Thursday, September 08, 2011

The unknown color

Color wheel by Jemima Pereira

Imagine that you wake up one morning, and you're able to see a new color.

It doesn't appear on any color wheel or in any standard paint pigment. You can't really compare it to any other color in the known spectrum. It doesn't even have a name. And yet the new color, or traces of it, is everywhere -- in the high branches of trees and the shade of boulders, in the shape and movement of animals, in certain paintings and sculptures, even in the faces of some people you meet. Further, some quality in the new color makes everything seem clearer, sharper, more detailed, more beautiful. As you move through your day in a kind of daze, your continued ability to see this new color completely transforms your perception of the world around you.

Then comes the sunset. In addition to the usual vivid scarlets and oranges and purples, there is a visual blast of the new and unknown color that almost brings you to your knees with the sheer force of its beauty. Overcome by the experience and wanting to share its power with another human being, you reach out to the first person who passes by.

"Look at that sunset!" you say. "Isn't it the most amazing thing you've ever seen?"

And the stranger glances at the sunset, gives you a slightly odd stare, shrugs, smiles politely and hastily continues on her way. In that moment you realize that she doesn't see the same color you see -- can't even imagine it -- and that if you even tried to take the time to explain what it was like, she'd think you were a harmless kook, best-case scenario.

What would you think of all this? Would you trust the evidence of your own senses, or assume there was something wrong with you? Would it make any difference if you discovered others who could also see the unknown color -- some of them having become attuned to it only recently, like you, and others who had been able to see it from childhood on? How would you react if intelligent, well-educated, well-respected persons who could not see the color derided those who could, and publicly spoke out against "phantom color delusion" as a mental disorder?

What if, by convincing yourself that your perception of the color was only a delusion, you could make your ability to see the color slowly dim and disappear, until you could scarcely even remember what it was like? Would you do it to fit in?

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