How many times have you been discussing something with someone else, and you mention this “from my point of view…”? Probably quite often, as most of us are keenly aware that everyone has their own specific perceptions of events, beliefs that they hold dear, and other factors that shape the way everyone thinks of the world in their own unique way. This week, the viral picture of the dress highlights that we even see the world differently.
I awoke Friday morning, to my eighteen year old daughter holding her cellphone to my face the moment I crawled out of my bedroom hunting coffee.
“What color is this dress?”
Bewildered and perplexed I said it was “blue”, she sternly looked at me and said “what blue? Blue and what? What do you see Dad?” I looked again and said the dress looks blue, and a darker blue almost.. black, bad picture I thought to myself, kind of bleachy.
“Well it’s all over the news and web, some people see this dress as white and gold” she reported. Now this is not something I was prepared to handle at 6am as I am getting ready to take the kids to school. However shortly after arrival at the office I hear some coworkers discussing, you guessed it, the dress. Now I was a little intrigued as to how this was even a subject I mean the dress IS BLUE… right? Until I saw it, some saw white and gold, including my boss, who quickly flashed his phone at me and I saw it… a white and gold dress.
Now here I was convinced they were holding up a DIFFERENT picture. Until we started to do research and viewed several videos and articles on something called “color constancy”. From this point on, when someone holds the picture of the dress up, I see a blue dress again. How odd!
Everything we see is essentially light bouncing off the surface of objects; this light passes through our eye lens, and strikes the back of the eye. Our eyes are not like telescope lenses, but more like a highly sophisticated conversion laboratory, that translates the numerous strikes of photons into an electrical pulse that is sent to our brain. Our brain converts these signals virtually instantly into an image we understand. This includes filtering out numerous pieces of information regarding the illuminant (our light source) while focusing on the reflected light off an object, instantly calculating what color it’s supposed to be.
Take for instance the changing position of our sun every single day, this chromatic hourly change will alter the exact hue of the sun, and bath our world with slightly different wavelengths throughout the day. However to us, the grass is still green, our house is still it’s normal color, and Fluffy the family pet is still a happy beige, regardless of that effect. Our brains quickly extrapolates this color information and adjusts based on the data present. It is this very effect, as well as light sources present, that causes our minds to at times disregard the blue in the dress picture as it washes away that very evident color based on the light sources we have been exposed to and the light source/exposure setting within the picture.
Now the picture itself has been altered and adjusted to give a pretty clear confusion between those focusing on the luminance of the photo or the reflection of the properties of the dress, which is pure genius. So while the blue vs white arguments are starting to fade down, the science of why this picture captivated the world so quickly can illuminate us with understanding of how we work, and how unique we all see the world around us.