Blue is the newest color. A sentence that upon first reading makes absolutely no sense but if you allow me to explain I am happy to take you on a journey that will change how you see colors forever and especially the color blue. Let’s dive in.
Humans have three visual cones that divide up all colors. This is why when you try to recreate a color all you need is its RGB value. Every color in the world, that we can perceive, has a certain amount of red, a certain amount of green, and a certain amount of blue. This is how we see the world. Clearly blue is an important color then as it is one of our three cones. It absolutely is but until recently humanity did not perceive the world to have any “blue”. It was a color that simply wasn’t on our radar. This is perhaps best explained with an example.
Take Homer’s Illiad. A very old book that is still celebrated today. While the author does use some poetic language to describe things he describes the colors of things very accurately. One-color he never uses as a description is blue. He talks about the sky, he talks about the sea, he talks about many things that we would believe are blue and none of them are in his book. While you may think that is just a coincidence. If you examine any ancient text, blue does not show up. As time goes on old texts do start to mention blue but it takes a while. The reason is that blue is not very common in nature.
If you think about the majority of fruits, the majority of plants, the majority of wildlife. There is not that much blue. In fact, may of the blue plants and animals we do know have been bred to be that way and originally were a very different color. Yes, we describe the sky and oceans as blue but in reality, we know they are not. A recent study asked children what color the sky was and few say blue. Until we are told it is blue we don’t really see it is blue. In fact, many children appear smarter than humans as they didn’t even understand the question. They know that something that is not an object can not have a color.
There are still tribes in existence today that do not have a color blue. You may read this and think I mean that they do not have a word for blue but it is more than that. There was a tribe in Africa shown 9 color wheels. Eight were (different shades of) green and one was blue. The tribe was asked to identify the different wheels. They could not see the blue wheel as different.
The only ancient civilization that did have a word for blue was the Egyptians. This was because they had a dye process that created blue, so they needed a word for it. This may boggle your mind a little but let’s boggle it a little more. What colors are in front of you right now that you are not perceiving? It is at least possible to imagine that the underdeveloped eyes of ancient people could not fathom blue but is there a color you can’t imagine yet?
It is impossible to know. What is clear is that there are colors all around you that you can’t see. The fact that we have only three cones limits us from seeing a range of colors that exist on the spectrum. Dogs only have 2 cones and most are therefore considered color blind. However, the mantis shrimp has 12 color cones and can likely see a range of colors that we can’t. It is fair to say that dogs are colorblind but we might have to accept now that so are we.