Lessons from The Color Master

I love serendipity because it indicates to me a deeper working to reality and my experience of it. It is the flash bulb that goes off to signify that there’s something to take heed of – a slow reveal of patterns that I’m too close to, or not observant enough to notice right away.

I experienced this today when I decided to watch a random documentary on the world of colour and how we interpret it. I learned a lot about the physics of light and the biology of the many species on this planet that all experience colour differently. After watching that show, I picked up a book of short stories that I’ve been re-reading and it just happened that the next story to read was called “The Color Master” by Aimee Bender. This is in a collection of modern fairy tales called “My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me“. It seems that I was meant to reflect on this today.

What I forget about our human experience of colour is that it is completely subjective and unique to us. It’s our brain’s interpretation of light reflecting off materials and we somehow see & interpret the colours we’ve shared generally as a culture over thousands of years.

To try to get outside of our own experience is impossible, but it is something to ponder. Imagine that everything you see around you – the green grass, blue sky, the red fire truck – all of that colour really doesn’t exist. If we don’t see reality as it really is, what could reality be like? When I first start to imagine this, I imagine a completely grey landscape – just shades and tones. I then move to a visual where everything is glowing & shimmering, with so many changing textures as to make my head swim. Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of these extremes…

The documentary mentioned how our brains are really trying to simplify what we see and compensate for anything that runs counter to what we expect. We experience this all the time with illusions. We love illusions because they trick us and reveal how fragile our interpreted experience really is.

You’ve probably seen illusions where two patches of colours in a picture, which look obviously different at first glance, are really the same colour. Apparently, that’s due to our brain trying to compensate and make things appear similar even when we’re shown evidence to the contrary.

Our brains can also trick us with something called memory colour, where our association to an object or shape influences the colour we believe to see. The banana appears to be yellow because that’s the colour we expect it to be. Our brains can be very stubborn and they make us remember the context of our experiences – if something is new and possibly dangerous, then we go on alert. Otherwise, our brain tries to convince us that there’s nothing new to see.

This process has taught me a few things. First, it’s given me a true sense of humility for the small sliver of experience that we are witness to in this vast realm of reality.

Next, it’s given me a true appreciation for the beauty that our brain creates for us through the senses we experience. To be in the moment and to immerse myself in the experience.

It has also shown me the importance of understanding subjectivity in our own experiences. We each experience something truly unique and can never expect another person to truly see things from our perspective.

It has also taught me the importance of objectivity to balance out the subjectivity. Every once in a while, taking that step back and removing our personal attachment from an experience allows us to process it better, and to learn from it. It also possibly gives us a common ground to share that experience more easily with others.

I think I needed to reflect on this today, perhaps to get outside of my head a little bit, and to also appreciate what my unique experiences are. I thank you for the time you’ve taken to read this and hope it has resonated with you in some way.