Color Plays Musical Chairs In the Brain


We have touched upon, in the past, a few colour wheels (here & here ) and contemplated some of the imponderables of colour in artistic design (here); above is a link to an article (on an interesting site) entitled Color Plays Musical Chairs In the Brain that discusses how what the eye sees, the reality, is different from what the brain ‘sees’, the perception. It is easy for an artist or a magician to fool the eye and the key to this is the complementary, if not lazy, collaboration of these two organs.

The Big Think article makes the point that “it was Goethe who first understood that color is more than just a physical problem” at a time when, I suspect, artists and scientists were cut from the same cloth – much to the benefit of the garment.

Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article linked to from the Big Think article (as is the image of Goethe’s colour wheel) dealing with Goethe’s book on the subject. The book can be downloaded from Archive.Org.

Theory of Colours (1840), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)


Goethe’s Colour Wheel

When the eye sees a colour it is immediately excited and it is its nature, spontaneously and of necessity, at once to produce another, which with the original colour, comprehends the whole chromatic scale.

— Goethe, Theory of Colours

Goethe anticipated Ewald Hering’s Opponent process theory by proposing a symmetric colour wheel. He writes, “The chromatic circle… [is] arranged in a general way according to the natural order… for the colours diametrically opposed to each other in this diagram are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye. Thus, yellow demands violet; orange, blue; red, green; and vice versa: thus… all intermediate gradations reciprocally evoke each other; the simpler colour demanding the compound, and vice versa. (Goethe, Theory of Colours).

Goethe expressed his understanding of the light and dark spectra in including magenta in his colour wheel. Whereas for Newton magenta was an ‘extraspectral’ colour, for Goethe magenta was a natural result of violet and red being mixed in a dark spectrum (see top of colour wheel), just as green resulted from the mixing of blue and yellow in the light spectrum (bottom of colour wheel).

“For Newton, only spectral colors could count as fundamental. By contrast, Goethe’s more empirical approach led him to recognize the essential role of (nonspectral) magenta in a complete color circle, a role that it still has in all modern color systems.”

Goethe also investigated the effects of colour on the physiology of individuals in an art of colour psychology. Because of this, he included aesthetic qualities in his colour wheel — associating Red with the beautiful, orange with the noble, yellow to the good, green to the useful, blue to the mean, and violet to the unnecessary.

The Crayola-Fication Of The World: How We Gave Colors Names, And It Messed With Our Brains


While we’re on the subject of colour, here’s a two part article from the website Empirical Zeal (which I haven’t had time to read yet) that, at first blush, seems to add a cultural dimension to the phenomenon of colour and its perception. It has morphed into a 27 page Word doc that I will get to in good time.

We know that colour is perceived differently by different creatures, and much has been written about their psychological implications in humans (and, no doubt, animals); some people report perceiving sounds as colour. One wonders how many other surprising notions there are out there regarding colour. I suspect there are many more.