponding category “abstractions”) corresponding to “red” and “green” which may have existed in the early Neolithic of the Near East, perhaps 10,000–12,000 years ago, prior to the documentation of language [10]. In Akkadian (uqnu) and Egyptian (xsbdj), terms for lapis lazuli designated “dark blue.” In Greek, a term (kyaneos) for blue appearances is derived from the Akkadian. In Egyptian, turquoise (mfkāt) denoted “light blue.” Akkadian used several terms for “light blue” (including ḫasˇmanum, possibly from the Egyptian word for amethyst, ḥsmn, which was not used as a color word in Egyptian). Chinese lán is a term for “blue” colors but appears quite late (in comparison to, e.g., “red,” “white,” “black,” “yellow”). As a category, the modern English term “blue” evolved to ultimately eclipse the distinction (still preserved in Russian) between light and dark blue. Through the second millennium BC, color terms are mostly rooted in materials – most of which were later eclipsed with abstract words.


Ancient terms for colour


edit on 20-9-2018 by Madrusa because: (no reason given)



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:48 AM
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a reply to: toms54

I remember wondering as a child if it was possible to 'invent' a new color, and thinking that it would trip the mind out.

I also remember seeing luminous colors for the first time and thinking it must have been mindblowing for the person who invented them, lol

(...this was a child who used to really look forward to Spring season each year, as I was convinced that it meant giant springs were going to be hanging from the sky, they never came :-/ )

Interesting and thought-provoking thread, s+f!




posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:49 AM
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originally posted by: SocratesJohnson
While I do find this interesting, I almost think, this is an example of people who are to smart for there own good

It's like saying, white, off-white, and egg shell are all different colors, or they just all could be white.

If they are saying that a mutation happened in the eye to let us see blue, that's really cool science

My question is, What does the art show. can you see blue in the art, can you see blue and green separated in the the art



I, myself, am colorblind. Although I can see blue, some others colors look the same to even though other people can tell them apart. Maybe this is like that.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:52 AM
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I also think there are not too many things in the natural world that are brilliant blue, like royal blue, navy blue. The sea is often greenish and even green/black, brown/green.

From what I remember one of the first ways to make blue was with the discovery of cobalt or possibly a copper salt (copper acetate or sulphate)



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:55 AM
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originally posted by: DigginFoTroof

I do remember that in early times (Phoenicians and early days of Israel) that purple was supposedly a very popular and luxurious color and is why it is still associated with royalty. I think it was harvested from some sea creature... Purple is a combination of blue and red. Red has the longest wave length and violet the shortest and blue is just a little longer than violet.

Violet 380–450 nm
Blue 450–495 nm
Green 495–570 nm
Yellow 570–590 nm
Orange 590–620 nm
Red 620–750 nm

I'm wondering if people have come to develop the lower wave length and that is why that color became associated with royalty maybe because they were the more evolved?

If things are going in the same direction then people will start to see things more in the "ultraviolet" band (UVA, UVB, UVC), which may be why some people are saying that the sun is so much brighter than it used to be. Many people have said that it seems many times brighter/whiter than it did years before (for me around 2007-8), could this be an evolutionary event happening today as well?



en.wikipedia.org...


I was thinking something similar about purple. I left a comment in Ancient Origins about it. So far, no one has commented on it.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:58 AM
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originally posted by: Madrusa
a reply to: toms54

More a curious phenomena of the actual evidence being invisible to some.



Some of the color words preserved in the earliest Semitic languages (e.g., uqnu, “lapis lazuli” or “dark blue”) are loanwords for materials from other unknown older languages. Other terms – later shared in different languages – were possibly words (but certainly not the corresponding category “abstractions”) corresponding to “red” and “green” which may have existed in the early Neolithic of the Near East, perhaps 10,000–12,000 years ago, prior to the documentation of language [10]. In Akkadian (uqnu) and Egyptian (xsbdj), terms for lapis lazuli designated “dark blue.” In Greek, a term (kyaneos) for blue appearances is derived from the Akkadian. In Egyptian, turquoise (mfkāt) denoted “light blue.” Akkadian used several terms for “light blue” (including ḫasˇmanum, possibly from the Egyptian word for amethyst, ḥsmn, which was not used as a color word in Egyptian). Chinese lán is a term for “blue” colors but appears quite late (in comparison to, e.g., “red,” “white,” “black,” “yellow”). As a category, the modern English term “blue” evolved to ultimately eclipse the distinction (still preserved in Russian) between light and dark blue. Through the second millennium BC, color terms are mostly rooted in materials – most of which were later eclipsed with abstract words.


Ancient terms for colour



I liked your pdf. Saved a copy to read more carefully.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 11:59 AM
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originally posted by: trollz
I could see the different green square. Could anyone else?

I could. It's a very slight difference, but I have very acute color perception. (I used to have a job that required us to be tested and rated on this.)



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 12:01 PM
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originally posted by: trollz
I could see the different green square. Could anyone else?


My wife could see it, not me.



posted on Sep, 20 2018 @ 12:16 PM
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a reply to: toms54

It is the mystery of Kek



Hungarian kék “blue” Manchu kuku “blue-gray” Sumerian kukku ( ku10-ku10; kukku5 “(to be) dark”



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